The Cycle of Idolatry (Acts 19:21-41)

The Cycle of Idolatry (Acts 19:21-41)


  • Last week, the patience of God allowed believers to mature in their faith. Here we see the opposite as God hands them over to their sin.
  • God was patient with Ephesus. Paul spent 3yrs. Eventually, people had to decide whether to save their careers/souls.
  • Calvin, “Man’s nature…is a perpetual factory of idols.”
  • Our emotions reveal our idols. Not removed through will power or formulaic responses. Victory requires more than information; it requires relationship.

We cannot experience victory over idolatry until we embrace a God who conquers our rebellion.

  1. Growing Fear (23-27)
  2. Irrational Rage (28-34).
  3. False Security (35-41).

Read Acts 19:21-41

  • Paul’s plans made “in the Spirit” (v.21). Interesting he stays in Asia only to silently witness the riots from outside the theater.
  • His time in Ephesus was difficult. Fought “wild beasts” (1 Cor. 15:32) and “despaired of life itself” (2 Cor. 1:8).

Growing Fear (23-27)

  • After devoting so much time, beginning to see much progress.
    • Church growing (v.20)
    • Culture of idolatry weakened (v.26).
  • Christianity’s Threat:
    • Economic The craftsmen were fearful of losing their profits.
    • Cultural Temple one of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World.
    • Religious Artemis, goddess of sexual fertility (cult prostitution).
  • Most discouraging. Close to paradigm shift.
  • God removes restraint of sin (Rom. 1) leaving them in a state of impulsive and confused behavior.
  • The idolater has a growing sense of fear whenever their idol is threatened.
  • The fear of the craftsmen stemmed from a jealousy of Paul’s success. Jealousy is “a desire to protect what we have and which we fear another may take away from us.” 1
  • They desired to protect their business which they feared Paul was taking away from them.
  • Lose of control > feeling overwhelmed.
  • Allow fear to drive you to God. Fear causes you to cling.
  • The fear of the Lord will paradoxically cause you to trust in him. Stop trying to protect yourself, and trust in your Protector.
  • Instead fear becoming demands to regain control, you must learn to submit to God and serve him.
  • We cannot experience victory over idolatry until we embrace a God who conquers our rebellion.

For the craftsmen, a growing fear became an…

Irrational Rage (28-34)

  • Jealousy + civic pride > riot.
  • Paul persuaded not to enter the theater. Asiarchs friendship with Paul reveals his influence.
  • Crowd impulsive and confused (vv.29, 32). Most didn’t know why they were there.
  • Alexander probably intended to distinguish between Jewish and Christian faith, but the crowd was unwilling to hear from him. They knew he did not worship Artemis.
  • Two hours of chanting “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians.” They throw a childish tantrum.
  • BLM riots filled with conflicting and confusing messages. Raw emotions must produce principles of action or it only serves to bring greater harm.
  • “Anger is our response to an assault…If the assault blocks earnest desire, or what we believe we must possess in order to be whole, then we will burn with rage.”2
  • When jealousy becomes a blind fury it destroys the very thing we are seeking to protect.
  • Anger is not always bad. Ephesians 4:26, “In your anger do not sin.”
  • Righteous anger fights injustice and works to kill sin.
  • Hatred of others must become hatred of evil.
  • You will not hate what is evil until you love God and learn what he calls good.
  • We cannot experience victory over idolatry until we embrace a God who conquers our rebellion.

Unchecked fear became irrational rage and the result was a…

False Security (35-41)

  • The town clerk finally quiets the crowd (i.e. Gamaliel 5:33-39).
  • 4-part argument:
    1. Reputation of Artemis is secure.
    2. Men innocent.
    3. Proper protocol of their system of justice.
    4. Demetrius and cohorts bringing social disorder. Roman government may limit Ephesian privileges.
  • He recognized the riot was baseless and dismissed the crowd.
  • Ultimately, he reinforced the idol in his attempt to secure order. Agreed Artemis “fell from heaven” — Not made by human hands!
  • The rage phase comes to an end when control is regained.
  • However, we only compound the problem when we address the right diagnosis with the wrong treatment.
  • Sin cannot be treated with a vaccination. Small doses of sin doesn’t make us immune to the effects. Rather than building up a tolerance, it destroys our defenses.
  • We might find temporary relief, but unless the idol is destroyed—cut off at the root, the cycle will eventually repeat.
  • We must relinquish control to Him who already possesses it!
  • When we are willing to lose our lives, we actually find it (Matt. 10:39).
  • False security becomes eternal security.
  • In Gethsemane, Jesus asked, “Let this cup pass from me” 3x. But he was willing to submit to the Father, “Not my will but Your will be done.”

We cannot experience victory over idolatry until we embrace a God who conquers our rebellion.


  • Paul’s gospel ministry was turning people away from idolatry and syncretism to worship the One True God. His sustained efforts had a transformative impact on individuals who responded in repentance and faith.
  • Paul’s gospel was not private! It reached the culture, changing everything from commerce to education to art.
  • But the stronghold of idolatry and industry in Ephesus left Paul silent and helpless to thwart the riot.
    1. Growing Fear
    2. Irrational Rage
    3. False Security
  • It is only when we embrace Christ as our Savior and rest in Him, that we learn to fear the Lordhate what is evil, and relinquish control.
  1. Allender & Longman III, “The Cry of the Soul”, p.90. ↩︎
  2. The Cry of the Soul. ↩︎