Remembering the Charge

by Spiros Zodhiates

Ephesus was not the easiest place in which to live-especially for a first-century Christian. Hailed by many as the most important commercial city of Asia Minor, Ephesus was home to the temple of Diana, the Greek goddess of hunting and fertility. The structure that housed the goddess's shrine was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, and her worship proliferated throughout the region.

Paul first stopped at Ephesus toward the end of his second missionary journey (Acts 18:18-23) and since Timothy had already joined the apostle by that time, it is probable that he visited the city as well. Nevertheless, they did not remain there very long, since Paul desired to arrive in Jerusalem in time for a feast, most likely the Passover (Acts 18:20, 21). Months later the apostle returned and spent three years with the Ephesians (Acts 19:1-20:1). Luke records that Paul later sent Timothy and Erastus to Macedonia, just across the Aegean Sea (Acts 19:22).

Paul's extended stay in Ephesus probably stretched through the mid fifties AD, during which time he caused such a stir that the unbelievers were driven to mass confusion (Acts 19:28-41). Really, it was a greedy silversmith who kindled their anger (Acts 19:23-27) which quickly fomented into city-wide mayhem. A swarm of irate citizens gathered together in the theater-another of Ephesus' architectural wonders-at his behest.

The apostle, ever wanting to reconcile sinful man with a loving God, desired to address the crowd, but his friends resisted Paul's endeavor (Acts 19:29-30). Several hours later a city official quieted the multitude by appealing to the Roman authority-an action that promptly silenced the apostle's antagonists and caused the multitude to disperse (Acts 19:35-41). Another harrowing experience behind him, Paul soon after caught up with Timothy and Erastus in Macedonia (Acts 20:1).

Some six years later, possibly more, Paul's geographic position was reversed with that of his younger companion. While the apostle ministered in Macedonia, Timothy continued the work in Ephesus. In fact, Paul was urging Timothy to stay (prosméno\ [4357], to remain close by) where he was despite any pressure he may have been experiencing from local unbelievers. The underlying concept of prosméno\ (to abide) is perseverance. Any true Christian would have to endure trouble and persecution amid the hostility of the pagan Ephesians, but the gospel still needed to be disseminated and seeds of truth had to be planted in unbelieving hearts.

Apparently Paul's parting injunction to Timothy was that he remain in Ephesus, and the apostle's use of parakaléo\ (to beseech) in the aorist tense shows that it was still his desire that Timothy remain there. Oftentimes, verbs in the aorist tense are rendered in the English simple past tense. However, the aorist verbs encompass all of time-past, present, and future. Therefore, when the apostle urged (parakaléo) Timothy to remain in Ephesus, the aorist tense makes us realize that he still wanted his pupil to continue the work in Asia Minor. Nothing had changed, the Ephesians still needed nurturing in the basic truths of Christianity and it was Paul's request that his pupil continue teaching them.

I noted in the exegesis of verse 2 that Paul and Timothy separated so that the apostle could establish God's work in other areas while his fellow-laborer stayed behind to shore up the works that had just been started (cf. Acts 17:14, 15; see also references to Titus: 2 Tim. 4:10; Titus 1:5). Just as Paul had left Timothy in Athens and other places in the past, he did the same here in Ephesus while moving on to Macedonia, where his initial contact with Europe began (Acts 16:6-12).

Chronologically speaking, the apostle's trip to Macedonia occurred after Luke finished writing the Book of Acts, there being no scriptural record of the journey Paul alluded to here in verse 3. Although a section of Macedonia is now a part of Greece politically, the two were separate Roman provinces in the first century. Thessalonica served as the capital city of Macedonia at that time, a seaport metropolis whose inhabitants were violently opposed to the gospel (Acts 17:1-10).

On his first visit to Thessalonica, Paul's message was received favorably by many Greeks and Jews who believed the gospel message (Acts 17:1-4). However, the unbelieving religious leaders, envious of the apostle's sudden popularity, gathered an assemblage of sordid men who swiftly brought the city to a chaotic uprising (Acts 17:5-7) and poisoned the local officials with unwarranted fear (Acts 17:8). Those comprising the crowd only dispersed after receiving what might be called a "pay-off" (hikans [2425], collateral; Acts 17:9). Immediately after the riot, some Thessalonian Christians helped Paul to a clandestine getaway, thus narrowly escaping the clutches of those who sought his life (v. 10).

Yet Paul was undaunted by the violent reception he received in Thessalonica and traveled to the general vicinity again, albeit several years later. Accordingly, the Greek verb poreuomai (to march forward openly) demonstrates Paul's boldness in Christ as well as his love for believers and unbelievers. The apostle could have withdrawn stealthily (hupgo\ [5217]) and traveled to Macedonia incognito without the distractions his presence might have stirred among the populace.

Neither Paul nor Timothy was a coward, and we know that Timothy was eventually imprisoned for his testimony and later released as the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews mentions (Heb. 13:23).

But why was it so important that Timothy stay in Ephesus despite the possible pressure from unbelievers and lack of fellowship with his spiritual mentor? Basically, Paul's first concern-beyond his desire that Timothy assist him personally-was that the Ephesian teachers declare only what was founded upon Christ.

Despite the fact that the apostle recognized a dire need for preaching the truth, he did not forget to admonish Timothy or the others in a gentlemanly fashion. Instead of specifically pointing out the individuals who were disseminating false teaching, Paul simply made a blanket statement without embarrassing anyone in particular. While it was important that the teachers edify the body with correct doctrine, it was just as essential for Timothy to lead by example in the love of Christ (see v. 5).

The phrase "that they teach no other doctrine" consists of only two words in the original Greek: \ heterodidaskalen. This phrase will require some explanation in order for us to gain the full understanding of what Paul was saying.

\ (3361) is a negative particle often translated "not" or "no" but is distinct from the Greek particle ou (3756) even though the two are rendered identically in English. Nevertheless, each has a special significance. Ou is often called the "absolute negative" because it stands with a declaration of fact that a quality or state of being does not exist (cf. 1 John 5:12). On the other hand, \ expresses a desire, communicating that a certain action or state of being must not take place or must stop taking place.

Therefore, we see that the apostle wanted them "to teach no other doctrine" (heterodidaskaléo\ [2085]) than that in which he had already instructed them. This verb consists of two words: héteros ([2087], another of a different kind) and a form of didskalos ([1320], a teacher). Therefore a concise definition of heterodidaskaléo\ would be the act of "teaching something different" or heretical, and for Paul this meant any instruction that did not adhere to the fundamentals of the Christian faith.

These basic doctrines involved the message of salvation and spreading the gospel among family, friends, and the entire city. At that time, many of the Christians in Ephesus were relatively recent believers, and being spiritual babes (téknon [5043], an immature child), they lacked discernment in the deeper aspects of godly living (cf. Heb. 5:12-14). After an extended period of receiving nourishment through the Scriptures, these men and women would be mature sons (huis [5207]) and daughters (thugte\r [2364]) of God.

Edward Seton Thompson, famous for his nature stories and illustrations of wildlife, recognized that many animals have a remarkable ability to sense the presence of danger. Thompson observed that, aided by this instinct alone, such creatures will not feed on poisonous grasses and that they unerringly elude predators. Sadly, many believers fail to exhibit this awareness of danger when false teachers would lead them astray. Such heretics beguile their listeners by hiding erroneous doctrine behind a faade of truth (see also 2 Tim. 3:5). Instead of relying on the discernment of the Holy Spirit, many Christians trust in their own judgment when evaluating the veracity and validity of a particular teaching.

Paul wanted Christianity's basic doctrines presented in order rather than being scattered in a jumbled mixture that might confuse the Ephesian believers instead of enlightening them. In the apostle's understanding, everything must flow from the head, Jesus Christ (Col. 2:19). And when He taught God's children, they would receive the nourishment they required.

Dr. Zodhiates is chairman emeritus of the Board of Trustess and president emeritus of AMG International

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