This article is part of our weekly series, “The Book of Acts and the Church Today.” You can see all articles in the series here.
For at least the third time, Acts reports Christians being assaulted by enraged, confused, riotous people (see 17:5; 18:12). The reason: Christianity was influencing the culture in favor of godliness. Specifically, biblical faith was hurting the sale of idols.
There may have been many reasons Luke chose to include this event in his record of Christianity’s growth. The riot shows how the gospel was quickly turning the world upside down. It documents, again, how Roman authorities vindicated Christianity against charges like sacrilege and blasphemy (see Acts 19:37). And, on a moral plane, it contrasts the fruit of the Spirit and the works of the flesh. Big picture—the story distinguishes the faithful from the cultural mob pressuring the church in every age. Here are three ways Christians stand out from that mob.
Christians Practice Spiritual Reasoning
The first words of the passage contrast the reasoning of believers with the furor of the mob. The city “was filled with … confusion. … Some cried out one thing, some another” (Acts 19:29, 32). By contrast, “Paul resolved in the Spirit” to follow a specific, God-honoring course of ministry (Acts 19:21). What does it mean to have a spiritual resolution?
Paul couldn’t guarantee that he would pass through Macedonia, Achaia, and Jerusalem to Rome. But the goal was good. Christians shouldn’t ridicule annual budgets or five-year-plans. Young people don’t have to know where they will be in four years. But they should have noble aims. Simply reacting to circumstances is not God’s way for believers.
Goals need a plan. Paul didn’t have generic ambitions to grow his ministry. He laid out steps for achieving that goal, including a route on a map. And then he acted on it: he “sent into Macedonia two of his helpers” to prepare for his arrival (Acts 19:22).
Submit to the Spirit
Paul wasn’t like many goal-oriented people today who pursue personal aspirations, or prioritize religious preferences. Purposing in the Spirit requires aligning your desires and plans with the truth the Spirit has published in Scripture and praying for spiritual guidance in making and executing plans.
To do great things for God, resolve in the Spirit. Dream big. Plan strategically. Prepare well. Pray for clarity. Submit to God’s lead. And be content with God’s providence in the final outcome.
Christians Have Eternal Values
The riot in Ephesus was a clash between two religions. Christianity proclaimed the one true God whose acts of creation and providence excluded the many deities of Greek and Roman mythology. But Demetrius’s argument against the missionaries reveals the main issue: from the business of crafting silver shrines to Artemis “we have our wealth” (Acts 19:25). Gospel preaching was threatening to make the idol business obsolete.
Demetrius claimed devotion to Artemis. But the mythical gods were gimmicks that sponsored the silversmith trade. Worship was a means to financial gain. How different from the Christian faith. The apostle Paul didn’t hawk Christianity for personal profit (2 Cor. 2:15). In fact, Paul took a side-job to undercut even the suspicion of ulterior motives (see 2 Corinthians 9). Similarly, the Ephesian believers willingly sacrificed their money for the sake of their convictions (Acts 19:17–20). The unbelievers of Ephesus sacrificed justice and peace for the sake of money!
Your convictions determine whether you will side with Christ and the historic faith of his followers or be swallowed up by the pop-culture, pan-spiritual, post-rational mob. The unwitting fall prey to the whims of cultural herd lacking a sound moral compass. They latch onto views which are popular. Christians are able to live differently. Jesus gives us a new reason to live and a new way of living.
Christians Honor Due Process
Due process is fair treatment through the normal judicial system. In God’s eyes, “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame” (Prov. 18:13; cf. Deut. 1:16, 17; John 7:51). The town clerk of Ephesus quieted and dismissed the disturbance with a speech about due process. If anyone has “a complaint against anyone, the courts are open” (Acts 19:38).
The commotion in Ephesus lacked just cause (Acts 19:40). Luke is vindicating the faith against false accusations. He’s also teaching us that mob movements rarely promote justice. In Ephesus, “the assembly was in confusion, and most of them did not know why they had come together” (Acts 19:32). Believers mustn’t join the mob, whether fomented by the political left or right. Believers must resist the urge to weigh in on every current issue that news outlets publish to stir up anger, bump ratings, and solidify political allegiance. Hot-takes almost always reveal uncritical biases and a failure to listen. Instead, believers ought to obey Paul’s later instructions to the Ephesian church: “lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Tim. 2:2). Such a life is truly counter-cultural!
Gospel living always challenges prevailing ideas and customs. Christianity makes a difference in how we live. Paul spent two years among the Ephesians explaining, proving, and demonstrating that the kingdom of Christ is life changing. It is! When the gospel takes root in your heart, it radically changes your destiny. And it causes you to live as a citizen of another kingdom (Phil. 3:20–21).