In Jesus’ day, the temple to Artemis in Ephesus was considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World. It was longer and wider than a football field and taller than today’s Hollywood sign in Los Angeles. But when Paul arrived in that city to preach the gospel of Jesus, he offered a glimpse of something unspeakably greater. The Ephesians enjoyed cultural grandeur, but they’d never seen anything like the love of Christ.
Acts 19:23-34; Ephesians 3:8-19
Travelers came from all over to see the temple at Ephesus, and the locals prospered from the booming trade in pagan culture. Paul’s missionary work in the city threatened to destroy their livelihood.
Idols can’t fulfill what they seem to promise.
When his income source is threatened by the growth of Christianity, idol maker Demetrius gathers his colleagues to protest (Acts 19:25). Being human involves having needs, but how they’re fulfilled separates God’s people from others. Can you relate to the felt need Demetrius expressed? Name an area where you don’t fully trust God. Find a verse to encourage your faith.
Demetrius complains when Paul says that “gods made by hands are not gods at all” (Acts 19:26). Today it’s easy to think we’re too sophisticated to care about pagan statues, but an idol is anything we allow to come between us and God. Even greed is idolatry (Col. 3:5), and the Lord won’t accept it. Examine your heart—have you enthroned anything that’s “not a god at all”? Confess and ask for God’s help in getting free of its lure.
The people are “filled with rage” to think Artemis could lose her prestige (Acts 19:27-28). What does their reaction reveal about the power of idols? Have you ever felt this way when God took something from you or instructed you to give it up?
Clinging to God and His will isn’t always easy in this materialistic world. But the church is a refuge that helps us. Compare the chaos in Acts 19:29-32 with 1 Corinthians 14:33. How can you reach out to someone needing freedom from confusion?
CONTINUING THE STORY
After establishing a strong church in Ephesus, Paul eventually leaves. He later writes to believers there while imprisoned in Rome.
Clinging to God and His will isn’t always easy in this materialistic world. But the church is a refuge that helps us.
Paul tells the Ephesians he was called to preach “the unfathomable riches of Christ” (Eph. 3:8). Considering the culture of Ephesus, why is this phrase significant? What does Paul want believers there to appreciate, and how does it contrast with their surroundings?
The great mystery Paul keeps referring to is that the Ephesians are “fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Eph. 3:6). Why was this so astonishing to Paul? Consider that in Christ, all of us have received something amazing we could never have expected and didn’t deserve. How does reflecting on this enrich your relationship with God?
Given the size of the famous temple in Ephesus, it’s interesting that Paul prays God will enable the Ephesians to grasp the width, length, height, and depth of Christ’s love. At times our desires, roles, or responsibilities loom so large it’s hard to see beyond them. Looking at Ephesians 3:16-19, list keys for breaking free from whatever blocks your path to God’s love.
Immerse yourself in Jesus—filled with His love eternally, you’ll find He’s more than enough.
God’s displeasure with idols is reason enough to avoid them. But He who does “far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think” (Eph. 3:20) has also provided in a way that brings joy from obedience.
Consider deeper aspects of the story.
Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is full of grace and love for the church. Without self-pity, he refers to his own difficulties and rejoices in the glory of God. Chapter 3 shows he sees imprisonment at the hands of men as nothing when compared with the treasures he’s received from God: mystery, revelation, insight, promise, grace, gifts, riches, boldness, access. And he wants the Ephesians to remember the amazing truth: They too have been made partakers in God’s gifts.
Being human involves having needs, but how they’re fulfilled separates God’s people from others.
In Ephesians 3:1, Paul suggests incarceration is a price he must pay for bringing the gospel to the Ephesians. Yet he urges them to rejoice in God rather than to be discouraged by this (Eph. 3:13). Sharing in persecution is an honor for any faith community. Have you ever experienced this? How did your church grow stronger because of it?
The prayer in Ephesians 3:16-19 is perhaps one of the most gracious and profound requests one can make of God on behalf of another person. It could change a life dramatically. Will you commit to praying this for a friend daily this week?
None of us have been given the same mission Paul was blessed to receive. Yet as believers, through faith in Jesus, we’ve all been given our own mandate to serve and glorify the Lord. How are you fulfilling yours? Perhaps you’d like to ask God right now if He has a new direction waiting for you.
God doesn’t reveal the same things to all His children. But you can be sure He has mysteries and riches for you. Moving idols out of the way will help you see them more clearly.
Illustration by Adam Cruft