“And Paul entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. But when some became stubborn and continued in unbelief, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he withdrew from them and took the disciples with him, reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus. This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks,” (Acts 19:8-10, ESV)
“All.” It’s a pretty simple word, but one that carries a pretty big meaning, yet it is easy to rush by. The verses above are Luke’s summary of Paul’s ministry in the city of Ephesus, and the “all” matters. The book of Acts tells us and history agrees that Ephesus was a bit of a world city, exerting a large amount of influence in the Roman province of Asia (modern day Turkey). So, it is not surprising that Paul would dedicate a good amount of time to plant a church there.
What is striking, however, is that Luke tells us that after two years of faithful ministry “all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord,” (v. 10). That’s right “all”. Don’t skip that. “All.” Let that sink in a minute. And not just all the residents of Ephesus, but all the residents in the entire province of Asia. Luke’s statement raises three questions in my mind: what does he mean here by “all,” how did Paul accomplish this, and what does that mean for us today?
As to what Luke meant by “all”, we have a few basic choices. 1) By “all” Luke meant every single person, without exception, in Asia heard the gospel. While possible, I am not sure this is the most probable choice. 2) Luke was using hyperbole; a pretty big number of people heard the gospel, and to really make a point Luke just said “all.” This is the least likely possibility in my mind, because it borders very close to being dishonest, and I don’t think the Biblical narratives work that way. 3) Luke meant “all types of residents”, referring to socio-economic and ethnic groups. Luke’s explanatory phrase “both Jew and Greek” at the end of the verse gives this view considerable weight. 4) Enough of the population heard the gospel that they were representative of the whole. We talk this way sometimes “all of our workers embrace this new policy” even when two or three may not, but enough people do we can speak for the whole.
My sense is that by “all” Luke is using a combination of numbers 3 and 4 above. In other words, Luke is saying, “As a result of Paul’s ministry in Ephesus, so many people, from every social category, heard the gospel that there was no place in Asia you could go where people had not heard the message of Jesus.” Not that all who heard the word believed, but the gospel spread far and wide. (Interestingly, Paul claims this same comprehensive sharing of the gospel while in Ephesus in Acts 20:26-27). And that fact is breath-taking.
How then did the gospel spread so broadly in Ephesus and Asia? The answer is found in 19:8-9. There we see that Paul spoke the gospel boldly and daily, and in Acts 20:20 we learn that Paul did this both in public and from “house to house.” In other words, the gospel spread so effectively because Paul and the other believers simply shared the message of Christ in their daily life, wherever they went. As a result, all heard the gospel.
Oh that this would be said of my church, of my neighborhood, of my town (or is it a city?)! And, in fact, it can. How? In the same way it happened for Paul in Ephesus: we face down our fears, trust in the power of the Holy Spirit, and boldly, daily speak of Christ, wherever we find ourselves. May we -may I- be so gripped by the greatness of the gospel that it can be said of our places of influence “all the residents heard the word of God,” because, really, they all matter.