In Acts chapter 19, Luke tells the story of a man named Demetrius who opposed the preaching of the gospel. Demetrius was a silversmith in the city of Ephesus and he used his trade to make silver shrines of the goddess Artemis. He opposed the apostles preaching because their teaching had implications for his business. So Demetrius called together the other craftsmen and put the situation to them bluntly:
“You know, my friends, that we receive a good income from this business. And you see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the while province of Asia. He says that gods made by human hands are no gods and all. There is danger not only that our trade will lose its good name, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited; and the goddess herself, who is worshipped throughout the province of Asia and the whole world, will be robbed of her divinity.” (Acts 19:25-27, italics added)
Demetrius recruited allies in his opposition through two lines of reasoning. First, this will do damage to our bottom line! Second, our goddess will be dishonored! I have a feeling that the first argument won over his fellow craftsman and the second ones won over the crowd. The crowd was so stirred up with religious fervor that it couldn’t even organize itself to do any real harm to the two Christians it could find.
This passage had me thinking, who are the Demetrius’ of our world? I don’t know of anyone who makes or sells idols of Artemis, but there are plenty of false gods in our world, and some of them are followed with a religious fervor not unlike that of ancient pagan Rome.
Maybe to identify Demetrius we need to identify the idols. What do people worship above God? I can think of many possible idols (wealth, success, sex, entertainment, etc.) but if I were to point my finger at the chief idol of our time, I think that idol would be the god of “self.” It could go by many different names; self-actualization, self-autonomy, self-love, self-gratification. Whatever you call it this god stands in stark opposition to rule of Jesus the Messiah. It resists the authority of God and demands an authority of its own. Crowds will rise to its defense.
So who stands to gain financially from the worship of this god? I can think of a lot of possible power players: the entertainment industry, advertisers, certain churches, etc. That is not to say that these institutions/industries are necessarily opposed to the gospel or are necessarily idolatrous, but they can certainly fuel our idolatrous appetites and false worship.
But as I sought to uncover our societies Demetrius I had a more startling insight. It’s me. I’m Demetrius. Or at least my “old self” is Demetrius. Who threatens my true worship more, some outside institution or cultural force or my sin nature? If I’m honest I see the opposition within my own heart to the gospel. The gospel teaches me that “gods made by human hands are not gods at all” and yet the zealous idol maker resists, even though he knows it to be true. This is the flesh which much be crucified with Christ.
I heard it said once in a ministry context that “the biggest obstacle to your ministry won’t be others not doing what you want them to do, but you not doing what God wants you to do.” Ultimately, all the external opposition in Acts accomplished was the further expansion of the gospel throughout the world. The “nations conspire in vain” says the Psalmist and the early disciples agreed. Outside opposition from idol makers need not cause me to fear. But the idol maker in my own heart always threatens to undue me.