The church we read about in the Book of Acts was a tiny minority of people living in a dangerous world. We watch them in situation after situation face various forms of persecution, yet we also see them in situation after situation wisely handle whatever came at them, and continue to grow. Today, Christianity has become the largest religion on earth, yet we are still living in a dangerous world. Even though there are so many of us, we are persecuted more than any other religion. In some parts of the world believers face open persecution. Its physical, violent and cruel. Here in the West, persecution is growing, but its still mainly a matter of changing attitudes. Its primarily rejection and ridicule, but were beginning to experience what it feels like to be an unpopular minority. Our faith and moral values are being rejected by the dominant culture, and because this shift is only a few decades old, were still learning how to deal with it.
The good news is, we dont have to look far for help. The Bible is a handbook on how to live successfully as an embattled minority. We find there, one example after another of men and women living wisely in the midst of danger. Todays lesson is no exception. Well watch Paul and the believers in Ephesus navigate a city-wide riot that occurred because so many people had become real disciples of Jesus Christ. The sooner we learn from them, the safer well be.
Backlash (Ac 19:23-41)
(vs 23-26): Just when Paul was planning to leave the city, things exploded. Luke says There was about that time no little trouble concerning the Way (Ac 24:14, 15, 22) because a certain silversmith named Demetrius, who made silver shrines of Artemis, provided the craftsmen no little gain (literal). Note the play on words, no little trouble because they feared the loss of no little gain. Another way of saying this would be, There was much trouble because they were in danger of losing much money. Luke chose these words carefully to expose the real motive behind the riot. It was money. Demetrius, who made a lot of money selling statues of the goddess Artemis, recognized that Pauls preaching was reducing the market for his product, so he decided to do something about it. He gathered the craftsmen who worked in the shops that fashioned these statues and warned them that they would soon be out of work if Paul wasnt stopped. He said Paul was convincing people all over Asia that Artemis wasnt real, because they are not gods which come into being through hands (v26, literal).
The real motives
Luke wrote the Book of Acts to explain to a man named Theophilus the real motives behind those who persecuted Christians. It was primarily Jewish intolerance and Gentile greed and pride. He was showing him that Christians had not committed crimes, that was not why they were being persecuted. They were only guilty of stubbornly continuing to fulfill their assignment:
youll receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth (Ac 1:8).
All we have to do is highlight certain statements Luke makes in this chapter and the underlying cause for the riot in Ephesus becomes unmistakable:
(v11) God was performing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul
(v20) So the Word of the Lord was growing mightily and prevailing.
(v23) About that time there occurred no small disturbance concerning the Way.
(certain businessmen were losing money because so many people had become disciples and ceased to use magic).
Trafficking (vs 17-19)
Generally, people dont start attacking Christians until people they know start changing, not just getting saved or going to church, but real change that affects the way they live. What provoked the riot in Ephesus wasnt that people became Christians, the crisis erupted when Christians stopped using magic, because that had an economic impact on those who made a living by making and selling magic devices. This is still true today. When a lot of people change, certain industries suffer. There are people who make money by exploiting people. The problem is as old as the human race: slavery, prostitution, gambling, abortion, alcohol, tobacco, drugs, divination
Sad, nervous, overworked, poor, lonely, depressed people turn to these industries for relief. They believe the promise that well make you feel better, well give you hope for a better future. But when people learn to draw on the power of the Holy Spirit they dont need these things anymore, so their spending habits change: Families are strengthened, incomes rise, pay checks come home. And thats where the conflict with traffickers begins. People who had you under control, whod been farming you, using you, wont let you go without a fight, because they care more about making money than about the people they destroy in the process. Watch:
Matthew 8:28-34 a demonized man or pigs
Acts 16:16-24 a demonized girl or divination
And trafficking was taking place in Ephesus. Demetrius and the craftsmen didnt really care about whether or not Artemis was a true goddess, or that Gods power was amazingly at work in their city. They cared that people had stopped buying their products.
Learning from Paul
Paul and the church survived this storm in Ephesus and yes, of course, it was ultimately because God protected them, but please notice their obedience, their wisdom and innocence, was an important part of the process. God was able to calm that angry mob by drawing their attention to the way these Christians had lived their lives. Had they lived foolishly, this would not have worked. Lets learn from Paul how to live wisely in a dangerous world:
1) Paul was never surprised by the backlash. He expected it. He knew it would come when people changed, so a standard part of what he taught everywhere he went was, Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God (Ac 14:22). Becoming a Christian would be dangerous, so people needed to count the cost, and then live wisely.
2) He was personally prepared to pay the price to set prisoners free (Lk 4:18, 19). Someone has to have the courage to challenge the status quo, knowing that if you succeed, there may be trouble. He said, I am ready, not only to be bound, but even to die for the name of the Lord Jesus (Ac 21:13).
3) He was careful not to provoke unnecessary trouble (with the Jews it was a different matter, because with them the issue was Christ). How remarkable that after three years in Ephesus it could be said of Paul that he was not a blasphemer of our goddess (Artemis) (v37). Paul focused on preaching what he believed, not on criticizing what others believed. This allowed reasonable people to listen to him without being defensive, and this approach protected him from the charge of blasphemy. He spent his time praying for people and telling them about Jesus.
And his ethics could not be questioned. They had to admit he had not been a thief (temple-robber). In fact, he had worked and paid his own bills. And because he had been so respectful and honest, the city leaders were able to protect him. Paul knew, and we must remember, that people dont play fair. Theyll avoid debating our faith on its merits. They prefer looking for character flaws in us and attacking these. Jesus warned us of this. He said, Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise (thoughtful) as serpents and harmless (pure, innocent) as doves (Mt 10:16), Peter said this:
Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation (1Pe 2:12).
4) Paul avoided the language of class warf are. He didnt reach the poor and oppressed by attacking the wealthy and privileged. He kept his focus on winning anyone who would listen, and loving everyone. So, powerful people came to Christ, or at least respected Paul, everywhere he went (Sergius Paulus/Cyprus; Dionysius, the Areopagite/Athens; Erastus/Corinth; asiarchs/Ephesus). These, of course, would use their influence to protect him whenever they could, and he made it easy for them to do this by being honest and respectful.
5) He modeled an important principle that would protect the church. He never abandoned a brother or sister who was under attack. He taught them When you attack one of us, you attack us all. We dont go away, we leave no one behind. And, of course, they protected him the same way (v30; Ac 20:3, 4).
6) He never forgot people. People who came to Christ became his brothers and sisters, not decisions, not converts. He loved them, prayed for them, wrote to them, and continued to visit them from then on (Ac 20:17; Book of Ephesians).
Some people might respond to this message by saying, Wow! If its becoming dangerous to set captives free, then I had better hide my faith so I wont be persecuted. But there will be many others who see in this message an example of how to function successfully as a Christian in dangerous times. They will understand that there is a way to live that will minimize the backlash, so they can continue bringing people to Christ. If we choose the second response, were in good company. Thats the course so many of our forefathers and mothers chose, which is why the truth about Jesus Christ has been passed down all these generations, and has reached us. Just as their Master had taught them, they lived as sheep in the midst of wolves, they became wise as serpents and innocent as doves. And as our culture changes, we would be wise to follow their example.
1) Have you ever been in bondage to something and had someone love you enough to come after you to set you free? Tell us what happened. How do you feel about that person now?
2) Have you ever gotten in trouble for bringing someone to Christ? How did God help you? Did certain people come to help? Who were they?