In an extended section of Paul and the Faithfulness of God, N. T. Wright takes pains to draw out the significance of “religion” in the first century. It wasn’t a separate sphere of life, but pervaded everything, down to the details of day-to-day existence.
Because of the integral connection between “the gods” and the complex fabric of daily life, Paul’s proclamation of an alternative Lord and an alternative way of life was rightly understood as totalizing, subversive, and revolutionary.
Wright sums it up this way:
When Paul arrived in Ephesus, Philippi or anywhere else with his message about the one God and his crucified and risen son, he was not offering an alternative way of being ‘religious’ in the sense of a private hobby, something to do in a few hours at the weekend. He was offering a heart transplant for an entire community and its culture. If ‘the centrality of Artemis was part of what it meant to be an Ephesian,’ it is not surprising that Paul’s ministry there caused a riot (p. 255).