Ephesians 1:1 “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus”
The time has come for me to preach to this congregation on Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. I have been here for 38 years and I have never preached on it. Think of it! I have preached through every other New Testament letter and also through most of the gospels, and certainly Acts as well as the book of Revelation, but never have I preached through this letter. More than that, I have a record of every sermon preached in this church in the last 51 years and during that time no one has preached through this epistle. In the preceding eighty years of its existence this church (until the year 1948) was under the domination of liberalism and neo-orthodoxy. One sign of those systems of thought is their tenuous treatment of Scripture. You will rarely (if ever) find such men preaching through the Bible, because much of it they don’t believe – though they get indignant about such a criticism. It is true that they always choose what they accept and reject. The world has never seen a neo-orthodox evangelist – for all the Barthian claims to be theologians of the Word – and it never will.
That means, if I am right, that this church has never for a single period in its 133 year history listened to a series of sermons on this letter – which ranks as being one of the very greatest parts of the Bible in the sheer density of the truths compressed into these six chapters; it is the Himalayas or Mount Everest of Scripture. When John Mackay, who later became the President of Princeton Seminary, was fourteen years of age – almost exactly a century ago in July 1903 – he was walking in the Highlands when he sat down, took out his Bible and read Ephesians. He experienced what he called ‘a boyish rapture.’ He said, “I saw a new world . . . Everything was new . . . I had a new outlook, new experiences, new attitude to other people. I loved God. Jesus Christ became the centre of everything . . . I had been ‘quickened’; I was really alive.” That is just one testimony of the effects of these words.
You know that I have this conviction that every Christian should at some time in his or her life hear every single part of the Word of God preached on, explained and its consequences for God-pleasing living charged to his conscience. That is one major reason why God gave his word to the church. So the time has come for us in Aberystwyth to hear the message and the teaching of these verses. It would be a mercy from God if I were spared to complete what I am beginning today, but we will cheerfully accept the will of God in that matter. I don’t live my life to preach sermons but to glorify and enjoy God, but it would be a very great privilege to study and teach this whole letter.
I have left Ephesians to these last years because many of you possess and have read a comprehensive series of sermons on this letter preached fifty years ago by Dr D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones in Westminster Chapel, London. I used to receive those sermons in the ‘Westminster Record’ one message each month coming through the post as did some others of you. Then they were bound together and many others were transcribed for the first time and added to them. They were printed by the Banner of Truth volume by volume. What a 20th century publishing event that was. Their existence is a marvellous blessing to the church. I used to enjoy getting the individual sermons month by month, sitting down and thinking – “This is real preaching.” I have not kept up with reading all through the eight volumes of what is an almost complete selection of his many sermons on Ephesians. That joy of reading them all lies before me now. I have been going through Lloyd-Jones’s opening messages in the past month, and it has been a bittersweet experience. Sweet because they are so comprehensive and excellent, and yet bitter for me to read because every preacher must conclude, “This is so enriching. This is the bench mark. Why is there need for anyone else to add to this? It seems to me almost insubordination to try.” It is also bitter because we had hoped that thousands of men, reading these sermons, would follow Lloyd-Jones’ example, and preach living messages in the power of the Holy Spirit all over the nation. Who could accept anything less? Yet there are so few, but without his example how many less would there have been today? I will consult Dr Lloyd-Jones as I go through the letter, and I hope some of you will keep up with him as well as me. I’m sure that I shall go faster than he did, though I regret to say that it is fashionable for mere pygmies to make fun of that giant’s slow gait through the book Sunday by Sunday. I deplore such comments. I love every one of his sermons, and would not have a single one omitted. I am delighted that he took his magisterial pace strolling through the book and surveying the significance of each word. The whole church has the Doctor in its debt and will be in his debt until the end of the world.
A boy from my home town was converted a little after me, and while I went to my local university in Cardiff he was brilliant and studied medicine in London worshipping in Westminster Chapel. He heard the Doctor preaching through this book. Gareth would occasionally send me letters with outlines of the previous Sunday’s sermons and tell me of particular things that struck him, and especially of the simplicity and majesty of the communion services that the Doctor led. I was reading in a magazine recently a miserable article which claimed, among its other follies, that Lloyd-Jones had little place for the sacraments. To say that is to show the man had never gone to Westminster Chapel, nor had he understood his teaching.
1. THE BACKGROUND TO THIS LETTER
The apostle Paul wrote this letter from prison in Rome around the same time in his life as he wrote the epistles to the Philippians, Colossians and Philemon, that is between the years 60 and 63, about thirty years after the earthly ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ. The effect of the spread of the gospel during those three decades was extraordinary. In Ephesus, on what is today Turkey’s west coast (on the same latitude as Athens in Greece, which is 100 miles across the Aegean Sea), a first generation and predominantly Gentile church had been established. What came first in Ephesus? The Word of God or the church? The Word always comes first and it begets and nurtures the church. It is not that mother church comes first.
This Ephesian congregation, a mere ten years old, was so mature and discerning that it could grasp the contents and arguments of this letter. Again, consider that! Remember these chapters were not written to a seminary, or to a theological faculty, but to a church of men, women, children, slaves and free men. They are all addressed in the letter. The congregation heard it read aloud and charged their memories to remember it, and then it was copied and carried by a church officer to other churches who did the same. My point is that this was the stature of Christians at that blessed era less than thirty years after the resurrection of Christ. Those preachers, missionaries, elders and church members were giants, and I would ask you to consider how long the gospel has been in India, and China, and Africa, and South America, or even in our own land. Where have the Christian African students been during the last forty years? How rare it has been to have a couple sitting in our congregation! I am not picking on Africa. How few the congregations anywhere in the world which are familiar with this teaching today! What a low level of discernment and moral authority is found in the professing church. How we need something of that outpouring of the Spirit of truth which the New Testament church possessed in such abundance.
You may remember that it was on Paul’s third missionary journey, which commenced in the year 52, that he came to Ephesus and that he remained there for three years. There were three great cities which Paul visited, Athens, Corinth and Ephesus. Athens, with about 10,000 people, was the size of Aberystwyth forty years ago. Corinth, on the other hand, was huge. It had about 750,000 inhabitants, while Ephesus had half a million. The first city, Athens, was the intellectual centre of the ancient world, the birthplace of democracy and the most important university town in the world. Corinth was a great commercial centre. Anything and anyone could be bought there. Ephesus was also famous for its commerce, the market of Asia Minor, the capital of the Roman province of Asia, but it was also a centre for the imperial cult and the guardian of the temple of Artemis (whom the Romans called Diana). Artemis was a fertility goddess and the temple that housed the grotesque idol sprawled across city blocks and was one of the seven wonders of the world.
2. HOW THE CHURCH AT EPHESUS WAS PLANTED.
What can we learn from Paul about church planting as his time in Ephesus is recorded for us in Acts 19? How do we bring the gospel to our pagan town in its ignorance of the Christian message, its prosperity, its multitude of carnal pleasures in drink, drugs, E-mail sex lines, pornography, non-stop television, atheistic snobbery and so on? We are not too far away from the situation with which Paul was confronted. He had a strategy which he stuck to whether it was in Greece and church planting in Corinth, or in Asia Minor taking the gospel to Ephesus. There were five steps he employed.
i] He made inquiries concerning any who had some interest in the faith.
In Philippi he learned about some women who met by a river for prayer and he went to them. He told them he too was very interested in prayer, and the way that he spoke to God. But Paul had one great question for them, on what basis could God hear and answer a sinner’s prayer? With that he explained the gospel of reconciliation to them, and as he did the Lord opened Lydia’s heart. Here in Ephesus he was told that there were some followers of John the Baptist who had their own fellowship, who hadn’t heard of the Lord Jesus. So Paul met these twelve men, and he began by talking about their much revered John, and Paul told the men how John had exhorted people to believe in the one who should come after him whom he called the Lamb of God, that is, the Lord Jesus Christ. He explained to them all about Jesus Christ, and then they believed and were baptized, and there was a kind of Ephesus Pentecost when the Spirit of prophecy and languages fell on all these men just as in Jerusalem under Peter. Pentecost caught up on them. Here were people who assumed that they were believers but whose lives showed no indication of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. They had had no teaching. In many ways they were Old Testament believers.
That is where Paul began, with earnest open religious people, untaught but anxious to know more. One of the ways the church could reach such people would be a market stall selling Christian literature year after year, or better, if it were possible, a Christian book shop. “Are you interested in Christianity? This is what we believe,” we say. Then we follow up every kind of religious person, children in school with us who are serious enough to go to church but who are muddled boys and girls. That is where we start. Next Thursday evening our brother Richard Davies plans to recommence his Bible studies in Machynlleth, and he hopes some people will come who are interested in the faith. He will then follow them up, talking to them individually, and if the Lord blesses them they could start a Sunday night service. That was the first step for the apostle Paul, working with people with some religious interest.
ii] Paul went to the synagogue, and he kept going back there for three months.
We are told that he “spoke boldly . . . arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God” (Acts 19:8). He did the same thing in Corinth (Acts 18:4). He would meet there a class of people called ‘God-fearers’, Gentiles who were drawn by the Old Testament revelation of God. He would meet his own fellow countrymen who spoke Aramaic. They would discover people they knew in common. Some of them had heard some vague information about Jesus of Nazareth. Paul dealt with these Jews by showing them how in the Old Testament God had told Abraham that through one of his own descendants all the nations of the earth were going to be blessed. “Jesus Christ is one of Abraham’s descendants,” said Paul. He further pointed out that the Scriptures also taught that the promised Messiah would come from a line taken directly through Isaac, Jacob, Judah, Jesse and king David. Jesus of Nazareth was actually of that very line, great David’s greater son. Then Paul could show them that one of the Messianic prophecies said that the king of Judah would provide Israel with all its kings until the Messiah had arrived: “The sceptre will not depart from Judah . . . until he comes to whom it belongs” (Gen. 49:10). And Judah’s government was wobbling and showing every sign of collapse as Paul spoke. Indeed within ten years of his writing this letter it would all be over. Jerusalem was in ruins and the Temple demolished, never to be rebuilt. Then Paul could also point out that the Scriptures also prophesied where the Messiah was to be born, in Bethlehem in Judea. So was Jesus the Messiah. Paul could also show so many prophecies fulfilled in Jesus’ life, concerning his social status, his general demeanour, his teaching and extraordinary powers, that he would be born of a virgin, that at the end of his life he would be forsaken by his followers, betrayed for thirty pieces of silver, wrongly accused, tortured, humiliated, executed alongside common criminals, and put to death by crucifixion. These Old Testament Scripture also said that at the time of his death he would pray for his executioners, none of his bones would be broken, his body would be pierced and people would cast lots to see who would get his clothing. All these prophesied events, over many of which neither Jesus nor his followers had any control, were fulfilled in Christ.
Paul could start with the Scriptures as he spoke to his fellow countrymen, his kinsmen according to the flesh, and then proceed to tell them those remarkable things about the Saviour. So, when we are church planting what common ground do we share with people in that community? How can we exploit our nationality, or some common authority, or our interest in the Bible to bring the Word of God to people? I lived for three years in Philadelphia, and soon I discovered that there was a Welsh Presbyterian church there on Girard Avenue. It has now been long closed and sold to an Afro-American church who care for it lovingly. In my years in that great city I taught the adult Sunday School class there every Sunday morning.
iii] When the Jews turned against his teaching both in Corinth and Ephesus Paul left the synagogue and hired a place in which to meet and then began to concentrate on Gentile evangelism.
In Corinth he used the house of a man called Titius Justus which was next door to the synagogue (Acts 18:7), while in Ephesus he moved to the lecture hall of a man called Tyrannus (Acts 19:9). I suppose Tyrannus was some sort of teacher or philosopher who might have used his hall in the cooler hours of the day and let Paul use it at other times. Each day Paul was there preaching the word of God to the people. We are told that “he took his disciples with him” (Acts 19:9); that is, the twelve men who had followed John the Baptist, and the converted Jews who had trusted in Christ. Paul continued there for two years, day by day expounding and teaching the Word of God. There he laboured, and watched, and wept for both individuals and the community. When he saw slave girls of 8 years of age bought by vile older men didn’t he weep for such a community? Here he determined to preach Jesus Christ and influence visitors from every part of the province of Asia, till the power of Christ was felt in every place and many other men looked with new indignant eyes at a girl being sold into slavery and young men being crucified. In this lecture hall he built up the church and trained evangelists and teachers until they were men of the Holy Spirit. When his work was done he gathered them at the harbour and bade them good bye and their tears mingled together knowing that they would never see him again.
I wonder whether preachers shouldn’t be preaching much more often than they do? You consider the history of the great times of God’s blessing in the past, how men preached every day and more than once a day, and people gathered to hear them. I don’t mean holding a service with hymns and announcements and offerings, but a man called of God standing up, praying, reading the Word of God, and preaching the Scriptures and doing so every day. I wonder what an impact it would make on Aberystwyth to have daily preaching services, every evening from 7 to 8 p.m., and every morning services from 10 a.m. until 11, at first to small groups of people, but as the years went by others drawn out of curiosity and interest and even some hunger. Our desperation and brokenness at the paucity of the response would drive us to God with much greater earnestness for his mercy to be made known.
We could gain some help from other men who are preachers of the gospel in the congregation and in the town. Daily evangelism established the mighty church of Ephesus. The gospel as it is fully expounded in this letter and the letter to the Romans explained and declared day by day. Why not? If some of you would pray about this, and would say to me that you thought that we should do this for two years, as Paul did, then I would take that exhortation very seriously. If numbers of you said to me and the elders, “Go for it!” That would be quite significant. I am not asking you as a congregation to come each day. That would be impossible and unnecessary. I would want your prayers. I am terrified at the thought of doing it as a sinner saved by grace. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. I am thinking of the people of this town hearing, over the years, that we took the Bible and Jesus Christ so very seriously that we had daily preaching, and they were being given the opportunity to hear the Word of God and the message about the Lord Jesus. All it would require would be my coming here, opening the building, putting the lights on if they were needed, then reading a portion from the Bible, praying, and preaching, and then be open to talk to the people afterwards. That is what happened when Paul went to Ephesus.
iv] Many people heard the word.
Many who did not fit into any category, not followers of John, not prayerful women meeting by a river, not Jews, not Gentiles converts to Judaism, but ordinary non-churched people, the men in the street, the followers of the goddess Artemis or members of the Emperor cult, heard the word of God and they trusted in Jesus Christ. We read that this is what happened in Corinth: “many of the Corinthians who heard him believed and were baptized” (Acts 18:8), and that it happened also in Ephesus: “This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord” (Acts 19:10). The province of Asia was almost twice the size of Wales. Paul’s activity in Ephesus impacted this whole vast area so that people everywhere took the news of these daily meetings back to their home towns and gossiped about Jesus Christ. Paul put the Christian faith on the agenda in villages and hamlets and the little white houses on the sides of hills far from the main roads. There was no one in the province at the end of two years who did not know of the claims of Christ, even if many scorned them.
We talk about reaching mid-Wales for Christ. There are many villages where, humanly speaking, they are very unlikely to have any kind of minister living in them again. There is the Dyfi Valley to the north of us from Aberdovey on the coast twenty-five miles north to Dinas Mawddwy in the north west, and 20,000 people live in that valley. There is scarcely a minister, Protestant or Roman Catholic, living in that whole area, nor is one likely to move there in the future. But if the Word of God is taught and lived in the power of the Holy Spirit here in Aberystwyth its power to draw and change the lives of people 18 miles away is evident.
v] A legal right to their activities was obtained.
The final feature of Paul’s success in planting this church in Ephesus may not be immediately evident to you, but it is very important. When the Church was established and growing, attempts were made to destroy it. Christians were falsely accused of belonging to a subversive and revolutionary organisation. There was an actual riot about this in Ephesus. The mob seized two of the prominent preachers, Gaius and Aristarchus from Macedonia, and dragged them into the town theatre, but the city clerk dismissed the charges. If they had a grievance with the Christian church then there were legal channels to take. He threw the case out of court. It was a key decision for the future of the church. They were given legal right to gather together and evangelise. The very same device was used in Corinth with the Jews going to the proconsul Gallio and making a united attack on Paul, but Gallio had them ejected from his court. So the Corinthian Christians also had established their right under Roman law to worship God.
In many parts of the Muslim world today such a right of Christians to come together and advertise their meetings is denied. Christians meet secretly behind locked doors. It is a great hindrance to the spread of the gospel. There was a time when a number of men from Aberystwyth were studying in Istanbul in Turkey. They wanted to hold a Bible Study at the University. So they went to the registry of the university to ask for permission to put up a little notice on the notice board: “Bible Study, Lecture Room 20, Wednesday at 1 p.m..” That is all they wanted, permission to put up one little announcement. They could get no answer. No-one on the administrative staff of the university would take the risk of giving permission. It was more than his job or even his life was worth. They are a secular university, not a Moslem one. Their charter speaks about freedom of speech and the other United Nations phrases, but the reality is that Islam is not about to give legal permission for a little announcement that five or six people were getting together to study the Christian’s Bible.
While there is persecution and no legal appeal to free gatherings and conversion and evangelism then the possibility of church growth is greatly limited. But Paul’s aim in Corinth and then in Ephesus was to get that status for the whole Christian movement. That is the reason for his appeal to Caesar and the final years of imprisonment. He wanted a landmark decision from the highest court in the empire, from Caesar himself, confirming that Christians could meet together and work for the gospel’s spread through every country where the Emperor ruled.
3. THE CHIEF CHARACTERISTICS OF THE LETTER TO THE EPHESIANS.
It is an epistle, a letter. It is there with the mass of the New Testament in a letter form. In the Old Testament the prophets delivered oracles to the people, but in the New Testament the apostles wrote letters to the brethren. This particular one, like all the rest, is a letter from a messenger of the King of Kings and so to be read with equal reverent confidence as we read the four gospels. It is the voice of Christ’s Spirit in Paul. Yet it completely respects the personality and feelings and psychology of this brilliant man Paul, using it to advance God’s kingdom. The style is one that befits a letter from an older pastor who has a deep experiential relationship with the Lord to young Christians setting off on their pilgrimage. There is a note of conversation about a letter – although the author is treating important subjects with accuracy and fulness. The New Testament letters are written to meet a purpose, and addressed to a certain state of mind, a particular congregation is in a certain province living under some pressures with its own questions. God prepared those congregations and their dilemmas and needs so that Paul when he wrote his letters would address problems that churches would be facing over the next 1900 years. In his letters Paul says to his readers things like this, ‘I appeal to your conscience in the sight of God,’ ‘judge what I say’, ‘let this letter be read in all the churches’, ‘watch the man that scorns this letter and have no fellowship with him.’ Well what are some of the emphases in this particular letter?
Three times Paul writes, “I pray.’ Three times he exhorts the Ephesians to pray, and especially for him. Twice he speaks about prayers, and once he exhorts them, “always keep on praying” (6:18). His first opening long sentence at the beginning of the letter is a paean of praise to God for his blessings. It stretches on to the 14th verse. Then Paul writes out one of his actual prayers for them, and that is recorded at the end of the first chapter. Another of his praye rs for them is recorded at the end of the third chapter. So Christian intercession is central to this letter. When we pray for people we change in our attitude to them. When they know we are praying for them they change in their attitude to us. The relationship between Paul and the people to whom he was writing was marinated in prayer.
ii] The tone of the letter is a declaration about the mighty acts of God.
That it the great theme of the apostle throughout this letter. That is what makes it a gospel epistle. The gospel is good news. The gospel is not, Repent and believe. The gospel is not, Open your heart to Jesus. The gospel is not, Come to the front and repeat the sinner’s prayer. The gospel is not, Be baptised and join the church. There is no statement of good news in those commands. The good news is that God has loved the world and given his Son. God will forgive all those who find in Christ a hiding place. The blood of Jesus Christ God’s Son cleanses us from all sin. Our sins though they be like scarlet can be as white as snow. This is good tidings of great joy which God brings to the nations. All who repent and believe can know God’s mercy. The gospel is a statement of the mighty acts of God, and Paul in this letter is utterly obsessed with everything that God has done. So Paul begins that God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ. He chose us . . . he predestinated us . . . in Christ we have redemption . . . he lavished on us the riches of his grace . . . he made known to us the mystery of his will . . . and so on. We are debtors to what God has achieved in Christ.
“Hail sovereign love, which first began
The scheme to rescue fallen man;
Hail matchless, free, eternal grace,
Which gave my soul a hiding place!”
So this letter is full of the most jubilant affirmations about God. There is nothing more relevant for repentant sinners and saints than the message of who God is and what he has done. When we gather together to worship nothing will lift our spirits more than to have rehearsed to us freshly and powerfully the mighty acts of God, and this letter to the Ephesians is full of this. Think of the ‘London Eye.’ It is the giant Ferris wheel on the banks of the Thames. It rises 450 feet above the River Thomas. It has 32 capsules which can each hold 20 people. You step aboard and you are taken slowly up into the air. It takes half an hour to rotate the full circle. You are given panoramic views of all central London, its historic buildings, its palaces, cathedrals, abbeys, some new skyscrapers, its parks and gardens. You have splendid views of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. It is a fascinating piece of engineering and you suddenly get glimpses of it from different points in the capital from a train, or a bridge, or a hotel window, but you also get magnificent new views of the metropolis from the capsules of the London Eye itself.
That is how the letter to the Ephesians stands in relation to Paul’s other letters. It is much shorter than the letters to Rome and Corinth, but it gives a bracing view of the glorious achievements of God in Christ. Paul brings many themes before us – the nature of the church, living the Christian life, family relations, the armour of God and spiritual warfare. As someone who knows London well will be delighted to see from the Eye familiar things from new angles and note how one thing relates to another, so when we read Ephesians we learn how God has accomplished the redemption of the church and arranged its rich complexity so that all the glory for this goes to his Son Jesus Christ.
iii] This letter is all about Jesus Christ.
This is a letter about his glory from the man whom Christ expressly moulded, conquered and commissioned to tell us of the Lord himself and his free salvation. The word ‘Christ’ is found fifty times in the letter. Let me remind you that that word is not a slogan. It is never a slogan. It is not a theological term. It is a living person with limitless power. There has been no one else like Christ and there never could be. Think of the impact he has made on world history. The Bible continues to be translated into what is now well over 2,000 languages. Our Lord never raised an army or led an armed revolution yet millions of people have laid down their lives for him. Christ lived almost all of his life in a land the same size as Wales and yet today his influence is felt in every continent of the entire world. There are estimated to be 600 million evangelical Christians alive today. All of them claim a personal relationship with him. Their hopes of eternal life are grounded in the Lord Jesus Christ. So Paul can’t help returning to the Son of God.
If it’s a warrant you need to come to God it is Christ’s promises. If it is pardon for your sins you need it is found in Christ. If you want to inherit eternal life you must go to Christ. If you want to see God most perfectly expressed you must look to Christ. If you want the key to understanding the Scriptures you will find it in Christ. If you need robes of righteousness to clothe your defilement then they can be found only in Christ. If your sins are deep dyed and you don’t know what can wash them away then it is only the blood of Christ. If you seek a Mediator with God then he is Jesus the Christ. James Hervey was a fine Anglican preacher who had been converted reading Whitefield’s sermon on the text, “What think ye of Christ?” So what do you think about Christ? He means everything to Paul. What does he mean to you? Was the apostle deluded? Or had he seen the One who holds all things together and is the interpreter of life? How does your mind grasp this Saviour? Is he all in all to you? He clearly is to Paul and to the church at Ephesus.
iv] This letter more than any other mentions principalities and powers.
Paul is conscious of dark powers at work in the world attacking every Christian. These principalities have their origin in hell, but Paul also is conscious of the ‘heavenly places’, that is the reign of God protecting and keeping his people. There are seven references to the heavenly places in this letter. This world does not float in the vacuum of empty space. This world is gripped from heaven by Jesus Christ. He has conquered all his enemies and he is bringing this world to its ultimate destination. When wars break out, and pestilence and famine stalk the streets, and terrorists with their dirty bombs have done their worse, this world is not going to end as a bleak rock floating through empty space. This world is going to be the climax of the victory of Christ over principalities, powers and the rulers of the darkness of this world. In this letter Paul relates the victory and its realisation in the lives of the Christians. He informs us how we may achieve effective warfare over these powers.
v] Paul is filled with wonder at the House of God.
God is intent on building himself a house to dwell in, and there are many verses in the first four chapters of this letter that speak about this theme. The church as the habitation of God is the building that Paul has in view. He is picking up the parable of Jesus of the wise man who built his house on the rock of Christ and his teaching. There’s a range of places in which people choose to live. Some men and women in Aberystwyth doss down behind the station, or at the back of Argos and Iceland. They might sleep in doorways and on floorboards if they can find them. They might have an orange box for a table. There are others who live in real homes. This is the point, that God is out to furnish his house in a lasting and noble way – building it worthily, laying a true and deep foundation, furnishing it with beauty, loveliness and grace. In order to do this his Son Jesus Christ humbled himself, leaving the mansions of glory, being born in Bethlehem’s stable, and living in out of the way Nazareth, and then itinerating so that he could say, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have their nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Through his immense humility God has built a dwelling place for himself and all his people to dwell in, a living temple, a glorious and eternal dwelling place. This is one of the special themes of this epistle.
There were a dozen men in Ephesus who had heard only about John the Baptist and they were trying to furnish their lives with those bits and pieces of his teaching, repentance from their sins, and baptism, and waiting for the end of the world. They had no idea of the perfection of Christ and the church which he purchased with his own blood, and the beauty of a life lived in him and with him and for him. Paul needed to tell them about this, that Christ is going to dwell in the hearts of his people, and we are increasingly going to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ which passes knowledge. The church is going to be filled to the measure of all the fulness of God. This is the mind and purpose of God. The place in which his honour dwells is going to be a worthy one.
This letter was written around the year 60, 1943 years ago, yet we never think of the Word of God like that, as some ancient document. It is new today. It is a fallen leaf that has kept its greenness. No, it has never fallen, though many would drag down and tread on the Holy Bible. Its true Author is not dead, and the Spirit that breathed through Paul when he wrote it lives in us who are the fellowship of the Spirit. So this letter, like all of God’s Word, lives and remains for ever. It is part of that great body of truth of which the Saviour prayed, “Sanctify them by your truth. Your word is truth.”
Some of the oldest manuscript copies of this letter do not have the place name ‘Ephesus’ in the text. There is a blank as though the letter were designed for a number of the churches in Asia – the principal of which was Ephesus. That would explain the absence of any greetings to any of the leaders in Ephesus whom Paul loved, which greetings are usually found at the end of his letters. That blank space should be filled in by us with the name of our Principality, our town, our congregation, our home, all of which places makes life for us to be what it is.
This letter, that was written by Paul in prison with one hand chained to a Roman soldier, actually came from Jesus Christ seated in the midst of the throne of God in heaven and it is his love-letter to us, to cause us to love him more, his grace, his holiness, his glory, so that loving him more we will serve him better and cause that name to be exalted in our congregation, our Principality, our town, and our homes.
24th August 2003 GEOFF THOMAS