When I lived in Seattle, if you didn’t bring your reusable bags to the grocery store, you were publicly shamed and thrown into the stocks at the checkout until you swore to bring them next time. Okay so it wasn’t that extreme, but I definitely got the side eye and exasperated sigh from the cashier if I bought two weeks’ worth of groceries and they all went into disposable bags. That was before the city of Seattle completely got rid of plastic bags and I panicked: what was I supposed to use as bathroom trash can liners?
"And you see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia. He says that gods made by human hands are no gods at all. There is danger not only that our trade will lose its good name, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited; and the goddess herself, who is worshiped throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty.” Acts 19:26-27
In the above verses from Acts, Paul is pro-Gospel and anti-idols, and his stance not only threatens a whole industry of idol-makers, but their worship and value system, their whole way of life. The idol-maker Demetrius even uses the word “danger,” when referring to Paul’s preaching.
He feels attacked, puts up defenses, and builds an army of rioters.
Do you ever feel like your way of life is being threatened? One indicator of feeling threatened is being offended. How do you respond?
In order to build his army, Demetrius creates a mob mentality, exaggerating the facts and accusing Paul of leading “practically the whole province of Asia” astray, and that the goddess Artemis is “worshiped throughout the province of Asia and the world.” He paints Paul as the enemy and claims that the whole world worships Artemis, so Paul is basically an enemy of the entire world. This leads many to believe that Paul is attacking them too, and others to believe that they are outsiders if they don’t agree with Demetrius. This is Demetrius’ way of publicly shaming those who believe Paul and those who don’t worship Artemis.
On a much smaller scale, I felt ashamed by the cashier at the grocery store in Seattle. This is the track that played in my head after seeing the look on the cashier’s face: "Everyone brings their reusable bags, why didn’t you? Are you against the movement of banning plastic bags? This is a step toward progress, why are you hindering our progress as a city? (I’m threatening his way of life) Don’t you know how bad they are for the environment? Do you hate the earth? (I’m threatening his worship of the earth)” Now of course nobody actually said those things to me, and this cashier may have just had a bad day and doesn’t even care about the earth, but this was a flash emotion of how I felt.
Have you been shamed by opposing someone or something? Did you give in or stand firm?
Great Are Plastic Bags!
God did tell us to take care of the earth and steward it as our home, and I wholeheartedly agree with the steps the city of Seattle takes towards taking care our surroundings. However, some people would get really fired up about the environment and publicly shame others for not agreeing. What would happen if I started preaching over the grocery store’s intercom: “Good people of Seattle! Use plastic bags. Plastic bags are awesome! After getting them at the store, you can use them to cover bags of meat in the fridge so they don't contaminate other food, you can reuse them as trash can liners! Stop bringing your reusable bags! Great are plastic bags! Great are plastic bags! Great are plastic bags!”?
I would shout this for two hours until a riot started and I was taken down by the green police. That’s what Demetrius did, and if it sounds silly, it was. People who joined his idol riot were "in confusion: Some were shouting one thing, some another. Most of the people did not even know why they were there” (Acts 19:32). This is what happens with a mob mentality: the leader is threatened, the leader pegs an enemy, exaggerates the facts, and riles up a crowd in agreement. After a while, the crowd forgets why they came in the first place.
Have you been involved in a mob or crowd movement? Did you get caught up in the hysteria or did you maintain reason? What about when you went against popular opinion? How did you feel?
Don't Get Caught Up In The Crowd
I can get into an argument with my husband and then forgetting why I got mad in the first place, so I get it. But this story from Acts reminds me to beware of mob mentality. There are a few hot-button issues I can think of that create crowds of protests: abortion, gay marriage, and vaccines, just to name a few. But they can even be smaller issues within the circles of my city and friends, such as mid-wives versus MDs or organic food versus low cost food.
Am I joining an argument or cause just because everyone else around me is, or am I asking the Spirit to help me identify idols and loving people beyond man-made traditions and industries?
Before getting caught up in the crowd, we can ask ourselves a few questions:
- Am I putting this cause, thing, or person above God? Am I placing more of my wealth and value in it than the Lord?
- Am I being defensive and standing up for myself and my stuff, or am I leaning on the cross and Christ’s righteousness for me?
- Am I being swept away by every wind of doctrine (Ephesians 4:14) and crowd surfing with the mob, or am I speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15)?