Part of being a Christian is facing opposition. Just consider what Paul faced in Ephesus. His opposition ranged from minor inconveniences to major trouble. First, he encountered people who had an incomplete understanding of discipleship. They didn’t understand baptism and they were unaware of how the Holy Spirit had been poured out on Pentecost (Acts 19:1–5). Next, Paul preached in the synagogues, and he encountered people who began to slander those who followed Jesus. Eventually, Paul was forced to leave the synagogues and set up gatherings in a rented lecture hall (vv.8–10). Some time later, a group of Jewish exorcists began to invoke Jesus’s name; it seems they were motivated by jealousy over the miracles Paul had performed (vv.11–19). In spite of the various difficulties, “the word of the Lord spread and prevailed” (v.20).
One of the loudest opponents Paul faced in Ephesus was Demetrius, a silversmith who made silver shrines of the pagan goddess, Artemis. Paul’s preaching had impacted Demetrius’s business. He saw Paul as a heretic who dared defame the name of his great goddess and as an economic threat. Demetrius incited a riot that was only calmed after an impassioned appeal by the city clerk (vv.21–41).
Most of us today have not faced a mob like Paul and his companions did. But even when the difficulties and opposition are much less, we can be tempted to become bitter and think about those who oppose us as our enemies. When this happens, we Christians can sometimes act like our opponents, even to the point of calling names or putting labels on others.
Paul recognized this tendency. Later when he wrote this epistle to the Ephesians, he warned them, “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this darkness, against evil, spiritual forces in the heavens” (Ephesians 6:12). In other words, we do have enemies, but it’s not the people who oppose us.
In fact, our calling as Christians is not to wage war against and defeat our opponents. Instead, we seek to win our opponents with the good news that Christ has come to save. Our mission is not to overthrow our opponents but to rescue them from the ignorance, hard-heartedness, and idolatry that enslaves them. We want to see all people transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of the Son.