“Growing and Prevailing” Despite Opposition
How Apollos and Paul contribute toward the continued victory of the good news
Based on Acts 18:23–19:41
THE streets of Ephesus resound with shouts, cries, and the thunder of crowds running. A mob has formed, and a full-blown riot is under way! Two of the apostle Paul’s traveling companions are seized and dragged along. The wide, colonnaded street where the shops are located empties quickly as the rabid crowd swells and storms into the city’s huge amphitheater, which could accommodate 25,000 spectators. Most of the people do not even know what has caused the uproar, but they have a faint idea that their temple and their beloved goddess Artemis are being threatened. So they begin to chant frantically: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”—Acts 19:34.
2 Once again, we see Satan trying to use mob violence to stop the spread of the good news of God’s Kingdom. Of course, the threat of violence is not Satan’s only tactic. In this chapter, we will discuss a number of Satan’s schemes to undermine the work and unity of those first-century Christians. More important, we will see that all his tactics failed, for “in a mighty way the word of Jehovah kept growing and prevailing.” (Acts 19:20) Why did those Christians prove victorious? For the same reasons that we do today. Of course, the victory is Jehovah’s, not ours. However, like the first-century Christians, we must do our part. With the aid of Jehovah’s spirit, we can acquire qualities that will help to ensure the success of our ministry. Let us first consider the example of Apollos.
“He Was Well Versed in the Scriptures” (Acts 18:24-28)
3 While Paul was on his way to Ephesus during his third missionary tour, a Jew named Apollos arrived in the city. He was from the famed city of Alexandria, Egypt. Apollos had some outstanding qualities. He spoke very well. In addition to his eloquence, “he was well versed in the Scriptures.” Furthermore, he was “aglow with the spirit.” Full of zeal, Apollos spoke boldly before Jewish audiences in the synagogue.—Acts 18:24, 25.
4 Aquila and Priscilla heard Apollos speak. No doubt they were thrilled to hear him teach “with correctness the things about Jesus.” What he said about Jesus was accurate. However, before long that Christian couple detected an important gap in Apollos’ knowledge. He was “acquainted with only the baptism of John.” This humble couple, tentmakers by trade, were not intimidated by the eloquence or education of Apollos. Rather, “they took him into their company and expounded the way of God more correctly to him.” (Acts 18:25, 26) And how did this well-spoken, learned man respond? Evidently, he showed one of the most important qualities that a Christian can cultivate—humility.
5 Because Apollos accepted the assistance of Aquila and Priscilla, he became a more effective servant of Jehovah. He traveled on to Achaia, where he “greatly helped” the believers. His preaching also proved effective against those Jews in that region who insisted that Jesus was not the foretold Messiah. Luke reports: “With intensity he thoroughly proved the Jews to be wrong publicly, while he demonstrated by the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.” (Acts 18:27, 28) What a blessing Apollos became! In effect, he was another reason why “the word of Jehovah” went on prevailing. What can we learn from Apollos’ example?
6 Cultivating humility is absolutely essential for Christians. Each of us is blessed with various gifts—whether these have to do with natural abilities, experience, or knowledge that we have acquired. However, our humility must exceed our gifts. Otherwise, our assets may become liabilities. We may become fertile ground for the growth of that poisonous weed haughtiness. (1 Cor. 4:7; Jas. 4:6) If we are truly humble, we will endeavor to see others as superior to us. (Phil. 2:3) We will neither resent correction nor resist being taught by others. We will certainly not cling proudly to our own ideas when we learn that these are out of harmony with the present leadings of the holy spirit. As long as we remain humble, we are useful to Jehovah and his Son.—Luke 1:51, 52.
7 Humility also defuses rivalry. Can you imagine how eager Satan was to create divisions among those early Christians? How delighted he would have been if two such dynamic personalities as Apollos and the apostle Paul had allowed themselves to become rivals, perhaps jealously vying for influence among the congregations! It would have been easy for them to do so. In Corinth, some Christians began saying, “I belong to Paul,” while others said, “But I to Apollos.” Did Paul and Apollos encourage such divisive sentiments? No! And Paul humbly acknowledged Apollos’ contribution to the work, granting him privileges of service. For his part, Apollos followed Paul’s direction. (1 Cor. 1:10-12; 3:6, 9; Titus 3:12, 13) What a fine example of humble cooperation for us today!
8 Paul had promised to return to Ephesus, and he kept his word.* (Acts 18:20, 21) Note, though, how he returned. We last saw him in Antioch, Syria. To reach Ephesus, he could have made the short trip to Seleucia, boarded a ship, and sailed directly to his destination. Instead, he traveled “through the inland parts.” By one estimate, Paul’s journey as traced out in Acts 18:23 and 19:1 encompassed about a thousand miles [1,600 km]! Why did Paul choose such an arduous route? Because he had as his aim, “strengthening all the disciples.” (Acts 18:23) His third missionary journey, like the previous two, would demand much of him, but he considered it all worthwhile. Traveling ministers and their wives today display a like spirit. Do we not appreciate their self-sacrificing love?
9 Upon his arrival at Ephesus, Paul found a group of about a dozen disciples of John the Baptizer. They had been baptized under an arrangement that was no longer valid. Furthermore, they seemed to know little or nothing about the holy spirit. Paul brought them up-to-date, and like Apollos, they proved to be humble and eager to learn. After being baptized in the name of Jesus, they received holy spirit and some miraculous gifts. Clearly, then, keeping up with Jehovah’s advancing theocratic organization brings blessings.—Acts 19:1-7.
10 Another example of progress soon followed. Paul preached boldly in the synagogue for three months. Although he was “using persuasion concerning the kingdom of God,” some hardened themselves and became real opposers. Rather than wasting time with those who were “speaking injuriously about The Way,” Paul made arrangements to speak in a school auditorium. (Acts 19:8, 9) Those who wanted to make spiritual progress needed to make a move from the synagogue to the auditorium. Like Paul, we may withdraw from some conversations when we recognize that the householder is unwilling to listen or only wants to argue. There are still plenty of sheeplike people who need to hear our encouraging message!
11 Paul may have spoken in that school auditorium daily from about 11:00 a.m. until about 4:00 p.m. (Acts 19:9, ftn.) Those were likely the quietest but hottest hours of the day when many stopped their work to eat and rest. Imagine if Paul followed that rigorous schedule for two full years, he would have spent well over 3,000 hours teaching.* Here, then, is another reason why the word of Jehovah kept growing and prevailing. Paul was industrious and adaptable. He adjusted his schedule so that his ministry met the needs of the people in that community. The result? “All those inhabiting the district of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.” (Acts 19:10) What a thorough witness he gave!
12 Jehovah’s Witnesses in modern times have likewise proved to be industrious and adaptable. We endeavor to reach people wherever and whenever they can be found. We witness on the streets, at the marketplaces, and in parking lots. We may contact people by telephone or by letter. And in the house-to-house work, we make efforts to reach people at times when we are most likely to find them at home.
“Growing and Prevailing” Despite Wicked Spirits (Acts 19:11-22)
13 Luke informs us that a remarkable period ensued, with Jehovah enabling Paul to perform “extraordinary works of power.” Even cloths and aprons that Paul wore were taken to sick people, who were cured. Wicked spirits were driven out by these means too.* (Acts 19:11, 12) Such outstanding victories over Satan’s forces drew much attention, not all of it positive.
14 Some “roving Jews who practiced the casting out of demons” sought to duplicate Paul’s miracles. Certain ones of those Jews tried to expel demons by invoking the names of Jesus and Paul. Luke gives the example of the seven sons of Sceva—members of a priestly family—who sought to do this. The demon said to them: “I know Jesus and I am acquainted with Paul; but who are you?” The possessed man then attacked those charlatans, leaping upon them like a wild beast, sending them scurrying off, wounded and naked. (Acts 19:13-16) This was a resounding victory for “the word of Jehovah,” as the contrast between the power given to Paul and the powerlessness of those false religionists could not have been plainer. There are millions today who wrongly assume that simply calling on the name of Jesus or labeling oneself “Christian” is enough. As Jesus indicated, though, only those actually doing the will of his Father have a real hope for the future.—Matt. 7:21-23.
15 The humiliation of the sons of Sceva led to a widespread godly fear, which influenced many to become believers and abandon spiritistic practices. Ephesian culture was steeped in the magical arts. Spells and amulets were commonplace, as were incantations, often in written form. Many Ephesians were now moved to bring out their books on magical arts and burn them publicly—though these were evidently worth tens of thousands of dollars by present standards.* Luke reports: “Thus in a mighty way the word of Jehovah kept growing and prevailing.” (Acts 19:17-20) What a marvelous victory of truth over falsehood and demonism! Those faithful people set a good example for us today. We likewise live in a world steeped in spiritism. Should we find that we own something connected to spiritism, we would do as the Ephesians did—get rid of it promptly! Let us keep far away from such disgusting practices, whatever the cost.
“There Arose No Little Disturbance” (Acts 19:23-41)
16 We come now to the tactic of Satan described by Luke when he wrote that “there arose no little disturbance concerning The Way.” He was hardly overstating matters.* (Acts 19:23) A silversmith named Demetrius started the trouble. He got the attention of his fellow craftsmen by first reminding them that their prosperity came from selling idols. He went on to suggest that the message Paul preached was bad for business, since the Christians did not worship idols. Then he appealed to the civic pride and nationalism of his audience, warning them that their goddess Artemis and their world-famous temple to her were in danger of being “brought down to nothing.”—Acts 19:24-27.
17 Demetrius’ speech had the desired effect. The silversmiths began chanting “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians,” and the city became filled with confusion, leading to the fanatic mob scene described at the outset of this chapter.* Paul, self-sacrificing soul that he was, wanted to go into the amphitheater to address the crowd, but the disciples insisted that he stay out of danger. A certain Alexander stood before the crowd and attempted to speak. Since he was a Jew, he may have been eager to explain the difference between Jews and these Christians. Such explanations would have been lost on that crowd. When they recognized him as a Jew, they shouted him down, repeating the chant “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians” for about two hours. Religious fanaticism has not changed since then. It still makes people completely unreasonable.—Acts 19:28-34.
18 Finally, the city recorder quieted the crowd. A capable man with presence of mind, this official assured the mob that their temple and goddess were in no danger from these Christians, that Paul and his companions had committed no crime against the temple of Artemis, and that there was a due process in place for raising such issues. Perhaps most tellingly, he reminded the mob that they were in danger of incurring the wrath of Rome for this unlawful and unruly gathering. With that, he dismissed the crowd. As quickly as their rage had erupted, it now subsided because of these rational and practical words.—Acts 19:35-41.
19 This was not the first time that a levelheaded man in a position of secular authority had acted to protect Jesus’ followers, nor would it be the last. In fact, the apostle John foresaw in a vision that during these last days, the stable elements of this world, pictured by the earth, would swallow up a veritable flood of satanic persecution against Jesus’ followers. (Rev. 12:15, 16) That has proved true. In many cases, fair-minded judges have moved to protect the rights of Jehovah’s Witnesses to meet for worship and to share the good news with others. Of course, our own conduct may play a role in such victories. Paul’s conduct had apparently won him the friendly respect of some governmental officials in Ephesus, so they were eager to see him safe. (Acts 19:31) May our honest and respectful conduct make a favorable impression on those we meet as well. We never know how far-reaching the effects may be.
20 Is it not thrilling to contemplate how “the word of Jehovah kept growing and prevailing” in the first century? It is equally thrilling to see how Jehovah has been behind similar victories in our time. Would you like to have the privilege of playing a part, however small, in such victories? Then learn from the examples we have considered. Stay humble, keep up with Jehovah’s progressive organization, keep working hard, repudiate spiritism, and do your utmost to give a good witness through your honest and respectful conduct.
See the box “Ephesus—Capital of Asia,” on page 161.
Paul also wrote 1 Corinthians while in Ephesus.
The cloths may have been handkerchiefs worn by Paul around the forehead to keep perspiration from running into the eyes. That Paul also wore aprons at this time suggests that he may have been plying his trade of tentmaking during his free hours, perhaps in the early mornings.—Acts 20:34, 35.
Luke cites a value of 50,000 silver pieces. If he meant the denarius, it would have taken a worker back then 50,000 days—about 137 years—to earn that amount of money if he worked seven days a week.
Some say that Paul referred to this incident when he told the Corinthians that “we were very uncertain even of our lives.” (2 Cor. 1:8) However, he may have had in mind a more dangerous occasion. When Paul wrote that he “fought with wild beasts at Ephesus,” he could have been referring to an experience with ferocious animals in an arena or to human opposition. (1 Cor. 15:32) Both the literal and the figurative interpretations are possible.
Such guilds, or unions, of craftsmen could be quite powerful. About a century later, for example, the bakers’ guild incited a similar riot in Ephesus.
1, 2. (a) Paul and his companions face what danger in Ephesus? (b) What will we discuss in this chapter?
3, 4. What lack did Aquila and Priscilla perceive in Apollos, and how did they address it?
5, 6. What enabled Apollos to become more useful to Jehovah, and what may we learn from Apollos’ example?
7. How did Paul and Apollos set an example of humility?
8. By what route did Paul return to Ephesus, and why?
9. Why did a group of disciples need to be rebaptized, and what lesson may we learn from their course?
10. Why did Paul move from the synagogue to an auditorium, setting what example for us in our ministry?
11, 12. (a) How did Paul set an example in being industrious and adaptable? (b) How have Jehovah’s Witnesses endeavored to be industrious and adaptable in their public ministry?
13, 14. (a) Jehovah enabled Paul to do what? (b) What mistake did the sons of Sceva make, and how do many in Christendom today err in a similar way?
15. When it comes to spiritism and objects connected with spiritistic practices, how can we follow the example of the Ephesians?
16, 17. (a) Describe how Demetrius got the riot started in Ephesus. (b) How did the Ephesians show their fanaticism?
18, 19. (a) How did the city recorder quiet the mob in Ephesus? (b) How have Jehovah’s people at times been protected by secular authorities, and what role may we play in such protection?
20. (a) How do you feel about the way Jehovah’s word prevailed in the first century and is prevailing today? (b) What is your resolve regarding Jehovah’s victories in our time?
[Box on page 161]
EPHESUS—CAPITAL OF ASIA
Ephesus was the largest city in western Asia Minor. In the apostle Paul’s day, its population probably exceeded 250,000. As the capital of the Roman province of Asia, it proudly bore the title “First and Greatest Metropolis of Asia.”
Ephesus derived great wealth from commerce and religion. Located close to the mouth of a navigable river, its seaport stood at the intersection of trade routes. Ephesus was home not only to the famous temple of Artemis but also to the shrines and temples of numerous other Greco-Roman, Egyptian, and Anatolian deities.
The temple of Artemis, lauded as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, measured approximately 350 feet [105 m] by 160 feet [50 m]. It contained some 100 marble pillars, each about 6 feet [1.8 m] in diameter at the base and almost 55 feet [17 m] high. The temple was considered sacrosanct throughout the ancient Mediterranean area, and huge sums of money were entrusted to the safekeeping of Artemis; so the temple also became the most important banking center in Asia.
Other important buildings in Ephesus were a stadium for athletic contests and possibly even gladiatorial combat, a theater, civic and commercial squares, and colonnades housing shops.
The Greek geographer Strabo reports that the harbor of Ephesus suffered from silting. In time, the city therefore ceased to function as a port and was abandoned. Since no modern city stands on the same site, present-day visitors to the extensive ruins of Ephesus can, in effect, step back into the ancient world.
[Picture on page 158]
“Men, you well know that from this business we have our prosperity.”—Acts 19:25
[Picture on page 162]
We endeavor to reach people wherever they can be found