I lasted almost three years at Ephesus before I was kicked out of town. It was also there that a number of problems in the churches I'd planted came to a head.
A couple years ago I found out that some Christian missionaries had made their way into my churches in Galatia and told them it was nice of me to get them in the door, but that if they really wanted to be part of the people of God, they would have to go all the way and convert fully to Judaism--get circumcised. I was furious. It was one thing for the Judaizers to do their own thing in Palestine. It's another for them to mess with the Gentile churches I had planted.
I was light years away from tippy toeing around on this subject. I had circumcised Timothy way back when, something I almost regret now. Like I said, his mother was Jewish.
Now these Christian Jews were using it against me. "Look," they said, "even Paul circumcised Timothy, showing that the ideal is for you to get circumcised."
I was livid. Normally when you write a letter, you have a section after saying hello where you thank God for something. Normally I'd say something like, "I thank God as I pray for you." I completely skipped that section in this letter. In fact I was so angry I said some things in that letter I probably shouldn't mention.
But it was like they were slapping Jesus in the face. It's like they were saying, "I appreciate you dying and all, but I think I'll try to do it on my own." But as I discovered in Damascus, that's just not what God is looking for. God wants to give the Gentiles a free gift. And it's like these Christians are wanting them to say, "No thank you."
It's an insult to Christ. These particulars of the Jewish Law, these works of Law that the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes love to debate over, they're just not what God is looking for. God was looking for the cross. It is the faithful death of Jesus that God is looking for. There's nothing we can do to earn it. We just have to trust in it. Anything else is an insult to God and his Christ.
Then there are the Corinthians. Soon after I left the city, a new believer named Apollos went there. Priscilla and Aquila had helped him come to believe in Jesus. He was a university boy. He grew up in Alexandria. If I had an elementary knowledge of rhetoric he had gone all the way. He even had known that famous Jewish philosopher, Philo.
He went to Corinth and was able to bring a number of people to Christ that I had not, especially among the city's elite. For example, there was Erastus, the city's director of public works. You know in politics, you have to see and be seen, and the number one place where festivals and public events take place is in the pagan temples.
Apollos had a solution for Erastus. "Do you believe that these other gods exist?" he asked.
"No," Erastus said.
"Do you believe an idol is anything but a pretty block of stone or wood?" Apollos asked.
"No, an idol is nothing in the world," Erastus answered.
So Apollos told Erastus that he could go ahead and eat at those pagan temples knowing that Asclepios didn't exist. He could marvel at the ignorance of those around him who actually thought they were real gods.
I can see Apollos' point, but it made me uncomfortable. Aren't there demons in those temples?
I thought God gave me a good answer. When you're in the marketplace, don't worry about the meat. Don't ask where it comes from. We all know it probably came from a nearby temple but God owns all the goats in the world anyway. Eat it with thanksgiving.
But don't go to a pagan temple. What is that going to do for the faith of other believers who will be tempted to go back to those temples too. Maybe your conscience is strong enough but you might lead them astray.
If you're at someone's home, don't ask where the food came from. But if you're there with another believer and you find out the meat came from a temple, then don't eat it for your brother's sake. It's not about your rights or freedoms. It's about building each other up and not putting any stumbling block in front of anyone else...