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bible-wornThe 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 20:36-38

36 And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. 37 And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, 38 being sorrowful most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they accompanied him to the ship.

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Last week’s entry discussed the preceding verses, which contained Paul’s instructions to the elders of Ephesus about their ministry. Wisely, he gave them that guidance after he recounted his own ministry in Ephesus.

Now it was time for Paul to leave Miletus, which is near Ephesus, and sail from Asia Minor to eventually reach his final destination, Jerusalem, to commemorate Pentecost.

The elders and Paul knelt for a final prayer together (verse 36). Matthew Henry’s commentary has an excellent analysis about prayer, not only in this situation but also for us as churchgoers (emphases mine):

no doubt, it was a prayer every way suited to the present mournful occasion. He committed them to God in this prayer, prayed that he would not leave them, but continue his presence with them. 1. It was a joint prayer. He not only prayed for them, but prayed with them, prayed with them all; that they might put up the same petitions for themselves and one another that he put up to God for them all, and that they might learn what to ask of God for themselves when he was gone. Public prayers are so far from being intended to supersede our own secret prayers, and make them needless, that they are designed to quicken and encourage them, and to direct us in them. When we are alone we should pray over the prayers that our ministers have put up with us.

Henry tells us about the humility of kneeling in prayer:

2. It was a humble reverent prayer. This was expressed by the posture they used: He kneeled down, and prayed with them, which is the most proper gesture in prayer, and significant both of adoration and of petition, especially petition for the forgiveness of sin. Paul used it much: I bow my knees, Ephesians 3:14.

This was likely to have been a prayer about Paul’s discourse on ministering to the church in Ephesus:

3. It was a prayer after sermon; and, we may suppose, he prayed over what he had preached. He had committed the care of the church at Ephesus to those elders, and now he prays that God would enable them faithfully to discharge this great trust reposed in them, and would give them those measures of wisdom and grace which it required; he prayed for the flock, and all that belonged to it, that the great Shepherd of the sheep would take care of them all, and keep them from being a prey to the grievous wolves. Thus he taught these ministers to pray for those they preached to, that they might not labour in vain.

It was also a parting prayer, one of farewell. Paul copied our Lord’s example:

4. It was a parting prayer, which might be likely to leave lasting impressions, as the farewell sermon did. It is good for friends, when they part, to part with prayer, that by praying together just at parting they may be enabled to pray the more feelingly one for another when they are separated, which is one part of our Christian duty, and an improvement of the communion of saints. The Lord watch between us, and watch over us both, when we are absent one from the other, is a good parting prayer (Genesis 31:49), as also that our next meeting may be either nearer heaven or in heaven. Paul here followed the example of Christ, who, when he took leave of his disciples, after he had preached to them, prayed with them all, John 17:1.

They all wept — including Paul. The elders embraced their spiritual leader and kissed him (verse 37). Henry lays out the scene:

He that was so often in tears while he was with them (Acts 20:19,31), no doubt shed many at parting, so watering what he had sown among them. But the notice is taken of their tears: They all wept sorely; there was not a dry eye among them, and it is probable the affectionate expressions Paul used in prayer set them a-weepingNote, Those that are most loving are commonly best beloved. Paul, who was a most affectionate friend himself, had friends that were very affectionate to him. These tears at parting with Paul were a grateful return for all the tears he had shed in preaching to them and praying with them.

St Luke, the author of Acts, points out that they were saddest because Paul told them he would not see them again (verse 38). Henry lists their other reasons for weeping. They feared the responsibility they now had in leading the church in Ephesus:

There were other things for which they sorrowed–that they should lose the benefit of his public performances, and see him no longer presiding in their assemblies, should have none of his personal counsels and comforts; and, we hope, they sorrowed for their own sin, in not profiting more by his labours while they had him among them, and which had provoked God to order his remove.

They then accompanied him to the ship (verse 38):

partly to show their respect for him (they would bring him on his way as far as they could), and partly that they might have a little more of his company and conversation; if it must be the last interview, they will have as much of him as they can, and see the last of him. And we have reason to think that when they came to the water-side, and he was about to go on board, their tears and embraces were repeated; for loth to part bids oft farewell. But this was a comfort to both sides, and soon turned this tide of passion, that the presence of Christ both went with him and staid with them.

John MacArthur’s closing prayer in his sermon is striking. He reminds us of what happened to the church in Ephesus:

Father, thank You for our time. We rejoice in the truth that we’ve learned. And our hearts are somewhat saddened, at least mine, as I think about the fact that by the time the letter of the Lord Jesus to Ephesus was written in Revelation, You had to say that they had left their first love. And that if didn’t something happen, You’d remove them as a church. And Father, we know historically that You did that, and there is no church at Ephesus.

We can’t understand it. We can’t understand how under the leadership of Paul and Timothy, so fast it could happen. But we know Satan works. Father help us to teach, to lead, to feed, to watch, to warn, to pray, to study. Protect the flock, that this may be a pure people till the day that Jesus comes, in whose name we pray, amen.

There are many churches today that are falling by the wayside because of the lack of doctrine and the influx of false teaching, i.e. social justice and sexual identity.

Social justice, politics and sexual variants are not in the New Testament as doctrine. In fact, quite the opposite. Yet, our seminaries and churches are full of clergy who continually preach about these things instead of the Gospel story.

It is no wonder that our houses of worship are so empty on Sundays. All the more reason for us to pray unceasingly in our own time and to study the Word of God privately.

Next time — Acts 21:1-6

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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

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

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

Bible treehuggercomThe 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 19:11-16

The Sons of Sceva

11 And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, 12 so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them. 13 Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” 14 Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. 15 But the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” 16 And the man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered all[a] of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.

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Those who are familiar with the Book of Acts, which St Luke wrote, know that sorcery was not unknown as an attack on the earliest churches:

Acts 8:14-25 – Philip, Simon Magus, sorcery, money, divine gifts, God, Holy Spirit, Peter, John

Acts 13:4-7 – Barnabas, Saul of Tarsus, John Mark, Cyprus, Sergius Paulus, Bar-Jesus, Elymas

Acts 13:8-12 — Paul, Elymas, magician, sorcerer, Paulus Sergius, conversion, blindness, miracle, doctrine, Cyprus

Acts 16:16-18 — Paul and the fortune-telling slave girl in Philippi; he drove an evil spirit out of her

In last week’s entry about Paul’s ministry in Ephesus, the Apostle had to withdraw from the synagogue because of all the evil Jewish resistors spoke against the truth about Christ Jesus.

This week’s passage, which immediately follows in Acts 19, reveals that the spiritual situation grew worse in Ephesus. This is not the whole story, which will conclude in next week’s post.

We see here that a great spiritual tension was building between good and evil.

On the good side, God worked through Paul to work ‘extraordinary miracles’ (verse 11).

Was this the first time or were these particular healing miracles? Matthew Henry’s commentary has this analysis (emphases mine below):

I wonder we have not read of any miracle wrought by Paul since the casting of the evil spirit out of the damsel at Philippi; why did he not work miracles at Thessalonica, Berea, and Athens? Or, if he did, why are they not recorded? Was the success of the gospel, without miracles in the kingdom of nature, itself such a miracle in the kingdom of grace, and the divine power which went along with it such a proof of its divine original, that there needed no other? It is certain that at Corinth he wrought many miracles, though Luke has recorded none, for he tells them (2 Corinthians 12:12) that the signs of his apostleship were among them, in wonders and mighty deeds. But here at Ephesus we have a general account of the proofs of this kind which he gave his divine mission. 1. They were special miracles–Dynameis ou tychousas. God exerted powers that were not according to the common course of nature: Virtutes non vulgares. Things were done which could by no means be ascribed either to chance or second causes. Or, they were not only (as all miracles are) out of the common road, but they were even uncommon miracles, such miracles as had not been wrought by the hands of any other of the apostles. The opposers of the gospel were so prejudiced that any miracles would not serve their turn; therefore God wrought virtutes non quaslibet (so they render it), something above the common road of miracles. 2. It was not Paul that wrought them (What is Paul, and what is Apollos?) but it was God that wrought them by the hand of Paul. He was but the instrument, God was the principal agent.

These miracles were so extraordinary that when people touched Paul’s skin with garments and took them home to their loved ones afflicted by illness or demons, those ailing were also cured (verse 12). That was truly extraordinary.

Thinking back to Christ’s ministry, the lady with the 12-year haemorrhage was cured when she touched His garment. If there were other instances, the Gospel writers did not record them.

Returning to Paul as a conduit for God’s healing power, John MacArthur says that the people pressing garments against him did not understand that God was working through the Apostle. They thought he had some sort of personal power, similar to that of a magician or sorcerer:

The people in Ephesus were very, very superstitious. And when they saw these miracles going on, coming out of Paul, they assumed the power was Paul’s.

MacArthur says that people picked up handkerchiefs which Paul used to wipe his brow while making tents:

the word “handkerchief” means “sweat cloth.” Those people who work, artisans or anybody in the crafts or anybody who did manual labor in those days, carried about these cloths with which they would wipe their brow and sometimes tie around their head. Well, they got Paul’s old, dirty, crummy sweat cloths! And they attached so much healing power to Paul, they figured if they get ahold of those sweat cloths, that that could work the same thing for them. And you know what? In spite of their superstition, God went ahead and did His miracles! Because God was in the business of confirming the Word, and He never let their superstitions violate what He was gonna do.

Seeing this, some Jewish exorcists who travelled from town to town to perform notional exorcisms for money, thought they could replicate divine healing miracles by invoking Jesus’s name (verse 13). These were not converts. They were just going to use what they thought was a magic incantation. Henry describes their appeal in that era. They were around in Jesus’s time, too:

They strolled about to tell people their fortunes, and pretended by spells and charms to cure diseases, and bring people to themselves that were melancholy or distracted. They called themselves exorcists, because in doing their tricks they used forms of adjuration, by such and such commanding names. The superstitious Jews, to put a reputation upon these magic arts, wickedly attributed the invention of them to Solomon. So Josephus (Antiq. 8. 45-46) says that Solomon composed charms by which diseases were cured, and devils driven out so as never to return; and that these operations continued common among the Jews to his time. And Christ seems to refer to this (Matthew 12:27), By whom do your children cast them out?

MacArthur gives us the origin for the historian Josephus’s claim:

in the Book of Tobit, the heart and liver of a miraculously caught fish are burned in the ashes of incense, and the resulting smell and smoke are supposed to drive away the demons. Josephus, who was a very intelligent person, a noted Jewish historian, told of a cure in which a demon was drawn through the nostrils of a demoniac by the use of magic root supposedly prescribed by Solomon. And there are other rabbinical writers who reflect the same fanciful magic superstitions.

Now, it may have been true that in the Old Testament time, demons were expelled through prayer, fasting, if Matthew 17:21 is true and if it is belonging in the manuscript. It may be true, and I’m sure God did answer prayer and demons were cast out in the Old Testament.

The men trying this incantation in Ephesus were the seven sons of a Jewish high priest, Sceva (verse 14). It did not work for them, because a) they had no belief in Jesus and b) were preying on the vulnerable in their trade. Henry explains:

They said, We adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preaches; not, “whom we believe in, or depend upon, or have any authority from,” but whom Paul preaches; as if they had said, “We will try what that name will do.”

However, the evil spirit answered them, saying that it knew Jesus and recognised Paul, but asked who they were (verse 15).

Worse came when the man with the evil spirit leapt up and overpowered the phony exorcists. The evil spirit worked through the afflicted man to the extent that the charlatans were injured and left his house naked (verse 16).

MacArthur says that not all seven sons of Sceva were in the house when the incident happened:

the old manuscript also includes the word “both” here, which indicates there were probably only two of the seven there. “And overcame them both and prevailed against them.” The demon was powerful, strong. And they fled out of the house naked and bleeding. Wounded.

MacArthur says that Satan played a violent trick on them, even though they were his servants. That incident further demonstrates that Satan is no friend of humankind.

Matthew Henry concludes with this:

This is written for a warning to all those who name the name of Christ, but do not depart from iniquity. The same enemy that overcomes them with his temptations will overcome them with his terrors; and their adjuring him in Christ’s name to let them alone will be no security to them.

Both commentators say that there is only one way to overcome Satan — lively faith and true repentance.

Henry has the short version:

If we resist the devil by a true and lively faith in Christ, he will flee from us; but if we think to resist him by the bare using of Christ’s name, or any part of his word, as a spell or charm, he will prevail against us.

MacArthur’s version is longer, based on personal experience:

We had this illustrated to us when we were working with this one girl who had all these devils that were speaking, and all this thing was going on, and the phenomenon was very unusual; and I tried to cast those demons out. “Get out!” You know? “Name of the Word!” They didn’t go. Some of the other guys on the staff tried, and they couldn’t do it either, which made me feel better. But none of us could get ’em out.

Let me give you a simple statement. All of the efforts to cast out demons are useless if that person doesn’t confess and repent of sin. Okay? Listen to this, then. If the person confesses and repents of sin, all of the efforts to cast out demons are unnecessary. So if you want to be real clear about it, it’s never a question of casting out the demons. It’s a question of repenting of the sins. If the person involved repents of the sin that allowed Satan to get a grip on them, then you don’t need somebody there doing all this other stuff. If they won’t repent of the sin, then it doesn’t matter what you do! You stand there ’til you’re blue in the face trying to cast out demons; but if that person’s harboring prolonged sin in their life, those demons have a place. Well, that’s all we’re trying to say.

Today, many Christians have become so preoccupied with Satan and so preoccupied with demons, and now Christians are having these new deliverance ministries that are growing up where you can go and get delivered. One guy had to pay $3,500.00 to get delivered. Found out he didn’t get delivered at all; he got bilked

And you say, “Well, you mean that we should never have Christians come around and pray?” Yeah, well, maybe that’s all right, but maybe they ought to be really talking about sin, not demons. Maybe we need to rebuking sin; maybe we need to be getting people to deal with sin.

I think so many times this whole thing of demons is a big copout. “Well, the demon made me do it, the demon made me do it.” Satan. You’re not dealing with your own sin. You’re not dealing with the issue of your nature. Your old sin nature. Confession, repentance, submission to the Word, submission to the Spirit removes the power of Satan.

Just another thought on this. Of all of the ministries of the body, of all of the responsibilities that we have toward one another, there is no statement or command to go around and cast demons out of each other! It says love one another, teach one another, edify one another, admonish one another, nurture one another, comfort one another, build up one another, reprove one another, rebuke one another, and so forth and so forth and so forth; but it doesn’t say cast demons out of one another.

That’s – beloved, I can comfort you and so forth and so on, but you don’t need me to take care of Satan in your life. I can’t do that, ’cause I can’t be holy for you. You got it? That’s your problem! Now, I can rebuke your sin, and I can give you wise counsel about your sin, and I can admonish you about your sin, but I can’t be holy for you. And if you’re gonna deal with Satan, that’s yours to do! And if I do all the exorcism in the world in the Name of Jesus Christ and there’s still harbored in your life, it’s unnecessary – I mean, it’s ineffective – and if there’s no sin in your life, then it’s unnecessary. If you have confessed and repented and submitted to the Truth of God, you’re clean.

Oh, you don’t have anything to fear. No. You have all victory over Satan

I don’t need to worry – I can’t do much about demons in you, but every man can about himself. That’s the issue. The apostolic day was confirming the Word; that was different. Today, every Christian has the resources to take care of his own problem. But I don’t think we can walk up to unbelievers and cast demons out. If an unbeliever comes to Jesus Christ, He alone can cleanse. By faith.

I hope this gives people a nugget of truth about overcoming serious sin and Satan.

What happened afterwards in Ephesus will be the subject of next week’s post.

Next time — Acts 19:17-20

Bible and crossThe 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 19:8-10

And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. 9 But when some became stubborn and continued in unbelief, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he withdrew from them and took the disciples with him, reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus.[a] 10 This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.

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Last week’s entry was about Paul’s return to Ephesus.

Today’s passage from Acts 19 describes his pattern of ministry there. As was his wont, Paul preached in the synagogue on the Sabbath and did so for three months (verse 8).

Luke, the author of Acts, wrote that Paul spoke ‘boldly, reasoning and persuading’ the congregation. ‘Boldly’ is a word that appears frequently in Acts. John MacArthur says (emphases mine):

You start out in the book of Acts and what do you find in chapter 4, verse 29. “They speak boldly.” They started getting persecuted and they had a prayer meeting. They said, “Lord they’re threatening us. Help us to have all boldness.” And you go to the book of Acts, everybody’s bold and bold and bolder. Something to be said for boldness, believe me.

Boldness creates flack and flack creates action. And that’s good. In Ephesians, just a terrific insight into Paul. And Paul’s always giving prayer request about himself. He didn’t hesitate to ask people to pray for him. He says “pray for me” verse 19. “That utterance may be as this is Ephesians 6. “That utterance may be given unto me that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the Gospel for which I am an ambassador in bonds that in this I may speak boldly as I ought to speak.

Paul says, boy there’s only one way to talk. That’s bold. That doesn’t mean stupid dogmatism when you have no rights to be dogmatic, and doesn’t mean riding your hobby horse to the point where everybody is driven crazy with it. It means that when you have a right to speak truth, you speak it with boldness. Fearlessness. Confidence is the idea. So for three months he fired away. And I think the Spirit tells us this because it’s hard to believe that he stayed three months and somebody might say, well he probably watered down a whole deal, see, or he would have never been able to hang around three months. No, no, he fired it out.

Matthew Henry’s commentary explains Paul’s portrayal of the ‘kingdom of God’ in light of Christ Jesus:

What he preached to them: The things concerning the kingdom of God among men, the great things which concerned God’s dominion over all men and favour to them, and men’s subjection to God and happiness in God. He showed them their obligations to God and interest in him, as the Creator, by which the kingdom of God was set up,–the violation of those obligations, and the forfeiture of that interest, by sin, by which the kingdom of God was pulled down,–and the renewing of those obligations and the restoration of man to that interest again, by the Redeemer, whereby the kingdom of God was again set up. Or, more particularly, the things concerning the kingdom of the Messiah, which the Jews were in expectation of, and promised themselves great matters from; he opened the scriptures which spoke concerning this, gave them a right notion of this kingdom, and showeth them their mistakes about it.

Henry has this on Paul’s ‘reasoning and persuading’:

How he preached to them. (1.) He preached argumentatively: he disputed; gave reasons, scripture-reasons, for what he preached, and answered objections, for the convincing of men’s judgments and consciences, that they might not only believe, but might see cause to believe. He preached dialegomenos–dialogue-wise; he put questions to them and received their answers, gave them leave to put questions to him and answered them. (2.) He preached affectionately: he persuaded; he used not only logical arguments, to enforce what he said upon their understandings, but rhetorical motives, to impress what he said upon their affections, showing them that the things he preached concerning the kingdom of God were things concerning themselves, which they were nearly concerned in, and therefore ought to concern themselves about, 2 Corinthians 5:11, We persuade men. Paul was a moving preacher, and was a master of the art of persuasion. (3.) He preached undauntedly, and with a holy resolution: he spoke boldly, as one that had not the least doubt of the things he spoke of, nor the least distrust of him he spoke from, nor the least dread of those he spoke to.

Although many Jews in Ephesus gladly heard what he had to say, some resisted. Those resisters spoke ‘badly of the Way’, meaning Christ and Christianity. They did this before the synagogue congregations, so Paul began teaching and preaching in the hall of Tyrannus (verse 9). Henry says that the Jews were more welcoming when Paul made his initial, albeit brief, visit because he had not yet gone into detail about the Gospel. Upon his return, he was able to delve deeply into Scripture to persuade them of the truth of Christ as Messiah. That is when opinion became divided and hostile; consequently, Paul felt he could no longer preach there:

… he left the synagogue, because he could not safely, or rather because he could not comfortably and successfully, continue in communion with them. Though their worship was such as he could join in, and they had not silenced him, nor forbidden him to preach among them, yet they drove him from them by their railing at those things which he spoke concerning the kingdom of God: they hated to be reformed, hated to be instructed, and therefore he departed from them. Here we are sure there was a separation and no schism; for there was a just cause for it and a clear call to it.

MacArthur goes further:

And so they refused to believe. Well they just weren’t passive in their non-belief, they were active. They spoke evil. And that word in Matthew and Mark, same word is translated, they cursed. They cursed the Way. That should be in quotes. The Way was the name that was given Christianity. Because the Christians were always saying we’re the way to God, we’re the way to God.

Henry’s research gives us two possibilities as to what the hall of Tyrannus was:

Some think this school of Tyrannus was a divinity-school of the Jews, and such a one they commonly had in their great cities besides their synagogue; they called it Bethmidrash, the house of enquiry, or of repetition; and they went to that on the sabbath day, after they had been in the synagogue. They go from strength to strength, from the house of the sanctuary to the house of doctrine. If this was such a school, it shows that though Paul left the synagogue he left it gradually, and still kept as near it as he could, as he had done, Acts 18:7. But others think it was a philosophy-school of the Gentiles, belonging to one Tyrannus, or a retiring place (for so the word schole sometimes signifies) belonging to a principal man or governor of the city; some convenient place it was, which Paul and the disciples had the use of, either for love or money.

MacArthur thinks the hall of Tyrannus was a school of philosophy, and that Paul was allowed to preach there during the middle of the day, when classes were not held:

The church of Jesus Christ can meet anywhere in the purity of its identity and it’s doctrine. So they separated the disciples disputing daily in the school of one Tyrannus. You know if you were a guy who had a philosophy who started a school and had a bunch of people coming, if they wanted to, to learn your philosophy.

So here was Tyrannus and whatever he was teaching, he was teaching, people were coming. But it was available for some time during the day. Now let me add a note that’s very interesting. There’s an ancient Greek manuscript that adds the fact that Paul taught in this hall of Tyrannus from the 5th to the 10th hour. Now that would be from 11:00am to 4:00pm. Five hours. Notice it says he did it every day.

… Now the Ionian cities like Ephesus had an interesting schedule. Everybody worked until 11 and stopped and started again at four. Say why? The oppressive heat. And the time from 11 to four was go to sleep time. In fact one Asian writer says there’s more people awake in Ephesus at 1:00am then there are at 1:00pm. Why? Because they’d go from 11, they’d try to go to sleep and sleep through the heat until four, get up and finish the work the rest of the day.

So Tyrannus would teach in the morning in his school, probably resume a little in the evening and the time period that was available was when everybody else was asleep from 11 to four.

Using the hall of Tyrannus gave Paul the advantage of speaking to Gentiles — ‘Greeks’ — as well as Jews, so that he reached ‘all the residents of Asia’ during a two-year period (verse 10). It was a huge commitment, as MacArthur explains:

So, couldn’t keep that up too long. No, only two years, verse 10. Two years, five hours every day, seven days a week

Paul just moved in from 11 to four and gave 365 five hour sermons twice over. You say man, that says something. Yes it does. It says two things. It says something for the commitment of Paul. Well as a teacher, let me tell you, that’s work. Now I’ll tell you it says something for the tremendous commitment of the Christians. I mean can you imagine sacrificing sleep for five hour sermons? Praise the Lord.

MacArthur has a good description of Ephesus as a port city, which makes Paul’s ministry there even more meaningful:

Ephesus was a really interesting place. It was the real heart of the Roman [province] of Asia Minor. And Asia Minor was a fairly important area. It had many famous cities there, famous to the Christian world. The city of Ephesus probably ranked with Corinth as a two most important cities on the road east from Rome. In the eastern division of the Roman Empire, the three main cities would be Antioch, Alexandria and Ephesus. So it was a big time place. It was a commercial center.

Four main roads criss crossed right there in Ephesus. It was a port city. It was three miles inland, but the Caster River flowed into and it was navigable even though they had a dredging problem. They dredged it periodically and they navigated and so it was a place where ships traded and where caravans traded. It was a very important place. It was a rich place. It was an immensely populous place. Ferar said its “air was salubrious.” And we live in Southern California could use some salubrious air. That means healthy or wholesome.

Its population was diverse and immense. Its markets glittered with the products of the art of that world. In fact John was there. In fact John was exiled from there off the coast a little ways to Patmos. And when John wrote Revelation 18, and the Lord gave him all that picture of the sophisticated system of the world and the world wealth and the world’s commerce, John may well have had in his mind that which he had seen in Ephesus. This is what it says in Revelation 18:12. This could be a description of Ephesus.

The merchandise of gold, silver, precious stones, pearls, fine linen, purple silk, scarlet, fine wood, all kinds of vessels of ivory, all kinds of vessels of most precious wood, bronze, iron, marble, cinnamon, incense, ointments, frankincense, wine, oil, fine flour, wheat, cattle, sheep, horses, chariots, slaves, and the souls of men.

That’s Ephesus all bunched into two verses. Now that is not the description of Ephesus, but that may have been what was suggested in John’s mind as he thought of it. Now of course the number one feature of Ephesus was the Temple of Diana. The worship of Diana or Artemis that grotesque ugly god that they worshipped. And of course it was a prostitute kind of worship, orgies which couldn’t even be spoken of. It was a sanctuary for criminals, so any criminal from around the world got king’s ex as soon as he jumped into the temple and that settled it and so it just became a harbor and a haven for these people.

It was the bank of the Mediterranean area, so it was just a very complex system. We’re going to get more into that feature in chapter 19 because a real riot breaks out. But here comes Paul to Ephesus. And it was a place where sorcery existed and witchcraft existed and all kinds of perversions and there were magical imposters and exorcists all over the place. No wonder Paul wrote back to the Ephesians. “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers against the rulers of the darkness of this world against spiritual wickedness in heavenly places or high places”.

What we will see in the rest of Acts 19 follows the same pattern as all of the other churches as they developed. It took a bit longer in Ephesus, however, today’s passage recounts the hardening of Jewish hearts so that their criticism of Christianity became vile. In the rest of the chapter, we will see that demons and sorcerers were also present — again, another characteristic as new churches developed. At the end of Acts 19, we read of a riot, a third characteristic that the early Christians had to endure.

Next time — Acts 19:11-16

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