The following articles come from a book by James Montgomery Boice, Acts: An Expositional Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1997), 319–326.
The first thing Paul did was establish initial contact with the people. This initial contact is not described in chapter 19, which we are studying, but in chapter 18, verses 19–20. Paul had been at Corinth for a year and a half and was now on his way back to Jerusalem and Antioch to report on his second missionary journey. On the way he touched down at Ephesus and began to teach there. The text says, “He… went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews” (v. 19). When he had to go on, he left Priscilla and Aquila behind.
I do not know exactly what Paul’s motives were in this initial contact with the city, but I suspect in view of the way his visit is described that he was conducting a reconnaissance. He went to Ephesus to see what the city was like and to explore the potential for establishing a church as a base for proclaiming the gospel throughout Asia.
Acts 18:20 tells us that as a result of this initial teaching the Jews of Ephesus asked him to spend more time with them. In other words, he had a fairly decent reception in the synagogue. That would be significant to Paul because in other places, in a very short amount of time, he provoked such opposition that he had to leave and in some cases was driven out of the city. So although when they wanted him to stay he said, No, this is just a brief visit; I’m on my way to Jerusalem, he nevertheless promised to come back later (v. 21).
I think we are also to surmise that Paul was doing a reconnaissance by the fact that he left Priscilla and Aquila behind. If the situation had not been promising, we would have expected him to say, Oh, well, nothing seems to be happening here. Come with me. We’ll go to Jerusalem and then we’ll start out again and find another place to labor. Instead he said, Why don’t you stay here? I have to go, but I’ll be back, and in the meantime, why don’t you see what you can do? That is exactly what they did.
Moreover, Aquila and Priscilla were helped by Apollos (see chapter 36). Apollos taught in the synagogue, and the ground was thereby prepared for what Paul came to do later.
Working with Others
A second element in Paul’s strategy is that he worked with other Christians. He had what we would call a multiple or pluralistic ministry. We have already seen that Paul followed this strategy on his missionary journeys in general, always taking along two or more additional workers. Acts 19 fails to mention Paul’s two helpers, Timothy and Erastus at the beginning, but we discover at the end that they were there. Verse 22 tells us that Paul sent them to Macedonia after the work in Ephesus had gotten under way, while he stayed a bit longer.
Working with others is an important feature of city work. I find that in most city work (in fact, in most gospel work wherever done) we are seldom called to work alone.
Working alone is not impossible, and sometimes we have to do it when there is no one else to call on. I think of Saint Patrick. He was captured by pirates and carried off to Ireland when he was just a boy. He was very much alone, but he witnessed there and was greatly blessed by God. That happens. But often when we are called to a work, we find that the area to which we are called has been prepared by God already—not only in the sense that the hearts of the people have been prepared, but in the sense that other laborers have been sent to work with us.
I myself found that to be true at the time I first came to Philadelphia, in 1968. My wife and I discovered in those days that about the same time we had come to the city, the Lord also brought in a large number of other young couples like ourselves who were committed to the city, wanted to raise their children in the city, and wanted to bear a witness—not just for a short period of time, but for years. It was an encouragement to see what God was doing. We reasoned that if God was leading other people to Philadelphia, obviously God was about to do something important, and it was a privilege to be part of that kind of promising urban outreach.
Teaching the People
The third element in Paul’s urban strategy is teaching the people. Paul taught the Bible, he taught all kinds of people, and in Ephesus he taught over a long period of time.
Paul Taught the Bible
Did the apostle Paul have a rock concert or something of that nature? Obviously, he did nothing of the sort. Paul had one method only, and that was to teach the Word of God. And he really did it. He did it everywhere. In every town he went to, he went into the synagogues and taught from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah. He taught that this one, who had come in his own lifetime, who had lived, taught, died, and then been raised from the dead, this Jesus of Nazareth, was the fulfillment of the Old Testament Scriptures. He took the Old Testament, showed what God had said his Messiah would do, and then told how Jesus had done it.
He Taught All Kinds of People
Paul dealt with all kinds of people at Ephesus.
There were disciples of John the Baptist. Their situation was similar to that of Apollos. These men had heard of John’s teaching. They knew that people were to repent of sin and prepare for the coming of the Messiah. But like Apollos, they had not heard that Jesus had come. So when Paul arrived in the city and began to teach, here were these disciples whose hearts had been prepared but who had not yet heard the full gospel. Paul conducted a special ministry with them. And when he began to explain to them that Jesus had come, well, their hearts were ready for the message and they believed at once. The Holy Spirit came upon them just as he had come upon the disciples in Samaria when the gospel first came to them.
Paul also taught the Jews. He had been in their synagogue before on his first visit. When he got back to Ephesus, he returned to the synagogue and began to teach them again. The text says, “Paul… spoke boldly there for three months” (Acts 19:8). Three months was a long time compared with some other places he had visited, where he had been put out after only a few weeks. So there must have been a genuinely receptive audience. However, as time went on the attitudes of the unbelievers hardened and Paul was forced to leave. We are not told what the results of the three months of teaching were, but we can assume that some actually did believe as a result of this ministry.
Paul taught Gentiles. They were the large majority of those who lived in Ephesus, and Paul began a specially directed ministry to them after he had been forced to leave the Jews’ synagogue. We are told that when he left the synagogue, he went to the lecture hall of a man named Tyrannus. Tyrannus was a Greek, a philosopher no doubt; we know he was a teacher, because he had a school. The word translated “hall,” as in “the lecture hall of Tyrannus,” is literally the word “school.” Since there were times when his building was not being used, he leased it to Paul for Paul’s courses. Paul taught in this lecture hall, and the hall became a base for his ministry to whatever Gentiles would come.
At Ephesus Paul seems to have started a new ministry to those involved in the occult. Probably most of the Ephesians were involved in the occult in one way or another, because when the Spirit of God began to move in a really big way all seem to have turned from their occult practices.
Finally toward the end of the chapter we find the impact of the gospel on the business class. One of the major businesses of this city was making statues and other votary objects for the temple of Diana, and this business was hurt by the “revival” that took place. No doubt there were other groups of people who were affected. But here in this very short account Luke indicates what Paul accomplished by the impact of his teaching on these five groups of people.
Paul Taught for a Considerable Length of Time
Paul also taught for a long period of time. He had been staying longer and longer in the cities. When he was at Corinth, he was there for a year and a half. Now we are told that he stayed in Ephesus for two years. For a man who was an itinerant missionary, who felt his calling to be the advancing of the gospel throughout the entire Roman world, that was a major commitment of time. It would be the equivalent of many more years—perhaps a lifetime—for you or me.
There is a note in some of the Greek texts of Acts at this point. It is not in the majority of manuscripts, so it is not included in our translations, no doubt rightly so. But in some texts in the margin there is a note saying that when Paul lectured daily in the hall of Tyrannus, he did so from “eleven o’clock in the morning until four in the afternoon” (from the fifth to the tenth hour). The hours were in the middle of the day. This was the hot time of the day when presumably the hall was not being used by Tyrannus. Tyrannus would be there in the morning and perhaps in the evening as well. Paul would have said, “Could I use your hall in the middle of the day?” Using the hall was convenient, creative, and effective.
Five hours a day add up to a lot of teaching. In terms of that culture, daily meant every day. No one took vacations then. No one had ever heard of a five-day work week or a forty-hour work week. So Paul would have taught five hours a day, seven or at least six days a week, if he took time off for different kinds of work on Sunday. In two years that adds up to fifteen to eighteen hundred hours of teaching—more solid teaching than most seminarians receive in a three-year academic program preparing them for the pastorate.
In chapter 20 where Paul is speaking to the Ephesian elders, he says that he supported himself while he was in Ephesus. This must mean that in the morning, when other people were working, Paul was working at his tents. Then at eleven o’clock, when others knocked off for lunch and a rest, he went over to the hall of Tyrannus and began to lecture. Paul also said in speaking to the Ephesian elders that he went from house to house instructing them in the things of God. So we may suppose that when the hall was taken over again by the owner, at four o’clock, Paul started off to teach in homes, doing what is called in some forms of church polity “catechizing”—that is, teaching the mothers, fathers, and children the things of God.
The fourth thing Paul did was follow up. He had done follow-up visits with other churches already. As a matter of fact, it was on such a follow-up journey that he first stopped at Ephesus. He had trouble getting back to Ephesus after he left the final time. In fact, he only got as far as Miletus, a city nearby, where he called the Ephesian elders to him because of the shortness of time available on his return journey to Jerusalem. He was arrested there and sent to Rome. As far as we know, he never got back again. Nevertheless, his strategy was to return to where he had been, to see how people were doing, and where possible to help correct any problems.
Part of Paul’s follow-up was written communication. That is, he wrote letters, providing written lessons for the people. In this case, he wrote the Ephesians a six-chapter (or six-lesson) course on what it means to be a Christian. Ephesians talks about the sovereignty of God in salvation, rebirth, the fact that we are ordained by God to do good works, the nature and function of the church, relationships between people—husbands and wives, slaves and masters, children and parents—and finally, the nature of our spiritual warfare and our weapons for it. Paul must have realized how important that last point was for this particular community.