Online Bible Commentary
A Better Thing
Acts 19:21 When these things were accomplished, Paul purposed in the Spirit, when he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, to go to Jerusalem, saying, "After I have been there, I must also see Rome." 22 So he sent into Macedonia two of those who ministered to him, Timothy and Erastus, but he himself stayed in Asia for a time. 23 And about that time there arose a great commotion about the Way. 24 For a certain man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Diana, brought no small profit to the craftsmen. 25 He called them together with the workers of similar occupation, and said: "Men, you know that we have our prosperity by this trade. 26 Moreover you see and hear that not only at Ephesus, but throughout almost all Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away many people, saying that they are not gods which are made with hands. 27 So not only is this trade of ours in danger of falling into disrepute, but also the temple of the great goddess Diana may be despised and her magnificence destroyed, whom all Asia and the world worship." 28 Now when they heard this, they were full of wrath and cried out, saying, "Great is Diana of the Ephesians!" 29 So the whole city was filled with confusion, and rushed into the theater with one accord, having seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians, Paul's travel companions. 30 And when Paul wanted to go in to the people, the disciples would not allow him. 31 Then some of the officials of Asia, who were his friends, sent to him pleading that he would not venture into the theater. (NKJV)
The Apostle Paul is ministering in the city of Ephesus in Asia during his third missionary journey. He ministered there for two years and three months during 54-56 A.D. It is now 56 A.D. and Paul is coming to the end of his time in Ephesus. It is believed that he wrote 1 Corinthians about this time.
By this time “things were accomplished”, a reference to the Gospel being spread throughout Asia (v. 21a). Now the Holy Spirit is calling Paul to leave Asia and return to the churches that had been planted in “Macedonia”, specifically Philippi and Thessalonica, and Corinth, “Achaia” (Greece) before returning to the church in Jerusalem with the collections from Macedonia and Achaia (1 Cor. 16) and then travelling on to Rome (v. 21b). So Paul sent the disciples “Timothy and Erastus” on ahead to Macedonia to prepare the way for his visit (v. 22).
Paul’s time in Ephesus had been very successful, but was not without its challenges. He faced many adversaries (1 Cor. 16:9) and threats to his life (2 Cor. 1:8-10). One such event is detailed in this passage as “there arose a great commotion about the Way”, the Christian movement (v. 23).
Paul’s ministry had converted many Asians from idol worship, of which the goddess Diana was the greatest. This downturn in idol worship meant less business for the silversmiths. This concern led “Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Diana” to organize the silversmiths against Paul and the Way (vv. 24-25).
Although Demetrius was mainly concerned about losing business, he stirred up “the whole city” by claiming that “the temple of the great goddess Diana may be despised and her magnificence destroyed, whom all Asia and the world worship” if Paul’s ministry was allowed to continue (vv. 26-29a).
Diana’s temple was about four times as large as the Parthenon in Athens and was considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World. It was filled with great art from all over the world and also served as a bank. The temple was the national treasure of Asia.
So the whole city, filled with confusion, rioted and rushed to the typical meeting place, the great outdoor theatre in Ephesus (v. 29b). This theatre was about five hundred feet in circumference and accommodated some 24,500 people.
The mob “rushed into the theater with one accord, having seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians, Paul's travel companions” (v. 29c). Fearing for his life, the disciples did not allow Paul to go to the theatre and help Gaius and Aristarchus (v. 30). Also, some civic officials in Ephesus who had become friends of Paul pleaded with him not to go to the theatre (v. 31). Paul did not go, likely preserving his life for continued service to God.
I am sure that it pained Paul not to try and rescue his friends, Gaius and Aristarchus. The decision he faced is similar to some decisions we may face as Christians in our world today.
The decision is whether to do a good thing or a better thing. Paul could have done a good thing by rescuing his friends. But he chose to do a better thing, thus preserving his life for further service.
These are hard decisions to make. When faced with such decisions we must always keep uppermost in mind what is best for the kingdom of God.