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  • Writer's picturePaul Cottington

Invest – In This Way


"In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power." Acts 19:20

We’ve stopped in Ephesus for three Sundays – why so long? Well, in the next chapter, Acts 20 31, the apostle Paul will remind the church in Ephesus that he had spent ‘three years’ with them in that city. In the whole of Acts, that is the longest that Paul stayed away anywhere. So, if Paul could spend three years in Ephesus, I’m sure we can manage three Sundays!

The record of Paul’s time there has ongoing relevance for believers in Jesus. The way in which the church met with success is similar to the way it will happen for us now. What do I mean?

Well, last time we looked at what ‘God did’ there. Verse 11 told us that ‘God did extraordinary’ things. Why? Because he is ‘extraordinary’. We as believers often fail to do extraordinary things, because we get overwhelmed by how ordinary we are. But our ordinary-ness is not going to change anytime soon. But then, neither is God going to change anytime soon – or ever! ‘God did extraordinary’ in Ephesus. He can do the same in Wakefield. How will it happen – ‘In this way…’

That is what verse 20 says, ‘In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power’. In what way? Well, last time we looked at the preceding verses (18-19). The church in Ephesus had come to a new realisation. It appears that when they first came to faith in Jesus, they hadn’t completely realised how much of their previous way of life would have to be let go, in order to better embrace Christ.

It’s a bit like this – I enjoy a couple of mugs of coffee in the morning to get started. Let’s say it’s Sunday morning and I’m running late for church but I haven’t had my coffee. I have a brilliant idea – I fill up two mugs and carry them, one in each hand, to our meeting place. But, when I get there, one of my brothers in Christ is on welcome-duty on the door. They see the ‘I’m-late-once-again’ stress written all over my face and lovingly open their arms wide to embrace me. But I’ve got a mug of coffee in each hand – this isn’t going to end well – especially for the back of their t-shirt! But there is a solution. I realise that the embrace is more important than the coffee, so I let the coffee go.

In Ephesus, the believers now knew that things needed to be let go. It is only when certain events took place that they had been convicted of ‘what they had done’. ‘A number’ of them possessed some really high value items associated with sorcery, and dark practice. Despite the cost, they proceeded to burn those things. In that moment they began to really stand out from people around them. The grace of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord had transformed their hearts. That change bled through into their life choices. What happened? ‘In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power’.

It didn’t happen because believers managed to influence the manners of society, and make people around them behave a bit more Christian. It happened because the believers themselves started to look radically different. And the difference in their lives started to affect things and that leads us into the section titled ‘The riot in Ephesus’ (NIV) from verse 23.

These believers were ‘living godly lives in a pagan society’. There is a section in 1 Peter 2 with that NIV title. In verse 12 Peter instructs us to ‘live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us’. This is really important. Believers should not be surprised when unbelievers falsely accuse them of wrongdoing. It will happen – that’s the truth. But also, implied within Peter’s statement is another truth. Despite false accusation, your goods deeds will be noticed and will give God glory. Even when people accuse you, they may well know that the truth is actually different to what they are claiming. I suspect that was true in Ephesus.

Another Bible passage that is relevant to this riot is 1 Corinthians 15 32. There Paul says, ‘I fought wild beasts in Ephesus’. Paul is almost undoubtedly talking about this unfolding event. What happens here is horrific. It would have been proper scary.

But let’s start near the end! This riot is finally ended by some wise words from the ‘city clerk’. In verse 37, he says, ‘these men… have neither robbed temples nor blasphemed our goddess’. He knew that Paul & Co weren’t going round criticising the manners of Ephesian society – they hadn’t even taken aim at the false goddess of Ephesus. Paul’s mission was not to attack the false gods of the places where he visited. Paul’s mission was to proclaim the only true God and Jesus Christ who he had sent. He wasn’t critiquing idolatry. He was sharing the Saviour. Preaching Jesus is what brought success. Christ changed hearts. And that new heart for Christ was life changing.

So, who was this goddess? What was this temple? Are they important? Oh yes! She was called Artemis. The AV and NKJV carry the Latin name, of the same/similar Roman goddess, Diana. In the New Testament Greek her name is Artemis. She was believed to be the daughter of the chief god, Zeus. She was a virgin, female hunter, apparently able to catch people and turn them into animals. That is awesome! Look at the behaviour of her followers in the Ephesian riot – it’s as if she really could turn people into animals!

Artemis had a temple in Ephesus (see verse 27). In the city clerk’s calming speech, in verse 35, he says about, ‘all the world know(ing) that the city of Ephesus is the guardian of the temple of the great Artemis’. That was true – he world did know.

Have you heard of the seven wonders of the ancient world? This temple was one of them. Actually it was number one of them! That is according to Antipater of Sidon. He was an epigrammist, which kind of means that he wrote concise trip-advisor type reviews of ancient world holiday destinations. He had seen the other six wonders and gazed with awe. He says this, ‘but when I saw the sacred house of Artemis that towers to the clouds, the others were placed in the shade’.

The temple in Ephesus was of world significance. Actually it was like a world bank as well. It was a financial institution like the Bank of England. Our economy relies on the function of our central bank. People trust it. They have to believe that it is stable and secure. You may have heard of the phrase, ‘It’s as safe as the Bank of England’. I’m convinced that there would have been a very similar phrase in the ancient world – ‘It’s as safe as the Bank of Ephesus’! People saw it as the place to invest. Merchants, monarchs and metropolises all trusted it. It was a vast institution protected by the Ephesian council and your money was given divine protection, looked after by Artemis herself. Invest here and a return seemed guaranteed. To live in Ephesus was to live in a very stable economy. Except the economy was now being shaken.

In verse 24, we meet Demetrius. He had realised that profits were down. It was down to Paul! - his Jesus message was affecting people. It is clear that Demetrius is acquainted with the gospel message from what he says in verses 26 and 27. He has heard it, but he hasn’t heeded it. But others have.

1 Peter 1 7, tells believers that ‘the proven genuineness of your faith (is) of greater worth than gold’. That is what has happened in Ephesus. Believers had something oh so valuable. They no longer needed silver trinkets.

Demetrius was a craftsman. But it wasn’t just his hands that were crafty – he also had crafty words! In verse 25, he goes looking for allies - ‘he called (people) together’. Because nothing unites humans like a common enemy! His motive, and their reaction, is entirely self-serving. He reminds them of ‘the good income’ which they have enjoyed. But that motive looks a bit ugly, so he dresses it in finer clothes. In verse 27, he points to the detrimental impact on the trade association, then he references the temple and the good name of the goddess. This carries such appeal. When our motive is self-interest but we can make it look as though it’s all to do with civic pride and community and religion and reverence for God or others, then we really are motivated. But the bottom line here is the bottom line! The love of money is at the root of this evil.

The Rugby Union World Cup is on at the moment. I’m always amazed at the skill of those goal kickers and how they can get the ball between the sticks from so wide and so great a distance. Demetrius had that skill, except he wasn’t kicking a rugby ball, he had just booted a hornet’s nest! Verse 28 has the start of the riot, and verse 29 has the whole city joining in, ‘in uproar’. Then we have the slightly weird happening where ‘all of them rushed into the theatre together’. But this wasn’t a mass stampede into the Theatre Royal in Wakefield to get last minute tickets to Aladdin! This was an outside stone auditorium, with rows of semi-circular seating cut into the hillside. Its capacity was about 24000 people. But who is on stage?

In verse 29 we have two people listed – believing friends of Paul. Potentially this riot was a 24000 against 2, or 12000 to 1, type situation. And verse 32 describes the mood. Despite the horror, Acts mocks the mind-set of humankind here - ‘the assembly was in confusion: some were shouting one thing, some another. Most of the people did not even know why they were there’! We may not think that this is relevant to our lives, but it is. We get exactly the same kind of thing now.

I’ve seen it recently with a man named Harry Maguire. He is a footballer for Manchester United and is out of favour, due to a drop in form, coupled with high expectations from others, and circumstances that he cannot control. But he is in the spotlight. He is regularly picked for the England team by its manager. Every mistake that is made, whether he is involved or not, seems to be blamed on him by everyone and his dog. He is on the social media stage and it’s a 12000 (or more) to 1 type situation. What has he really done wrong? He has proved to be a little bit too human, is all.

Why do I mention this? Because it is easy to be carried along by the crowd and join with this kind of behaviour. Most of the time when we are carried by the crowd we stop carrying Christ. Let’s think of how Christ dealt with our situation. We were in God’s spotlight - living in a world of sin had exposed us as all too human. Who above all others should have condemned our lives’ failure? But Christ chose not condemnation - Christ chose crucifixion - for us. It is so easy to be critical. But, let’s try not to follow the crowd – let’s endeavour to follow Christ.

Back in Ephesus, in verse 34, despite most of them being utterly clueless, they spend two whole hours shouting in unison, ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’ I’ve referenced Paul speaking of fighting ‘wild beasts’ here. Things seemed wildly out of control. Do you ever find moments in life like that? Do you ever find, in moments like that, our Lord then steps in and says, ‘No, I’m still in control’? He does here. God has the whole world in his hand. Here he has an unbeliever as his instrument for good.

We know that the city clerk did not believe in the one true God. Verses 35 and 36 show us clearly that he believed that the cult of Artemis was ‘fact’ and ‘undeniable’. Yet God brings this man front-of-stage to do his bidding. This man is concerned about what might happen if the Roman authorities get wind of this situation. It isn’t the believers in Jesus that are to be in trouble, it’s the rioting followers of Artemis that are going to cop it, and they aren’t going to be able to give ‘account for this commotion, since there is no reason for it’. That’s what verse 40 says. And then in a stunning illustration of the fickleness of the human mind, the wildfire of stupidity that had been threatening to ruin the region and its reputation, is instantly quenched, and in verse 41, they all go home – the end – amen! Except, it’s not the end for us. Because we’ve got to ask why?

Why did they stop? Because they realised they were in a perilous position before human authority. But, sadly, they had failed to realise their greater peril – their exposure before Almighty God.

By God’s hand the believers were kept safe. They really were safe. Not just in that moment but always and forever. Paul had brought the message of Jesus to them. They knew how they would answer to the ultimate authority – God’s authority come Judgement Day. Their answer would be Jesus. They had believed in God’s own revealed rescue plan for sinners through his Son and Saviour.

Today, I have referenced Paul’s own words, in 1 Corinthians 15, about this experience of riot in Ephesus, but I stripped them of their context. Let’s put context back in. The context is the rising again of the dead. Paul says, ‘If there is no resurrection of the dead, then… our preaching is useless and so is your faith’. ‘If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus with no more than human hopes, what have I gained?’ With merely human - this world - hope, for believers to go through that horrifying Ephesus experience, made as little sense as that mindless two hour chanting session. It had no value. But with resurrection hope, it took on meaning and purpose. Jesus has risen and we will rise with him – that, to Paul, made a world of difference – an eternal world of difference. That is why he constantly encouraged believers to invest – to invest in the things of Jesus, and this chapter is about investment and return. Here, we can picture two different buildings and compare and contrast.

In 1 Corinthians 3 9 the church of Christ is called ‘God’s building’. A lot of the time in Acts it looks so weak and insecure. But it always turns out to be otherwise. In Acts 19 we are presented with another building. It’s the greatest wonder of that world – the very best on offer. When Paul arrived in Ephesus that Artemis temple had stood strong for over 400 years. That is why humans trusted in it. It looked oh-so-secure. But it turned out to be otherwise. Just over 200 years after Paul was in that place, that temple came crashing down. But nearly 2000 years after Paul was in Ephesus, ‘God’s building’ still stands secure in the Saviour.

As Christians we so easily get things wrong, often without realising. We invest time and energy and money in so many things – it is part of who we are and it’s a necessary part of life. But it’s so easy to get out of balance and lose the Bible’s perspective. I hadn’t realised just how much store I placed in being able to do physical exercise with relative ease. I learnt a valuable lesson this year. But it’s a lesson that will need some constant revision before my final exam. I didn’t realise how important being able to outrun others was to me. But then I found something which I couldn’t outrun, called ‘time’. I got ill. It put a different perspective on things. It made me realise how hollow such an investment was. I’m thankful that my health has improved and I can now move forward. But, sooner or later, time is going to catch up and finally overtake me for good.

What you naturally invest in, may be different to what I naturally invest in. But, the reality is that nearly everything fades and fails, given time! It may be a career, but then we find ourselves redundant. It may be a car, but then that gets stolen. It may be our house, but then the roof leaks and mice chew through the electric wiring.

Jesus Christ said this - ‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also’ (Matthew 6 19-21).

The lesson of Ephesus is that false gods, and the culture and accepted practices of each generation, will pass away. The Bible’s lesson is even more far reaching. Almost everything is time limited – possessions, employment, health and wellbeing – all have an expiry date. But Jesus does not. All other things will let us down. Jesus will never let us down. All other investments will see a downturn. But Jesus rose again forever. If we invest in him by faith then we will rise to be with him always.

When we look around us at world events currently, we can struggle to make sense of it all. Our own lives can feel like that too. But the message of Jesus is always sounding out to his people. So, when life makes you feel down, try looking up - where Jesus is - where you will one day be with him.


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