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Bible boy_reading_bibleThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy have omitted — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur (here and here).

Acts 20:28-35

28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God,[a] which he obtained with his own blood.[b] 29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. 32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. 33 I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. 34 You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. 35 In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’

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Last week’s entry discussed Paul’s description of his ministry to the elders of the church of Ephesus, who had come to Miletus before the Apostle sailed to Jerusalem for Passover.

The second half of his address to those elders was about a similar conduct towards the congregation.

Verse 28 is a complex one, worth analysing in sections.

In saying, ‘Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock’, Paul means that the elders must be above reproach themselves and so encourage the flock to be likewise.

John MacArthur applies Paul’s words to his own ministry in California:

You know what my greatest obligation is as a pastor, as a minister of God? My greatest obligation is to make sure my life is right before God, first of all.

Secondly, to make sure I carry out my responsibility toward you. If I’m not right, I’m not going to mean anything to you. And the reason across America and across the world, in all kinds of Christian ministries, nothing happens is because there are some people in positions, and nothing’s happening in their lives.

But secondly, once – verse 28 says, “Take heed therefore unto yourselves” – then it says – “and to all the flock.” See? My priority, the priority of anybody in leadership, I don’t care whether you’re teaching a Sunday school class, or whether you’re working in a Bible study in a home, I don’t care what it is that you’re ministering, in any function that you do, your second obligation is that ministry; your first obligation is between you and God. And if that isn’t right, all the stuff you’re doing the other side of it isn’t going to make a bit of difference.

Now, notice this. He says, “Take heed to the flock.” Not just the flock but what? “All the flock.” No favoritism. Nope. I like the fact that the church is seen as a flock. There’s something about sheep that’s characteristic of Christians. A little clump of helpless, ignorant, stupid followers. That’s us. But that’s been a historic term that God has used for his people in the Old Testament. You know? In Jeremiah 13:17 and in Zechariah 10:3, God calls Israel the Lord’s flock.

Paul reminded the elders that the Holy Spirit made them overseers of the flock in Ephesus. St Luke, the author of Acts, recorded this in Acts 19:6:

And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying.

As such, the elders were under a heavy obligation to be diligent in their care of the Christians in Ephesus. Matthew Henry’s commentary explains:

They took not this honour to themselves, nor was it conferred upon them by any prince or potentate, but the Holy Ghost in them qualified them for, and enriched them to, this great undertaking, the Holy Ghost fell upon them, Acts 19:6. The Holy Ghost also directed those that chose, and called, and ordained, them to this work in answer to prayer.

Paul reinforced this serious obligation by referring to ‘the church of God,[a] which he obtained with his own blood.[b]‘ Henry explains that this is different than in the days of the Old Testament, because Christ, God’s Son, purchased the Church by giving His life — His blood — for Her:

This church of God is what he has purchased; not as Israel of old, when he gave men for them, and people for their life (Isaiah 43:3), but with his own blood. This proves that Christ is God, for he is called so here, where yet he is said to purchase the church with his own blood; the blood was his as man, yet so close is the union between the divine and human nature that it is here called the blood of God, for it was the blood of him who is God, and his being so put such dignity and worth into it as made it both a valuable ransom of us from evil, and a valuable purchase for us of all good, nay, a purchase of us to Christ, to be to him a peculiar people: Thine they were, and thou gavest them to me. In consideration of this, therefore, feed the church of God, because it is purchased at so dear a rate. Did Christ lay down his life to purchase it, and shall his ministers be wanting in any care and pains to feed it? Their neglect of its true interest is a contempt of his blood that purchased it.

MacArthur says:

Just to add to the responsibility that we have, he says this – as if it isn’t bad enough already to know what weight of responsibility, he says, “Take heed therefore unto yourselves and all the flock over which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers to feed the church of God.”

You know, what really motivates you is that this isn’t my church. This isn’t our church as elders. Whose church is it? It’s God’s Church. I’m caring for His property. Have you ever had the responsibility of caring for the property of somebody, where you’re just a nervous wreck, hoping they’ll get back before you’ve lost it or broken it or – sometimes I think that’s the reason I’d like Christ to get here soon. Just to get a hold of this deal before I’ve got it totally messed up.

This is His Church. Jesus said to Peter three times, “Feed My sheep.” “Feed My sheep.” “Feed My lambs.” They’re not his; they’re not Peter’s. They’re not mine. They’re His.

Listen, I love my Lord, and I want to take care of His sheep. He’s said to me, “MacArthur, these are my sheep. Now, you take care of them till I get back.” And I’ll tell you, that’s a motivating thing, people, to stop and think. Peter said, “Feed the flock of God.” They’re not mine.

Paul correctly stated that wolves — false teachers — would arrive after his departure among the congregation (verse 29). Furthermore, even a few of the elders would become false teachers, drawing away some of the flock (verse 30).

Paul would later write about this to Timothy, who was subsequently in charge of the church in Ephesus. Henry tells us:

While Paul was at Ephesus, they kept away, for they durst not face him; but, when he was gone, then they entered in among them, and sowed their tares where he had sown the good seed … This was there fulfilled in Phygellus and Hermogenes, who turned away from Paul and the doctrine he had preached (2 Timothy 1:15), and in Hymeneus and Philetus, who concerning the truth erred, and overthrew the faith of some (2 Timothy 2:18), which explains the expression here.

MacArthur has more:

Now, Paul says in Acts, to these Ephesian elders, he says, “Get ready; they’re coming.” And you want to know something? They came. Paul wrote to Timothy twice. Paul wrote to Timothy both those times while Timothy was the pastor at Ephesus. Did you know he was the pastor at Ephesus? Yes. Those two letters were written to him while he was at Ephesus. And in both of those letters, Paul makes reference to false doctrine. It came. Believe me it came.

In 1 Timothy, for example, the first time he wrote Timothy, while Timothy was still at Ephesus, in 1 Timothy 4 he says, “The Spirit speaks expressly that in the latter times” – and the latter times had already begun; it began when Messiah came the first time – “some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons.” There will be seducers. You know what seducers are? They’re people who lure away somebody that doesn’t belong to them. They lure them away, speaking lies and hypocrisy, forbidding to marry, all kinds of false doctrine. He goes on to say, in verse 6, and this is the point I want to make, “If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ.” You know, what a good minister of Jesus Christ does? He reminds people to watch out for false prophets. He reminds people to watch out for doctrines of demons, and he reminds people to watch out for seducing spirits.

For those reasons, Paul encouraged the elders to be alert, night and day, as he was, in order to guard against false doctrine (verse 31). Paul mentioned his own tears in this regard. Henry discusses the tears and the obligation on the elders after his departure:

He warned them with tears of compassion, thereby showing how much he was himself affected with their misery and danger in a sinful state and way, that he might affect them with it. Thus Paul had begun the good work at Ephesus, thus free had he been of his pains; and why then should they be sparing of their pains in carrying it on?

And, so, with Paul’s departure imminent, the only obligation remaining for him was to commend the elders to God and to His divine grace, so that they would be built up and sanctified in their holy work (verse 32). Henry reminds us that Jesus also did this with the Twelve:

Paul commends them not only to God and to his providence, but to Christ and his grace as Christ himself did his disciples when he was leaving them: You believe in God, believe also in me. It comes to much the same thing, if by the word of his grace we understand the gospel of Christ, for it is Christ in the word that is nigh unto us for our support and encouragement, and his word is spirit and life: “You will find much relief by acting faith on the providence of God, but much more by acting faith on the promises of the gospel.” He commends them to the word of Christ’s grace, which he spoke to his disciples when he sent them forth, the commission he gave them, with assurance that he would be with them always to the end of the world: “Take hold of that word, and God give you the benefit and comfort of it, and you need no more.” He commends them to the word of God’s grace, not only as the foundation of their hope and the fountain of their joy, but as the rule of their walking: “I commend you to God, as your Master, whom you are to serve, and I have found him a good Master, and to the word of his grace, as cutting you out your work, and by which you are to govern yourselves; observe the precepts of this word, and then live upon the promises of it.”

Then Paul said that they should not ask for any riches in their work (verse 33), but rather work as necessary just to cover one’s own needs and and those alongside them (verse 34). MacArthur tells us:

Simply put, it says this: God does not bless the ministry of a man who is concerned about money. I have never yet seen a man in a ministry who got preoccupied with money who didn’t have Ichabod written on his ministry. You can’t serve God and mammon, money. It can’t be done.

Freedom from self-interest. This was Paul’s heart. He came into town; he says, “I have the right to ask of you, but I don’t. I’ll work to earn my own keep just to show you the pattern of example, that that’s how it’s to be. And if God wants to bless you by giving you something, fine. Fine.

Paul even said that a elder who was faithful was worry of double honor in 1 Timothy 5. And most commentators would say that means financially. And Paul made the statement that, “I have the right to receive from you. That’s fine; it’s wonderful. I have that right, but I’ve chosen to show you an example of earning my own and not being a burden and not asking for anything.”

I don’t believe a man of God in the ministry should ever ask for anything. And I have talked to people who said, “Well, you know, when I went to such-and-such church, I told them what I ought to get, and we worked it out, and I got what I asked for.” And I just – it makes me sick. I’m afraid I’d get what I deserve. And I’d just rather say nothing and let grace be grace. Whatever God gives me, I’m just thankful. I don’t believe it’s right for a man in a ministry to ask for anything. In fact, I’m so strong on this, I don’t believe it’s right to ever set a price on anything you do as a minister of God. Ever.

Paul concluded his counsel by telling the elders to work hard and care for the weak. He also reminded them of Jesus’s words about giving being more important than receiving (verse 35). MacArthur gives us an interesting fact:

“I’ve shown you these things” – he said – “and I worked among you” – in verse 35 – “to support the weak. I did it as an example, and I want you to remember the worlds of the Lord Jesus, how He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ You want to know? That’s probably one of the most interesting little quotes in all the Bible. It’s what we call Agraphē. What that means is that’s a quote of Jesus that never made it into the Gospels. That’s a quote that Jesus gave that nobody ever wrote down. And Paul quotes it. You look for that in the Gospels, you won’t find it. But Jesus said it.

You say, “Did Jesus say things that aren’t written in the Gospels?”

Oh, did He. Why, you read the end of the Gospel of John, He said so many things I suppose John says, “The books all in the world couldn’t contain everything He said.” And this is just one of those things that He said, “It’s more blessed to give than receive.” He says to those men, “Remember in your ministry, the most thing is giving, giving, giving, giving; not receiving.” God help us from getting crass.

Next week’s post discusses the farewell that Paul bade the elders.

Next time — Acts 20:36-38

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Bible kevinroosecomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy have omitted — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur (multiple sermons, cited below).

Acts 20:17-27

Paul Speaks to the Ephesian Elders

17 Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him. 18 And when they came to him, he said to them:

“You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, 19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; 20 how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, 21 testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.[a] 22 And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by[b] the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. 24 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. 25 And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. 26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, 27 for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.

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Last week’s post explained how Paul came to be in Miletus. From there he would sail for Jerusalem to commemorate the first Pentecost.

As Ephesus was nearby, he sent for the elders from that church to stay with him in Miletus (verse 17).

Paul wanted to leave them instructions on the ministry. In this first part, he explained his own conduct in Christ’s service. John MacArthur tells us (emphases mine):

He is about to express to them the pattern of the ministry. Now, I hasten to add this very simply; this passage is not difficult to understand. It’s very simple. The concepts are simple; it’s ground floor. And at the same time that I say that, I would instruct you to listen carefully, because as it is basic, it can really be formative in your own ministry.

Now, Paul gives four views. The ministry only goes four ways. Watch. Our ministry has a perspective toward God, right? Our ministry has a perspective toward the Church, saved people. Toward the lost, and toward ourselves. Those are the four dimensions of the ministry.

Paul begins by telling the elders — presbyters — that during his entire time in Ephesus, how he lived among them, serving them in spite of the many trials and tears that beset him from the Jews who plotted against him (verse 19).

Throughout it all, he was blameless, steadfast and constant. Matthew Henry’s commentary has more:

(1.) He had conducted himself well all along, from the very first day that he came into Asia–at all seasons; the manner of his entering in among them was such as nobody could find fault with. He appeared from the first day they knew him to be a man that aimed not only to do well, but to do good, wherever he came. He was a man that was consistent with himself, and all of a piece; take him where you would he was the same at all seasons, he did not turn with the wind nor change with the weather, but was uniform like a die, which, throw it which way you will, lights on a square side. (2.) He had made it his business to serve the Lord, to promote the honour of God and the interest of Christ and his kingdom among them. He never served himself, nor made himself a servant of men, of their lusts and humours, nor was he a time-server; but he made it his business to serve the Lord. In his ministry, in his whole conversation, he proved himself what he wrote himself, Paul a servant of Jesus Christ, Romans 1:1. (3.) He had done his work with all humility of mind–meta pases tapeinophrosynes, that is, in all works of condescension, modesty, and self-abasement … (4.) He had always been very tender, affectionate, and compassionate, among them; he had served the Lord with many tears. Paul was herein like his Master; often in tears; in his praying, he wept and made supplication, Hosea 12:5. In his preaching, what he had told them before he told them again, even weeping, Philippians 3:18 … (5.) He had struggled with many difficulties among them. He went on in his work in the face of much opposition, many temptations, trials of his patience and courage, such discouragements as perhaps were sometimes temptations to him, as to Jeremiah in a like case to say, I will not speak any more in the name of the Lord, Jeremiah 20:8,9. These befel him by the lying in wait of the Jews, who still were plotting some mischief or other against him. Note, Those are the faithful servants of the Lord that continue to serve him in the midst of troubles and perils, that care not what enemies they make, so that they can but approve themselves to their Master, and make him their friend. Paul’s tears were owing to his temptations; his afflictions helped to excite his good affections.

Paul told the elders how he diligently taught, going from house to house, Jew and Gentile, speaking only that which was edifying about the Lord (verses 20,21). MacArthur says Paul did not care about ingratiating himself or being popular, but rather speaking only the truth about Jesus Christ:

He saw his relationship to God in terms of service toward the Church, point two, teaching. His obligation to the Church was to teach, verse 20, “And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shown you and have you publically, and from house to house.” His ministry Godward was seen as service, churchward as teaching. He saw the priority was instruction. That was very clear.

I like this little thought here, verse 20, “I kept back nothing that was profitable.” To keep back, to draw back, to withhold, the same verb used in verse 27, “I have not shunned,” or, “I have not failed,” “I have not held back anything that was the counsel of God.” Paul didn’t hold back a thing.

You know, that’s one of the dangers in the ministry is you get to think about how people are affected by you, and you get to worrying about your popularity. You do that just as much as I do. You know?

You say, “Well, if I say that, Mr. So-and-so, because he thinks this.” And, you know, you – and you’re just very careless.” So, you may avoid certain things so you don’t offend somebody.

Now, you should do that. You should be inoffensive if it’s a particular opinion. But if it’s the Word of God, and the truth of God, and a question of right or wrong, you just put it out and let everything fly.

Paul then told the elders that he was on his way to Jerusalem, ‘constrained by the Spirit’, not knowing what would happen there (verse 22). Both Henry and MacArthur say that commentators have interpreted Spirit as the Holy Spirit and, with a small ‘s’, as human spirit, or determination. MacArthur explains, using his Bible translation:

Look at verse 22, “And no, behold, I go bound in the Spirit unto Jerusalem.” And the term “bound in the Spirit” is interesting. The word “bound” here is a very strong word. It refers usually to chains or cords or fetters. He was tied up, believe me, in this. He was under strong pressure.

Romans 7:2, the same word is used to speak of a strong obligation. He was absolutely chained to this fulfillment. He was chained and driven to this desire, bound in the Spirit. Now, some say that’s the Holy Spirit, some say it’s his human spirit. He’s just saying, “Inside I was bound for this.” I don’t think it matters, because it was both. He was a Spirit-filled man. So, either the Holy Spirit or the human spirit would probably be one and the same.

But Paul was compelled on the inside to go to Jerusalem, “not knowing the things that should befall me there,” verse 22 says. He was on his way to Jerusalem because he believed God was in it; it was right, and he was going to do it. He had a great compulsion to go. He had this money; he had to give it to the saints there. He knew that it would help to tie the Church together. It was so important to him, as we’ve seen.

Paul then said that the Holy Spirit had been testifying all along, wherever he went, that imprisonment and afflictions awaited him (verse 23). Jerusalem would be no different.

Regardless, Paul said that his own life didn’t matter. His ministry in Christ’s service was what mattered, testifying about God’s grace until the bitter end (verse 24). MacArthur says:

The lowest thing, the last thing on Paul’s list of priorities was self-preservation. Did you get that? The last thing. Do you know where that is on most of our lists? First. “Well, I will endeavor to do that; however, I must take care of certain things first.”

Yes, like Jesus called the disciples, and the guy said, “Well, I have to go home and bury my father.” His father wasn’t even dead, but he wanted to hang around until he died so he could get the goodies that were left to him. See, always self-preservation. But Paul, last on the list.

“Look,” he says, “don’t worry about me getting tied up. I’ll die if that’s what the Lord wants. I just want to do what he wants anyway.” That’s a combination of faith and confidence. His only concern was to finish the work.

Paul told the elders that he would not see them again (verse 25), although he did, as Henry tells us:

Paul did afterwards come to Ephesus, and see them again. He would never have said thus solemnly, Now, behold, I know it, if he had not known it for certain. Not but that he foresaw that he had a great deal of time and work yet before him, but he foresaw that his work would be cut out for him in other places, and in these parts he had no more to do.

Paul then said that he was innocent of any blood, referring not to forgiveness for his early persecutions as a Pharisee, but not causing any man to lose his own soul (verse 26). He had been diligent and thorough in his preaching. Anyone who did not heed his teaching had only himself — not Paul — to blame. Henry explains:

He therefore leaves the blood of those that perish upon their own heads, because they had fair warning given them, but they would not take it.

Paul concluded the review of his ministry by emphasising that he did not shirk his duty in proclaiming the whole counsel of God (verse 27). He did not add his own opinions. He did not philosophise. He did not add or omit anything. He taught solid doctrine about Jesus to everyone.

MacArthur says that being a faithful minister is a heavy responsibility, because clergy will be judged on how well they fulfilled their calling:

You say, “Is it – is it true that a leader or a teacher or a pastor is going to be guilty of the blood of certain people? Apparently it is. You go back to Ezekiel 33:8 and Ezekiel was told that he was to speak what God told him. God would give him a message, and he would relay it to Israel.

And God said, “You better be faithful in relaying the message.” Verse 8, “When I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked man, thou shalt surely die,’ Ezekiel, if you don’t say the same thing to the man, his blood will I require at your hand.” Now, that doesn’t mean that Ezekiel’s going to be damned; it means Ezekiel’s going to be chastised for unfaithful ministry.

And Paul is saying here, “I will not be like that warning in Ezekiel 38.” And I’m sure he had that on his mind. My hands are clean. I am pure from the blood of all men.” There’s a responsibility for every man of God, and he has to recognize the responsibility that if God has committed unto him a ministry, and he doesn’t fulfill it, he’s going to be chastised for the failure to fulfill it. And I’m sure that there are some pastors who wonder why everything in their life seems to go wrong. And when they wonder that, they ought to examine a little more closely whether or not they are really fulfilling the ministry that God has committed to them, because if they’re not, then they’re under the punishment of the blood of those that they have failed to minister to in the way that God designed them to minister. Serious responsibility.

Believe me, that’s what James meant in 3:1, when he said, “Don’t hurry into the teaching ministry, because there is the greater condemnation if you fail to be faithful.”

But Paul says this, “I saw my ministry for what it was: toward God, toward the Church, toward the lost, toward myself. And I fulfilled it, and I never failed to declare the whole counsel of God. I did it. Therefore, I release my responsibility. I can walk out of this place and know that nothing is going to be held against me. I was faithful.

Now you say, “Is he saying that out of pride?”

Not at all. What he’s saying is this, “From now on, men, the responsibility is yours. Make sure that you discharge your ministry in a way faithful, equal to the way I gave you by example

Paul’s instructions to the elders of Ephesus will be in the next instalment.

Next time — Acts 20:28-35

The three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy have omitted — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 20:13-16

13 But going ahead to the ship, we set sail for Assos, intending to take Paul aboard there, for so he had arranged, intending himself to go by land. 14 And when he met us at Assos, we took him on board and went to Mitylene. 15 And sailing from there we came the following day opposite Chios; the next day we touched at Samos; and[a] the day after that we went to Miletus. 16 For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus, so that he might not have to spend time in Asia, for he was hastening to be at Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost.

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Paul and his companions — including Luke, the Gospel writer and author of Acts — left Troas the morning after Paul, through divine power, raised Eutychus from the dead after the young man fell asleep during his sermon. It’s important to stay awake during worship, no matter the adverse conditions.

Luke and the others sailed to Assos from Troas, but Paul walked (verse 13).

Before going into the possible reasons why Paul travelled on foot, below is a map of where the men went. Note the west coast of Asia Minor and locate Troas in the northwest. Also worth noting are the towns and cities of some of the churches in Revelation, e.g. Smyrna and Pergamon. Click on the map and it will open in a new tab. Map courtesy of Wikipedia:

Matthew Henry and John MacArthur offer different reasons why Paul walked to Assos, which is at the southern point of the Troas region.

Henry’s commentary states that Paul wanted to convert more souls and meet old friends. He took a shorter, yet more dangerous, route, possibly as a means of self-denial (emphases mine below):

He had decreed or determined within himself that whatever importunity should be used with him to the contrary, urging either his ease or his credit, or the conveniency of a ship that offered itself, or the company of his friends, he would foot it to Assos: and, if the land-way which Paul took was the shorter way, yet it is taken notice of by the ancients as a rough way (Homer, Iliad 6, and Eustathius upon him, say, it was enough to kill one to go on foot to Assos.–Lorin. in locum); yet that way Paul would take, 1. That he might call on his friends by the way, and do good among them, either converting sinners or edifying saints; and in both he was serving his great Master, and carrying on his great work. Or, 2. That he might be alone, and might have the greater freedom of converse with God and his own heart in solitude. He loved his companions, and delighted in their company, yet he would show hereby that he did not need it, but could enjoy himself alone. Or, 3. That he might inure himself to hardship, and not seem to indulge his ease. Thus he would by voluntary instances of mortification and self-denial keep under the body, and bring it into subjection, that he might make his sufferings for Christ, when he was called out to them, the more easy, 2 Timothy 2:3. We should use ourselves to deny ourselves.

MacArthur, on the other hand, posits that friends from the church in Troas accompanied him part of the way and that he shared their company, talking more about the Gospel along the way:

What did I tell you … was customary when a – when a beloved friend left a certain people? It was customary for those people whom he was leaving to – what? – accompany him on his journey. You know why Paul walked? Paul walked so he could have more time with them. Selfless man. He wasn’t in a hurry, was he? He was available. Oh, how he loved the Church. He walked between 20 and 30 miles, and probably the last 5 or 10 miles he walked alone. And I’m sure he needed that time to be alone with the Lord before he met his friends at the ship.

Once in Assos, Paul and his companions sailed to Mitylene, which is on the island of Lesbos (verse 14).

The following day, they sailed ‘opposite’ the island of Chios. The day after that, they sailed further south to the island of Samos, and, the following day, they returned to the mainland to nearby Miletus (verse 15).

These were fairly short journeys, because, as MacArthur explains, the winds blew only during part of each day:

This is an interesting thing just to note. I’m not going to go into all the geography of those cities or any of that, but each one of those cities is about 30 miles past the next one, all down the little coast of Asia Minor. And the thing was that the winds only blew from early morning to late afternoon; so, they would just travel from early morning to late afternoon, 30 miles, stay overnight; 30 miles, stay overnight; 30 miles stay overnight; 30 miles, stay overnight. That’s how they journeyed. And so, that’s why it tells us about all those little stops.

While the names of these destinations might seem obscure to us, Henry’s commentary says that they were important during that era:

… these are places of note among the Greek writers, both poets and historians …

Miletus was fairly close to Ephesus and was also a port city. MacArthur has more:

Miletus was a town, the ancient capital of Ionia. It was not too far from Ephesus. It was originally composed of a colony of Cretans; became extremely powerful and built one of the world’s great, magnificent temples dedicated to the God Apollo. So, it was somewhat famous.

In verse 16, Luke tells us that Paul was intent on completing his journey to Jerusalem so that he could be there for Pentecost. Therefore, he did not want to go to Ephesus, where he most probably would have been persuaded to stay by the church there.

MacArthur says that the journey from Miletus was likely to have been quicker than the one from Ephesus:

Apparently, the ship going to Ephesus, or the one that would have stopped there, was going to stay too long, and he was in a hurry. So, because he didn’t want to spend time in Asia, he didn’t take the ship to Ephesus but the one that stopped at Miletus.

However, that did not stop Paul from sending word to the elders in Ephesus to stay with him in Miletus. More on that next week.

Next time — Acts 20:17-27

The three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy have omitted — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 20:7-12

Eutychus Raised from the Dead

7 On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight. There were many lamps in the upper room where we were gathered. And a young man named Eutychus, sitting at the window, sank into a deep sleep as Paul talked still longer. And being overcome by sleep, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead. 10 But Paul went down and bent over him, and taking him in his arms, said, “Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.” 11 And when Paul had gone up and had broken bread and eaten, he conversed with them a long while, until daybreak, and so departed. 12 And they took the youth away alive, and were not a little comforted.

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Last week’s entry discussed how Paul and a select number of men from various churches he had planted met up in Troas.

St Luke, the author of Acts, was among that number and personally travelled with Paul from Philippi to Troas.

They stayed in Troas seven days and left on a Monday.

On the first day of the week — Sunday, the Lord’s Day — they met to worship, commemorate the Last Supper and share dinner together (verse 7).

Even though Paul got up early the next day, he preached until midnight. One of the reasons was that he did not know if he would ever return, so he wanted to give the congregation final encouragement and instruction.

Interestingly, no one minded the length of Paul’s speech. In our world, we are clock watchers wondering how long a church service will last.

We know from Acts that Paul was a persuasive teacher who appealed to logic and reason rather than emotion and feelings — something today’s clergy would do well to practise.

John MacArthur tells us (emphases mine):

The problem in the Early Church wasn’t how do you get the people to come. It was how do you get them to go home? And let me tell you something, friends. This has been the characteristic of every period of reformation and revival in the history of the Church. You know that John Calvin preached every day for hours, day after day after day, year after year after year, and so did Martin Luther? And it was out of that the great days of the Reformation revival was spawned. That’s been the history of the Church. Great men of God preach day after day after day after day in certain cities, and great revivals broke out. And people came, and they learned.

Matthew Henry’s commentary posits that Paul might have preached that morning, too:

It is probable he had preached to them in the morning, and yet thus lengthened out his evening sermon even till midnight; we wish we had the heads of this long sermon, but we may suppose it was for substance the same with his epistles.

Henry offers an explanation for the night time worship:

… perhaps they met in the evening for privacy, or in conformity to the example of the disciples who came together on the first Christian sabbath in the evening.

The room they met in was on the upper floor of someone’s home. There were many lights (verse 8). MacArthur says this was because pagans accused Christians of clandestine activities:

You say, “Why does it tell us there were lights there?” Well, I think there’s two reasons. Number one, the pagans used to slander Christians and say that Christians were immoral and they met together for clandestine purposes, and they got in their little cubbyholes in the dark and committed all sorts of abominations. And so some commentators feel that the Spirit puts the little note, “there were many lights,” in there, just to let us know that the Christians in Troas had lit the place up like a Christmas tree so nobody in town could criticize them for meeting in the dark.

A young man, Eutychus, was sitting on the window ledge, nodded off and fell to his death (verse 9). Windows at that time had no glass, so were open spaces save for a shutter of some sort.

Henry says the young man’s fall was divine judgement because he fell asleep during Paul’s speech, for which he should have stayed awake:

Now this youth was to be blamed, (1.) That he presumptuously sat in the window, unglazed perhaps, and so exposed himself; whereas, if he could have been content to sit on the floor, he had been safe. Boys that love to climb, or otherwise endanger themselves, to the grief of their parents, consider not how much it is also an offence to God. (2.) That he slept, nay, he fell into a deep sleep when Paul was preaching, which was a sign he did not duly attend to the things that Paul spoke of, though they were weighty things. The particular notice taken of his sleeping makes us willing to hope none of the rest slept, though it was sleeping time and after supper; but this youth fell fast asleep, he was carried away with it (so the word is), which intimates that he strove against it, but was overpowered by it, and at last sunk down with sleep.

2. The calamity with which he was seized herein: He fell down from the third loft, and was taken up dead. Some think that the hand of Satan was in it, by the divine permission, and that he designed it for a disturbance to this assembly and a reproach to Paul and it. Others think that God designed it for a warning to all people to take heed of sleeping when they are hearing the word preached; and certainly we are to make this use of it. We must look upon it as an evil thing, as a bad sign of our low esteem of the word of God, and a great hindrance to our profiting by it. We must be afraid of it, do what we can to prevent our being sleepy, not compose ourselves to sleep, but get our hearts affected with the word we hear to such a degree as may drive sleep far enough. Let us watch and pray, that we enter not into this temptation, and by it into worse. Let the punishment of Eutychus strike an awe upon us, and show us how jealous God is in the matters of his worship; Be not deceived, God is not mocked. See how severely God visited an iniquity that seemed little, and but in a youth, and say, Who is able to stand before this holy Lord God? Apply to this story that lamentation (Jeremiah 9:20,21), Hear the word of the Lord, for death is come up into our windows, to cut off the children from without and the young men from the streets.

MacArthur, on the other hand, is understanding of Eutychus‘s plight, explaining that the fuel from the lamps made the boy — possibly an adolescent — drowsy. However, he, too, says that his death was a judgement:

all those lights in there were oil-burning lamps, and they would have created a tremendous stuffy atmosphere. All the fumes and the little smoke that would come off of that oil, and the place was really filling up. And apparently, an upper chamber would maybe hold 30, 40 people in a good-sized home, and they’d be crammed in. And if there were 50 or 60 there, they would be just like sardines, and all that smoke coming off of there, and that may have created the problem. The burning oil, the stuffy atmosphere, and that part of the world at that time, perhaps that evening, deterioration of the atmosphere.

Verse 9. “And there sat in a window -” Fortunate young man that he could find air, and so he got by a window and sat on the windowsill. The windows of course were lattices or wooden windows that opened. They didn’t have any glass. “And his name was Eutychus, and being fallen into a deep sleep,” and the verb there in the Greek is a present participle, which means he was progressively falling asleep while he was trying to fight it. Just so – you know how it is. You’ve done it. Your head goes, and then _______ …

Well, that’s Eutychus. He’d bob his head down, and he’d pull it up again and blink around. But he was fighting. And finally the _____ overcame him, “And he being fallen into a deep sleep, and as Paul was long preaching, he sank down with sleep.” He was out. And then of course we know how serious it is to fall asleep during a sermon, because immediately the Lord dealt with him. He fell from the third loft and was taken up dead. So think about that, folks.

Not surprisingly, Paul paused his sermon to go downstairs to determine the young man’s condition. Instead of judging him, Paul had compassion for Eutychus and took him in his arms, announcing that was alive (verse 10).

Henry said that Paul probably prayed earnestly for the boy’s life at that moment:

his falling on him and embracing him were in imitation of Elijah (1 Kings 17:21), and Elisha (2 Kings 4:34), in order to the raising of him to life again; not that this could as a means contribute any thing to it, but as a sign it represented the descent of that divine power upon the dead body, for the putting of life into it again, which at the same time he inwardly, earnestly, and in faith prayed for.

MacArthur also says this was a miracle, taking issue with those who say that Eutychus was still alive, just in a deep slumber. Recall that Luke was a physician; he would have known the difference:

He fell down, and he was taken up dead. That’s the quote of Luke, incidentally, who wrote the passage here, under the inspiration of the Spirit, but Luke’s comment is that he was dead. Now I’ve heard all kinds of commentators and all kinds of people say he wasn’t dead. He just appeared to be dead, and he just was taken up as if he were dead. It doesn’t say that. It says he was taken up dead. He was dead. Three story fall.

Well, look what happens. That would kind of tend to break the meeting up, and it did. Verse 10, “And Paul went down and fell on him.” And of course, the idea of fell there is to place himself on him. Not just to collapse on him, which wouldn’t have helped him at all. Paul went down and just placed himself on him. And it says, “He embracing him,” and the idea of that – it’s a double compound Greek verb, and it means he just wrapped himself around him. You say, “Why did he do that?” Well, maybe he remembered Elijah and Elisha. 1 Kings 17, 2 Kings 4. Remember, both of them embraced and put themselves all the way around a man and raised him from the dead, which it was a child in that case.

And so he just places himself around Eutychus, who is a young man. Perhaps a teenager. And I love this. He says, “Trouble not yourselves, for his life is in him.” One liberal commentator said, when he put himself around him, he could hear his heart ticking, and he said, “Oh, he’s all right,” and got up. No. He was dead. What happened was a resurrection miracle.

You know, Paul had a great prayer that he prayed in Philippians 3:10. He said, “I pray that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection.” And boy, he did know it, didn’t he? He knew resurrection power. He wrapped himself around. In a minute, a miracle happened. All of the broken bones and all of the injuries of his body that had caused the death reversed themselves and he was alive.

Paul went back upstairs to eat with those assembled and to converse with them — until daybreak (verse 11). How selfless was he? Most of us turn in early the night before a journey, but Paul, whose love for Jesus, God and people was so overwhelming that he pulled an all-nighter.

The supper Paul shared with the Christians was what was traditionally known as a ‘love feast’, one of agape and fellowship. Today, we call that a potluck, where everyone brings a plate of food to share with everyone else, especially the poor among them.

Henry describes the setting:

He came up again to the meeting, they broke bread together in a love-feast, which usually attended the eucharist, in token of their communion with each other, and for the confirmation of friendship among them; and they talked a long while, even till break of day. Paul did not now go on in a continued discourse, as before, but he and his friends fell into a free conversation, the subject of which, no doubt, was good, and to the use of edifying. Christian conference is an excellent means of promoting holiness, comfort, and Christian love. They knew not when they should have Paul’s company again, and therefore made the best use they could of it when they had it, and reckoned a night’s sleep well lost for that purpose.

MacArthur tells us:

So they met in an upper chamber. They broke bread. Now what do you mean by that? Well, of course, that’s the reference to the ancient Palestinian custom. The meal was officially begun when the host broke bread, literally. And the breaking of bread came to refer to the Christians coming together, and they did two things. They had the love feast … And communion, or the Lord’s Table.

This was a beautiful thing. You say, “What was the love feast?” Well, the love feast was like a potluck meal, and it was for the purpose of sharing. You had – one of the very basic things of the Christian Church is fellowship, isn’t it? And love. And so the poor people would come, and they couldn’t bring anything, and the people who could would bring enough for the poor people, and they would all share as an expression of love. It was a beautiful sharing. The common meal. And it was followed immediately by the breaking of bread and the celebration of the Lord’s Day. This was the breaking of bread for the Early Church. The agape love feast and communion.

At daybreak, the congregation dispersed taking Eutychus — very much alive and well — with them (verse 12). They were elated that he was living. Such miracles — visible signs from God — allowed the growth of the Church in those early days as to the veracity of the Good News.

Next time — Acts 20:13-16

Bible readingThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy have omitted — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 20:1-6

Paul in Macedonia and Greece

20 After the uproar ceased, Paul sent for the disciples, and after encouraging them, he said farewell and departed for Macedonia. When he had gone through those regions and had given them much encouragement, he came to Greece. There he spent three months, and when a plot was made against him by the Jews[a] as he was about to set sail for Syria, he decided to return through Macedonia. Sopater the Berean, son of Pyrrhus, accompanied him; and of the Thessalonians, Aristarchus and Secundus; and Gaius of Derbe, and Timothy; and the Asians, Tychicus and Trophimus. These went on ahead and were waiting for us at Troas, but we sailed away from Philippi after the days of Unleavened Bread, and in five days we came to them at Troas, where we stayed for seven days.

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The ‘uproar’ referred to in verse 1 was the riot in Ephesus (Acts 19:35-41).

Now it was time for Paul to go on another grand missionary tour, his third.

He sent for members of the church in Ephesus — ‘the disciples’ — and encouraged them in their faith. Some translations use ‘exhorting’, which means the same thing. Exhortation does not mean criticism, but rather encouragement — a building up.

With that, Paul bade them farewell and left for Macedonia.

From Ephesus, which was in Asia Minor (also note smaller map boxed in black), he travelled northwest to Macedonia, which is the northern part of modern-day Greece and is distinct from the Republic of Macedonia.

He visited the Christians in Macedonia — principally Philippi and Thessalonica — and gave them much encouragement.

St Luke, the author of Acts, documented Paul’s stay and conversion of the first European on European soil — Lydia — in Acts 16. Paul also landed in prison there.

Acts 17 has the story of Paul and Silas founding the churches further south in Thessalonica and Berea, which was relatively nearby.

Following his stay, Paul then travelled south to Greece (verse 2). Paul had already spent time in Athens (Acts 17, discussed here and here). From there, he founded the church in Corinth (Acts 18, discussed here, here and here).

Matthew Henry’s commentary describes these return visits (emphases mine):

1. He went first to Macedonia (Acts 20:1), according to his purpose before the uproar (Acts 19:21); there he visited the churches of Philippi and Thessalonica, and gave them much exhortation, Acts 20:2. Paul’s visits to his friends were preaching visits, and his preaching was large and copious: He gave them much exhortation; he had a great deal to say to them, and did not stint himself in time; he exhorted them to many duties, in many cases, and (as some read it) with many reasonings. He enforced his exhortation with a great variety of motives and arguments. 2. He staid three months in Greece (Acts 20:2,3), that is, in Achaia, as some think, for thither also he purposed to go, to Corinth, and thereabouts (Acts 19:21), and, no doubt, there also he gave the disciples much exhortation, to direct and confirm them, and engage them to cleave to the Lord.

Paul spent three months in Greece. He was originally going to set sail for Syria from there, but when it became clear that disgruntled Jewish leaders were plotting against him, he went returned north to Macedonia to sail from there (verse 3). He was going to Syria in order to visit the church in Antioch, which Barnabas founded and Paul strengthened (Acts 11). Earlier, whilst in Ephesus, he had intended to make a return visit to those congregations, along with the aforementioned churches in Macedonia and Archaia, home to Corinth (Acts 19). Then the riot in Ephesus took place.

Henry explains more about the plot against Paul in Greece, possibly assassination:

The altering of his measures; for we cannot always stand to our purposes. Accidents unforeseen put us upon new counsels, which oblige us to purpose with a proviso. 1. Paul was about to sail into Syria, to Antioch, whence he was first sent out into the service of the Gentiles, and which therefore in his journeys he generally contrived to take in his way; but he changed his mind, and resolved to return to Macedonia, the same way he came. 2. The reason was because the Jews, expecting he would steer that course as usual, had way-laid him, designing to be the death of him; since they could not get him out of the way by stirring up both mobs and magistrates against him, which they had often attempted, they contrived to assassinate him. Some think they laid wait for him, to rob him of the money that he was carrying to Jerusalem for the relief of the poor saints there; but, considering how very spiteful the Jews were against him, I suppose they thirsted for his blood more than for his money.

MacArthur also thinks the plot was murderous:

Well, he found out about the plot. So what do you think you’re going to do? Well he [looked?] after his life. And he knew that the whole world was after his life. At least the world he was going into.

Paul had companions with him from the churches in that part of the world (verse 4). Sopater, the son of Pyrrhus, was from Berea, home to discerning readers of Scripture. Henry tells us:

Sopater of Berea, it is likely, is the same with Sosipater, who is mentioned Romans 16:21.

There were two men from the church in Thessalonica: Aristarchus and Secundus. Neither commentator says anything about them, but we can be assured that if Paul chose them, they were worthy disciples.

In any event, those three were from Macedonia.

There was Gaius from the church in Derbe, and Timothy, who had been leading the church in Macedonia then went to Ephesus, replacing Paul. Some scholars say that Timothy’s hometown could have been Lystra, which was not far from Derbe and Iconium (Acts 16).

Of Timothy’s reassignment, as it were, Henry tells us:

Timothy is reckoned among them, for though Paul, when he departed from Ephesus (Acts 20:1), left Timothy there, and afterwards wrote his first epistle to him thither, to direct him as an evangelist how to settle the church there, and in what hands to leave it (see 1 Timothy 1:3,3:14,15), which epistle was intended for direction to Timothy what to do, not only at Ephesus where he now was, but also at other places where he should be in like manner left, or whither he should be sent to reside as an evangelist (and not to him only, but to the other evangelists that attended Paul, and were in like manner employed); yet he soon followed him, and accompanied him, with others here named.

Finally, there were two men from Asia, which, at that time, meant the eastern part of Asia Minor. They were Tychicus and Trophimus.

One might wonder why Paul took these good evangelists out of their present church assignments. Henry explains that Paul needed not only help but also personal enhancement, even though he was a powerful teacher and church planter:

1. That they might assist him in instructing such as by his preaching were awakened and startled; wherever Paul came, the waters were stirred, and then there was need of many hands to help the cripples in. It was time to strike when the iron was hot. 2. That they might be trained up by him, and fitted for future service, might fully know his doctrine and manner of life, 2 Timothy 3:10. Paul’s bodily presence was weak and despicable, and therefore these friends of his accompanied him, to put a reputation upon him, to keep him in countenance, and to intimate to strangers, who would be apt to judge by the sight of the eye, that he had a great deal in him truly valuable, which was not discovered upon the outward appearance.

One could think of them as a religious, yet personal, public relations team of sorts to smooth rough waters when necessary.

Note that Luke returned to the fold, having accompanied Paul in Macedonia. The two of them returned to Troas, thought to have been Luke’s hometown; at the very least, it was where they first met (Acts 16). The other evangelists named were already there to meet them (verse 5).

Luke says that he and Paul celebrated the Feast of the Unleavened Bread in Philippi (verse 6). MacArthur says:

The Feast of Unleavened Bread was, of course, the feast which lasted seven days immediately after Passover.

Whilst Henry says Paul had already put away his Jewish customs …

The days of unleavened bread are mentioned only to describe the time, not to intimate that Paul kept the passover after the manner of the Jews; for just about this time he had written in his first epistle to the church at Corinth, and taught, that Christ is our Passover, and a Christian life our feast of unleavened bread (1 Corinthians 5:7,8), and when the substance was come the shadow was done away.

… MacArthur says that Paul was still partially rooted in them:

He originally wanted to be in Jerusalem for Passover, but when the plot came up, he couldn’t make it. So now he had to put his plans off and hope to get there by Pentecost which was 50 days after Passover … And he’s missed the Passover [with the others in Troas], though he did celebrate it in Philippi and he [Luke] makes a note of that because it tells us again that Paul was still very Jewish in his heart and his attitude.

Either way, Paul loved Jesus Christ, he loved God and he loved people, especially his converts. Paul made his intense, arduous and dangerous journeys in service to all three.

Next time — Acts 20:7-12

Bible ancient-futurenetThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy have omitted — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 19:35-41

35 And when the town clerk had quieted the crowd, he said, “Men of Ephesus, who is there who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is temple keeper of the great Artemis, and of the sacred stone that fell from the sky?[a] 36 Seeing then that these things cannot be denied, you ought to be quiet and do nothing rash. 37 For you have brought these men here who are neither sacrilegious nor blasphemers of our goddess. 38 If therefore Demetrius and the craftsmen with him have a complaint against anyone, the courts are open, and there are proconsuls. Let them bring charges against one another. 39 But if you seek anything further,[b] it shall be settled in the regular assembly. 40 For we really are in danger of being charged with rioting today, since there is no cause that we can give to justify this commotion.” 41 And when he had said these things, he dismissed the assembly.

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Last week’s entry was about the riot in Ephesus, brought about by the distraught silversmith Demetrius who was upset that fewer people were buying his little shrines of the goddess Artemis — Diana.

The town clerk managed to quieten the mob and asked who did not know that a) Ephesus was the centre of Artemis worship and b) that the goddess — great stone — had fallen from the sky to earth (verse 35).

‘Town clerk’ is a bit of a misnomer, because both Matthew Henry and John MacArthur say that he was a very important person in Ephesus.

Henry’s commentary tells us (emphases mine):

he is called, grammateus–the scribe, or secretary, or recorder; “the register of their games,” the Olympic games (so others), whose business it was to preserve the names of the victors and the prizes they won.

MacArthur says that he was akin to a mayor:

he was the chief citizen of the town, he was the chairman of the town assembly, the town council, he was the secretary of the town council. He was the guy who called the convening of the town meetings which occurred three times a month. He was the very important citizen. He finally quieted the people after two hours of standing in the middle of that place screaming their heads off.

He appealed to the Ephesians’ common sense: ‘Everyone knows that our city has the great temple to Artemis, who came to us from the sky in the form of a stone. Therefore, why are we getting into such a lather over a universally known fact?’ For them, Artemis was fact, not fiction.

MacArthur explains the stone:

this big, black, ugly image of Diana that they assumed had fallen from Jupiter; it probably was some sort of a meteorite. But nevertheless, the tradition had said it came down from Jupiter.

The town clerk then cautioned the mob against any rash violence (verse 36). This was because he would have to give an account to the Romans as to why he could not control the city over which he presided. That could have had serious consequences, as MacArthur says:

Now he’s smart man. He knows that the Romans are going to hold him responsible for all the trouble. Because he’s in charge of the town. He’s like the mayor. And he knows that the Romans could impose a fine on that city or the Romans could take away their right to free government because they were a free city like Athens was. And they could really be in trouble. So he jumps up and he says, “don’t you all know that this city is the worshipper” literally in the Greek, the temple warden of the great goddess Artemis.

Rationally, the town clerk continued his short discourse. He pointed out that the men the mob were angry with had not blasphemed the goddess or done anything destructive towards her (verse 37). MacArthur interprets his words as follows:

Why, nothing can affect our great goddess, a whole lot of these little preachers roaming around and be like shooting a peashooter at the Empire State Building. This is big time stuff. They’re not going to affect us. So he fires out a whole lot of nice glossy platitudes about the greatness of their god. And that nothing could ever change that.

The goddess power was undeniable and secure. Relax, he says, calm down. Verse 37. “For you have brought here these men who are neither robbers of temples, they have implundered the shrine of Diana, or Artemis.” And they’re not blasphemers of your goddess. They haven’t blasphemed your goddess.

Henry’s commentary says that the town clerk implied there was no way Artemis could be man made, as Paul said, because she fell from the heavens:

The temple of Diana at Ephesus was a very rich and sumptuous structure, but, it should seem, the image of Diana in the temple, because they thought it sanctified the temple, was had in greater veneration than the temple, for they persuaded the people that it fell down from Jupiter, and therefore was none of the gods that were made with men’s hands … Some take it thus: “Seeing the image of Diana fell down from Jupiter, as we all believe, then what is said against gods made with hands does not at all affect us.”

Both commentators indirectly refer to the theological concept of common grace, which asserts that Providence and/or the Holy Spirit maintains order in the world, even via unbelievers — in this case, the town clerk.

Henry has this observation:

See here, [1.] How the overruling providence of God preserves the public peace, by an unaccountable power over the spirits of men. Thus the world is kept in some order, and men are restrained from being as the fishes of the sea, where the greater devour the less. Considering what an impetuous furious thing, what an ungovernable untameable wild beast the mob is, when it is up, we shall see reason to acknowledge God’s goodness that we are not always under the tyranny of it. He stills the noise of the sea, noise of her waves, and (which is no less an instance of his almighty power) the tumult of the people, Psalms 65:7. [2.] See how many ways God has of protecting his people. Perhaps this town-clerk was no friend at all to Paul, nor to the gospel he preached, yet his human prudence is made to serve the divine purpose. Many are the troubles of the righteous, but the Lord delivereth them out of them all.

MacArthur points out:

You know the Holy Spirit put this whole story in here for no other reason than just to have a pagan say verse 37.

The town clerk further called the mob to reason by saying that if Demetrius and his fellow silversmiths have legitimate grievances, they can follow the proper channels via the local courts and the proconsuls (verse 38). Anything else can be dealt with in the regular assembly (verse 39).

He closed by alluding to Roman authority: the riot could attract the government’s attention and the Ephesians would not be able to justify it (verse 40).

At that point, he dismissed the Ephesians (verse 41).

MacArthur says that the town clerk indirectly helped the church in Ephesus:

He took Christianity under his patronage. He said, they haven’t done anything. What have they done against us? Let’s let them be.

However, MacArthur surmises that the church in Ephesus became too comfortable without struggle. He says that Paul and Timothy were their first and last great pastors.

Recall the angel’s — messenger’s — warning to the church in Ephesus in my post on Revelation 2:1-7:

3You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. 4Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. 5Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.

St John (the Apostle and Gospel author) wrote Revelation around 95 AD. As I wrote in my post:

You may wonder what happened to the city of Ephesus. Sadly, it no longer exists. That great, bustling metropolis of the early world has disappeared. Over time, silt from the River Cayster accumulated to such an extent that it ruined the city and its harbour. It is now desolate. Would this have happened if the Ephesians heeded this letter?

John MacArthur says that only a little village nearby exists:

that doesn’t name one single Christian in its population.

One can tour the ruins in Ephesus. The following quote is from one tour company’s description. Note that Mary was believed to have spent her final days there:

You will firstly visit the Temple of Artemis which was once one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world. Our next stop will be Ephesus ancient city. You are going to visit the world famous ancient Greco-Roman City of Ephesus, the most well-preserved example in the world. After visiting this impressive site, we are going to have a break for lunch. After the lunch, you are going to visit the House of Virgin Mary, where it is believed she spent her last days. That is a holy place for both Christians and Muslims. Afterward, you are going to visit the Isabey Mosque.

And that is the story of Ephesus.

People say that God does not bring judgement anymore, that it stopped with the Bible. Looking at this history, we can see that He surely has brought judgement to the Church. A salutary lesson.

Next time — Acts 20:1-6

Bible openThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy have omitted — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 19:28-34

28 When they heard this they were enraged and were crying out, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” 29 So the city was filled with the confusion, and they rushed together into the theater, dragging with them Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians who were Paul’s companions in travel. 30 But when Paul wished to go in among the crowd, the disciples would not let him. 31 And even some of the Asiarchs,[a] who were friends of his, sent to him and were urging him not to venture into the theater. 32 Now some cried out one thing, some another, for the assembly was in confusion, and most of them did not know why they had come together. 33 Some of the crowd prompted Alexander, whom the Jews had put forward. And Alexander, motioning with his hand, wanted to make a defense to the crowd. 34 But when they recognized that he was a Jew, for about two hours they all cried out with one voice, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”

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Last week’s entry discussed the circumstances behind the riot in Ephesus, which was the centre of worship of Artemis, or Diana. Demetrius, a silversmith, got his fellow craftsmen together to say that Christianity, because of Paul’s preaching, was putting a dent in the money they made out of creating silver shrines to their goddess.

This enraged them to cry out in defence of Artemis (verse 28). Word quickly spread through the city and people went on the attack.

John MacArthur discusses the unhinged nature of attacks against Christianity, which often offends. This is going on around the world today, especially in Western nations:

And the world gets mad. Gets angry with Christianity. Sometimes people say[, ‘]I was so worried because I shared Christ and they got upset[‘]. Good. It’s very good. As long as they got upset about Christ and not about you …

Then he describes the atmosphere at that point in Ephesus:

These people just lost their cool, they were in a frenzy screaming, rioting, yelling the name of their goddess. You know that’s what happened, that kind of anger is what happened at the death of Christ. That the people were so infuriated because they started screaming and yelling. “Crucify Him; crucify Him, away with Him, away with Him.” And they turned into the frenzied mob. And the truth only angered them. Paul had tried every way that he could to get the truth across or at least allow them to concede something.

… So the first characteristic of a mob is anger. The second one is confusion. And I want you to see this. This is interesting. Verse 29. So there they all are screaming their heads off, “Great Artemis of the Ephesians.” And the whole city was filled with confusion. That’s the second characteristic of a mob. They don’t know what to do. Melee, chaos, disorder.

Verse 29 mentions a theatre, where everyone ran into, dragging with them Paul’s companions Gaius and Aristarchus, who were Macedonians.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that the theatre in Ephesus was the place where men would wrestle with dangerous animals. The plan was either to get the two Macedonians to wrestle with animals or to suffer abuse from the angry mob (emphases mine below):

some think with design there to make them fight with beasts, as Paul had sometimes done; or perhaps they intended only to abuse them, and to make them a spectacle to the crowd.

It made no logical sense to drag Gaius and Aristarchus into the theatre, but, as Henry tells us:

this was their only crime, that they were Paul’s companions in travel, both in services and sufferings.

MacArthur tells us more about the two men, although I do not understand how Gaius of Derbe could be Macedonian when Derbe is nowhere near there:

We don’t know much about Gaius, he could be the same, well he is the same one mentioned in chapter 20, verse 4. Gaius of Derbe. We don’t know because there are several of that name in Scripture. We don’t know which ones they are. So we don’t know whether we know much about him or not. But Aristarcus … was a man of Macedonia …

Since Gaius has said in chapter 20, verse 4 to be from Derbe and Derbe was where? In Galatia. So Macedonia would be the assignment given to Aristarchus. He was a native of Thessalonica, he was a converted Jew. And he shared many things with Paul. In fact he was in prison in Rome with Paul. So he was really a beloved companion. So they grabbed these two guys, soon ___ fellow travelers, fellow companions and they haul them off into the theater.

Naturally, Paul wanted to be amongst the mob (verse 30), no doubt to speak reason to them. However, the disciples in Ephesus would not let him follow. Even the Asiarchs — Roman officials — who knew him would not allow him to enter the theatre (verse 31).

MacArthur tells us more about the Asiarchs and their possible relationship with Paul:

Certain of the chief[s] of Asia, Asiarcs they were called who were his friends. Apparently Paul had made some friends of the Asiarcs and that would be because he was a Roman citizen. Sent unto him besieging him that he would not venture into the theaters. So here came these political wheels, the Asiarcs, just a word about them.

Each province had assigned guys from the Roman government. In other words, the province was the Roman province and so the Romans would send in some guys to kind of run the province. They had really two responsibilities. They were to promote the worship of Rome or allegiance to Rome and the worship of the emperor. They were Roman PR men. They were to get those people to subscribe to Rome and worship the emperor. Now they were named by whatever province they were in. If they were in Galatia, they were called Galatarcs. If they were in Syria, they were called Syriarcs. If they were in Macedonia, they were called Macedoniarcs. If they were in Asia, they were called Asiarcs. And so that’s what it says there when it says Chief of Asia.

They were the Asiarcs. These were guys that were assigned to Asia Minor to keep the peace to make sure the people kept their allegiance to Rome and worshipped the emperor. Now emperor worship was a very broad and general thing. These guys also presided over the games. And that’s one of the reasons we believe that this was the month of May and the Artemisian games were going on because they were all there in Ephesus.

And they would normally probably be stationed all around Asia Minor. They were all there. And they knew that this was a possible volatile situation. And in order to keep the peace and keep everything calm and intact, they said, Paul don’t go in there. And apparently they had had some dealings with Paul before. They were his friend[s]. That doesn’t mean they were bosom buddies, but they were acquaintances. They knew Paul personally. And so because Paul was a Roman citizen, they desired to protect him.

He was a Roman citizen and this was basically a kind of a pagan area though it was now ruled by Rome. And so they were protecting Paul on the basis probably of his Roman citizenship. And they sure didn’t want more trouble. They saw what was going on with the mob and they just wanted to let it all die down. And if Paul went in there, they’d really have something going.

The mob was confused. Most did not even know why they were there (verse 32), but, as so often happens with human nature, people rush after the crowd, lemming-like. As Henry puts it:

upon such occasions, the greatest part come only to enquire what the matter is: they follow the cry, follow the crowd, increase like a snow-ball, and where there are many there will be more.

Then some in the crowd called for a man named Alexander to speak against Paul, and he agreed to do so, by making a hand gesture (verse 33).

Henry explains that the Jews there intended to confirm that Paul was their enemy and, consequently, put themselves in the good books of the pagans:

They drew Alexander out of the multitude, called him out to speak on the behalf of the Jews against Paul and his companions: “You have heard what Demetrius and the silversmiths have to say against them, as enemies to their religion; give us leave now to tell you what we have to say against him as an enemy to our religion.” The Jews put him forward to do this, encouraged him, and told him they would stand by him and second him; and this they looked upon as necessary in their own defence, and therefore what he designed to say is called his apologizing to the people, not for himself in particular, but for the Jews in general, whom the worshippers of Diana looked upon to be as much their enemies as Paul was. Now they would have them know that they were as much Paul’s enemies as they were; and those who are thus careful to distinguish themselves from the servants of Christ now, and are afraid of being taken for them, shall have their doom accordingly in the great day. Alexander beckoned with the hand, desiring to be heard against Paul; for it had been strange if a persecution had been carried on against the Christians and there were not Jews at one end or the other of it: if they could not begin the mischief, they would help it forward, and so make themselves partakers of other men’s sins. Some think this Alexander had been a Christian, but had apostatized to Judaism, and therefore was drawn out as a proper person to accuse Paul; and that he was the Alexander the coppersmith that did Paul so much evil (2 Timothy 4:14), and whom he had delivered unto Satan, 1 Timothy 1:20.

MacArthur’s take on Alexander is less severe:

Now we don’t know who Alexander was. He may have been a Christian Jew. And the Jews may have shoved him forward. See the Jews knew they were under pressure. Because everybody assumed that Christianity was a sect of Judaism, right? And so they were afraid. So maybe they shoved this Christian Jew Alexander up there so they were going to lay the blame on this Christian Jew and try to say it isn’t Jews, it’s Christian Jews that are messing up the place.

Or maybe he was a Jew. Not a Christian. Who just was pushed up there to tell everybody that the Jews had nothing to do with this. We don’t know whether he was a Christian Jew or a non-Christian Jew he was apparently put up there by the Jews to defend them somehow.

No one listened, because they said that Alexander was a Jew. Instead, the crowd shouted out in favour of their goddess for two hours (verse 34). They specifically called her ‘Artemis of the Ephesians’. Henry explains what they were thinking:

“Great is Diana of the Ephesians; whoever runs her down, be he Jew or Christian, we are resolved to cry her up. She is Diana of the Ephesians, our Diana; and it is our honour and happiness to have her temple with us; and she is great, a famous goddess, and universally adored. There are other Dianas, but Diana of the Ephesians is beyond them all, because her temple is more rich and magnificent than any of theirs.”

And that is what it all boiled down to — materialism, commerce and money:

Diana made the Ephesians great, for the town was enriched by the vast concourse of people from all parts to Diana’s temple there, and therefore they are concerned by all means possible to keep up her sinking reputation with, Great is Diana of the Ephesians.

How pathetic. Yet, that is what sinful man values.

The story continues next week.

Next time — Acts 19:35-41

Bible ancient-futurenetThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy have omitted — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 19:23-27

23 About that time there arose no little disturbance concerning the Way. 24 For a man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought no little business to the craftsmen. 25 These he gathered together, with the workmen in similar trades, and said, “Men, you know that from this business we have our wealth. 26 And you see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost all of Asia this Paul has persuaded and turned away a great many people, saying that gods made with hands are not gods. 27 And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis may be counted as nothing, and that she may even be deposed from her magnificence, she whom all Asia and the world worship.”

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Last week’s entry was about Paul’s future travel plans to extend Christianity.

The passage is where the story of the riot in Ephesus begins. Today, we discover the background to the riot.

Interestingly, St Luke — the author of Acts — once again wrote of ‘the Way’, which was the ancient term for Christ and Christianity. A previous use of ‘the Way’ was earlier in Acts 19, when some of the Ephesian Jews spoke vilely of it.

In today’s reading, the pagan silversmith Demetrius, along with others, was consterned about the increase of Christians in Ephesus. This was brought about by the failed exorcism of two of the Sons of Sceva which brought out converts who voluntarily confessed to practising the dark arts, which resulted in an equally voluntary ‘book’ (scroll) burning. The name of Jesus was glorified. The church in the port city grew and grew.

Ephesus had a huge following of the goddess Diana — Artemis — the huntress. Demetrius, along with other silversmiths, made silver shrines of her, which was a lucrative trade in the city for reasons which John MacArthur explains (emphases mine):

The temple of Diana was big business, a monstrous place, 420 feet by 250 feet. A huge place. And hundreds of people preached to eunuchs, temple worshippers, priestesses, prostitutes, the whole thing, all worshipping up there. And this temple also was a treasure house for gold and silver. So it was a very, very, very, wealthy place. A very famous place, people from all over the world came there. In fact there were a whole multiple of pillars. And these pillars were donated by princes and rulers from all over the world.

So it was a very, very famous place. And periodically during the year it had a string of pilgrims making an influx into the city. So tourist traffic in the worship of Artemis was really big business. And the silversmiths made their living by selling these little shrines to the tourists. And to the people making pilgrimages to the city of Ephesus to worship at the shrine of Artemis. Now the best we can tell was that these were little models of the temple or else little statues of Artemis. Now this was an interesting thing.

It is thought that these were small ‘shrines’ that one could carry in one’s pocket or put in one’s home. As such, they were easy to transport, so that a pilgrim could take a few home to give to family and friends.

Demetrius and his fellow craftsmen made a comfortable and reliable living fashioning these shrines (verse 24). We do not know if Demetrius was the leader of the local silversmith’s guild or if he was a prominent member who took it upon himself to speak in a position of leadership.

Whatever the case, he gathered together these craftsmen and those in related trades to say that they had all made a lot of money by producing these Artemis-themed things (verse 25) and that Paul’s preaching against man-made gods was ruining their livelihood — not just in Ephesus but across Asia Minor (verse 26).

MacArthur surmises that Demetrius might have sounded the alarm during a high period of pilgrimage and found that his business was in a slump:

… this was probably according to some chronologists, the month of May and it was a big time and this was really the place that was filled with worshippers and this was the time of making big money. And what happened was the gospel had hit him right in the money bag. The gospel was fouling up their business. Because people were accepting the truth of Christ and turning from idols. Bad business.

Demetrius then said that they should all be very worried about the possible end results: a) that they personally could fall into disrepute and b) they might be put out of business if more people turn away from Artemis towards Jesus Christ (verse 27). Note that he took special pains to mention that the Artemis cult was worshipped not only in Asia Minor but everywhere else, too.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that Demetrius was warning them that their persons could be in danger in addition to their livelihoods. There was an undercurrent in Demetrius’s thinking that Paul have must been wrong because everyone had worshipped Artemis for a very long time:

He reminds them of the danger which their trade was in of going to decay. Whatever touches this touches them in a sensible tender part: “If this doctrine gains credit, we are all undone, and may even shut up shop; this our craft will be set at nought, will be convicted, and put into an ill name as superstition, and a cheat upon the world, and every body will run it down. This our part” (so the word is), “our interest or share of trade and commerce,” kindyneuei hemin to meros, “will not only come into danger of being lost, but it will bring us into danger, and we shall become not only beggars, but malefactors.” [4.] He pretends a mighty zeal for Diana, and a jealousy for her honour: Not only this our craft is in danger; if that were all, he would not have you think that he would have spoken with so much warmth, but all his care is lest the temple of the great goddess Diana should be despised, and her magnificence should be destroyed; and he would not, for all the world, see the diminution of the honour of that goddess, whom all Asia and the world worship. See what the worship of Diana had to plead for itself, and what was the utmost which the most zealous bigots for it had to say in its behalf. First, That it had pomp on its side; the magnificence of the temple was the thing that charmed them, the thing that chained them; they could not bear the thoughts of any thing that tended to the diminution, much less to the destruction, of that. Secondly, That it had numbers on its side; All Asia and the world worship it; and therefore it must needs be the right way of worship, let Paul say what he will to the contrary.

And this is the lesson for us, that mankind inherently seeks sin and the world rather than the light of Christ:

Thus, because all the world wonders after the beast, therefore the dragon, the devil, the god of this world, gives him his power, and his seat, and great authority, Revelation 13:2,3.

Acts 19 moves from the Jews denouncing the Way to pagans denouncing it. MacArthur points out:

Why does God take up all this 20 verses to tell us about a riot? One of the reasons is because it’s exciting to see the successes of Christianity put in the mouths of the pagans, do you see? It isn’t just us that’s claiming God’s power. The pagans are admitting it. Do you see how important that kind of apologetic is? It’s one reason why it’s here. And another thing, the reason the spirit puts it here is because the rioters are so frustrated because there’s nothing they can really do because there’s no-one to blame and there’s nothing evil that Christians have done.

So again, God lets the pagans state the case that Christianity is successful, God is turning people from idols and secondly there’s nothing you can criticize him for. That’s why the whole account’s here. And as you’ll see in a minute, they all get together and riot like crazy, but they don’t know what to do.

And who is responsible for this incredible transformation, with God working through him? Paul. Paul — and the purified church in Ephesus. The Holy Spirit was also working through them:

What brought the success first of all was one man totally committed to Jesus Christ. Do you believe that one man totally committed to Jesus Christ can make a difference in a province? In a state, in a country?

This man did. Paul. One man committed to Jesus Christ came into one city and turned a province on its ear. One man. But you know what that one man spent his time doing? Night and day, praying and teaching with tears the Word of God. And what an effect he had. So it was first of all the success that came by the presence of one man dedicated. But secondly it was the success that came by the presence of a purified church. You know when those people who believe, Verses 17 to 19 of chapter 19. “When they believe, they who believe” verse 18 says, “confessed and showed their deed or revealed their secrets and burned their magic books.” And so forth and so on. And when the church got purified, man things began to happen

The account of the riot continues next week.

For now, the important message is that the Lord bestoed massive blessings on Paul from his many heartfelt prayers, enabling him to present the Gospel story in a true doctrinal way which, in turn, brought about a purified church in Ephesus as more people converted and those who had sinned in private voluntarily admitted it and repented. As such, the church increased dramatically afterwards to the extent that even unbelievers noticed it.

Next time — Acts 19:28-34

Bible GenevaThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy have omitted — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 19:21-22

A Riot at Ephesus

21 Now after these events Paul resolved in the Spirit to pass through Macedonia and Achaia and go to Jerusalem, saying, “After I have been there, I must also see Rome.” 22 And having sent into Macedonia two of his helpers, Timothy and Erastus, he himself stayed in Asia for a while.

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Last week’s entry discussed the deep faith and further conversions that came about after two of the Sons of Sceva saw their fake exorcism foiled by the demon in the man they were hoping to notionally heal. The incident left the converts of Ephesus in awe. They extolled the name of the Lord Jesus, and those who were still practising the dark arts voluntarily came out in public to burn their rare and esoteric books, which were very expensive.

The principal verse in that reading is verse 20:

20 So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily.

I will come back to that at the end of the post.

For now, Luke — the author of Acts — took pains to tell us that Paul was planning another visit to places where he had established churches and then journey southward once more to the poor church in Jerusalem, after which he wanted to go to Rome (verse 21).

There are several points to make about verse 21.

First, Luke wrote: ‘Paul resolved in the Spirit’. Students of Acts will remember that the Holy Spirit did not allow him, Silas and Timothy to travel eastwards in Asia Minor (Luke 16:6-10). They went westward instead and ended up in Troas where they met Luke for the first time. Luke was with them for a short time, as they all went to establish the church in Philippi, where Lydia, the purple goods seller, was their initial point of contact and first convert on European soil (Luke 16:11-15).

Secondly, Achaia was the province where Corinth was located, so Paul would have wanted to visit the church he had established there. Corinth was where he met his friends and fellow tent makers, Priscilla and Aquila.

Thirdly, after visiting the Christians in Jerusalem, he wanted to go northwest to Rome. Recall that Priscilla and Aquila — along with other Jews and Jews who became Christian — had been exiled from the city by edict. Matthew Henry’s commentary says that, by the time Paul was thinking of visiting:

it was upon the death of the emperor Claudius, who died the second year of Paul’s being at Ephesus … because while he lived the Jews were forbidden Rome, Acts 18:2.

Therefore, it was finally safe for Paul to visit the heart of the Roman Empire.

Verse 22 tells us that, for the meantime, Paul remained in Ephesus while he sent the aforementioned Timothy and Erastus, about whom we know little other than it was a common name in that era, to go to Macedonia. Our commentators say that he wanted them to go to Macedonia in order to collect money for the church in Jerusalem, which can be cross-referenced in his letters to the Corinthians. While the men were in Macedonia, Paul stayed in Ephesus to preach and teach not only there but in the area surrounding the city.

Henry’s commentary tells us:

He sent Timothy and Erastus into Macedonia, to give them notice of the visit he intended them, and to get their collection ready for the poor saints at Jerusalem. Soon after he wrote the first epistle to the Corinthians, designing to follow it himself, as appears 1 Corinthians 4:17,19, I have sent to you Timotheus; but I will myself come to you shortly, if the Lord will. For the present, he staid in Asia, in the country about Ephesus, founding churches.

MacArthur says:

The church of Jerusalem was very poor. And Paul wanted to take a love offering from his churches as a gift to the church at Jerusalem. The reason he wanted to go to Macedonia and Achaia was to collect his offering. And I think that’s kind of an exciting reason, really if you want to know. In several places in Corinthians he alludes to this offering just to maybe I can point out one or two of them. Chapter 9, verse 1 “is touching the administering to the saints that is superfluous for me to write you for I know the readiness of your mind for which I boast of you to them of Macedonia and Achaia.”

The riot in Ephesus to which the title of today’s passage refers starts in my next entry. For now, MacArthur has a great explanation of Acts 19:20, which I cited above and how important the church in Ephesus was to Asia Minor.

At this point, we are reading about Paul’s ministry in the port city after he had been there for around two-and-a-half years. MacArthur says (emphases mine):

He has been there for nearly three years teaching. He knows they know enough. There are elders there of quality enough to lead the church. The Christians are grown up, they’re mature. The work has matured.

There are churches elsewhere in Asia Minor. Also of note is this:

… we think that at least all seven churches [in] the book of Revelation possibly could have been founded during this three year period while Paul was in Ephesus.

MacArthur tells us that Paul had a grand plan, in accordance with the Lord:

Now just keep this in mind. Paul was a strategist and he wanted to reach as far as he could reach with the gospel. And Paul’s plan was this. To plant the gospel in key cities on a line from Antioch to Rome.

By the way, there already was a church in Rome, possibly started by Jews — later converts — who had been in Jerusalem to witness the first Pentecost, but it was not very well organised at the time.

MacArthur continues:

And if you follow the ministry of Paul, he just stops all the way along at key points on the great road from Antioch to Rome. And he’s planting the churches in the key centers. And from there they spread to the province. If Paul could knock off the capital of the province, he felt he had a running start on the province. And so he wants to go one step further to reach Rome. And incidentally that wasn’t the end of it either as you’ll see in a minute. Now after he had planted the church in Ephesus, he realized that the line of witness would then begin to spread from Ephesus. And so he would go to Rome, plant the witness there, there was already a church there, but perhaps he could enhance the witness. And then it would begin to spread.

And then as all these centers began to spread, they would sort of cross-pollinate and the whole area would be saturated with the Gospel. And he believed in the process of reproduction of evangelism by reproduction. Where you would win some people to Christ, establish a church, that church would grow, send out others to establish other churches and by multiplication you would conquer an area. Not by the superficial sweep and so this was his plan. Now when he got to Rome, that was only a step on the way to somewhere else.

Paul’s intention was to keep travelling west to what is now Spain. That would have been one amazing journey. MacArthur says:

So he could go all the way from Jerusalem, Antioch and straight out as far as he could go to reach Spain with the Gospel. This was in his mind to do. He was a strategist planning his conquests. He writes to the Romans in chapter 1 verse 13 of Romans. “I would not have you ignorant brother in the off times I purpose to come unto you but was prevented thus far that I might have some fruit among you even as among other Gentiles. I am better to the Greeks, to the Barbarians, to the wise, to the unwise so much as in me as I am ready to preach the Gospel to you that are at Rome also.”

From this point on, even though Paul doesn’t attain his objective until the end of Acts — chapters 27 and 28 — his goal is Rome:

But he doesn’t get there in the way that he thought he would get there. But he gets there. From here on out, his sights are set on Rome. And he’s going to make it. And man is it an exciting trip getting there.

Next week the story of the riot in Ephesus begins. The Artemis-worshipping craftsmen felt deeply threatened by Christianity, as it was diminishing their trade.

Next time — Acts 19:23-27

Bible evangewomanblogspotcomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy have omitted — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 19:17-20

17 And this became known to all the residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks. And fear fell upon them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was extolled. 18 Also many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices. 19 And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver. 20 So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily.

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Last week’s entry discussed the seven sons of Sceva, who travelled in and around Ephesus earning money by performing exorcisms. Sceva was a Jewish high priest, so it is bemusing to read that his sons engaged in such activity, as these were not true exorcisms. Two of the sons had the wits scared out of them when attempting to perform an exorcism on a man with a demon. The evil spirit — which said it knew Jesus and recognised Paul but not them — worked through the man to overpower the two sons, driving them out of the house naked and bloody.

The moral of that episode shows Satan is no friend of humankind. He has no use for man other than to sin, and, as that reading shows, he can turn on mankind immediately.

The Ephesians — Jews and Gentiles alike — were shocked by what happened (verse 17). ‘All’ were afraid. Luke, the author of Acts, says that they extolled the name of the Lord Jesus.

Interestingly, a number of new Christians publicly confessed their magic practices (verse 18). They were not forced to do so, but they were so overcome by what had happened that they wanted to make a clean break of their sin of casting magic spells.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that these new Christians were not as discerning as other converts (emphases mine):

Many that had believed and were baptized, but had not then been so particular as they might have been in the confession of their sins, were so terrified with these instances of the magnifying of the name of Jesus Christ that they came to Paul, or some of the other ministers that were with him, and confessed what evil lives they had led, and what a great deal of secret wickedness their own consciences charged them with, which the world knew not of–secret frauds and secret filthiness; they showed their deeds, took shame to themselves and gave glory to God and warning to others. These confessions were not extorted from them, but were voluntary, for the ease of their consciences, upon which the late miracles had struck a terror.

This is important:

Note, Where there is true contrition for sin there will be an ingenuous confession of sin to God in every prayer, and to man whom we have offended when the case requires it.

John MacArthur raises an important point about magic spells and divulging magic practices. This isn’t about card tricks or rabbits in hats, but more along the lines of ‘magick’. He thinks that among the converted Christians were people who converted after the sons of Sceva incident:

It’s a perfect participle, the word “believed,” and it could mean those who had already believed and had already been Christians but had never given up their magic, or it could mean those who were then saved and then came and confessed. Either possibility. But anyway, these people who believed came, confessed, and showed their deeds. A most interesting phrase. “Showed their deeds” means they came and revealed their spells. According to magic theory, the only good spell is the one that’s secret, and once you divulge the secret, the spell’s no good. So everybody came and told all the secrets. They were giving up all their magic. Giving it up. The whole satanic game was over. They saw the truth of the power of Jesus; and they saw that magic didn’t work, and in comparison to His name it was absolutely impotentThe Name of the Lord Jesus was magnified, and when the Name of the Lord Jesus is magnified, people will believe. You hear that? It’s right. His Name was magnified in verse 17, and people believed and confessed, and their lives were transformed.

Verse 19 relates their edifying method of repentance. They gathered together and burnt their magic books — scrolls. Although the books were worth 50,000 pieces of silver — tens of thousands of pounds/dollars/euros in today’s money — they didn’t sell the books and give the proceeds to the church or to the poor. No. They destroyed them so a) they would not be tempted to look at them again and b) to prevent others from delving inside.

Henry has a good analysis:

It is taken for granted that they were convinced of the evil of these curious arts, and resolved to deal in them no longer; but they did not think this enough unless they burnt their books. (1.) Thus they showed a holy indignation at the sins they had been guilty of; as the idolaters, when they were brought to repentance, said to their idols, Get you hence (Isaiah 30:22), and cast even those of silver and gold to the moles and to the bats, Isaiah 2:20. They thus took a pious revenge on those things that had been the instruments of sin to them, and proclaimed the force of their convictions of the evil of it, and that those very things were now detectable to them, as much as ever they had been delectable. (2.) Thus they showed their resolution never to return to the use of those arts, and the books which related to them, again. They were so fully convinced of the evil and danger of them that they would not throw the books by, within reach of a recall, upon supposition that it was possible they might change their mind; but, being stedfastly resolved never to make use of them, they burnt them. (3.) Thus they put away a temptation to return to them again. Had they kept the books by them, there was danger lest, when the heat of the present conviction was over, they should have the curiosity to look into them, and so be in danger of liking them and loving them again, and therefore they burnt them. Note, Those that truly repent of sin will keep themselves as far as possible from the occasions of it. (4.) Thus they prevented their doing mischief to others. If Judas had been by he would have said, “Sell them, and give the money to the poor;” or, “Buy Bibles and good books with it.” But then who could tell into whose hands these dangerous books might fall, and what mischief might be done by them? it was therefore the safest course to commit them all to the flames. Those that are recovered from sin themselves will do all they can to keep others from falling into it, and will be much more afraid of laying an occasion of sin in the way of others. (5.) Thus they showed a contempt of the wealth of this world; for the price of the books was cast up, probably by those that persuaded them not to burn them, and it was found to be fifty thousand pieces of silver, which some compute to be fifteen hundred pounds of our money. It is probable that the books were scarce, perhaps prohibited, and therefore dear. Probably they had cost them so much; yet, being the devil’s books, though they had been so foolish as to buy them, they did not think this would justify them in being so wicked as to sell them again. (6.) Thus they publicly testified their joy for their conversion from these wicked practices, as Matthew did by the great feast he made when Christ had called him from the receipt of custom. These converts joined together in making this bonfire, and made it before all men. They might have burnt the books privately, every one in his own house, but they chose to do it together, by consent, and to do it at the high cross (as we say), that Christ and his grace in them might be the more magnified, and all about them the more edified.

MacArthur says the bonfire lasted for a long time:

… the interesting thing, the word “burned” is imperfect. They kept on burning. I don’t know how long the bonfire lasted. But they kept burning.

The result was that the Gospel story not only circulated — but also prevailed — all the more, in fact, ‘mightily’ (verse 20).

There is a lesson here for today’s Christians — especially clergy. By erring in making the Gospel about social justice and identity politics whilst excusing every sin in the book, we are doing our fellow man a disservice in denying him the eternal truth of Jesus Christ.

Our two commentators were/are tied to the truth of the Gospel.

Do we see that today? Not often enough.

MacArthur is one of the rare exceptions. His church, Grace Church in southern California, is packed on Sundays. People hunger for the truth, not a sermon akin to a newspaper editorial! Of verse 20, he says:

In your life, where the Word of God dominates, there’s victory. You know that in this church, as long as the Word of God dominates, there’ll be victory. That’s the pattern. That’s the pattern. The church established with the Word, the individual established with the Word is clean and victorious over the enemy.

Henry tells us:

It is a blessed sight to see the word of God growing and prevailing mightily, as it did here. 1. To see it grow extensively, by the addition of many to the church. When still more and more are wrought upon by the gospel, and wrought up into a conformity to it, then it grows; when those that were least likely to yield to it, and that had been most stiff in their opposition to it, are captivated and brought into obedience to it, then it may be said to grow mightily. 2. To see it prevail extensively, by the advancement in knowledge and grace of those that are added to the church; when strong corruptions are mortified, vicious habits changed, evil customs of long standing broken off, and pleasant, gainful, fashionable sins are abandoned, then it prevails mightily; and Christ in it goes on conquering and to conquer.

I pray that our clergy turn from their theological error — likely learned at seminary — and preach the truth of Jesus Christ as Saviour and Redeemer. Only then will the Church prevail once more.

Next time — Acts 19:21-22

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