Discovering Gods call is only the first step in a life of service. Enduring in that call is the second and most difficult step. Staying focused and continuing to do what God called us to do never goes unchallenged. The enemy never ignores a fruitful ministry, but will use every method at his disposal to try to stop it. If a person refuses to give in to moral failure, the devil will try to get them to believe heresy. If they refuse to believe heresy, he will try to lure them with riches. If they refuse the deceitfulness of riches, he will raise up people to persecute them, and if they endure persecution, then he will use one of the cruelest weapons of all, he will attack those they love. Love makes a person vulnerable to worry. We worry when those we love are struggling. So if he cant stop us, hell try to distract us. Hell use misunderstandings, betrayals, or the agony of watching loved ones walking away from God to torment us. Hell try to exhaust us by tormenting us in the hope that he can drain our energy away from the work were called to do.
This is exactly what the devil was trying to do to Paul. He hadnt been able to turn him away from his call. None of his methods had worked, so he used one church in particular, to try to distract him. And in some measure it worked (2Co 2:12, 13). Today well cover only two verses in Acts. But if we look beyond the brief statements Luke makes here, and take into consideration the information Paul gives us elsewhere, well discover that during those years in Ephesus, Paul was enduring an enormous amount of unseen pain. He was deeply worried about the church in Corinth.
As we watch what happened to Paul, many of us will realize we, too, have had much of our energy drained away by worry over those we love. The good news is Paul wasnt defeated by this. In fact, his patient love for that church ultimately gave God time to win the hearts of many of those whom the enemy had tried to deceive. Yes, well see the devil attack Paul, but well also see Paul triumph.
Suffering in Ephesus (Ac 19:21-23)
The enemys tactics
If the devil cant stop you from believing in Jesus Christ, his next tactic will be to strip you of your capacity to bring others to Christ. He wants to neutralize you, to stop you from reproducing spiritually so that the faith thats been planted in you wont be passed on to others. As we all know, he will use physical persecution if necessary (fear, injury, confinement, death). We have brothers and sisters around the world who face this battle every day. But physical persecution isnt his only tool. If he can lure us into some sort of habitual sin, he can create a shame that grips our conscience and drives us to hide from God. And, if that doesnt work, hell try to distract us with worry and discouragement over others. All he needs to do in order to make us ineffective is to isolate us from God. Jesus said,
apart from Me you can do nothing (Jn 15:5). The enemys goal is to lift the anointing, the power of the Holy Spirit, off our lives. Once that happens, we become weak like Samson after his hair was cut (Jdg 16:17-20).
This was a tactic he used on Paul in Ephesus. Yes, he tried every other method as well, but none had worked. Paul wouldnt yield to temptation (1Co 9:27); he didnt love money (Php 3:8); he refused to teach false doctrine, even to avoid persecution (Ga 5:11); he wouldnt stop preaching no matter how many times people attacked him, or put him in jail (2Co 11:23-25), so the enemy targeted people in a church Paul loved dearly in order to keep him constantly worried. If he cant make us stumble:
1) He will try to take our mind off our assignment.
2) He will try to cause us to become bitter and judgmental, which always leaves us dry and powerless.
3) He will try to cause us to say something hurtful that will drive that person we love away so we no longer have any influence.
4) He will try to stop us from praying for them.
Weakened by love
The fact is love hurts, it leaves us vulnerable. When we choose to love, we choose to take down the wall that protects our heart. So, no one can hurt us like those we love. For them, weve dropped our defenses, so if they turn on us, they can wound us deeply. And if we refuse to stop loving that person who wounds us, we stay vulnerable, which means they can keep on hurting us.
While God was doing mighty things through Paul in Ephesus (Ac 19:1-20), he was personally suffering deeply. He was carrying around a heavy heart. On the other side of the Aegean Sea a church he had planted and pastored for years was being invaded by false teachers, splintering into factions, and refusing to discipline some favored son who was living in sexual immorality. And when Paul wrote to them to try to correct these things and even interrupted his work in Ephesus to visit them, many of the Corinthians angrily rejected him as their spiritual father, and even mocked him. Who wouldnt be tormented by this? Particularly after trying to reach out to them and then being harshly rejected, who wouldnt be tempted to write them off as a hopeless mess, to stop loving so you could stop hurting? Listen, as Paul gently explains to them the pain theyve caused him:
For even when we came into Macedonia our flesh had no rest, but we were afflicted on every side: conflicts without fears within. But God who comforts the depressed (humble), comforted us by the coming of Titus; and not only by his coming, but also by the comfort with which he was comforted in you, as he reported to us your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me; so that I rejoiced even more (2Co 7:5-7).
Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches. Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin (offended) without my intense concern (and I not burn)? (2Co 11:28, 29).
Strengthened by love
Pauls love for the church in Corinth allowed them to wound him badly. In fact, he became so worried and stressed, he stopped ministering. Instead of sailing west to Corinth, he walked north to Troas where he planned to stay awhile and minister. He had sent Titus to Corinth in his place, so Titus could find out if things were still as bad as he had left them. But Titus was delayed and Paul could no longer focus on what he was doing. He was so gripped by worry, he stopped what had turned into a very fruitful work in Troas, and got on a boat and sailed across to Macedonia to find Titus. He had grown desperate. He had become distracted. He couldnt keep his mind focused on what he was supposed to be doing.
But Pauls love not only made him weak, it also made him strong, because the love that burned in him for this troubled church was that miraculous kind of love Jesus gives us (agape). It was patient (long-suffering). It was a love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. God was its Source, so it never fails (1Co 13:4, 7, 8). By refusing to grow bitter, by refusing to say something hurtful that would drive them away (though he never stopped telling the truth), by refusing to stop praying for them (2Co 13:7-9), in time, Paul won! When he finally found Titus, Titus reported that Corinth had repented, that they longed to see him, that they now mourned over the way they had treated him, that they had zealously recommitted themselves to all Paul had taught them (2Co 7:7), and that the young man who had been immoral had finally repented (2Co 2:5-11).
This was not an easy victory. It was very costly to Paul personally. But it was a glorious victory. By choosing to love, and so, choosing to suffer (love suffers long), Paul gave the Holy Spirit the time He needed to reach their hearts, convict them of their sin, and produce in them true repentance.
Refusing distraction (Eph 4:25-32)
You might respond to all weve seen by saying to yourself: Wow, if Paul could be distracted what hope do I have of escaping its grip? But Pauls example should encourage us. Not even this great apostle was immune to this attack. Worry over those he loved wounded him deeply, but it didnt overcome him. And it may be because he personally struggled so deeply with this, that he teaches so often and so effectively on how to deal with the devils attacks on our minds (Php 4:4-9). He knew only too well how dangerous these could be. Listen to how he counseled the Ephesian church: Ephesians 4:25-32. Basically, he told them and us:
1) To refuse to let the devil separate us from each other.
2) To recognize those thoughts that try to divide us as a mental assault from the enemy (Eph 6:11, 12).
3) To refuse to let such distractions remain until they sap us of our joy and leave us angry and full of self-pity.
4) To react every single time by obeying the Word.
In other words, he wants us to respond to each other the way he responded to the church in Corinth: to refuse to stop loving, to refuse to stop forgiving, to refuse to stop praying, to refuse to stop believing
until God works a miracle. Is it any surprise that he reminded the Ephesians that people are never our enemy. Theres a sinister force at work trying to trouble our relationships, so he can distract us from our assignment. But the God we serve is far greater, and has shown us, through His Son, that though His love makes us vulnerable and brings us much suffering, it is the most powerful weapon He has given us.
1) Do you find yourself often worrying about those you love? Read Philippians 4:5-9. How does Paul want us to respond to worries?
2) Have you ever chosen to love someone knowing it would be a very painful experience? Have you ever wanted to stop loving so you could stop worrying about them? If you kept loving, tell us where you found the strength to do it.