Paul’s Miraculous Ministry in Ephesus

Acts 19:8-20
P.G. Mathew | Sunday, May 30, 1999
Copyright © 1999, P.G. Mathew

In our study of the book of Acts, we have been speaking about the baptism and gifts of the Holy Spirit. We cannot understand the book of Acts unless we understand the great and mighty outpouring of the Spirit of God as recorded in that book. In fact, we cannot even understand the New Testament epistles unless we understand this mighty effusion of the Spirit of God called the baptism in the Holy Spirit. In this study, therefore, we want to examine the effect of the baptism in the Holy Spirit in the ministry of the apostle Paul in the city of Ephesus.

Paul Comes to Ephesus

Paul desired to go to Ephesus, the greatest city of Asia Minor, long before he actually went there. In Acts 16:6 we read that the Spirit of God prevented him from entering the province of Asia on his second missionary journey. But that prohibition by God was not to last forever, and in God’s will Paul was able to visit Ephesus on his third missionary journey. Paul ministered in Ephesus for three years, which is the longest recorded stay of Paul in any city on his missionary journeys.

Ephesus was a seaport city located on the mouth of the Cayster River. Being a trade center, it was commercially very prosperous. It was also the capital of the Roman province of Asia and a center for all sorts of superstitious religious practices as well as temple prostitution and emperor worship. Archaeologists have uncovered much of ancient Ephesus, including the theater, which seated 25,000 people, and the library of Celsus.

This ancient city of a third of a million people was also home to the great temple of Artemis or Diana, which was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Archaeological excavations have uncovered the remains of the ancient temple twenty-five feet underground. When intact, the temple measured 425 feet long and 200 feet wide and had 127 marble pillars, inlaid with gold and gems, that rose sixty feet in height. This temple housed the great multi-breasted image of Artemis, the most sacred object of the Artemis cult.

The Primacy of the Gospel

In God’s own time, the Holy Spirit sent the apostle Paul with the light of the mighty gospel of Jesus Christ into the pagan, superstitious, spiritually dark city of Ephesus. When Paul arrived, as his custom was, he entered the synagogue and began to preach the gospel (Acts 19:8).

Preaching of the gospel must always come first. And when the gospel is preached, we must listen and pay attention, because the gospel comes to us in propositional form. If we are not interested in using our minds, we cannot be saved.

Why did Paul preach the gospel first? Because the gospel is the very word of God to us, and it alone offers us true hope, peace, and life. In Romans 1:16 Paul wrote, “I am not ashamed of the gospel. . . .” meaning he was very proud of the gospel. Why? “. . . because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.”

Paul’s Gospel Preaching

What was the gospel message Paul preached in Ephesus? First, he declared from the Scriptures the kingdom of God. God’s rule, Paul said, has come with power in the person of Jesus Christ, who is God incarnate, the promised Messiah, the sinless one. Paul proclaimed that this Jesus was crucified and buried, but on the third day according to the Scriptures he rose from the dead.

Paul also told the Ephesians that Jesus Christ is King of kings and Lord of lords. The people of Ephesus worshiped the Roman emperor, but Paul told them there is another king–the King of all emperors, Jesus Christ–whom they must worship. He explained that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus Christ by God the Father, and that one day he would be judging all.

He told them Jesus Christ is the God-appointed Savior who came to die vicariously in behalf of his elect sinners. Then Paul said there is no difference between Jews and Gentiles–all have sinned–and God must save both through Jesus Christ alone. He told the Ephesians that none of the components of Ephesian culture–philosophy, worship of Artemis, worship of nature, magic–could save them. Only if they repented and believed on Jesus Christ would they be saved, because only those who repent and believe in Jesus Christ can receive forgiveness of sins, be clothed in the divine righteousness of Jesus Christ, and enter the kingdom of God, which is the sphere of eternal life.

I am sure Paul also told the Ephesians what he later wrote to the Roman church, that if they confessed with their mouths, “Jesus is Lord,” and believed in their hearts that God raised him from the dead, they would be saved. I am sure he also told them, “For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile–the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved'” (Rom. 10:9, 12-13).

The rich blessing of the Lord is salvation, and when a person is saved, his curse is taken away and he is ushered into the realm of the kingdom of God–the realm of blessing, life, righteousness, joy, and peace–the realm of the Spirit of the living God. I am sure Paul spoke of all these things when he preached the gospel in the synagogue of Ephesus.

Response to the Gospel

Whenever God’s word is proclaimed, those who are listening must respond. What was the response of the Ephesians who heard Paul? Acts 19:9 tells us, “Some of them became obstinate,” or in the Greek, “some of them hardened their hearts” or “some of their hearts were hardened.”

Obstinacy, hardness, rebellion, and stubbornness! This was how some Ephesians responded to the wonderful gospel of Jesus Christ. For three months Paul preached the good news that God saves sinners through his Son, but as the word of God came again and again, the hearts of some became harder and harder.

Now, notice, the text says “some of them,” meaning not all of the Ephesian listeners responded in this way. Some who heard Paul had soft hearts. They responded in belief to Paul’s preaching and, as they added faith to the word, they were saved.

But there were some who were obstinate and refused to believe. Such people are influenced by Satan. They are like the seed that fell on the pathway, as we read in the parable of the soils in Matthew 13. They hear the word of God, but do not care for it, so Satan comes to them and takes it away.

As we study this passage, let me ask you some questions. Are you one who is obstinate and arrogant when you hear the gospel? If so, I assure you that you have no understanding of the depravity and enormity of your sin. You have no idea of your own lostness and waywardness. You have no conception of the guilt under which you are laboring. Perhaps you even believe in the secular notion that no one is responsible for his or her actions. But all this is a lie. The truth is, all are sinners and all need salvation through Jesus Christ.

Like the Ephesians, we all live and breathe and have our being because of God. The same God who came to the Ephesians now comes to us to declare his mercy, his grace, and his salvation. Even this day he is saying to us, “I offer you good news through my Son, Jesus Christ. He died in your place, and if you repent and believe in him, you will be saved.”

Are you allowing Satan to come and take God’s word away from your heart so that it has no effect upon you? If so, I pity you. If you don’t add faith to the word as you hear it, you will only increase your guilt when you stand before God on the last day.

The Dangers of Hardening One’s Heart

In Matthew 13:14 Jesus quoted Isaiah 6, speaking about those who rejected his word: “You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.” Jesus was speaking about those who allow Satan to come and take the word away from their hearts. He continued, “For this people’s heart has become calloused,” meaning hardened, like stone. The more the word is heard but not received, the harder one’s heart becomes. This is the opposite of the situation of the one who accepts the word. The more that person hears the word, the softer his heart becomes. It is the same word but opposite reaction. Then Jesus concluded, “They hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.”

We find this idea of hardening also in Hebrews 3 and 4. In Hebrews 3:7 the writer quotes Psalm 95, saying, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts . . . .” Whose voice is it? The preacher’s? No. It is God’s voice. It is God’s promise, God’s gospel, and God’s judgment. So God warns all who hear his voice: “Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”

In Hebrews 3:14 we read, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.” And in Hebrews 4:7 we read, “Therefore God again set a certain day, calling it Today, when a long time later he spoke through David, as was said before, ‘Today if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.'” It is a very serious matter to sit in the presence of God, hear his word, and harden one’s heart.

In my experience as a minister, I have seen something happen many times: People will come to a meeting and listen to the preaching. At the end of the service, some hearts will be hardened toward God while others are softened. This is an amazing phenomenon to behold, and this is what Paul experienced in Ephesus.

Keep on Preaching

Should the fact that some people’s hearts will be hardened keep us from preaching the gospel? By no means! In 2 Corinthians 2:14 we read, “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him.”

The job of the servants of the Lord Jesus Christ is to spread the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ wherever they go, and they do so by preaching the gospel. And that knowledge of Christ can result in eternal life for us, as Jesus himself said in John 17:3, “This is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”

As a minister preaches the gospel, he is, in a sense, opening a bottle of fragrance and letting it fill the place where he is with the fragrance of Christ. Some people will smell this fragrance and say, “This is wonderful. I have never heard that God forgives sins, that salvation is by grace, and I don’t have to do anything, but it is done for me.” To these people the gospel is bringing life. But others will smell the same fragrance and say, “Oh, this is terrible. This is stench. This is poison. This gospel will only mean death for me.” The same gospel can be preached, but the response is very, very different, and the reason for that difference is in the hearts of the hearers.

In verse 15 Paul continues, “For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.” No matter what people think of you, if you are a Christian who is proclaiming the gospel, you are the aroma of Christ to all them, whether they are being saved or perishing.

Paul goes on, “To the one we are the smell of death. . . .” To those who harden their hearts and refuse to believe the word, a gospel messenger brings an aroma of death. Such people don’t believe they are sinners or that there is a God, heaven, and hell. Such people believe the lie of Satan that we live in a closed system with no God and that we are all material with no spiritual side. To such people, Paul says, we are the smell of death, but to others, he says, we are “the fragrance of life.”

So when Paul had preached the gospel in Ephesus, many believed but others became obstinate and refused to believe. And not only did the obstinate people refuse to believe, they also began to publicly malign Christianity.

It is amazing to observe Satan’s work in these people. They boldly stood up before the whole multitude to blaspheme Jesus Christ. Why? They had been demonized. While the Holy Spirit had been working in some, the evil spirit was working in others. Thus, while some were brought to life through the preaching of the gospel, others were confirmed in their death.

Paul Secedes from the Synagogue

Seeing the reception people were giving to the word of God, Paul decided to leave the synagogue. Those who believed in Christ followed him, which was the proper thing to do. Never stay in a church that will not preach the gospel! If a church does not preach salvation in Christ alone by grace alone through faith alone as revealed in the authoritative Holy Scriptures alone, and does not give glory to God alone, get out of that place! Why? New wine cannot be poured into old wineskins. If you try it, the wineskins will crack and break. If you are in a church where the gospel is no longer preached, get out! Find a church that preaches the gospel with confidence, that you may be saved and grow in Christ.

Paul left the Ephesian synagogue, along with all his disciples. This type of exodus was nothing new for Paul. In Corinth he had also left the synagogue after some time and went next door to continue preaching and teaching. In Ephesus Paul decided to rent a hall from a philosopher named Tyrannus.

Paul taught in the hall of Tyrannus every day for two years. Philosopher Tyrant (which is what his name means) would use the hall from 7:00 to 11:00 A.M. During that time Paul would work as a tentmaker to earn support for himself and his companions and to get money to pay the rent for the hall. By 11:00 A.M. it was usually too hot to work, and Tyrannus would dismiss his pupils so they could go home and sleep from 11:00 A.M. to 4 P.M. or so. This was the common pattern in Ephesus. In fact, it was said that in Ephesus there would be more people sleeping at 1:00 P.M. than at 1:00 A.M.

But Paul was filled with the Holy Spirit and the energy of God worked in him mightily. He worked from 7:00 A.M. to 11:00 A.M. as a leather worker, which meant hard physical labor, and then he would go to the lecture hall of Tyrannus to teach from 11:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M., for five hours during the heat of the day.

Not only did the Holy Spirit work in Paul, enabling him to do this, but he also worked in some of the people of Ephesus so that they began to come to the lecture hall of Tyrannus during Paul’s classes and say, “Paul, we don’t want to sleep now. Could you speak to us about the gospel?” The Bible tells us that everyone who is ordained to eternal life shall love God and his word. Such people will make an effort to come to church when the word is being preached, and that is exactly what the Ephesian believers did.

Paul kept up this schedule for two years. And every day, after teaching in the lecture hall, he would go from house to house to minister to the believers of Ephesus. After that he would speak to individuals, and then go back to work as a tentmaker, working probably until about 11:00 P.M. We read about these labors of Paul in Acts 20 and other places.

A Lesson from Paul

As we consider this aspect of the ministry of the apostle Paul in Ephesus, we must all confess that we are lazy. How often I hear people say, “I am so tired,” “I am worn out,” and “I just cannot get out of bed.” But we must confess that we are really a pleasure-loving people. We simply do not know how to work hard! I don’t think any of us works as hard as we see the apostle Paul working.

How could Paul work so hard? He was filled with the Holy Spirit. That is why I said we must believe in the baptism in the Holy Spirit. We need the Holy Spirit to energize us! We must understand the power of the Spirit of God and pay heed to what Paul wrote in Ephesians 3:20, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine according to his power that is at work within us. . . .”

Now, if you are lazy, I urge you listen to this. Paul writes, “according to his power”! May God give us this New Testament perspective, this Pentecostal perspective, this divine Holy Spirit perspective: “according to his power that is at work within us. . . .” Paul was enabled by the power of Holy Spirit to work hard, and at the same time, Paul’s energy was not his own; it was an alien power, a power which came from God himself.

That power can be ours as well. It is the power by which Paul could say, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Phil. 4:13).

Let me confess it again: We all are lazy. We love to sleep, and then sleep again. We tend to eat too much. We want to indulge ourselves and our children. (PGM) We have to go here and there, we have to acquire this thing and that thing, we have to experience this experience and that experience, and then we say we are too tired to serve God! We need to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

The Power of the Holy Spirit

Paul not only believed in the power of the Holy Spirit, but he had it and lived on the basis of it. That is why he could work so hard. In fact, when you read Paul’s testimony as recorded in 2 Corinthians 11, you will be amazed at his productivity. How could one man work so hard for the Lord? The answer is that Paul was working with a different energy than we have. He was working with the power of the Spirit of God, which Jesus had promised to all his disciples, including Paul.

In 2 Corinthians 11:23-28 Paul wrote,

Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.

Paul endured all these things by the power of the Holy Spirit.

I hope we will get rid of this “tired” speech. I agree that you may be tired, but to be ruled by tiredness is not Christianity. Christianity says there is an alien power, a different power–the power of the Spirit of the living God–which will come into you and make you able to do mighty exploits in the name of Jesus Christ. “I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty,” David told Goliath. “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you,” Jesus told his disciples. We must avail ourselves of this power.

The other day I was counseling a young couple who both work full time. The wife came home after work one day, cooked the meal, and then asked her husband to do the dishes. What was his answer? “I am too tired to help you.” Man, I am ashamed of you if you say that! You should say, “Yes, I am tired, but I will pray to God to give me the power to wash the dishes. I know God will help me do what I must do. Through Christ I can do all things.”

May God help us in these days to be filled with the Spirit of God! May he help us to labor for the Lord in the things that will count on the last day. I am not saying we must work hard just so that we can make more money. No, we must work hard at what matters–at that which pleases God.

The Spread of the Gospel from Ephesus

Paul’s hard labor in Ephesus bore fruit far beyond the boundaries of Ephesus. On his missionary journeys Paul’s strategy was to go and preach in the central city of a region, train people, and then send them out to outlying areas.

This is exactly what happened in Ephesus. During his stay at Ephesus, Paul was able to send people throughout all of Asia Minor. And as the people, trained in Paul’s school of theology at Ephesus, took the gospel to the surrounding areas, they started churches. Probably all the churches mentioned in the second and third chapters of Revelation came into existence as a result of Paul’s work in the city of Ephesus. For example, the Lycus Valley churches of Hierapolis, Colosse, and Laodicea were founded, I believe, by a man named Epaphras, whom Paul mentions in his letter to the church of Colosse. Now, Paul probably never visited Colosse, but when he wrote to the church there, he said they learned the gospel “from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf and who also told us of your love in the Spirit” (Col. 1:7). Others from the same area–Tychicus, Trophimus, Archippus, Philemon, Timothy, and Erastus–also graduated from Paul’s school. As they listened to the apostle preach the word of God, they were set on fire and said, “We have to go back to our places and preach this gospel.” In this way many churches in Asia Minor came into existence.

What about us? Are we set on fire by the gospel? If so, shouldn’t we go back to our neighborhoods and share the gospel there? I received a letter the other day from a member of this church who had come here several years ago to earn his doctorate. Now he is back in his home country, trying to find a church home. He wrote, “I went to one church, but they don’t believe the gospel as I do. Then I went to another church, which professes a more correct belief, but there are serious problems in the practice of that belief. What should I do?” I prayed about it and wrote back, “Why don’t you and your wife start a Bible study in your own home? Have you ever thought about that? Be on fire for God! Invite your friends and neighbors to study the word of God with you. You are from that country and know the language. You are highly educated and you both love God. What prevents you from starting a church?”

If a person loves God and the gospel of Jesus Christ, he can minister. But if he has one foot in heaven and the other in the world, he can do nothing. “A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.” He can never do anything. May God make us single-hearted and set us on fire for him so that we can minister the gospel wherever we are. That was the goal of Paul’s ministry in Ephesus.

Miracles Authenticating Paul’s Ministry

What else happened as Paul ministered in Ephesus? God authenticated his ministry through miracles. As we have said before, many theologians today say that miracles and gifts have ceased. Such people never have experienced these things personally and so they think they cannot happen today. Additionally, they say that those who believe in miracles and gifts want to add new books to the Scriptures.

But such a view is totally false. God has not stopped performing miracles, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit have not been done away with. When God performs miracles, he is authenticating his word and showing compassion to his people.

Do you think demons are still active? Do you think people still get sick? And God is still in the business of healing the sick and casting out demons. But when we are healed and delivered, do you think we will write new books to be added to the Scriptures? No. We will praise God for his mercy to us through his miracles, but we will not add to the canon of Scripture.

Additionally, even those who say miracles have ceased must recognize that God is still performing the greatest miracle of all, which is the miracle of regeneration. Regeneration itself is a miracle, and we must not use sophisticated theological jargon to explain it in any other way. It is nothing less than a mighty miracle–the most important miracle, really–which is greater even than the miracle of bringing forth Lazarus from the tomb, because regeneration is the only miracle that grants us eternal, never-ending life.

God Working Through Paul

The text tells us God was performing miracles through Paul. Who was healing people and casting out demons? God himself, and the verb is used in the imperfect tense, meaning God performed these miracles in Ephesus on a continuous basis.

When we study the account of Paul’s ministry in Corinth, we do not read about miracles. But in Ephesus, in his sovereign will, God performed miracles through Paul and kept on doing them. And the text says there were two kinds of miracles: ordinary miracles as well as extraordinary miracles.

How did God perform miracles? The text says that even handkerchiefs and aprons touched by Paul were taken to the sick who then were healed and the evil spirits cast out of them. We can just imagine the Ephesians coming to Paul as he was working in the leather shop. I am sure there would plenty of sweat-filled handkerchiefs and aprons lying around because, as we said before, Paul worked hard. “Paul,” these people would say, “our mother is so sick. She cannot come to this place, but we believe that if we take something from you–maybe even that handkerchief or apron–and put it on her, she will be healed.” So they would take these sweat-filled items and put them on their sick people. And by God’s mercy, these people would be healed and delivered from evil spirits.

Now, perhaps you have heard of people in modern times who sell aprons and napkins and point-of-contact gimmicks for money. They promise that if you lay these items on sick people, they will be healed. I have one word to describe such a practice: Fraud! But God will perform his miracles when he wants to, and even today, if he ordains it, we can put a sweaty handkerchief on a demonized person and the demons will come out.

Throughout the Bible we see that God has his own way of healing people. Remember the woman with bleeding who said, “If only I touch the hem of his garment, I will be healed,” and Jesus turned and said, “Your faith has healed you”? And in Mark 6:55-56 we read that people “ran throughout the whole region and carried the sick on mats to wherever they heard [Jesus] was. And wherever he went–into villages, towns or countryside–they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched him were healed.”

God shows great mercy and compassion to his people and heals them at his will. Are you tired or sick? Do you think God can energize you so that you can work for God? Pray to God that he might fill you with his power so that you can do wonderful things. Our God is sovereign, and he can do it!

The Triumph of the Gospel

As Paul was ministering in Ephesus there were some Jewish exorcists also working. Oh, these people had a bag full of tricks and spells. They knew the names of all the deities of the day and thought that if they used the right formula and invoked the names of certain spirits, these deities would act in their behalf and cast out demons from people. These exorcists were frauds, of course, but Ephesus in the first century was the center of such superstitions.

Some of the exorcists saw the mighty miracles Paul was performing in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, so they went into a house where there was a demon-possessed person and told the people there, “Hey, wait a minute. We can take care of this man. We have a new trick, a new name by which we can cast out demons. All we have to say is, ‘Come out in the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches.’ Just give us the money, and see what happens!”

But when these Jewish exorcists, who were seven sons of a person named Sceva, told the evil spirit, “In the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, come out!” what happened? Oh, the evil spirit responded! The demonized man leaped up, jumped on the sons of Sceva, overpowered them, and beat them up. Naked and wounded, these Jewish exorcists fled through the city and no doubt everyone saw them running. What do you think happened? It was a graphic encounter between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of evil, and the kingdom of God won.

Jesus always wins. And in verse 20 we read that the word of God “spread widely and grew in power.”

What About You?

In Isaiah 9:7 we read, “Of the increase of his government and his peace there will be no end.” In God’s will and in God’s time Paul came to Ephesus, preached the gospel, and many people were brought into the kingdom of God. All the philosophy, nature religion, Artemis worship, temple prostitution, Jewish exorcists and magic spells will not save us. Only the gospel of Jesus Christ will save us, and through Paul’s preaching of the gospel many people in Ephesus were saved.

What about you? As we said before, any time the word of God comes to us, it will do the work intended by God, whether that work results in salvation or condemnation. Psalm 11 tells us the Lord examines us all. Will he find you believing or obstinate?

If you are believing, you will say, “I believe in God. I believe in his power. I believe in his mercy. I believe in his salvation. I believe in his Son Jesus Christ, who died in my place on the cross, was buried but was raised on the third day.” Then you can pray that the eyes of your understanding be enlightened “that you may know his incomparably great power for us who believe.” Believe God for wonderful things, that he will fill you with his power, his knowledge, his salvation, and his gifts. Believe that you can do all things through Jesus Christ who strengthens us. Yes, you are nothing, but he is everything, and he uses nothings. Believe that you can do great exploits for the Lord!

But what if you are not believing? The Bible tells us, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” Let me warn you, if you harden your heart at the preaching of the gospel–if you refuse to believe and remain stubborn, obstinate, confused and unbelieving–your destiny will be your own responsibility. May God help you to believe in him today and be saved. Amen.