Monday, May 20, 2019

The Church at Ephesus

Strong Church/Weak Church 9

An Ephesian theater
          One of the most important churches in the Bible is the Ephesian church. I am, perhaps, speaking territorially for just last year I finished preaching a lengthy series from Ephesians. At any rate, whether my preaching series gives me an undue fondness for this church or not the fact remains it is discussed in detail in the Word of God.
          Historically, the city of Ephesus was one of the largest in the world during the New Testament era, hosting within its borders some half a million souls. Architecturally, it was a combination of Grecian and Roman influences with its multiplicity of aqueducts, temples, baths, and theatres, including one of the latter that sat 25,000 people. Most known for the Temple of Diana, this wonder of the ancient world was longer than a football field and composed entirely of marble. The momentum Ephesus had built up outlived the Roman Empire period but the same factors that doomed Antioch – silt in the harbor and pirates harrying the shipping – doomed Ephesus.
          We first come across it in Scripture during Paul’s travels in the latter half of Acts. And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus (Acts 19.1). Here, Paul found certain disciples. These were believing Jews who been baptized either directly by John the Baptist or by one of John’s disciples. This is not a theological blog series, let alone one on dispensationalism, so let it suffice for the moment to say that John’s baptism was one that looked forward to a still coming Messiah. It was a baptism of faith in the soon coming promise of God, but not a baptism of faith in specific relation to Jesus Christ. Paul explains that John’s preaching was about a man named Jesus, and directs them to put their faith specifically in Him as their Christ. They readily accede, and these dozen men became the seed kernel of the Ephesian church. Paul would stay in that city for years, teaching and preaching the Word of God, and building this church into a mighty work. And this continued by the space of two years; so that all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks. (Acts 19.10) While there, Paul ordained Timothy to the pastorate, and Timothy succeeded him when Paul left for the next stop on his never-ending travels.
          Paul chose Ephesus, much like he chose the other cities where he started churches, for its potential regional influence.

Acts 19:17–20
17 And this was known to all the Jews and Greeks also dwelling at Ephesus; and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified.
18 And many that believed came, and confessed, and shewed their deeds.
19 Many of them also which used curious arts brought their books together, and burned them before all men: and they counted the price of them, and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver.
20 So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed.

          As you can imagine, this monumental Christian influence did
St. Paul Preaching Before the Temple of Diana at
Ephesus by Adolf Pirsch, 1885
not go unnoticed by the religious powers that then existed in Ephesus. These, headquartered naturally in the great Temple of Diana, included a substantial number of people who made their living selling pagan/demonic charms to the pilgrims and worshippers that thronged its massive colonnades. This Ephesian church under the direct leadership of Paul siphoned off so many of these Diana worshippers that the pagan craftsman became alarmed. The resulting riot was both an evidence of and an attack on the power of the growing Ephesian church.

Acts 19:23–28
23 And the same time there arose no small stir about that way.
24 For a certain man named Demetrius, a silversmith, which made silver shrines for Diana, brought no small gain unto the craftsmen;
25 Whom he called together with the workmen of like occupation, and said, Sirs, ye know that by this craft we have our wealth.
26 Moreover ye see and hear, that not alone at Ephesus, but almost throughout all Asia, this Paul hath persuaded and turned away much people, saying that they be no gods, which are made with hands:
27 So that not only this our craft is in danger to be set at nought; but also that the temple of the great goddess Diana should be despised, and her magnificence should be destroyed, whom all Asia and the world worshippeth.
28 And when they heard these sayings, they were full of wrath, and cried out, saying, Great is Diana of the Ephesians.
          We see, then, that the Ephesian church began with an unhesitating commitment to Jesus Christ, and continued under the direct leadership of Paul for quite some time as a thriving institution. But it is not only Acts 19 that informs our understanding of the Ephesian church. There is also an extended passage in Revelation 2 that reveals some very pertinent information about it. We will, in fact, spend much time in the rest of this blog series in Revelation 2 and 3 as these chapters discuss a number of New Testament era churches in some detail. I realize there are some that hold the seven churches discussed here to be representative of seven church ages in history, but I find no warrant for such a position. There is no indication in Scripture that they are to be taken as such, nor are there any guidelines for so doing. The result of those who hold this position is an absolute mish-mash of spiritualization, chronology, and faulty application. I intend to take these two chapters as I believe they were meant to be understood, plain messages to seven actual local churches.
          When we continue next week, we will be looking primarily at the passage in Revelation 2 that discusses the Ephesian church. We will probe it for what it may reveal to us of the their church’s strengths and weaknesses. Hopefully, along the way, we will learn a thing or two that may benefit us in our own churches today.
          See you next week. 

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