In Acts 18, the apostle Paul briefly stops in Ephesus on his way to Jerusalem to keep the feast. He leaves his two traveling companions, Aquila and Priscilla at Ephesus when he leaves. He tells the believers in verse 21; "but I will return again unto you, if God will". As it turned out, God's will not only brought Paul back to Ephesus, but kept him there for two years and three months.
When Paul returned to Ephesus in Acts 19, there were only 12 men in the fellowship according to verse 7. Instead of moving on, Paul spent the next three months boldly speaking in the synagogue. Verse 8 says that he was disputing and persuading the things concerning the kingdom of God. The word translated "disputing" certainly gives the wrong impression. It would be much better translated as "reasoning". Paul's manner was to spend time with the Jews in their synagogue reasoning with them from the scriptures that Jesus was their promised Messiah. His goal was to persuade them that Jesus was the Christ and is Lord.
So far, nothing has been done differently in Ephesus than Paul had done in numerous other localities before. What changed is recorded in verse9:
"But when divers were hardened and believed not, but spake evil of that way before the multitude, he departed from them, and separated the disciples, disputing daily in the school of one Tyrannus."
For the first time, Paul separated those who believed from those who didn't. He then taught, instructed and reasoned with them daily in a separate location. Paul continued to work out of the school of Tyrannus for two years according to verse 10. In the course of this time, all they which dwelt in Asia (Minor), heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks (Gentiles). WOW, talk about an outreach program!
Verse 11 says that God worked special miracles by the hands of Paul. The following verses give the account of those miracles. The end result recorded in verses 17 was; "and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified." After a good old fashioned book burning ceremony, comes one of the greatest verses in the Bible, verse 20:
"So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed."
In the course of two years and three months Ephesus went from a small fellowship with 12 men to the Word of God prevailing! As great as this truth is, the other side of the coin can be found in the rest of Acts 19. No sooner had the Word of God reached the point of prevailing, than the enemy decided enough is enough. Working through non-believing craftsmen who had seen their idol making business dry up; the city was thrown into an uproar and a riot ensued. If you haven't read the entire Acts 19 record for awhile, it is very exciting and representative of how the enemy strikes back after being beaten.
Paul was whisked out of Ephesus and after visiting churches in Macedonia and Greece he decided he wanted to go to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast of Pentecost. He stopped at Miletus and sent for the elders of the church at Ephesus. In Acts 20:18-26 Paul reiterates the things he did during the two plus years he was there, and why he felt so strongly about going to Jerusalem. In verse 27 he says:
"For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel (purpose or plan) of God".
Paul held nothing back during his tenure at Ephesus. He taught them everything he knew about God, the kingdom of God and the purpose and plans of God. Earlier, in verse 20, Paul had said:
"And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have showed you, and have taught you publicly, and from house to house."
Whatever Paul knew about the plans and purpose of God, he shared with these believers during his time there. He poured his heart and life into Ephesus as he did nowhere else. Now he had to give them the bad news he had received by revelation from God. In verses 29 and 30 he said:
"For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them."
Oh how it must have pained Paul to share these words, but God had shown them to him and he wasn't about to start "holding back" now. In the following verses he exhorts them to watch and remember and to give. He commends them to God and to the word of His grace. When he was done, he kneeled down and prayed with them all. They all cried as never before because they knew they would never see the man who had shared so much with them again.
Approximately 5 years later, Paul is living in Rome. He had gone to Jerusalem, got arrested, languished in prison for two years, appealed to Caesar and after a truly harrowing journey, ended up in Rome where Acts 28:30 says he "dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, receiving all that came in unto him". From that rented house in Rome, under house arrest, we know that Paul wrote the epistles of Colossians, Philippians and Ephesians.
In the epistle he wrote to the "saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus", he tells them things he wrote to no one else. He was still holding nothing back. He continued to declare unto them all the plans and purpose of God. The epistle of Ephesians is far and away the "deepest" epistle Paul ever wrote. Ephesians is like dropping a stone in the water and watching the ripples seemingly go out forever.
The absolute pinnacle of revelation concerning the Church is revealed in Ephesians. The great mystery of the one body is revealed in Ephesians. Specific instructions concerning spiritual warfare are revealed in Ephesians. When Tychicus delivered the epistle to the Ephesian believers, it probably had a sticker on it saying; "HOT". The truths revealed in Ephesians are equivalent to one of those 72 ounce steaks they serve in Amarillo, Texas.
Chapter 4 begins with the greatest exhortation to unity in the Bible. Isn't it interesting that Paul lays out this beautiful revelation to the believers he had spent so much time with and loved with all his heart. Reading from the New King James Version, here is Ephesians 4:1-6:
"I, therefore , the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called,
With all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love.
Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling;
One Lord, one faith, one baptism;
One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all."
Paul once again held nothing back. These six verses pretty well sum up the entire subject of unity. Can you imagine sitting in a room and hearing this incredible revelation read for the first time! Oh how their hearts must have burned with joy, excitement and thanksgiving to have been allowed to be taught personally by Paul, and now to have received this amazing epistle directly from him.
Paul had appointed his spiritual son Timothy to be the overseer of the Ephesian believers. At the end of Paul's life, Paul was imprisoned again in Rome under Emperor Nero. Unlike his first imprisonment in Acts 28 when he was under house arrest, this time he was in a dungeon awaiting execution. He writes the epistle of 2 Timothy when he knew his life was almost over. One of the reasons he wrote Timothy was he wanted to communicate with the Ephesian believers through him. He missed them and he knew the enemy was destroying everything it took years to build.
One of the saddest verses in the Bible in light of this study is 2 Timothy 1:15:
"This thou knowest, that all they which are in Asia be turned away from me..."
The same Asia where The Word of God prevailed now had almost universally turned away from Paul. Why, mainly because he was locked away in prison, but also because vicious wolves had entered in and broken up the unity by slandering Paul and persuading people to follow them. Yet, in spite of this devastating rejection of both the Word of God Paul taught as well as of Paul himself; he tells Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:7:
"I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:"
The great apostle Paul devoted his life to "fighting for" and keeping (guarding and preserving) the faith. I pray as we continue looking at the subject of "unity of purpose", that we will also devote ourselves anew to fighting for the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace. When my life ends, I desire nothing more than to be able to say what Paul said to Timothy; "I have fought as hard as I could to guard and preserve the faith". Amen.