Erosion is a subtle process. Sometimes it takes years, decades, even generations to run its destructive course.
It's like waves that are constantly crashing on the beach, slowly sweeping away the sand and reshaping the once familiar shoreline. Today on Insight for Living, Chuck Swindoll continues his series called The Church Awakening. And during the next half hour, our attention turns toward fighting cultural trends that wear down our resolve and eventually destroy healthy churches. Before we hear this warning from Chuck titled The Church on a Long Drift, we'll begin with prayer. The best you ever gave was your one and only son who has rescued us. Jesus, what a friend for sinners.
Let us hide ourselves in him. Thank you that Jesus has died. Thank you that you have raised him from the dead, declaring in the Resurrection your satisfaction in his death, and that it is a complete and total payment for the sins of the world. Thank you that Jesus has been raised. He has now seated beside you, our Father, and we acknowledge him as Lord of the Church. He has been seated, and seated he prays for us. He intercedes on our behalf.
He again and again rescues us, forgiving us over and over. Thank you that Jesus has been raised. We worship the one who is coming again, and we exult in the thought that the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.
Jesus will return. And we thank you, Father, that your promises are true and sure, that he will reign over this whole earth as promised. And we anticipate that time we will reign with him as we worship the Lamb without the need of any other light. And in the absence of tears and fears and death, we will worship him forever, or Jesus shall reign.
In the name of our matchless Savior, we give these gifts and we pray, and everyone said, amen. Now let's continue Chuck Swindoll's message titled, The Church on a Long Drift. The reality of erosion is nothing new. It's upon us. I came to realize that we are now experiencing ecclesiastical erosion, and it's reached epidemic proportions.
In light of this, I decided to face it head on. The last thing I want to leave in your mind is any foolish impression that I believe we're the only place that has it right. That would be pride beyond description. By the grace of God, we're able to do what we do and keep doing it for his glory. But I add it hasn't come without a price. What you don't know is wherever the truth is declared, a price is paid behind the scenes.
What you don't know are the attacks, the enemy attacks, the adversarial attacks, the things that go on that would drastically detract from our calling and our work, the work of our whole staff, a fine staff, committed women, men and women who love what we do. This church hasn't just happened. The grace of God has been at work, and your presence has added its own benediction, but God's Spirit is upon us, and we all want to hold it very loosely, but not so loosely that we become irresponsible, complacent, apathetic. This past week, it occurred to me that there is a classic case in point right from the New Testament where we can watch erosion taking place. If you turn in your Bible to Acts chapter 18, we'll see this example in the place called the Church at Ephesus. For the first 17 verses, Paul is in ancient Corinth, and that's a story unto itself where he spends some two years or so pouring his life into the lives of those young believers in the fast, rapid-moving, wicked city of Corinth. God leads him to go across the Aegean Sea to the land we know today as Turkey, called in those days Asia.
When he arrives, he comes, not surprisingly, to the busy metropolis of Ephesus. We read of the journey in Acts 18. Paul, having remained many days longer, meaning in Corinth, took leave of the brethren and put out to sea for Syria, and with him, please note, were Priscilla and Aquila. He has lived with this couple for the years he has been in Corinth. He has poured himself into their lives.
We would call it mentoring. He has built a theology in their thinking. He has equipped them to carry on, either in his presence or absence, and so not surprisingly, verse 19, he leaves them in Ephesus as he moves on to Antioch. They came to Ephesus. He left them there. Now he himself entered the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews.
The original term means dialogue. So he goes into the synagogue and he dialogues with these people he's never known before in the city of Ephesus, in the synagogue where Jews assemble. They've not heard of Christ. They've not heard of the resurrection. They know nothing of the Holy Spirit. He dialogues with them for a period of time, albeit brief, and they want him to stay longer, verse 20, but he doesn't.
He doesn't consent. He leaves them and says, I will return again if God wills, and he sets sail from Ephesus. The next column will take you to chapter 19, verse 1. Picking up a story, he has gone to Antioch, given his report, now returns into what we call Turkey or Asia, comes down from the north and comes back to that city that he briefly visited. Verse 1, Paul passed through the upper country and came to Ephesus, and he found some disciples. Drop down to verse 7.
There were in all about 12 men. So we find a small group of disciples that Aquila and Priscilla have no doubt built their lives into, spent time with them, and they're underway in the faith, and Paul decides to carry on in the place where he had left off, the synagogue at Ephesus. We read of it in verse 8. He entered the synagogue and continued speaking out boldly for three months.
Three months. He's again dialoguing and persuading them about the kingdom of God. Once again, he's telling them of the Savior. They're talking about the cross, or at least he is. He's listening to their questions.
He's answering them, and there's a back and forth, give and take, just like one would do in any Jewish synagogue today. Very unusual, very unique, and resisted by the majority. We read of that in verse 9. Some were becoming hardened.
Don't miss that. Some were becoming hardened and disobedient, speaking evil of the way. In those days, Christians were called followers of the way, meaning the way of Jesus. And these people in that assembly, that synagogue, are hardened toward the message, disobedient toward the things Paul was teaching, and therefore they're speaking evil of the way before the people.
Notice Paul's response. He withdrew from them, meaning he left the synagogue and he took away the disciples. Those are the followers of the way.
Those are the believers. And he moved over and reasoned daily in the school of Tyrannus. Verse 10. This took place for two years so that all who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.
It's an amazing thing. The Bible simply says, as only it can say it in the most succinct terms, he came, he taught, he held forth, he was consistently reliable to deliver the goods, and as a result the message spread. People get the word that God's truth is being taught.
As I've said for years, sheep come where there's good food. All over Asia they began to hear it, and God was performing miracles and doing a remarkable, remarkable thing. The church at Ephesus founded, well taught, but during the process of this period of time, the enemy attacks. And not only is he strong, in fact supernatural in power, not only is he insidious, he is invisible. And he works for demons. In this case, we have some self-appointed exorcists who come on the scene and they're going to do work of deliverance, not from the Lord himself, but from the enemy. Verse 13. Some of the Jewish exorcists who went from place to place, so they're itinerant exorcists, attempted to name over those who had the evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, I drew you by Jesus whom Paul preaches.
There were seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest who were doing this. The evil spirit, please observe this answer. The evil spirit answered and said to them, I recognize Jesus. Don't ever wonder if the demons know Jesus. Don't ever wonder if they don't know that he died for the sins of the world. Don't ever think that demons are ill-informed.
They are brilliant! Their strategy is from the one who was the angel of God at one time, Lucifer, son of the morning. Their strategy is empowered by him. They know Jesus. In fact, they say, he says, I know about Paul.
But who are you? And they go on to deal with this and this one overpowers him. And please observe verse 18. Many also of those who had believed kept coming, confessing and disclosing their practices. God was at work. When the teaching of the scriptures, when the songs of the faith, when the faithfulness to God's truth is maintained, it is remarkable the impact it makes. There are those confessing wrong. There are those disclosing their evil practices and their satanic practices. Many of those who practice magic brought their books together and began burning them in the sight of everyone.
They counted up the price, found 50,000 pieces of silver. So the word of God continues to grow. Look again at verse 20. The word of the Lord was growing mightily and prevailing. Check the word prevailing.
It means to be in control. So at that time, God's word was growing mightily and it is in control. And thank goodness they make it through this time of spiritual warfare. Done. Finally, the tests are over.
Wrong. In verses 23 to 41, there is an all-city riot that is targeting this ministry, the ministry at Ephesus. Let me read part of it for you. Verse 23.
About that time, there occurred no small disturbance concerning the way. For a man named Demetrius, the silversmith who made silver shrines of Artemis, was bringing no little business to the craftsmen. Let me explain Artemis. The large idol of Ephesus, in fact known all over the world, certainly of their region, was the Temple of Diana, called here the Temple of Artemis. The city is known for that. And this dude is making his money from making little shrines that look just like the temple. And he's selling them and he's exporting them and they're going all over Asia with these little shrines. And he's got all these tradesmen, craftsmen who are in the business with him. And so verse 25, he gathers them together with the workmen of similar trades.
And he said, man, you know that our prosperity depends upon this business. And you see and hear that not only in Ephesus, but in almost all of Asia, this Paul, there's a sarcasm in that, isn't it? This Paul has persuaded and turned away a considerable number of people saying the gods made with hands are no gods at all. Well, not only is there danger that this trade of ours will fall into disrepute, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be regarded as worthless.
And that she, whom all of Asia and the world worship, little exaggeration there, but all the world worships will even be dethroned from her magnificence. So what's he doing? He's stirring the pot. Wherever you have conflict from people, there's always so few who stir the pot. They are gifted pot stirrers. They just have a way of just jabbing away and touching on people, letting a little bit of information go here and there and looking shocked and pious and responding with that kind of religious aura. They go, oh, my, what a problem.
Oh, my. And it's stirring. Well, that's the job of Demetrius. Well, this is no laughing matter because the city, verse 29, is filled with confusion and they rush with one accord into the theater, dragging Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul's traveling companions. Now, if you ever go to Ephesus, and trust me on this, you won't miss the theater. It has been unearthed and it is a magnificent archaeological find. It's been measured, and so they were able to seat 24,000 to 25,000 people in this theater.
Imagine. You can stand there and see the stone seating as it wraps around you. It's in that theater where they are gathered. But in this case, it isn't to worship the living God. It's to bring their confusing chaos and complaint against Paul and the little church at Ephesus.
Watch closely. Verse 28, when they heard this, they were filled with rage, and they began crying out saying, great is Artemis of the Ephesians. Now, Paul wanted to go, verse 30, into the assembly and the disciples would not let him. Some of the Asiarchs, who were friends who had sent to him these words, repeatedly urging him not to venture into the theater. Wise counsel. The application of that, if I may enter into the story a bit, is that it's not wise for the senior pastor to get all involved in all the skirmishes. It is wise for there to be some sense of protection.
Lest one lose his direction and vision and energy. Paul could have not only lost heart, he could have lost his life in that threatening situation. So there are those around him saying, no, Paul, don't go there. In fact, there were people from outside there sending word, don't let Paul in that mob. Don't let him in there. Now, you might think that they probably after a while got settled down. Wrong.
Look at 33. Some of the crowd concluded it was Alexander since the Jews had put him forward and having motioned with his hand, Alexander was intending to make a defense to the assembly. But when they recognized he was a Jew, a little Semitic anti-Semitism in that, they recognized he was a Jew. A single outcry arose from them all as they shouted for two hours.
Great is Artemis of the Ephesians. Pause and let that sink in. Two hours. 25,000 people shouting the same line over and over and over. I mean, that's worse than a European soccer game. That's worse than a cowboy game.
I mean, two hours. Same line. And you imagine the frenzy that grew and it's loud enough for all people in Ephesus to hear that scream, including the little body of people in the church at Ephesus. What do you do when the church's reputation begins to be smeared, when people rise up in mass and begin to scream against you? By the way, the German commentator Ernst Henschen is right when he says, in the final analysis, the only thing heathenism can do against Paul is shout itself hoarse.
They can't stop Paul's message. But what happens? God steps in.
I love this. Verse 35. This is so like God.
Verse 35. After quieting the crowd, the town clerk, the town clerk, let's call him Joe Smith, hey, stop it. So a town clerk walks up and says, settle down.
Sit down. Men of Ephesus, what man is there after all who doesn't know that the city of the Ephesians is guardian of the temple of the great Artemis and of the image which fell down from heaven? See, they believed all that nonsense. So since these are undeniable facts, you ought to keep calm and do nothing right.
You can't change the facts. Diana has come from heaven to us. The temple is eternal. All these fools that are running around naming Jesus as their Savior and Lord, they mean nothing to us. Look at what else he does. He speaks as an advocate. You have brought these men here who were neither robbers of temples nor blasphemers of our goddess.
It's true. By the way, a church occasionally needs an advocate from someone who isn't a part of the church. Here's a case in point. Paul's over here.
They won't let him in the crowd. The church is over here and they're not a part of it. Here's a town clerk whose name never appears here or elsewhere in the Bible who quiets the crowd, reasons with him, and says, So then, verse 38, if Demetrius and the craftsmen who are with him have a complaint against any man, the courts are in session. There's a proper way to deal with this.
Proconsuls are available. Let them bring charges against one another, but if you want anything beyond this, it'll have to be settled in a lawful assembly. Thanks, Joe. You got it right. As a matter of fact, verse 41, he says, You're all dismissed. Get out of here. That is a town clerk who has clout. I'll tell you, this guy carries himself with clout. You know why?
It's a reasonable voice. You know the problem with all of this as it relates to the church? It becomes a distraction. Seems like a little thing, but believe me, it is those little foxes that eat at your time.
It's those little skirmishes you have to put out. It's those little gossipy pieces of stuff that fly around, a church of any size. You know, we heard so-and-so, pastor, and it concerns us. There's a group of us that are concerned about it.
Heart starts beating. Well, it would have years ago. Now it's... So, you know, I'm not going to sweat that. If I've got someone that can help with it, fine. If I don't, I'm not going to get distracted. Oh, the sheep need to be shepherded, but we don't need to fight every little tiny fire. And by the way, don't waste your time trying to distract us at Stonebriar. We're on the move. We're moving in a direction that is becoming for us remarkable as we watch God do it.
It's remarkable. I mean, God has His little Joes all over the place who can step in on our behalf. That's sound advice for anyone in church leadership.
It's absolutely essential to stay the course, even when we're distracted by minor flare-ups. You're listening to Insight for Living and the Bible teaching of pastor and author Chuck Swindoll. He's titled today's message The Church on a Long Drift. To learn more about Chuck Swindoll and this ministry, visit us online at insightworld.org. Whether you're a volunteer at church or you serve in an official capacity, I'll point you to a book that Chuck's written about leadership.
This is a classic. It's called Hand Me Another Brick. The Old Testament character named Nehemiah provides an unforgettable model for servant leadership.
You might recall that Nehemiah rebuilt the wall around Jerusalem, a feat that was absolutely remarkable even by today's standards. And this book from Chuck offers a practical approach to leadership, such as how to size up a task, how to organize and motivate a team, and how to respond to critics and complainers. To purchase a copy of Hand Me Another Brick, call us.
If you're listening in the United States, call 800-772-8888 or go online to insight.org slash offer and follow the simple instructions. Then, as we continue to pray for the safety of the Ukrainians, we'll remind you that Insight for Living has been speaking into this part of the world for many years. In addition to having field pastors in strategic countries surrounding Ukraine, we've also translated Chuck's Bible teaching into languages such as Polish and Romanian. These ministries are part of our long-range strategic plan to make disciples for Jesus Christ in all 195 countries of the world.
We call it Vision 195. When you give a gift, you're helping us provide Chuck's teaching in your own country, and a portion is applied to going beyond our borders as well. So thank you for supporting the ministry of Insight for Living. To give today, call us. If you're listening in the United States, call 800-772-8888 or give your donation online at insight.org slash donate.
Take it from Chuck's window. There's nothing quite like the beauty of the great frontier. Wide open skies, pristine glaciers with various shades of blue and turquoise, mingled within them towering pine trees and all manner of wildlife. I'll tell you, Alaska is truly a masterpiece of God's creation. I've been to a lot of places and seen a lot of things, but honestly, nothing compares to the beauty in Alaska.
God is awesome. Come with us on the Insight for Living Ministries cruise to Alaska, July 1 through July 8, 2023. When I'm in Alaska, I feel like I'm in an amazing painting created by God. Let yourself get lost in the majestic beauty. Spend quality time with those you love. Allow God to refresh your soul as you reflect on His word and His goodness in your life. To learn more, go to insight.org slash events or call this number 1-888-447-0444.
The tour to Alaska is paid for and made possible by only those who choose to attend. I'm Bill Meyer inviting you to join us when Chuck Swindoll continues to describe what he calls The Church on a Long Drift, Friday on Insight for Living. The preceding message, The Church on a Long Drift, was copyrighted in 2008 and 2010, and the sound recording was copyrighted in 2010 by Charles R. Swindoll, Inc. All rights are reserved worldwide. Duplication of copyrighted material for commercial use is strictly prohibited.
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