Most of Paul’s third international mission tour was spent in the city of Ephesus, the largest city in Asia Minor (modern-day western Turkey), and one of the most impressive cities in the ancient world.
A few years earlier, as Paul set out on his second missionary journey, “they had been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia” (Acts 16:6). Apparently, Paul had wished to preach there, but God had closed the door. Now, a few years later, God threw the door of opportunity wide open, and Paul labored in Ephesus for three years (Acts 20:31).
The evangelistic efforts in Ephesus were exceptionally fruitful, for “all the residents of Asia, both Jews and Greeks, heard the word of the Lord” (Acts 19:10). In a letter written toward the close of his third missionary journey and addressed to the church at Rome, Paul proclaimed, “I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum (northern Greece)” (Romans 15:19). For three years, Paul and his companions preached. So effective was their ministry that they could say, everyone “heard the word of the Lord!”
Their ministry was effective, but costly. In the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, written at the close of the third missionary journey, Paul discloses the costs of discipleship. “We don’t want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, of our affliction that took place in Asia. We were completely overwhelmed—beyond our strength—so that we even despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death, so that we would not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a terrible death, and he will deliver us. We have put our hope in him that he will deliver us again while you join in helping us by your prayers” (2 Corinthians 1:8–11). “We are afflicted in every way but not crushed; we are perplexed but not in despair; we are persecuted but not abandoned; we are struck down but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8–9).
As Paul thought back on his ministry, he recounted the costs. “Five times I received the forty lashes minus one from the Jews. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked. I have spent a night and a day in the open sea. On frequent journeys, I faced dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my own people, dangers from Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers at sea, and dangers among false brothers; toil and hardship, many sleepless nights, hunger and thirst, often without food, cold, and without clothing” (2 Corinthians 11:24–27).
The costs are high and the costs are certain! “All who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). Paul wasn’t whining. He wasn’t bragging or boasting. Rather, Paul was writing to encourage every disciple of Jesus. Though the challenges are many, the rewards will be unimaginably great!
“For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17–18). “Affliction ... completely overwhelmed ... the sentence of death ... crushed ... perplexed ... persecuted ... struck down” but only a “light affliction” and “absolutely incomparable” to the eternal prize awaiting in glory!