The book of Acts records three missionary journeys in which Paul the apostle was the main character. On the last of these, Paul came to the city of Ephesus in the Roman province of Asia. He spent the better part of three years in this city, teaching and preaching, and also performing what Luke calls “extraordinary miracles” (Acts 19:11). The result of Paul’s preaching was that many of the Ephesians, both Jews and Gentiles, were converted to Christ. When he left Ephesus, he left behind a fully organized congregation under the leadership of elders (cf. Acts 20:17-35).
Paul’s work in Ephesus was marked by an unusual demonstration by the newly-converted Christians of that city. In Acts 19:18-19 Luke says, “Many also of those who had believed kept coming, confessing and disclosing their practices. And many of those who practiced magic brought their books together and began burning them in the sight of everyone; and they counted up the price of them and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver.”
The silver coins mentioned in v. 19 were probably the Greek drachma, which was the equivalent of the Roman denarius. This was the daily wage for a common laborer. Fifty thousand pieces of silver equalled about 137 years’ wages. This was an incredible amount of money, and represented a significant sacrifice on the part of the ones who surrendered their magic books to be burned. More than this, however, this action represented their complete break with their former ways in order to follow Jesus. By burning their magic books these new Christians made an emphatic commitment to the new and living way.
For these Ephesians, following Jesus was worth giving up everything that reminded them of their former way of life, or which might draw them back to it. The cost of the books each person gave up was nothing compared to what he or she gained by submitting to the will of Christ. The promise of eternal life was so valuable to them that they willing, and freely, destroyed every semblance of their former ways. Their sacrifice raises an important question for modern Christians. What is the Lord worth to us? In other words, what are we willing to sacrifice in order to follow Him?
We sometimes sing a song in worship that asks this very question. It declares, “Jesus the Lord laid His glory aside, sinners to save and make whole, Freely He died our transgressions to hide, what is He worth to your soul? All that was His for the sinner He gave, pointed the path to the goal; Sin would deprave, but the Savior would save, what is He worth to your soul? All that He saves He will keep till the end, under His blessed control; Men may depend on this wonderful friend, what is He worth to your soul? All who will trust Him in sunshine and gloam, shall when they reach the bright goal; Ceasing to roam be forever at home, what is He worth to your soul?”
This question is worth serious consideration. The Lord asked it this way: “For what shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Mt. 16:26). The Lord gave up, albeit temporarily, all the glory of heaven to provide the atonement for our sins. Such a sacrifice and gift is beyond our ability to measure. How then can we continue to cling to the vestiges of our sinful life after having been washed in the blood of the Lamb? Eternal life is worth whatever we have to sacrifice in order to receive it.