Taming The Wild Beasts 1 Corinthians 15:32

I fought with beasts at Ephesus.—1Co_15:32.

What did St. Paul mean when he talked about fighting with beasts at Ephesus? If you turn to the nineteenth chapter of Acts you will see what kind of beasts he had to fight with. There you will find an account of the doings of men whose angry passions had turned them for the time being into wild beasts.

The Ephesians were worshippers of the goddess Diana, and a great trade was done in the city in shrines and relics. When St. Paul came to Ephesus and converted great numbers to Christianity many of these traders lost their custom. One of them called his fellow-craftsmen together and pointed out to them what was happening, and they, in their turn, stirred up the mob so that the whole city was in an uproar. Some people shouted one thing and some another, and many did not know what they were shouting about. They seized two of Paul’s companions and rushed them to the theatre and then for two whole hours on end they shouted themselves hoarse crying, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians.” It was only with great difficulty that the town clerk at last succeeded in pacifying them.

Now many people think it was to this riot that Paul was referring when he spoke of fighting with beasts at Ephesus—and an angry mob is much more like a menagerie of wild beasts than a company of human beings; but there are beasts that Paul must have been fighting not only at Ephesus, but everywhere he went; and there are beasts, too, that we have to keep fighting all the time if we would not let them get the better of us. These beasts are within us, not without, and many of them are very fierce and difficult to conquer. Shall I tell you some of their names?

Some of us have to fight with a tiger. These are the people who have got very bad tempers. Often you can hear the tigers growling and many times you can see their claws. These tigers wound and hurt other people terribly sometimes, but even more than they hurt other people they hurt their owners. For those who are allowing their tempers to get the better of them are doing themselves a terrible injury.

And what are we to do with these tigers of ours? The best thing is to chain them up. They are really valuable beasts if kept under control and used in the right way, but we must let them loose only when there is anything wrong or mean to destroy.

And then some of us have got to fight hears. These are the rough, surly sort of people who are always treading on other people’s toes. Often they don’t mean to do so. It is just their clumsy way, but unfortunately that doesn’t make any difference to the pain in the other people’s toes!

And what are we to do if we have bears to conquer? Well, we have got to work very hard to train them to be less clumsy and disagreeable. People talk a great deal about “rough diamonds” and they sometimes speak as if it were a virtue to be a “rough diamond.” Well, of course, it is much better to be a rough diamond than a smooth bit of glass; it is much better to be rough and sincere than smooth and false; but there is no virtue in the roughness itself, and a beautiful cut diamond is a far finer thing than a rough one.

And then there are people who have to conquer a mule. Perhaps you think a mule can be much more easily kept in order than a tiger or a bear. I wonder if you ever tried to get a mule to do something it didn’t want to do! The people who have a mule to conquer are the people who are stubborn, and they have a very hard task indeed.

But I want to say this for the comfort of the mulish people. That obstinacy of yours is just a good thing gone wrong. You know that many flowers, if they are allowed to grow as they like, turn into weeds again. I heard of a gentleman who was very fond of his garden and had a special fancy for cultivating pansies. But a great sorrow came to this man and after that he neglected his garden and let the flowers grow wild. In a few years his fine pansies had changed back into common field violets. Now, obstinacy is just a flower that has turned into a weed. It is a strong will turned into self-will. And a strong will is a very good thing if it is used in the right way. It can overcome difficulties, and resist temptation, and endure hardships. Nearly all the great statesmen and great soldiers and sailors have had strong wills. Remember that weeds can be cultivated and turned into flowers as well as flowers neglected and turned into weeds. And so if you have to fight with a mule in your heart remember that good things gone wrong can be changed again into bad things come right, and that that obstinacy of yours may be turned into a wise and firm determination.

But there are others of us who have to fight with a pig. I don’t mean to say that we are untidy or uncleanly in our habits. Whenever I think of a pig I think first of someone who is very greedy. The people who are always thinking of their next meal, who always choose the rosiest apple and the nicest cake, the people who live to eat instead of eating to live, have a good deal of the pig in them. And I think the people who like nasty stories and jokes have a good deal more of the pig in them.
Now, I hope there aren’t many here who have to fight with a pig, but if there are any, then the only thing they can do with that pig is to kill it outright. We may turn our tigers and our mules to good account and we may train our bears, but if we leave our pigs alive the danger is they will drag us down in the mire.

Once more, some of us have to fight with a serpent,

and these are the people who are tempted to be deceitful. Well, I hope there aren’t any of them here, for if they don’t deal very sharply with that serpent it will poison their whole nature. It is so cunning that it may get the better of them however hard they try, and the one thing to do with it is to kill it outright like the pig.

But how are we to tame and conquer all these beasts? Well, there are two things we must do. First, we must catch them young. People who undertake the training of wild animals always begin to tame them when they are small. If they waited till they were grown-up the task would be almost or altogether hopeless. And we, too, must begin to tame our wild beasts when they are young or they may get too strong for us.

And the other thing we must do is to ask Jesus very earnestly to help us. We can never be quite sure that we shall get the better of them unless He is on our side. But if we ask Him to help us, and then strive very hard to do our part, we are sure to conquer, and we shall come out all the nobler and finer in the end of the day for having fought with the beasts.