Updated: Nov 2, 2021
It is evident in the latter half of Acts 19 that the peace of Ephesus is shattered. The question, however, is who is responsible for disturbing the peace. Commenting on Demetrius’ speech, Darrell Bock says that the “stir Christians cause does not lead to their disturbing the peace but to others potentially doing so. Christianity is not the disturber of the peace that some claim it to be.” Clearly from this text, it is Demetrius the silversmith who stirs up the other craftsmen and ultimately causes the whole city to descend into confusion. And so, on the surface, it would appear that Christianity is not the disturber of the peace, as Bock says.
But I do take minor issue with this position. It seems to me that this assumes that non-action does not qualify as a source for disturbance. And yet, as I say in the sermon, the absence of something can be just as significant as the presence of another thing. A spinning top will peacefully continue its dance across a table so long as it continues to receive inputs from you. But, in the absence of additional energy inputs, the top will begin to wobble and ultimately come crashing down. From the spinning top’s perspective, you are the disturber of its peace when you refrain from supporting it.
With that said, I do think that, from the world’s perspective as summarized by Demetrius, the stir that Christians cause can and sometimes does lead to a disturbance of the peace of this world. After all, it is the absence of certain economic and religious activity that has brought about this potentially perilous situation in Ephesus. You could say that Demetrius is not the agent of disturbance but the messenger who makes everyone else aware of the disturbance that has already started as a result of the non-actions of the Ephesian Christians.
And I don’t think that this is merely playing games with words for two reasons. First, to claim that the Christians have done nothing wrong is strictly true only from the perspective of God’s revealed will for our lives. The world does not consistently operate under God’s preceptive will but substitutes its own precepts by which Christians can and will be judged to be disturbers of the peace of the world.
Second, perception is so often reality. No matter what the Christians might say, how the Ephesians perceived them was as an unjust and atheistic group. After all, Demetrius’ two main arguments are that the followers of the Way declared that gods made with hands are not gods—that’s an atheistic declaration from the world’s perspective—and that Demetrius’ own business is at risk of collapsing on account of the followers of the Way—that’s unjust or at least unfair treatment of the craftsmen in town. Demetrius’ perception is that the followers of the Way were misleading and mistreating the good people of Ephesus and their god, Artemis.
Pulling these two things together, how could the Christians not be called disturbers of the peace? The only way to move forward, then, is to recognize the difference between the peace of the world and the peace that comes from Jesus Christ. In John 14:27 (ESV), Jesus says to his disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you.” Here Jesus himself distinguishes between the peace of the world and his own peace. “His point is that the ‘peace’ he leaves with his disciples is not necessarily what the world calls peace—that is, the absence of conflict.”
Beyond absence of conflict, another layer of worldly peace that makes it different from the peace of Christ is its inherent self-interest. In the Old Testament, God had strong words for the false prophets who proclaimed peace when there was no peace. This only “healed the wound of my people lightly” (Jer 6:14, 8:11) and more problematically “mislead” the people of God (Ezek 13:10). How? By letting the people hear what they wanted to hear, even if it was ultimately destructive to them.
For this reason, I say in my sermon that when we live for Christ in word and work, we can sometimes disturb the false peace of false religion. This disturbance of the peace, then, is in a sense positive because it can be the means by which those around us are woken up to their perilous predicament. And so, while Bock is quite correct in saying that we ought not to be accused of actively disturbing the peace in a way that breaks down rather than building up, we should also understand that we very well may disturb the peace by virtue of our words and work in such a way as to awaken consciences, which is a disturbance to the glory of God.