Power is one of the main themes of the New Testament book called “Ephesians,” written by the apostle Paul for circulation among the churches of “Asia.” For example, in chapter one Paul prays for Jesus’s disciples to have power like the power God exerted in raising Jesus from the dead (v.19-20) and praises Jesus for being exalted far above all “rulers” “authorities” and “powers,” both terrestrial and celestial. He then prays for the disciples to have power to know Christ’s love in chapter 3, verse 18. The work then closes with a discourse on spiritual warfare against “principalities and powers.” So, why all this talk of power? If we read the accounts from Acts of Paul’s time in Ephesus, it will help shed light on why this theme emerges so often.
“Power is one of the great themes of Ephesians. Perhaps this is because Ephesus itself, and the surrounding area, was seen as a place of power. Certainly in social and civic terms the city was powerful, and was set to become more so. It was a major centre of imperial influence in Paul’s day. The Roman emperors were keen to establish and maintain places where there rule could be celebrated and enhanced. But it was also a centre of religious power. All sorts of cults and beliefs flourished, and frequently they focused on power: the power of what we might call magic, power to make things happen in the world, to influence people and events, to gain wealth or health or influence for yourself and to bring about the downfall of your enemies. Their world, in other words, was dominated by the ‘principalities and powers,’ the various levels of rulers and authorities from local magistrates up to internationally recognized gods and goddesses, and all stages in between.” 1
Group Discussion Questions
Read Acts 19, verses 1 through 7
- Luke’s account of Paul’s time in Ephesus begins with an odd encounter with some “disciples of John”. Who was John the Forerunner (or Baptizer)? (cf. Luke 1.5-25, 57-66; 3.1-20; John 1.6-8) And why do you think it was important to Luke to begin his account of Paul’s time in Ephesus with a story about disciples receiving Holy Spirit baptism?
- Some Christian traditions emphasize the gift of speaking in tongues (glossolalia) and associate it with Holy Spirit baptism. What has been your experience or non-experience with tongues and/or Holy Spirit baptism?
- What role do you think the gifts of speaking in tongues and prophecy should play in the life of the church today? Why? What about the role of Holy Spirit baptism?
Read verses 8 through 12
- Paul’s time in Ephesus is considered his “most sustained piece of missionary and pastoral work.”2 What was Paul’s evangelism and church planting “strategy”? How long was he there? Where did he host gatherings? What was the effect?
- What do you think we could learn from Paul’s approach?
“Paul and these new disciples will give witness to the claiming power of God over the creation. This is what the miracles will signify. Luke has always been clear about miracles, as a sign of divine retaking and holy restoration of a wayward creation (Luke 4:38-41; 5:13; 6:19; Acts 5:15-16). This is a work manifest by bodily touch, presence, and relationship. Not all three must be present for miracles, but all three are certainly implied. This extraordinary element of this story has always been the skin. The skin of Paul by the Spirit is given salvific resonance such that objects that touch his skin also touch divine presence. The life of the objects become one with the life of God. This suggests not a transformation of the objects but a connectivity that presses deep into the materiality of the divine embrace. Here deliverance is at the surface of objects, on the plane where skin and cloth carry a saving sensuality. We, Christians of a desensitized era, would do well to remember this reality of sensuality. Touch matters to God because we are God’s creatures, created to be touched repeatedly by God. Touching is often intercepted by economic utility and isolating pleasure, yet here we see a glimpse of an eros in which touching marks a divine yearning for a pleasure that heals and sets free and will reach into eternity.” 3
- The account of ordinary items like handkerchiefs having healing properties makes many Modern people very uncomfortable. Why do you think that is? How does this account challenge our thinking/worldview? What should we do when we encounter accounts like this in Scripture?
Read verses 13 through 16
“It matters little who the evil spirit knew or did not know. What is far more important is that these would-be exorcists imagine their delivering work outside the bonds of relationship with Jesus or his servants. This is a perennial danger for those who wish to do series intervention against the demonic forces of this world that oppress humanity and the creation. […] These sons of Sceva did in fact challenge the demonic, and they did in fact seek to free someone from its deadly grip. Yet they had not placed themselves in the space of the Spirit and the life of Jesus where touch, presence, and relationship situate our actions in God’s own life and turn us always toward that life. So they are wounded in their attempt to do good… It signals what is always possible for those who wish to do the work of Jesus without constantly pressing into the life of Jesus. We too may be overcome by evil.” 4
- What are some ways you attempt to work for God apart from God’s life and presence?
- What are some ways we can press into God’s presence while pursuing the mission of Jesus?
Read verses 17 through 20
“We are on the ground of renunciation here, where the intimate spaces of hope infested with practices and gesture that lean toward futility and false gods are opened and cleared out by the Spirit… This limitation is one unearthed by believers, not imposed on them. It is their recognition that a particular practice or belief will not yield what they imagined and is not encircled by the ecology of divine touch, presence, and relationship. They see the limitation and have chosen a better way. […] Renunciation therefore must always come from within a community and never be imposed on a community. The imposition of renunciation in the history of Christianity has led to the inculcating of deep cultural self-hatred in many peoples and forms of Christian life that are obsessively policing. Such forms of faith deny and destroy much more than they affirm and build up, and thus they undermine the holy work of renunciation.” 5
- What is your experience or non-experience with renunciation?
- What might God be calling you to renounce in your life?
- N. T. Wright, Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters (Westminster John Knox, 2002), p.15.
- Wright, Acts for Everyone, Part 2 (Westminster John Knox, 2008), p.123.
- Willie James Jennings, Acts (Westminster John Knox, 2017), p.185-186.
- Jennings, p.186-187.
- Jennings, p.187-188.