Paul and the Ephesian Christians had a special relationship. For two years they lived together, reasoned together, encouraged one another, and endured much hardship and spiritual warfare for the sake of Christ their Lord.
At the beginning of chapter 19, Luke tells us of the beginning of this special relationship. During his third missionary journey, Paul traveled through Asia and eventually arrived at the region’s capital, Ephesus. There he found some believers whose faith was so much in its infancy that they had not been baptized with Christian baptism (in the name of Jesus Christ). He baptized, discipled, and reasoned with them daily for two years in the hall of Tyrannus.
Spiritual Warfare Raged
Verses 23-41 tell an interesting story of spiritual warfare that the Church apparently experienced more intensely in Ephesus than anywhere else. Demetrius, a silversmith who made idols of Artemis, incited a riot against Paul and the other believers because he was losing business as a result of the spread of the gospel and the conversion of men and women to Christianity. Luke writes, “And a number of those who 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” (19:19). The craftsmen stood to lose a lot of revenue if the gospel continued to change people’s hearts.
Their riot caused great confusion among the Ephesians. Men and women didn’t know what was going on. And, though they didn’t know the nature nor the reason for the riot, they joined in anyway crying out, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” and dragging Paul’s companions Gaius and Aristarchus into the theater. They were prepared to kill these men until God intervened in his grace when the town clerk stepped up to defend these men and their rights to practice their religion. God brought their deliverance by ordinary means, by an Ephesian clerk who was not a Christian. He often does that kind of thing. He often uses the ordinary to do extraordinary things.
Given this experience, it is easy to see why Paul would later write, “For we do not wrestle (wrastle for us Chester folk) against flesh and blood, but against the rulers…authorities…cosmic powers over this present darkness…spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12) to the Ephesian congregation. They knew the reality of this spiritual warfare, the strength of this spiritual enemy. They had experienced it first hand along with Paul. They lived in a war zone. And, so do we.
Though we are not as intimately aware of spiritual warfare as the Ephesians were — though we haven’t experienced a riot because of it, though we often overlook it — it is a very real thing that we encounter every day. Like the Ephesians we must put on the whole armor of God and be prepared to stand against the spiritual forces of the Devil that seek to do us harm. We must be on guard to see and determine the real source of our challenge, hardship, and distraction. We must stand in the Holy Spirit and rely upon Him to bring us victory through whatever means he deems necessary. We must pray earnestly in the Spirit to overcome the wiles of our great adversary.
Paul’s Farewell Encouragement — “Beware of Wolves”
Luke concludes Acts 20 with a story of Paul’s farewell address to the Ephesian elders whom he loved and with whom he’d shared so much of his life. It was tearful and sorrow-filled goodbye. Led by the Holy Spirit, Paul was determined to go to Jerusalem, and he knew that if he went to Jerusalem, that he probably wouldn’t return to Ephesus. He was right. He would never see these beloved folks again.
Paul’s instruction to the elders was simple “care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock…” (20:29). The church is not safe from outside influence nor from twisted men and women who seek her destruction, nor will she be until Christ Jesus should return. We are to always be on guard for there are always wolves ready to pounce and devour the Lord’s sheep. We must guard ourselves with prayerful vigilance and disciplined study of God’s word. We must guard each other by praying for one another, holding one another accountable before the eyes of God, protecting one another, ministering grace to one another, and defending the truth of God against the lies of the Devil.