The key verse here to me is v. 20... "The word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily." Despite great opposition. Despite real harm. Despite credible threats. Despite doctrinal corruptions. Despite counterfeit works. Despite everything the kingdom of darkness and the culture rooted in darkness uses to hinder the progress of the gospel and the preservation of God's people, the word continually increases and prevails mightily. The gospel is an unstoppable force.
Our cultural would have us believe that we're on the wrong side of history... that our religion is antiquated... that we're standing in the way of progress... that people too deeply devoted to religion in general, and to Jesus and Christianity in particular, are what's wrong with the world. Pay them no mind Christian... to hold fast to the gospel and cling tightly to Jesus is to be on the right side of history... this is the one thing that's right with the world... and it's the power of Christ and the gospel that will make all things right with the world. We see glimpses of this even in the text, where people are putting away sin, idolatry and darkness and turning to Jesus and his glorious reign over the forces of hell and the grave.
Do not grow weary or fainhearted, you followers of Jesus. Our God is a God who saves and redeems. Our Savior is one who puts our enemies to open shame. He is and will be victorious over all forces of evil and he will reign over all things, and if we're his by faith then we will reign with him. We are the future kings and queens of the universe, so don't get discouraged by forces within you and around you that seek to oppress and oppose you... the times in which we live are indeed dark, but take courage, beloved, your future is very bright.
v. 23... "there arose no little disturbance concerning, the Way..." I love that. The new community which the gospel gives birth to is beautiful and redemptive and attractive to be sure. But don't miss this: a people being truly formed and fueled by the gospel will absolutely be socially and culturally disruptive. In the case of Ephesus, it was particularly disruptive to their economy.
Don't miss the massive impact the gospel is having. This silversmith, Demetrius, who is part of a profitable industry that generates all their revenue from creating and forging idols and fale gods for worship. And he says, not only Ephesus, but all of Asia, is being impacted economically by Paul's preaching ministry and the advancement of the Church. That is awesome!
Can you imagine so many people turning to Jesus and actually following Jesus so that the pornography industry in North American was imperiled, or drug trafficking into the states no longer threatened our society? And you can imagine if it did, and everybody knew that it was the gospel that was causing such a downturn?
The whole city is in an uproar, rioting over the gospel undermining their existing culture and economy. This means that Jesus had become the talk of the town. If you lived in Ephesus, and really, based on their testimony in this passage, if you lived in Asia, you were either coming to faith in Christ, or you had loved ones coming to faith in Christ, or you were having your life affected by people coming to faith in Christ. In any case, the residents of Ephesus could not escape Jesus. He became non-ignorable.
I pray that Jesus, in our day and in our own city and nation, would become non-ingorable all over again. That he would move so powerfully and widely and so deeply as to unsettle the moorings of our society and force us to deal with the reality of the Risen Savior. What a glorious thing that would be. Even if many rejected him. Even if there arose a violent mob against those who follow him and preach him.
The scariest part of our "christianized" nation is the seeming ease with which people ignore Jesus, talk around Jesus, shy away from Jesus, avoid Jesus, and dismiss Jesus. Jesus is the real issue. How we respond to Jesus and what we do with Jesus is the most important thing about us. May God in his mercy do again among us what He did in Ephesus, to make Jesus non-ignorable because of the faithful and fruitful witness of His people.
I remember when I was about 7 or 8 years old, sitting in the front row at our church. We had plastic folding chairs throughout the sanctuary. I leaned forward elbow on my knees, chin leaning on my fist, and there I dozed off while the word was preached. I remember the jolt of falling over and the embarrassment landing on my face, chair on top of me. My dad was the preacher so there was that.
I'm not comparing that to a three story fall by any means. And I didn't die... at least not physically. And I don't mean to trivialize this miracle or make light of it. So, let me acknowledge that this story is first and foremost about a boy dying and being raised to life. The power of Jesus breaks into this moment. And while Paul's preaching didn't have the power to keep the kid awake, the power of God was able to keep the kid alive... more acurately, God's power reclaimed his life. Jesus is all about resurrection.
What I can relate to in this text is that I have dozed off when people are preaching or teaching. And I've been preaching when lots of people have dozed off. Acts 20 helps me not take myself too seriously. Even Paul preached too long and put people to sleep. Acts 20 also helps me take the Bible more seriously. In the midst of the early church's history shaping movement; in the midst of the powerful outpouring of the Spirit in those early days of formation; people still got tired.
We love to romanticize different periods and events and we imagine if we did things today like they did things then, we would be more interested, engaged, changed, and effective. But there is an ordinariness to the early church. An ordinariness that bolsters believableness. There is a realism to the Scriptures that we gloss over and too often miss. The early church, though it was bathed on divine power, had no lack of humanity. God did among them and in spite of them what he is still able to do among us and in spite of us.
This is a really helpful but weighty text for me as an elder. Paul spent three years in Ephesus discipling people and developing leaders and now he's about to leave and his charge to the elders is loaded. I want to just want to create a profile below, from both what is explicit and implicit in the text, of what an elder is supposed to be and do. Here we go.
- to live among the people (v. 18)
- humble servants of the Lord (v. 19)
- to be tender hearted but tough minded and thick skinned (v. 19)
- bold, courageous and helpful (v. 20)
- to call everyone to repentance and faith... they're gospel-centered (v. 21)
- submitted to the Spirit (v. 22)
- eternity minded and willing to suffer for Christ (v. 23)
- selfless, steadfast, and grace-filled (v. 24)
- realistic and not sentimental (v. 25)
- devoted to the word of God in it's entirety (v. 27)
- self-aware, self-governing, and self-controlled... they guard their hearts vigilantly and diligently (v. 28)
- watchful over those they shepherd... they are aware and actively engaged with the church they serve (v. 28)
- appointed by the Holy Spirit and entrusted to steward a blood bought bride (v. 29)
- alert to wolves... they guard the gate to the church wisely and aggressively... they are shepherds to the sheep only (v. 29)
- willing and able to identify those who are predatory and exploitative (v. 30)
- willing and able to recognize and correct false teaching and doctrine (v. 30)
- willing and able to root out divisiveness and strife (v. 30)
- emotionally connected to and affectionate toward the people in their church (v. 31)
- tireless in their work and tenacious in gospel ministry (v. 31)
- not controlling or territorial... they hold people with an open hand and ultimately trust the power of God and the grace of God, not their leadership or ability (v. 32)
- not materialistic (v. 33)
- diligent (v. 35)
- committed to strengthening people (v. 35)
- sacrificially generous (v. 35)
- prayerful (v. 36)
- responsible to set a healthy culture of love, affection and unity (v. 37)
This is a massive set of responsibilities. I pray God forms these things more fully in me as a pastor, in our elder team at Generations, and I pray he fills our church with men who aspire to this and are giving themselves to becoming like this. I am absolutely certain that God would do an amazing work among us and through us if we had a culture of men sincerely giving themselves to embodying these realities in our own time and place.
I love the unity of the Spirit displayed in this passage. There are all these people in all these different places who are just opening their lives to Paul and his companions, opening their homes, opening their hearts. Their is a very real hospitality and willingness to be interrupted and intruded upon. And in every cae there is this mutuality of ministry. Paul is always encouraging and teaching and pouring into disciples. But then you also have these people ministering to him and his team. They are all giving to each other, bringing what they have to offer interms of resources and giftedness. They are all making themselves available to build up one another and they are intentionally seeking to encourage and strengthen. This is why the Holy Spirit gifts God's people... for their building up in maturity and unity. And that's what we see hapenning here.
That, and then Paul, willingly walking out what he charged the Ephesian elders with in Acts 20. Knowing that he will be bound and imprisoned in Jerusalem, he is undeterred. He is willing even to die for the sake of Christ, the advancement of the gospel, and the expansion of the church. He is all in in every way. And each place, whether it's a week, or a day, his heart is being knit to the believers they're with, and theirs are being knit to him. This is what Christian love and brotherhood is all about. It's beautiful. This is what we're part of and it's what we can experience together if we'll give ourselves fully to the high call of making disciples and planting churches.