Acts 19:23-41 Commercialism vs. Reality

23 About that time there arose a great disturbance about the Way. 24 A silversmith named Demetrius, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought in a lot of business for the craftsmen there. 25 He called them together, along with the workers in related trades, and said: “You know, my friends, that we receive a good income from this business. 26 And you see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia. He says that gods made by human hands are no gods at all. 27 There is danger not only that our trade will lose its good name, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited; and the goddess herself, who is worshiped throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty.”

28 When they heard this, they were furious and began shouting: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” 29 Soon the whole city was in an uproar. The people seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul’s traveling companions from Macedonia, and all of them rushed into the theater together. 30 Paul wanted to appear before the crowd, but the disciples would not let him. 31 Even some of the officials of the province, friends of Paul, sent him a message begging him not to venture into the theater.

32 The assembly was in confusion: Some were shouting one thing, some another. Most of the people did not even know why they were there. 33 The Jews in the crowd pushed Alexander to the front, and they shouted instructions to him. He motioned for silence in order to make a defense before the people.34 But when they realized he was a Jew, they all shouted in unison for about two hours: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”

35 The city clerk quieted the crowd and said: “Fellow Ephesians, doesn’t all the world know that the city of Ephesus is the guardian of the temple of the great Artemis and of her image, which fell from heaven? 36 Therefore, since these facts are undeniable, you ought to calm down and not do anything rash. 37 You have brought these men here, though they have neither robbed temples nor blasphemed our goddess. 38 If, then, Demetrius and his fellow craftsmen have a grievance against anybody, the courts are open and there are proconsuls. They can press charges. 39 If there is anything further you want to bring up, it must be settled in a legal assembly. 40 As it is, we are in danger of being charged with rioting because of what happened today. In that case we would not be able to account for this commotion, since there is no reason for it.” 41 After he had said this, he dismissed the assembly.

Commercialism vs. Reality

Commercialism emphasizes making a profit.  We see it today in the sweat shops that exist so that owners can pay as little as possible to maintain their factories.  We know that it is a truth that many of our garments or play-things were made in countries where people are exploited, but we still turn our back on that truth so that we needn’t feel too bad when we put on our designer clothes.

Ephesus had a booming tourist industry, which was the lifeblood of the city in the time of Paul because the other sources of commerce were becoming less.  The tourist industry was centered around the many breasted goddess Diana.  The artisans of the town made their money by making replicas of the goddess which were probably used as idols.  Paul came to Ephesus preaching a god who deplored idols and showed them as nothing but the false creation of human imagination.  As people converted to Christianity they had no need for the false god and her trinkets.  The fears of the artisans would not be so much that their god was defamed, it would be more that their source of income was drying up completely.  Given the reality that Diana was a false God, they would rather stick with the false god and maintain their income.

Money makes the world go around, we are told.  I was astounded after 9/11 that one of the major messages coming out of Washington was that America should keep going to the mall and spending money.  The economy would suffer too much if we gave way to fear and stopped shopping.  However, the reality was that a great spiritual struggle between Islam and Christianity had reached our shores.  Muslims, in many cases, still harbour resentments about the crusades.  We live in a physical reality that is underpinned by the spiritual.  Battles rage in the heavenlies which we are ignorant of.  When the veil is pulled back and we see the consequences of self-interest and exploitation we run to the mall or the Amazon.com for solace.

Lasting solutions to the world’s issues are found in God.  We can not replace God with any idols of our own choosing.

Prayer

Father, may we look beyond the day-to-day falsehoods that we depend upon – the security from the state, the right to make a profit out of anything and everything – and may we depend primarily on you.  May we be suspicious of being called consumers and may we not buy in to rampant consumerism.  For your glory.

Questions

  1. Who was frustrated with Paul?
  2. Why?
  3. What did the conflict represent as a clash of worldviews?
  4. How have capitalism, consumerism, and commercialism become accepted even in Christian circles?
  5. What would a church which shunned capitalism, consumerism, and commercialism look like?
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About Plymothian

I teach at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. My interests include education, biblical studies, and spiritual formation. I have been married to Kelli since 1998 and we have two children, Daryl and Amelia. For recreation I like to run, play soccer, play board games, read and travel.
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