MAXIMIZING GOD-GIVEN OPPORTUNITIES

 

Week of August 27, 2006

 

Bible Passages:  Acts 19:1-5, 8-10, 23-28.

 

Biblical Truth:  God gives believers opportunities to minister effectively in His name.

 

Communicate Clearly: Acts 19:1-5.

 

[1] It happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the upper country and came to Ephesus, and found some disciples. [2] He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said to him, “No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.” [3] And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” And they said, “Into John’s baptism.” [4] Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” [5] When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.   [NASU]

 

[1-3] On arrival in Ephesus Paul found some disciples. At least, that is what they claimed to be. In reality, however, they were disciples of John the Baptist. This incident has become a proof text in some Pentecostal and charismatic circles. It is sometimes argued that Christian initiation is in two stages, beginning with faith and conversion, and followed later by receiving the Holy Spirit. But those twelve disciples cannot possibly be regarded as providing a norm for a two-stage initiation. On the contrary, it is clear that these disciples were in no sense Christians, having not yet believed in Jesus. Whereas through the ministry of Paul they came to believe and were then baptized with water and the Spirit more or less simultaneously. When Paul first met them, he assumed that they were believers, but noticed that they gave no evidence in their bearing or behavior of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. So he asked them his two leading questions, whether they had received the Spirit when they believed, and into what they had been baptized. His first question linked the Spirit with faith, and his second with baptism. That is, his question expressed his assumptions that those who have believed have received the Spirit, and that those who have been baptized have received the Spirit, for he cannot separate the sign (water) from the thing signified (the Spirit). Both his questions imply that to have believed and been baptized and not to have received the Spirit constitutes an extraordinary anomaly.

 

Consider now the answers which Paul received to his questions. In answer to his first, they said that they had not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit. This answer is difficult to interpret. John the Baptist had talked plainly about the coming of the Holy Spirit [Matt. 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:32-33]. Perhaps this answer implies that they were unaware that the time of the Spirit's outpouring had come at last. Whatever the case, like Apollos [18:24-26], these men needed further instruction on the message and ministry of Jesus Christ. They believed in Jesus as the Messiah, but they did not understand the significance of His death and resurrection or the role of the Holy Spirit in the birth and life of the church. Since becoming a Christian involves turning from sin (repentance) and turning to Christ (faith), these "believers" were incomplete. They had repented but had not yet trusted in Christ. In truth, they were believers only in the sense that they were seeking to believe. In answer to Paul’s second question, they explained that they had received John’s baptism, not Christian baptism. In a word, they were still living in the Old Testament. They understood neither that the new age had been ushered in by Jesus, nor that those who believe in Him and are baptized into Him receive the distinctive blessing of the new age, the indwelling Spirit.

 

[4-7] Despite their being known as disciples, Paul preached Jesus to the men as he would to any of the Jews. John’s baptism pointed beyond itself and the Baptist himself pointed to the One coming after him. So on their acceptance of Jesus as the focus of Christian faith, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Paul laid his hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit, evidencing the same signs of the Spirit’s presence as the first Jewish believers did at Pentecost.

 

Be Available: Acts 19:8-10.

 

[8] And he entered the synagogue and continued speaking out boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. [9] But when some were becoming hardened and disobedient, speaking evil of the Way before the people, he withdrew from them and took away the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus. [10] This took place for two years, so that all who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.  [NASU]

[8-9] Paul had already established relations with the Jews who met in the synagogue of Ephesus, and they had pressed him to stay longer [Acts 18:19-21]. Now, having completed his business in Palestine and Syria, he had come back to Ephesus and resumed his synagogue discourses in accordance with his promise. But the usual pattern of events began to reproduce itself. For three months he debated with them in the synagogue, proclaiming the kingdom of God which had drawn near in Jesus the Messiah. But at last the party that opposed him made the situation so difficult, publicly slandering “The Way” and invoking curses upon it, that he abandoned the synagogue and used the lecture-hall of a teacher named Tyrannus as his headquarters. Here those who had accepted his message while he proclaimed it in the synagogue followed him, and others as well. And day by day he held discourse and discussion in his new headquarters, during the hours when Tyrannus himself did not require the building. Tyrannus no doubt held his classes in the early morning when it was cool. Public activity ceased in the cities of Ionia for several hours at 11 A.M. But Paul, after spending the early hours of the day at his tent-making, devoted the hours of heat to his more important business of teaching. He must have infected his hearers with his own energy and zeal, so that they were willing to sacrifice their siesta time for the sake of listening to Paul.

[10] For two years this work went on. Paul stayed in Ephesus, but a number of his colleagues carried on missionary activity in the neighboring cities as well. It was during these years that the churches in the Lycus valley (at Colossae, Hierapolis and Laodicea) were founded, although Paul does not appear to have visited these cities in person. Perhaps all seven of the churches of Asia addressed in the Revelation of John were founded about this time. The province was intensively evangelized, and became one of the leading centers of Christianity for centuries afterwards.

During this time, Paul wrote the Corinthian church a letter on the subject of separation from the ungodly [1 Cor. 5:9-10]. In reply he received a letter from certain members of the Corinthian church seeking his advice on matters concerning marital problems at Corinth, food previously dedicated to idols, the decorum of women in worship, the observance of the Lord’s Supper, spiritual gifts, and the nature and significance of the resurrection. At about the same time he had some visitors from Corinth, whom he identifies as Chloe’s household [1 Cor. 1:11], who told of deep and bitter divisions within the church. And from rumors widely circulating [1 Cor. 5:1], he knew that among the Corinthian believers there existed blatant immorality and also litigations in the public law courts. To deal with all these matters, the apostle wrote a second pastoral letter which is our 1 Corinthians. The problems at Corinth seem to have taken the course of opposition to Paul’s authority and criticism of his doctrine, and he was forced to make a “painful visit” to the city in an attempt to settle matters within the church [2 Cor. 2:1; 12:14; 13:1].

 

Don’t Let Controversy Deter You: Acts 19:23-28.

 

[23] About that time there occurred no small disturbance concerning the Way. [24] For a man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Artemis, was bringing no little business to the craftsmen; [25] these he gathered together with the workmen of similar trades, and said, “Men, you know that our prosperity depends upon this business. [26] You see and hear that not only in Ephesus, but in almost all of Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away a considerable number of people, saying that gods made with hands are no gods at all. [27] Not only is there danger that this trade of ours fall into disrepute, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis be regarded as worthless and that she whom all of Asia and the world worship will even be dethroned from her magnificence.” [28] When they heard this and were filled with rage, they began crying out, saying, Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”  NASU

 

[23] Before Paul himself took his departure, serious trouble developed in Ephesus concerning the Way. It began with Demetrius, a silversmith who had a large business manufacturing silver shrines of the Greek goddess Artemis. He kept many craftsmen busy. Artemis was a goddess of fertility. She was represented by a carved female figure with many breasts. A large statue of Artemis [see 19:35] was in the great temple at Ephesus. That temple was one of the wonders of the ancient world. Supported by 127 pillars each six stories tall, the edifice was about four times larger than the Parthenon in Athens. The festival of Artemis involved wild orgies and carousing. Obviously, the religious and commercial life of Ephesus reflected the city's worship of this pagan deity.

 

After a period of relative peace and steady growth for the Ephesian church, the gospel became offensive and intolerable to the city's craftsmen because of the way it was undermining their ability to sell silver idols of Artemis. Converts to Christianity were no longer buying these products. Consequently, for economic and religious reasons, the Way came under scrutiny, suspicion, and eventually attack. Demetrius was the instigator of this trouble.

 

[24]  The silversmiths of Ephesus regarded their guild as being under the special patronage of Artemis, in whose honor so many of their wares were manufactured. The sale of these small shrines was a source of considerable profit to the silversmiths, and they were alarmed at the fall in the demand for them which the spread of Christianity was causing. When religious devotion and economic interest were simultaneously offended, a quite exceptionally fervid anger was engendered.

 

[25-27] Calling together all the workmen engaged in this trade, Demetrius, a prominent member of the guild of silversmiths, persuaded them to stage a mass protest against the disturbing propaganda spread by Paul and his colleagues. These preachers, by denying the existence of deities made with hands, were threatening the livelihood of those who carried on such a profitable business in the manufacture of images of Artemis, but more than that, they were challenging the divine majesty of the great goddess herself. It was intolerable that they should idly stand by and allow such an affront to be offered to the goddess and her temple. Therefore, the people of Ephesus rose up in anger, causing a riot in the city.

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.    Why are baptism into Jesus and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit important in your life? How do your attitudes and actions reflect those events?

 

2.    Both Apollos and the disciples Paul met had a similar gap in their information about the gospel [18:25, 19:2-3]. Note that the solution to their lack of understanding was clear teaching concerning the gospel [18:26, 19:4]. What steps can we take to see that new converts understand the gospel clearly, and what can we do when we find people confused?

 

References:

Book of the Acts, F. F. Bruce, Eerdmans.

The Acts of the Apostles, Richard Longenecker, EBC, Zondervan.

The Message of Acts, John Stott, Inter-Varsity Press.