|CHRISTIAN LIFE AND DOCTRINE||November 1996|
“My Grace is Sufficient for Thee”
“He said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” —II Corinthians 12:9
FOR TWO YEARS and three months, the Apostle Paul had actively engaged in the service of the truth at Ephesus, the ‘Gateway’ or ‘Eye’ of Asia Minor. (Acts 19:8-41) He was about ready to leave, and had already sent word to the churches en route, which he had established, informing them of his planned journey. He also purposed taking a present of money to the Christians at Jerusalem from their fellow believers in the Gospel and members in the body of Christ who resided in Gentile lands. However, the Lord permitted the Adversary to stir up persecution and cause a riot against the truth, and especially against Paul on the eve of his departure. As the apostle had written in another place: “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28), we may be sure that God saw some good which could be accomplished by permitting this persecution. Otherwise, he would not have permitted it.
Ephesus was one of the greatest cities of that time. In Ephesus was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world—a huge temple honoring Diana, the deity of Ephesus, and, indeed, of Asia Minor. To her shrine thousands of people came, as opportunity offered, believing that they received a special blessing from her which affected favorably the prosperity of their homes. Her blessing was supposed to greatly increase the flocks and herds, and the birth of children. She was represented to be the goddess of fertility—the mother of all things living. Of course, the fame of this great idol attracted general attention, and those who could not go to Ephesus to worship in the temple were pleased to purchase from merchants certain charms or amulets which consisted of small copies of the temple wrought in silver. The business of making these talismans grew as the people of that region learned to desire her blessing and to offer her worship. In the apostle’s day, the business of making these miniature silver. temples of various sizes became immense—employing hundreds, perhaps thousands!
SILVERSMITHS CAUSE RIOTS
A man named Demetrius was the representative, or head, of a silversmith’s guild, or union. He became incensed against Paul’s Gospel message and the fervent zeal of the Early Church at Ephesus. He aroused his fellow craftsmen by a stirring speech in which he pointed out the great prosperity of their city through this temple, and how they themselves had prospered by the building of her shrine. He then painted a black picture of how the prosperity would shortly die as a result of the preaching of this Paul. He called attention to the fact that it was not merely at Ephesus that this new religion—opposed to the worship of Diana—was spreading, but that it prevailed throughout Asia Minor among people who might be expected to place orders with them for shrines. With wonderful cunning, he upheld the combined duty of supporting their city religion with that of looking out for their pocketbooks. Who can think of stronger grounds of argument with people in general? That he was successful in encouraging the prejudices and creating a riot causes us no wonder. The whole city was in an uproar to preserve religion and worldly prosperity.
PAUL’S LIFE THREATENED
The Adversary, no doubt, helped in the matter, and shortly the people were in a frenzy of despair and fear that the collapse of their religion and prosperity was imminent. It was known where Paul stayed, so the mob rushed there, seeking the chief cause of the impending troubles. But, in the Lord’s providence, Paul was absent. This was the home of Aquila and Priscilla who were there. Although threatened they were loyal to the Apostle Paul. Subsequently, Paul wrote regarding Aquila and Priscilla, where he remarked that they endangered their ‘necks’ for the sake of the truth.—Rom. 16:3,4
As working people and home-keepers they were not molested; but two companions and assistants of Paul were in the house and were taken by the mob who hurried them to the theater, or the place of public entertainment. The capacity of the amphitheater, we are told, was 56,000—indicating that Ephesus must have been an immense city. Paul, learning of the commotion, would have courageously gone to the defense of his friends and, above all, in defense of his Master and his message. But wiser counsel prevailed, and Paul remained away. The brethren and other friends encouraged him not to go, believing that his presence would have accomplished nothing with people in such an unreasonable state of mind.
TOWN CLERK RESTORES ORDER
The Lord, however, did not neglect the two brethren who were arrested—Gaius and Aristarchus. The town clerk came to their assistance, and with words of wisdom dispersed the mob. This official was not interested in the Gospel of Christ, but he was interested in doing his duty as an officer of the city. He pointed out to the mob that they had become unduly excited; he reassured them that they, and everybody, knew the greatness of Diana—that one Jew or many Jews could not injure her great fame.
He went on to say: “Seeing then that these things cannot be contradicted, you ought to be quiet and do nothing rash. For you have brought these men here who are neither sacrilegious nor blasphemers of our goddess. If therefore Demetrius and the craftsmen with him have a complaint against anyone, the courts are open, and there are proconsuls; let them bring charges against one another. But if you seek anything further, it shall be settled in the regular assembly. For we are in danger of being charged with rioting today, there being no cause that we can give to justify this commotion.” (Acts 19:36-40, RSV)
With this he dismissed the assembly.
Notice the contrast between the people making up the crowd described in this account, compared with the people mentioned in the event just preceding this. (Acts 19:18-20) The first occasion concerned many who realized that they had been working in conjunction with the powers of evil. As a result of the influence of the Gospel message upon their hearts, they brought their books of ‘magic’ and ‘curious arts’, piled them in a heap, and burned them. They stopped the practice of the ‘black art’, refused to use the books of ‘magic’, and would no longer sell to others lest they should do injury to them. That group was willing to suffer financial loss, and to be thought foolish by their neighbors, rather than to do injury to others.
On the contrary, those of the later lesson were moved to a frenzy and to riotous conduct by their love of money, and their fear of suffering financial loss. Evidently it was not their respect for religion, but their love for filthy lucre which prompted their actions. Here we see the contrast. On the one hand, there were those who caused a riot in order to perpetuate idolatry and sensuality, and to bring money to their own purses. On the other hand, there were those who were ready to sacrifice their earthly interests rather than to do harm—and, in order that they may do the more good. Verily, there is a wonderful power in belief in Jesus, our Redeemer.
It is to be noted that the apostle and his co-laborers were not guilty of the charge of which they were accused—blaspheming the goddess of Ephesus. Here we have a point of importance, and a valuable lesson. The Apostle Peter said, “Let none of you suffer … as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters.” (I Pet. 4:15) It was not necessary for the Apostle Paul to say one unkind word in reference to the goddess Diana. His commission was to preach the good tidings of great joy—not to quarrel with false gods, or their worship. His persecution was, therefore, for doing what was right. There is a lesson here for us, also. It is not necessary for us to do an unkind act, or to say an unkind word to our friends who do not believe as we do. It is not necessary for us to send a tirade against others’ systems or doctrines. Our commission is to preach the good news and proclaim the Gospel message. Of course, Paul did not fail to call attention to the fact that Diana was merely the work of men’s hands, and not, as claimed, a deity.
GOD’S GRACE ALWAYS AVAILABLE
‘My grace is sufficient for thee’. Our Lord’s words applied not only to Paul, but to all who are part of the one body, and energized by its one Spirit. Doubtless, Paul’s experiences in connection with his ‘thorn in the flesh’ (II Cor. 12:7) were given to him and recounted in the Scriptures largely for the benefit of all who—from his day until now—have been suffering under peculiar experiences and trials, whose necessity and value are not clearly discerned.
When Paul, blinded by the great light which accompanied his conversion, finally received the Lord’s forgiveness and the restoration of his sight in considerable measure, he doubtless bore patiently with the continued weakness of his eyes. He considered it a proper chastisement for his wrong course in persecuting the body of Christ, which is the church. He also thought his service would be enhanced, if he could have had better sight.
There have been blessed lessons for all the Lord’s people throughout the Gospel Age in these experiences of Paul. We, too, have various ‘thorns in the flesh’, various trials—some of them mental; some physical; others often unknown except to ourselves. What a comfort it has been to many to have the Lord’s assurance that, because those trials and difficulties are not removed, they are permitted for wise and loving purposes. These, he assures us, will all work together for our good. Of these he declares, ‘My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness’.
Let us take all of our experiences in good faith, realizing the truth of those words—that our weakness, our imperfection, our frailty, so far from working injury to us, under the Lord ‘ s supervising care, enables him to supplement our willing endeavors with strength; and this is by his grace.