Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Apr 22 2020 - Acts 19:21-41 – Preaching threatens trade

Paul’s preaching caused a riot at Ephesus. The city was famous for its temple devoted to the goddess Artemis (or Diana), and this fame had created a lucrative trade for those who made religious icons for visitors to the city. Paul’s preaching that there was only one God, who made heaven and earth and did not dwell in temples made by hands was viewed as a threat to this trade, particularly as, not only in Ephesus, but throughout Asia, people were coming to believe Paul’s message. Incidentally, it’s interesting that these silversmiths did not feel able to diversify into Christian trinkets – silver crosses, statues of Jesus and the like. Religious iconography formed no part of early Christian worship.

So Paul’s preaching prompted a riot which turned the whole city into confusion and uproar. It was only quietened when the chief clerk reminded the crowd that all the world knew that Ephesus was the guardian of the temple of the great Artemis and of her image that fell from heaven. He seems to suggest that this undeniable truth would outlast the current fuss about this man Jesus.

Two thousand years later, about one third of the inhabitants of the world worship the Lord Jesus Christ. How many today worship Artemis?

The gospel has power not only to transform the lives of individuals; it has power to transform society. It banishes superstition (see Acts 19:19), and brings freedom. It was the gospel that empowered the abolition of slavery, the provision of universal education and abolition of child labour, the creation of hospitals and other charitable institutions, recognition of the dignity and rights of women – to name just a few. The gospel calls people to follow Christ and to live well with one another in lives of mutual service and mutual benefit rather than exploitation, injustice and oppression.

Sadly, Christians have not always lived up to the transformative call of the gospel – they have not always followed Christ. However, in the early centuries of the Christian church, Christians found favour among their neighbours for their generous treatment of those in need and their respect for women and children (see particularly, Rodney Stark’s The Rise of Christianity.) The traders in religious icons might have been angered by Paul’s preaching but Paul and the young Christian community seem to have commended themselves to many in the city; “the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honour” by both “Jews and Greeks living in Ephesus” (19:17). Even the city authorities seemed well disposed towards Paul, seeking to protect him from the power of the mob (19:31). One way or another, the good news about Jesus was making an impact on the life of practically everyone in the city.

Is our preaching and witness to Christ having similar effects upon our own communities? Or have we lost confidence in the relevance and importance of the gospel? Pray that the gospel will break out of our Christian ghettos and have a similar impact on our own society, threatening the economic viability of the sex trade, gambling industry and the like but bringing freedom, acceptance and hope to the oppressed. And then be ready for the reaction. 

Father God, we want to change the world through the message of the gospel and the power of the risen Christ. Help us not to provoke unnecessary conflict, but equally, keep us from toning down the message so that it loses its edge and fails to challenge the evils and falsehoods of our day. Use us for the furtherance of your kingdom. Above all, help us so to conduct ourselves that those around us may recognise that the message of Jesus is good news, bringing life, blessing and healing to a wounded world.

Peter Misselbrook