COMMITTED TO GOD Acts 19–20
“Now I commit you to God and to the word of His grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance” (Acts 20:32).Saying good-bye is made easier by knowing that God will be with our loved ones.
The city of Ephesus had been a major commercial city as well as the Asian center of the religious cult of Artemis (Diana). Over the centuries area forests were denuded, and the Ephesus harbor gradually filled with silt. In Paul’s day, the economy of Ephesus depended to a great extent on the massive temple of Artemis, which was considered one of the wonders of the ancient world. Paul’s ministry was so effective that tradesmen who depended on the sale of religious medals saw their business fall off dramatically. The result was intense hostility toward Paul and his message.
In Ephesus Paul told disciples of John the Baptist about Christ (19:1–7). His two-year ministry there was supported by miracles (vv. 8–16). It yielded so many converts (vv. 17–22) it threatened the temple-based trade of the Ephesian silversmiths, who rioted (vv. 23–41). Paul revisited his Macedonian churches (20:1–6). In Troas Eutychus died and was restored to life (vv. 7–11). Paul stopped near Ephesus, and bade that church’s elders a last good-bye (vv. 12–38).
Understanding the Text
“John’s baptism” Acts 19:1–7.
Even decades after the death of Jesus there were Jews in the Roman Empire who knew of John the Baptist and accepted his message, who had not heard of Jesus. There were no mass media: information came by word of mouth. The dozen Jews that Paul met when he arrived in Ephesus had been baptized by John years before, probably when on a pilgrimage to one of the great religious feasts in Jerusalem. Their commitment was real, however, and when they heard of Jesus they believed the Gospel. This is the third “unusual” case in Acts of receiving the Holy Spirit. Here as in Samaria it was by laying on of hands. And here, as at the house of Cornelius, the Spirit’s coming was marked by speaking in tongues. Why here? Perhaps for the same reason that Paul’s ministry in Ephesus was marked by a number of “unusual” miracles. Ephesus was a center of evil supernatural activity. God through Paul was about to display true supernaturalism. Every now and then the unusual does mark our Christian experience. But we’re not to expect supernatural signs every day. If they happened every day, they would not be unusual. And soon we would be living by sight, not by faith. “The lecture hall of Tyrannus” Acts 19:8–10. Most commentators believe that Tyrannus rented his lecture hall to itinerant teachers for public lectures. Paul’s daily lectures and discussions there reached “all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia” (v. 10). Paul always found a way to reach people. We can too. As a new convert, I started a noon Bible study on my Navy base. Two civilian workers came, but none of my Navy friends. So I began putting a Bible “verse for the day” on the bulletin board by the office coffeepot. If we look around, God will always show us some way to share our faith. “God did extraordinary miracles through Paul” Acts 19:11–20. The practice of magic was common in the first century, and especially in the cult center of Ephesus. The goal of magic was to manipulate supposed supernatural powers to protect oneself, or gain an advantage over another person. It is significant that the “extraordinary” miracles of Paul were performed there rather than, say, in Athens. God often chooses to meet human beings where they are. In intellectual Athens, Paul gave a philosophical defense of the faith. In Ephesus, where the practice of magic and superstition ruled, miracles were performed. On whatever ground Satan chooses to do battle, his defeat is certain. “Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest” Acts 19:13–16. In the practice of ancient magic, knowing “names” was critical, for one who knew the name of a supernatural being was thought able to access his power. For this reason Jewish magicians were thought of highly. Jewish priests especially were reputed to know the secret name of the most powerful God of all. This reputation stemmed in part from the Jew’s reverence for the personal name of God, Yahweh, which was never spoken aloud by a pious Jew. Apparently the family of Sceva, a Jewish priest, made a good living in Ephesus by the practice of magic. When Paul came along, and began to heal and cast out demons in the name of Jesus, the family decided to go with the more powerful “name.” It didn’t work. Uttering the name of Jesus is no key to supernatural power. The key is having a personal relationship with Jesus, and being available to Him. We do not use Jesus’ name. He uses us to accomplish His purposes. “They calculated the value of the scrolls” Acts 19:17–22. In Ephesus the impact of the Jesus movement was demonstrated by burning books on magic worth 50,000 days’ labor! How do you tell if a conversion is real? One good way is to check the bottom line. People who cleanse their lives of what is evil, even when it costs them money, are likely to have a faith that’s real. “After all this had happened, Paul decided to go to Jerusalem” Acts 19:21–22. Paul’s great passion was to preach the Gospel where it had never been heard. With evidence that a strong church was now established in Ephesus, Paul was ready to move on. Most of us have a tendency to settle down with success and enjoy it. Paul was always looking for new challenges. I know some older Christians who share Paul’s outlook. “Retirement” for them has meant more time for ministry. One retired carpenter takes regular trips to mission fields to help with building. One grandma has more time to spend with the retarded folks she ministers to. The best way to keep young is to keep active serving God and others. “The temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited” Acts 19:23–34. The “great goddess Artemis” deserved to be discredited. This was not the Diana of Greek mythology, but a multibreasted “earth mother” goddess of the East. Her moral and spiritual qualities were reflected in the practice of magic that flourished in Ephesus. Then as now the practice of magic was a desperate attempt to control supernatural forces. We live in a world over which we have little control, and are subject to seemingly impersonal forces. The present fascination with satanism in our culture reminds us that when materialism fails to satisfy, and there is a religious vacuum, people quickly fall prey to evil. In Ephesus the coming of the Gospel so reversed this situation that not only were books on magic being burned, but a serious threat existed to worship at the temple of Artemis. The Gospel and the Gospel alone is able to discredit evil and reverse the trends now seen in our society. “They have neither robbed temples nor blasphemed our goddess” Acts 19:35–41. A city official silenced the rioters and sent them home. His review of the situation was fascinating, for it gave an insight into effective evangelism. The Christians did not speak against Artemis, but for Jesus. The Christian has a positive message to share. But it will only be communicated if all Christians become involved. A survey of 2,000 members of the United Church of Christ, from more than 200 congregations, revealed that members of that 1.6-million-member church are extremely uncomfortable when it comes to talking about their faith. Other mainline churches, concerned about a membership plunge that has continued since the 1960s, are now trying to emphasize evangelism. It’s easy to accuse liberal churches of failing to have a faith worth talking about. But this would miss the point. Every Christian, and there are many in every Christian tradition, is to witness. Perhaps it would help if we all realized as the Ephesian Christians apparently did that witness is simply a positive presentation of Jesus, not an attack on others’ beliefs. As people turn to Christ, not only magic but modern temples to false religions will automatically be discredited. “Because he intended to leave the next day, he kept on talking until midnight” Acts 20:7–11. It’s not the raising of Eutychus that fascinates me in this paragraph. It’s Paul, talking first till midnight, then taking a break and going on till daylight. I remember when I was dating in my Navy days in New York. I’d take my girlfriend out, then sit in the car in front of her home and talk for hours. Finally she’d go in and I’d drive back to my base, many times almost falling asleep on the way. Why keep talking till you’re ready to fall asleep? Love. Somehow you can’t tear yourself away, even for a brief parting. I think that’s what was happening here. Paul was leaving folks he loved. Yes, he had things he wanted to say. But what kept him talking till dawn, and what kept the people there to hear him, was love.
Fond Farewells (Acts 20:13–37)
The scene is touching. When Paul said good-bye to the elders of Ephesus he knew they would never again meet in this life. Luke, watching, said, “They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him” (v. 37). It was a sad, but a fond farewell. Somehow in just two brief years an unbreakable bond had been forged between Paul and these converts. Perhaps it seems strange to us, because we live in such an impersonal society. Few of us, saying farewell to friends made during a two-year stay anywhere, would be seen off with such emotion. Yet if we look closely at Paul’s farewell remarks, we can see what made these people so fond of him. And we learn how to become close to others ourselves. How? Paul let people know how he lived (v. 18). In our society we tend to keep people at arm’s length. Paul opened up his life, and invited people to see and know the real him. Thus he said, “You know” several times as he reviewed his way of life in Ephesus. Being willing to share ourselves is a key to building intimacy. Paul served the Lord with humility (v. 19). What gave Paul such integrity was that he maintained a close relationship with the Lord. An intimate walk with God gives our lives an authenticity which enables others to trust us. Paul didn’t hesitate to be helpful (vv. 20–21). This meant speaking up about Jesus as well as giving other assistance. If you and I really care about another person, we will offer any help we can in a spirit of love. And we will be loved in return. Paul was an example of Christian values (vv. 33–35). Paul chose to earn his own living rather than be supported by the gifts of those he taught. While Paul had a right to such support, he chose to live as an example of Christian values in action. These qualities combined to create a bond of deep love and affection between Paul and the Ephesians. And these same qualities can create bonds of affection between us and others today. Let’s not complain how difficult it is to make friends in our impersonal society. Let’s invite others into our lives, serve the Lord with humility, never hestitate to be helpful, and live our Christian values.
Be a Christian friend, and you will make friends.
“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”—Dale Carnegie