Collateral Damage

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Collateral Damage

23 About that time there arose a great disturbance about the Way. 24 A silversmith named Demetrius, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought in no little business for the craftsmen. 25 He called them together, along with the workmen in related trades, and said: “Men, you know we receive a good income from this business. 26 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 whole province of Asia. He says that man-made gods are no gods at all. 27 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 worshiped throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty.

Acts 19:23-27 (NIV)

When pastors preach sound doctrine, they may well damage evils they never thought to target. Though the preacher might simply aim to counter a heresy, clarify a concept, or unpack a difficult passage, the unintended and welcome social impact, the “collateral damage,” could be considerable.

The cult of Artemis was an amalgamation of devotion to the Greek goddess of hunting, wild nature, and fertility and the ancient mother goddess of Asia Minor. Public worship of Artemis also supported the industry of idol manufacturing. Demetrius, a silversmith, derived “a good income” (v. 25) from the religion and became disturbed when the market for fabricated gods began to wane. He searched for the source of the sudden downturn in business and found that it was the message of this itinerant preacher named Paul. People were turning to the one true God, leaving a trail of silver shrines behind them.

Paul’s message was clear: “man-made gods (namely those manufactured by Demetrius and his cohorts) were no gods at all” (v. 26). This message threatened the stability of Demetrius’ profession, and the only way for him to survive was to take the side of Artemis. Fearing potential bankruptcy, he became one of Artemis’ most fervent evangelists.

It is unlikely that Paul had set his sights on the shrine business and ancillary trades or had prior dealings with Demetrius himself, but the damage to this parasitic commerce was done just the same. Paul’s goal was the accurate and passionate preaching of Christ. The result, however, was an extended reach to the culture which turned “the Artemis business” on its head.

Preachers who are less than sharpshooters in applying Scripture to social ills should take heart. God will often extend the impact of principled preaching to worthy targets they never dreamed they might hit. By firing truth at theological error, biblical preaching will inevitably challenge and transform any society. There is no excuse for shooting blanks or firing harmlessly into the air. Those who have no heart for impacting society and who avoid pointed applications of truth are more babysitters than prophets.

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