Acts 19 tells of Paul’s life investment in Ephesus, where he spent the better part of 3 years of making tents and disciples. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the revealed power of God significantly transformed the spiritual climate of the city. Extraordinary miracles, healings, and deliverance grabbed the attention of a culture that was intimately familiar with idolatry, magic and very real spiritual power.
It was a common practice for 1st century Ephesians to collect all sorts of magical paraphernalia: amulets, charms, spells, and most significantly the ‘powerful names’ of protective spirits in order to manipulate, attempt to control, and garner protection from an unpredictable spirit world. There was no relationship needed with these spirits or forces, as it was believed that merely knowing the name of a powerful spirit/force was thought to provide authority and power over it and what it controlled. (BTW: a great resource on 1st century Ephesus is: “Power & Magic: the Concept of Power in Ephesians” by Clinton Arnold.)
In Acts 19, two things jump out at me:
1. The power of the Holy Spirit, (and of the Name of Jesus,) revealed through the lives of Paul and the other believers, stands as a testimony to impacted by them; so much so, that the seven sons of Sceva, a group of traveling exorcists, tried to ‘claim’ the Name of Jesus as a part of their deliverance ministry. Something happened all right. Through the man they were attempting to bring freedom to, the evil spirit said, “Jesus I know. Paul I recognize. But who are you?” Then, the man proceeded to beat them, leaving them naked & wounded. And the Name of the LORD Jesus was extolled, lifted up, and the believers were highly esteemed.
The most important thing is our relationship with Christ; knowing (& being known by Him) is what matters, not merely invoking His Name like a magic phrase. It’s radically different than a collection of spells or power to be wielded; it involves a committed and submitted life, involved a submitted life devoted to Christ.
2. As a result, (& what I believe was the conviction of the Holy Spirit) many believers came forward to repent – to turn from sin, & turn towards Christ. This involved not only committing themselves to an obedient relationship with Christ, but also renouncing old habits and old ways of living. The Ephesian believers brought the physical, material symbols of this old life – all of the books, charms, amulets, spells, and written materials used in the practice of the magic arts – and burned them. The value of the burned items was several million dollars in today’s economy, and signified that there was no going back to the old ways. These believers in Christ, people who had ‘hedged’ their bets and “covered their bases” using magic, were now determined to depend solely upon the power of the Holy Spirit in their relationship with God
In reflection, I’m asking the LORD to reveal to me anything that I’m leaning on instead of Him – any superstitions, fears, or rituals of culture that could seem so normal, but that actually get in the way of an obedient and submitted life. I want to live filled and empowered by the Holy Spirit, strengthened and protected for whatever God may bring my way.