I was reminded this week while reading the story of a first-century Christian why the early church was so successful in “turning the world upside down” (Acts 17:6).
The story is about a man named Trophimus who lived in a little house by the side of the road just outside the city of Ephesus. There he humbly witnessed to the love and goodness of Jesus through various expressions of hospitality. As weary travelers passed by, he would offer them a cool drink of water from his well and fresh bread from his oven. Quite often those who passed later in the day were offered a place to rest for the night.
One evening three Roman soldiers stopped at his home. Trophimus asked about their journey, and the soldiers explained that they were under the orders of the Roman emperor himself to find a violent and dangerous man named Trophimus. As they explained, Trophimus was suspected of sedition because of his refusal to bow before the image of the emperor and give his allegiance. They were sent with instructions to find him and execute him on the spot.
Trophimus told them they didn’t need to go any further. They could rest for the night and he would deliver the dangerous Trophimus to them in the morning. And so he fed the soldiers and gave them a place to rest for the night.
While the three Romans soldiers slept, Trophimus went to the small flower garden behind his house and dug his grave. The next morning after the soldiers had eaten and refreshed themselves, Trophimus said to them, “Come with me, and I will deliver into your hands this Christian, Trophimus.”
He led them to the flower garden and, standing by the open grave, he said, “You seek the Christian Trophimus? I that speak to you am he. I but ask that you bury me in the midst of my flowers.” And he bowed his head for the stroke of the sword.
Antiquity gives us many such stories of Christians who out-lived, out-died, and out-loved those around them. No wonder they turned the world upside down. They lived by a set of values that were contrary to the world’s values, remembering the words of their master, “Love those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27-28).
Jesus taught that the power of a life lived under the rule of God is like a mustard seed or like yeast (Matthew 13:31-33). Though small, both grow quietly and steadily until their influence is unmistakable.
Small beginnings. Humble service. Quiet submission. Confident testimony. Powerful faith. These things changed the world in the first century. They still change the world today.