Life here was probably quite pleasant as long as there were no uprisings to disturb the peace of Rome. What strikes me most as I take pictures of the ruins is the sophisticated culture the early church was up against. The people that lived in this city had a public sewage system, paved streets, stunning architecture and heated their homes. They had jobs and families too. But their culture was also steeped in pagan worship practices, amoral indulgences and greed. Knowing this makes me realize the fortitude the Ephesian believers needed to turn away from this lifestyle even more impressive. It is not hard to see then how the word “ekklesia” (eck-clay-see-uh) became associated with the church. The Christian lifestyle involved a drastic change from the usual course of life. Christians saw themselves as “called out” (the literal meaning of the word) from their former life (just like Israel had been called out of slavery in Egypt) to a new life in Christ.
Luke notes in Acts 19:25-27 the impact the Gospel had in Ephesus. He records the words of Demetrius, a silversmith whose business and livelihood were affected by the conversions. “Men, you know that our prosperity depends on this craft, and you see and hear how not only in Ephesus but throughout nearly the whole of Asia this fellow Paul has won over and led away a great number of people telling them that gods made with hands are not gods at all. There is risk for us that not only our business may come into disrepute but also that the shrine of the great goddess Artemis may come to be held of no importance.” Demetrius’ compelling speech seems altruistic at first glance, but careful scrutiny of its content reveals his true motivation; he was losing money! So his passion concerning his culture and tradition is suspect.
Demetrius and his fellow silversmiths gathered to save their incomes, however, the Christians gathered to find strength in their fellowship. Their actions were similar to philosophy students of the day who were commonly seen in the market places, gathering around a particular philosopher in a communal lifestyle to study and learn. But the difference between a philosophical convert and a convert to Jesus is a supernatural one which Paul addresses in many of his letters. To the Ephesians he wrote: For by grace you have been saved through faith, and not that of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, that no one should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus, for good works which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them (Eph. 2:8-10). Paul recognized the churches he planted, like the one in Ephesus, were not of his doing, but God’s. He wanted the believers to recognize this truth as they came together in fellowship.
The believers of Ephesus, the "called out ones", stood before the culture of their day like David before Goliath. They appeared small and ineffective before a gigantic foe. But those individual believers were not alone- they had each other. It became imperative to Paul that the church remain unified. If they succumbed to division, they would become ineffective. Paul knew with God’s help the believers in Ephesus would succeed. “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Eph. 4:1-3) We too are challenged to remain true to Paul’s teaching here in our church; to strive for unity among our brothers and sisters in Christ. Our concerns for each other should not be driven by the media or current events, but rather our attention and desire should be focused on fulfilling those good works were created to do. If being Christ-like is our goal and we remain unified in that goal as the early church did, we will have just as great an impact on our culture as they did upon theirs.
Ann LeFevre, M. Div.
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