1. Brief Background To The Church At Ephesus – location, culture

Jesus’ first letter was addressed to the Church at Ephesus. Our understanding of this letter will be heightened by brief insight into the background of the Ephesian Church. The city of Ephesus was quite prosperous since it was the center of travel and commerce, had a major seaport, a theatre which housed 25,000 people, wealthy houses and a library. Ephesus was chiefly famous for the temple of a Greek demon called Diana.

One of the seven wonders of the world, the temple of Diana in Ephesus was the metropolis for demon worship in its day. While the citizens of Ephesus viewed Diana as a great and magnificent goddess, Apostle Paul preached that a god cannot be made with hands. This created quite a riot in the city.

Acts 19: 10-41 reveals that the worship of the demon Diana was accompanied by:

· The practice of magic arts. People wrote expensive books on the “curious arts”.

· A thriving trade for artisans who became extremely wealthy since they were able to create silver shrines for Diana.

· The exorcism of demons.

· Religious cults such as the Nicolaitanes (Revelation 2: 6)

2. Apostle Paul and the Church At Ephesus

Apostle Paul first visited Ephesus during his second missionary journey. He arrived there from Corinth where he met Aquila and Priscilla, a Jewish couple deported from Italy under the order of Roman Emperor Claudius (Acts 18: 1-2). Since Claudius ruled between 41 to 54 AD (Wikipedia.com), we can estimate the timing of Paul’s eighteen month stay in Corinth (Acts 18: 1-11).

However, Paul’s stay in Ephesus was brief and he left Aquila and Priscilla behind to teach the Word of God, since he was focused on reaching Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost (Acts 18: 19-21; 20: 16). Apollo, a Jew from Alexandria, arrived in Ephesus and began to teach the baptism of John in the synagogues. Hearing his preaching, Aquila and Priscilla took him under their wings and taught him the message of salvation by faith (Acts 18: 23-28).

Apostle Paul later returned to Ephesus by the upper coasts of and found twelve of Apollo’s disciples who had known only the gospel of John. He baptized them in the name of Jesus and they received the infilling with the Holy Ghost. Paul remained in Ephesus for two years, evangelizing the entire geographic region and setting up a church (Acts 19: 1-10).

The word of God grew mightily and prevailed as a result of the mighty and unusual miracles worked by Paul and the inability of seven exorcists to reproduce the power of God using the magic arts. However, the craftsmen in the city were aggravated because people were turning from the worship to Diana to God. Losing wealth, they instigated a riot against Paul (Acts 19: 11-41).

3. Apostle Paul gave a charge to the Church at Ephesus

After leaving Ephesus, Paul sailed first to Macedonia, then to Greece and other cities where he strengthened the believers. Reaching Miletus, he asked the elders of the Ephesian church to come to see him (Acts 20: 17 – 39). We need to pay attention to the charge given to the elders by Apostle Paul, because Jesus later confirmed that they had kept Paul’s instructions. Apostle Paul gave these elders a long exhortation, but the key elements were as follows:

Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.

I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock.

Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.

So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears (Acts 20: 28-31)

 

4. Conclusion

The Church of Ephesus existed in the context of a difficult situation. Faced with external satanic influences, they also had to contend with false apostles such as the ones who infiltrated the church of Antioch (Acts 15). The elders were commanded to watch over the flock and to protect it from savage wolves (false apostles). Keep this context in mind when reading Jesus’ letter to the Church at Ephesus.

Finally, I would say that the modern day church faces the same kinds of internal and external influences. Can we discern truth from error?

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