The Search for God’s People—Part 7

Paul at Ephesus

WHEN a door of opportunity for witnessing to the truth opened at Ephesus, during Paul’s third journey, he extended his stay in that city for three years—from A.D. 55 to A.D. 58. In time, Paul became a well-known figure to many of the townspeople as a result of his extensive preaching, and the reform that it precipitated. But his work also created some mortal enemies.

An imposing temple had been erected to the pagan goddess, Diana, in the city of Ephesus. It had been impressively built four hundred and twenty-five feet long, two hundred and twenty feet in width, and seventy feet in height. One hundred and twenty-seven huge pillars graced the structure, twenty-seven of which bore intricate carvings. So outstanding was its architecture that it has since been called one of the seven wonders of the Ancient World.

The people believed that the heathen goddess, Diana, had been sent by Jupiter to select Ephesus as the site for this temple. The time of its construction spanned one hundred years, and its preservation was considered a sacred responsibility. Every year thousands made pilgrimages to worship this Asian goddess of nature—an emblem of motherhood, of wild things, and of fertility. When visitors came to see this great mother of gods, they wanted to return homeward with a souvenir which they could worship. And so a very profitable trade was brought into existence by silversmiths who produced miniature replicas of the temple, as well as small images, charms and amulets to be worn.

During Paul’s stay in Ephesus, their business fell off sharply! One of the leaders of the silversmiths, named Demetrius, investigated the reason for this, and found that Paul’s influence in the city was no doubt the probable cause. He assembled all the craftsmen of the city and explained that Paul had convinced many in Ephesus and throughout all Asia Minor that gods made by the hands of man were false gods. Their once-profitable business had dwindled since many people were now holding these charms in contempt. Shrewdly, Demetrius did not make their loss of business his chief concern, but stressed, rather, that since the effective preaching of Paul was directed against Diana, her worship was diminishing, and as a result the great temple eventually would be left in neglect, or even destroyed.

Paul, of course, had not primarily directed his preaching against Diana. He emphasized instead a belief in a living, powerful God of Creation, who had given everyone life, who was an invisible spiritual being, and whose form could not be copied in material substance. Demetrius, however, was successful in inciting his fellow tradesmen into action, as well as other citizens of Ephesus. These quickly developed into an angry mob who poured through the streets crying, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians,” as if to safeguard her interests, and save her from extinction.

The mob action soon grew into mass rioting which filled the city with confusion. The silversmiths, it seems, had only one objective in mind, and that was to seize Paul and silence him. Exactly how they planned to accomplish this is not completely clear. But from Luke’s brief account of these events, it is obvious that Paul’s life was in extreme danger.

At that time there was a council of ten men chosen from the prominent cities of Asia Minor. These rulers were called Asiarchs and they were men of wealth and influence whose tasks included presiding over religious observances and public games. The chief Asiarch lived in Ephesus, but the other nine were present in Ephesus due to either special religious rites, or games being planned or happening there at the time. They were well acquainted with Paul as a respected friend.

Demetrius and his cohorts went to the home of Aquila and Priscilla, hoping to find Paul, but he was not there. Instead, they found Paul’s companions, Aristarchus and Gaius, whom they seized. We can imagine what a difficult experience it was for all of them, including Aquila and Priscilla, who must have undergone rough treatment and threats to disclose the whereabouts of Paul. The confrontation that took place with this unruly throng gives meaning to the apostle’s words when he later wrote: “Greet Priscilla and Aquila my helpers in Christ Jesus: who have for my life laid down their own necks: unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles.”—Rom. 16:3,4

So Aristarchus and Gaius became hostages in Paul’s stead. This “is the first time in Luke’s writing that Aristarchus is mentioned. We learn that he was a Macedonian from Thessalonica, one of the faithful Gentile brethren of that ecclesia. (Acts 20:4) The Thessalonians were a great inspiration to Paul because of their zeal for the Gospel, and Aristarchus was an excellent example of these faithful brethren. He well fits Paul’s description of their spirit of love and loyalty as commended in his first epistle to them, specifically in chapters one to three. Aristarchus had come to Ephesus to assist Paul in his ministry, and, from that time until Paul’s death in Rome, he never left his side, and is mentioned in several of Paul’s letters.—Acts 27:2; Philem. 24

As far as Gaius is concerned, we know he was the Gaius from Derbe who was with Paul in Ephesus at this time. Both he and Aristarchus had been seized by the angry crowd and carried into the amphitheater. Apparently some kind of religious ceremonies or tournaments were being held, and the arena was packed—it had a capacity of about fifty thousand people! Soon there was great confusion. Some were shouting one thing, and some another, and no doubt many of those present had no idea what was going on. As the purpose of this uproar was unclear, various contentious groups took advantage of the situation and began to exploit their own interests.

Meanwhile, Paul heard what had happened and he wanted to go to the coliseum and secure the release of his friends. But the brethren restrained him. After he received a special message from the Asiarch advising him not to go near the amphitheatre, he decided to take their advice. They had learned that the riot had been caused by the silversmiths for the particular purpose of getting rid of Paul.

Things really got out of hand when the mob started to become anti-Semitic. Because of Paul’s background and association with the Jews, many things were said against them. The Jews who were present put forward a man named Alexander as spokesman in their defense. He tried to explain to the people that to them, Paul was a renegade Jew, and that they took no part in his preaching. But the crowd, only realizing that he was a Jew, shouted continuously for two long hours, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians.” And so Alexander was not heard.

Finally a town official was successful in quieting the people. He pointed out that Paul and his associates were not temple robbers, nor blasphemers of the goddess Diana. He suggested that if Demetrius had a charge against Paul, there were courts and proconsuls who would handle the matter. He also explained that they were all in danger from the Roman authorities should they decide to take action against the instigators of the tumult. The assembly was then dismissed, and no harm was done to Aristarchus or Gaius.

This was, no doubt, an attempt to disrupt Paul’s work in that city by the adversary, but he was unsuccessful for the time being. However it seems that subsequently some brethren were deluded and drawn away from the truth. In a later letter to Timothy, who had been in Ephesus at the time of the uprising, Paul instructed him to continue his admonitions to those who were separating themselves from the faith. It seems, as he said, that they were involving themselves in fables, endless genealogies, and disputes about the Law. In concluding his letter he wrote, “This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy, according to the prophecies which went before on thee, that thou by them mightest war a good warfare; holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck: of whom is Hymenaeus and Alexander; whom I have delivered unto Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme.”—I Tim. 1:18-20

It has been supposed that this Alexander was the same as the one involved in the mob experience. Since he was a coppersmith, he had a profession similar to that of Demetrius, but exactly how he opposed Paul is not clear. It is believed that he had at one time joined the disciples as a follower of Christ, and then later returned to Judaism, becoming an ardent enemy of the apostle. Paul wrote of him again in his second letter: “Alexander the coppersmith did me much evil: the Lord reward him according to his works: of whom be thou wary also; for he hath greatly withstood our words.”—II Tim. 4:14,15

Tradition has it that the wife of Demetrius the silversmith, later became converted to Christianity, and then influenced her husband to the point of conversion. If this be so, and we cannot be certain that it is, the question arises, was the Demetrius mentioned in III John 12 one and the same man?

While Paul stayed in Ephesus, he wrote his first epistle to the Corinthians. In this letter he refers to some of the difficulties they were undergoing, and showed that the will of the brethren to endure was an expression of how firmly they believed the truth and the hope of a future resurrection. He said, “Why stand we in jeopardy every hour? I protest by your rejoicing which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily. If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantageth it me, if the dead rise not? Let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we die.” (I Cor. 15:30-32) His reference to ‘beasts’ undoubtedly meant the unruly men who opposed him on such teachings as the resurrection. Paul’s point was that if there were no hope of a resurrection, why would he risk his life in speaking about such things, as he had on numerous occasions!

Before this uproar had occurred, Paul had planned to go to Macedonia for the purpose of visiting the church at Thessalonica, and then on to Corinth. From there he knew he would be going to Jerusalem and Rome, having been made aware of this by God’s Holy Spirit. (Acts 19:21) He had already sent Timothy and Erastus in advance, and now he was ready to join them. So he embraced. all the disciples at Ephesus and bidding them farewell, left for his new destination.

His trip to Macedonia is described only in brief by Luke. However, it is evident from even this abbreviated account that Paul was a great blessing to the brethren there. Although the churches are not named, it seems reasonable that he went to Philippi, Thessalonica and Berea. From Macedonia he went on to Achaia, as he had planned, visiting Corinth for about three months.

When a plot was made against his life by the Jews, he returned to Philippi, where he was met by Sopater and Luke. Luke had been living in this city for nearly six years. Still other brethren who were Paul’s missionary assistants, went on ahead, and were waiting for the three to join them at Troas. These were Aristarchus and Secundus, Gaius and Timothy, Tychicus and Trophimus. They would all accompany Paul to Jerusalem. The enormous task of searching for God’s people could not be accomplished by one man alone. We do not know the names of the numerous brethren who toiled in the service of the Lord aside from those mentioned in the writings of Luke in the Book of Acts, and some named by Paul in his letters. But it was through the efforts of these many brethren, known and unknown to us, that the important work of starting the churches was accomplished.

Two of the helpers acquired on this journey, as we mentioned, were Tychicus and Trophimus. These two men served him faithfully to the end of his life. They were used to fulfill assignments for Paul, serving brethren, carrying messages, and assisting him in any way possible. In his letters, some several references are made to these lovingly performed services.—Acts 21:29; II Tim. 4:12,20; Tit. 3:12; Eph. 6:21,11; Col. 4:7-9

Another loyal aide not mentioned in the Book of Acts was Titus. From the time of Paul’s first journey he supported Paul in various assignments. Paul entrusted Titus with a letter he had written to the brethren who were having trouble in the church at Corinth. Paul wanted to go personally to see them, but was unable to do so. He sent Titus to assist the brethren in their problems in his stead.

Paul’s appreciation of Titus is evident in II Corinthians 7:5-16. He explained that he was having troubles on every side, but that when Titus came he was comforted. Titus brought a cheering message to Paul that things were better in the Corinthian church. “We were comforted in your comfort:” Paul wrote the Corinthian brethren. “Yea, and exceedingly the more joyed we for the joy of Titus, because his spirit was refreshed by you all.” We see from this passage that Paul’s message was softened by Titus’ explanations, so that the brethren in Corinth would not misunderstand the harsh words Paul had written to them. And this was a very useful service indeed, to Paul, and to the Lord.

Titus also was instrumental in bringing a gift from Corinth to the poor among the brethren in Jerusalem. Other churches in Macedonia had also made such a contribution already. This was a delicate matter, as the collection of money for others always is, but Titus handled it well. “Thanks be to God who puts the same earnest care for you into the heart of Titus. For he not only accepted our appeal, but being himself very earnest, he is going to you of his own accord. … We intend that no one should blame us about this liberal gift which we are administering, for we aim at what is honorable not only in the Lord’s sight but also in the sight of men. And with them we are sending our brother whom we have often tested and found earnest in many manners, but who is now more earnest than ever because of his great confidence in you. As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker in your service.”—II Cor. 8:16,17,20-23

Still another incident which shows Paul’s admiration of Titus’ Christian character and the role he played in removing misunderstandings and in promoting the Spirit of Christ, was when he wrote to the Corinthians establishing his apostleship. He asked the brethren, “Did I [Paul] take advantage of you through any of those whom I sent to you? I urged Titus to go, and sent the brother with him. Did Titus take advantage of you? Did we not act in the same spirit Did we not take the same steps? … It is in the sight of God that we have been speaking in Christ, and all for your up building, beloved.”—II Cor. 12:14-21, RSV

After Titus had completed this assignment for Paul—really for the Lord!—and rejoined Paul’s traveling group, he was asked to establish congregations on the island of Crete. The letter written there to Titus by Paul explains more concerning this commission, and gives us greater insight into the faithfulness of this dear brother in Christ

The Holy Spirit then indicated that a change would occur in the work of searching for God’s people. This search would not cease. On the contrary, the Lord would continue it through those whom Paul had found. But Paul himself would be giving special testimony, and would no longer be free to move around as he had previously.

A period of twenty-three years had elapsed since Paul was intercepted by our Lord on the road to Damascus, and was immersed into the body of Christ. During that time, many ecclesias of God’s people were established in remote areas of Gentile lands. These came into being and flourished in the truth through the energy, zeal, and untiring efforts of Paul and those associated with him.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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