This past weekend, we kicked off a new study as a part of our Sunday Gatherings. We gather weekly for fellowship, discussion, planning, singing, and prayer. A central part of our time includes studying Scripture as we seek to allow God’s Word to shape this new community. For the next few months, we’ll be working our way through the book of I Timothy.
We spent this Sunday looking at the story behind this letter from the Apostle Paul to his disciple Timothy. For that, we camped in Acts 19 and 20. Here’s how it went down.
Ephesus: For a little while, we left Philadelphia in 2009 and walked through Ephesus in 65 AD. We talked about this metropolitan, important, influential city in Asia Minor. The city was the 3rd largest in the Roman Empire. About 250,000 people squeezed into this city from every part of the world. Near the Aegean Sea, Ephesus had the perfect location. Trade and travel by sea and by land went through Ephesus making it a hub for commerce. Further, home of the Temple of Artemis, Ephesus was a huge tourist hot-spot. As you can imagine, culture was rich in the city. Foods of every kind, people from everywhere, music of every sort, and a plethora of ideas, philosophies, and religions.
If all that was true, you can imagine why Ephesus was a hugely important and highly strategic location for the Gospel. Our team talked about how the Gospel could spread like crazy if it took root in the city of Ephesus. Ephesus was one of those place that shaped culture and propagated ideas. If the Gospel saturated Ephesus, then you could bet that it would spill over to its surrounding.
Philadelphia: We paused for a second and started talking about Philadelphia, the city that God had called us to. Philadelphia is the second largest city on the eastern seaboard. Northeast Philadelphia, our section of the city, itself has over 400,000 people. Philadelphia has the second largest number of students in colleges and universities. That means, much like Ephesus, you have people from all over who will spend a season of their lives in this city and go on to every part of the world. Many of these folks will be leaders. Imagine if the seeds of the Gospel were sown into their lives during their years in Philadelphia – you could have a global impact. And Philadelphia has a serious influence on the cities and suburbs that surround it. Just this week I met with a church planting coach who has lived in Bucks County (area just north of the city) for the last 22 years. He said that the trend has been that whatever happens in Northeast Philadelphia eventually moves to the suburbs of Bucks County. Like Ephesus, Philadelphia is an important city for the Gospel.
Paul: So into this cosmopolitan city walks the Apostle Paul. In Acts 19 we find out that he begins to share the good news of Jesus like he did everywhere. First he goes to some Jews and when they reject him, he moves onto the Gentiles. He ends up basing his ministry out of what’s called the hall of Tyrannus. Everyday, from about 11am to 4pm, for 2 years, Paul reasons with unbelievers out of Tyrannus Hall. And guess what? People get saved. The Gospel takes root in Ephesus! People repent of their sins, turn from their unbelief, and begin following Jesus. In chapter 19, you find out the Gospel is spreading like wildfire in Ephesus and its effecting everything. The local craftsmen who earned a living making idols start going out of business as people turn from Artemis to Jesus. Sorcerers in the city come to faith in Christ and end up torching their magic books in a huge bonfire. The economy, jobs, everything is being touched by Paul’s Gospel.
Here’s the thing that amazed us. Paul’s Gospel did not fit in Tyrannus Hall. It busted out of the four walls of that hall and touched every part and person of that city. Through the ministry of this new church, “all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.” (Acts 19:10) Paul wasn’t just going after a great church, he was going after a great city.
For a little bit, we let our minds dream about what could happen in Philadelphia if our city was saturated with great churches and the Gospel took root here. What if God continued to plant gospel centered missional churches here and things began to change. What if years from now, there were less single moms as men embraced the Gospel and stuck around as fathers? What if drug dealers and pimps started losing business? What if the Gospel didn’t fit in the hall where we gather, but busted out and touched every part and every person of our city like it did in Ephesus?
We kept talking – about Paul, about the church at Ephesus, about Timothy, about the problems that eventually sprang up and the solutions that Paul prescribed. We read through the entire book of I Timothy, in one sitting, allowing the Spirit to speak to us through the Word.
And then we prayed. We asked God to put into the DNA of 7 Mile Road the things that I Timothy talks about so that we might have a healthy and effective and enduring presence in Philadelphia. And we asked God to touch our city like He touched Ephesus.