Wild Beasts at Ephesus

– Pastor Brandon’s article from the August 2017 Newsletter

In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul emphasizes the importance of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is the truth upon which all others hang. Without it, our faith is useless and we who follow Christ are without hope. We might as well do whatever we feel like now, because tomorrow we may not be here. We’re just dust, and we’ll return to dust. Paul says that all the serving and suffering for the sake of Christ mean nothing if there is no resurrection. It’s true.

While making his case for the centrality of the resurrection, Paul speaks of his own sacrifices and asks the following question: “If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus for merely human reasons, what have I gained?” (1 Cor. 15:32). Again, he’s saying that without the reality of the resurrection, it was all pointless. That’s an important discussion, but for now I want to take a look at what he’s describing in this verse: fighting wild beasts in Ephesus. This phrase could be taken literally or figuratively, and we’ll have to look elsewhere to determine what he means. In the book of Acts, there’s no mention of Paul being imprisoned in Ephesus or having to face lions, so I think it’s best to understand the phrase as a metaphor for the opposition Paul faced in that city. To get a clearer picture, we’ll have to turn to Acts 19.

Paul’s ministry in the city of Ephesus was quite effective. As Paul taught, God poured out his Holy Spirit on the disciples there. Although there was opposition, the word of the Lord was heard by many Jews and Greeks in the province of Asia as Paul taught daily in the lecture hall over a period of two years. “God did extraordinary miracles through Paul so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them” (Acts 19:12). Many of the people who believed had once practiced sorcery. Their lives were so transformed by the power of God that they confessed their evil deeds and publicly burned their scrolls – a considerable financial investment.

The city of Ephesus was a center of worship for the Greek goddess Artemis, and the craftsmen of the city made a great deal of money selling silver shrines of the goddess. With so many people turning to Christ, a metalworker named Demetrius recognized the danger to his business and the competition to their goddess. So, he incited the craftsmen against Paul. They “were furious and began shouting, ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians'” (Acts 19:28).

“Soon the whole city was in an uproar” (Acts 19:29). They grabbed Paul’s companions and rushed into the 24,000-seat, open-air theater. There was so much commotion and confusion that most of the people did not even know why they were there. At some point during this whole ordeal, Paul wanted to address the crowd. However, the disciples of the city would not let him, and even officials of the province, who were friends of Paul, begged him not to go into the theater. When a Jew stepped forward to address the crowd, they united around their goddess and shouted, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians,” for two hours. Eventually, city officials calmed the crowd and dismissed the assembly.

The riot at Ephesus is only one example of the kind of opposition Paul faced as he traveled the world preaching the gospel. Prior to this event he had been imprisoned, beaten, stoned and left for dead, and yet, he still pressed on to share the life of Christ with the world. The resurrection of Christ really does change everything, and he was willing to die to share that good news with the world.

As I think about his desire to enter that theater to address the crowd, I’m challenged about my own motives and drive to share the gospel with the lost and dying world. How often do I value my own temporary comfort and security over the advancement of Christ’s eternal kingdom? Are there times when I have people begging me to sit this one out, or do I more often find myself in need of encouragement to step outside of my own comfort and share the good news? What about you? May the Lord enable his servants to speak his word with great boldness! (Acts 4:29)

Pastor Brandon