Ephesians 1: 1 & 2 “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
This is the normal way a letter began two thousand years ago. We end our letters by signing our names, while they began them in that way. Next, the people addressed were specified. Finally, there came the greeting. Paul takes up this cultural form, but he elevates it. He begins with his name and office:
1] PAUL AN APOSTLE OF CHRIST JESUS.
Paul was the greatest Christian this world has ever seen or ever will see. He wrote 13 or 14 letters, that’s all, and yet the entire public library of Aberystwyth across the road from our church couldn’t contain all the books that have been influenced by him. He never wrote a hymn (though he might have quoted some of the early Christian hymns) and yet he has furnished the themes for more hymns than all the hymn writers combined. He never founded a rabbinical school, but all the universities and colleges put together cannot boast of the number of students that he’s had. Paul never practised psychiatry, yet he has healed more broken hearts than all the doctors of the world. The names of the teachers of Greece and Rome were household names in Ephesus when Paul arrived there, and he was a nobody, but they are long forgotten, just preserved by some academics and spoken about in classrooms. The writings of Paul are read today by Luo farmers in Kenya, the businessman on his day of rest from the American stock market on Wall Street, New York reads them, as do Chinese students, Swiss bankers, children in a million Sunday Schools, and people on their death beds who long to hear Paul’s words in Romans chapter 8 that nothing can separate a Christian from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Paul spent years in prison, and many who themselves have been in prison have found his words totally relevant containing the most helpful message they’ve ever heard. The writings of this man have been subject to the minutest examination, yet he is still held in awe by the sharpest minds in the world as one of our civilisation’s seminal thinkers. His relationship with Jesus Christ is the key to everything about Paul, and that relationship is one of love. He is not to be understood by some group of ideas which he promoted but by the depth of his affection for his Lord. That love is rooted, not in what Christ had said, but in what Christ had done for Paul: “He loved me and gave himself for me.” That is the key to understanding the greatness of Paul and the door to understanding this epistle with its timeless message.
2] PAUL’S GREETING.
Our common way of greeting our correspondents is to call them ‘dear so-and-so.’ The common Greek way was to say “Greetings to you”, but Paul takes a similar sounding Greek word: “Grace to you!” he says, “and peace” he adds. The word ‘peace’ was the common Hebrew greeting – “Shalom!” He adapts two forms of greeting from the greatest cultures of his day, and uses those words to convey a message greater than either culture could produce. What is this greeting? It is a kind of prayer; a longing that God’s blessing would rest on them, and that this blessing would be focused in two ways, firstly in God’s unmerited love and favour continuing to rest on them, protecting and strengthening them, and secondly that they might have peace with God, and increasing peace in their own lives.
A] THE GRACE OF GOD.
The Jewish historian Josephus uses this word ‘grace’ about ten times in his writings, and he feels he has to explain the term to his readers. “Who are the recipients of this grace?” he asks: “is it the unworthy riffraff of the world, or is it the good and great?” Josephus primly tells them that of course it is respectable and honourable people who are recipients of grace. How different is Christianity, and thank God it is or there would be little hope for most of us. Paul and all the New Testament writers have the very opposite view to Josephus’s. Grace is one of the words that describe the essence of the nature of God; it is his undeserved favour, his pity or his transforming mercy. Grace is that disposition seen when a superior shows loving kindness to a guilty inferior. In the Bible you meet it in when the holy Creator of the universe makes rebel sinners his own children. That is how the Scriptures judge us; you and I, and all people without exception, are the rebellious children of Adam We are doomed to die from the moment of our births. Day by day we are approaching our deaths aren’t we? How swiftly our little lives slip away. A rope of sand, a spider’s thread, a passing shadow, an ebbing wave – that is the span of life of a mortal man. The home that sheltered us in childhood we leave. We bid farewell to the town which saw our birth. The loved ones who sat around the table pass away. The friends of our school years go off and we never meet them again. Life is like a painted dream, but in the midst of it all is this one fixed point, “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and today and for ever.” All beings change except the God of grace. All things wax and wane but heaven. “I, the Lord of grace, do not change.” Our affairs alter; our circumstances change; old age and its sicknesses comes upon us; our loved ones depart, but gracious God is the same and his years know no end. So our lives speed by. “Work while it is day for the night comes when no man can work,” said the immutable One. We are all living one brief lifetime.
And after death there is the judgment. United to Adam, and behaving just like him, what hope can there be for us? We are all under a sentence of condemnation as part of a guilty and fallen race of sinners. We have lost our innocence and we have experienced the corruption of sin first hand. We have traded a life with God for a life of self under the tyranny of sin. We have exchanged Eden for thorns, thistles, sin, the world, the flesh and the devil. I’ve lost everything worthwhile because my father Adam, and your father too, acted as if he knew better than the Lord God. On top of that we’ve acquired our own set of rebellions against the Lord. As the years have gone by we’ve each accumulated a fat file. Isn’t that true of you? Isn’t our sin on record in heaven? Haven’t you seen this bias to sin in those you know best? Did your wife ever set your children down one evening, switch off the TV and tell them she had to give them lessons right then and there in whining, and sulking, and pouting, and defying? No, you say, because there was no need at all for such lessons. The children showed that they were instant experts in that behaviour, and as time goes by without God’s grace, children grow up and become ethically bankrupt, and filled with fear, anger, misery and hate.
In the sight of the Holy One we sinners are morally like ugly little organisms that crawl under stones fleeing from the light, but the message of the New Testament is that God in his grace actually loves such sinners deeply. To them he shows good will, and pity, and patience, and faithfulness, and forgiveness, and tenderness, and comfort, and protection. His whole disposition towards favoured sinners is loving. His grace comes to them in all it comprehensiveness, and diversity, and constancy, and profundity. God is love and loves the utterly unlovable.
In 1977 in rural Peru a Campa Indian couple brought their baby boy to a Mission because they didn’t know how to cope with him. They abandoned him there and walked away. He was 18 months old and grotesquely disfigured. He had a rare flesh-eating disease called ‘noma’ and it had devoured his nose, cheeks and his upper lip. Bites from sand flies had aggravated this destruction of the centre of his face. The people at the Mission took him to a hospital in Lima and there he was left alone in a corner with no toys, no teddy, nothing. It was at that hospital the boy without a face was spotted by Martine Schopfer from Switzerland, and she determined to help him. That is mercy. She had no obligation or debt to him at all. She had plenty to do in helping others but she had compassion on him. That is what grace is. A Scottish plastic surgeon called Ian Jackson was persuaded to take up the task of building this little boy’s face. It was uncharted territory, and the relationship of patient and physician climaxed in the surgeon adopting this faceless child into his family, and giving him his own name, David Jackson. That is amazing grace. David is a transformed young man today, 28 years of age, and working in graphic design in Los Angeles.
The grace of God has achieved remarkable transformation in sinners. We are by nature people to whom God comes, and he stands before us and he protests at our whole attitude to him. The Lord might understand us challenging him if we were as straight as the archangel Gabriel, but we couldn’t be lower or further from that high holiness. We don’t have a leg to stand on and yet we posture as if we possessed the moral high ground. God surveys us and says: “Why should you be beaten anymore? Why do you persist in rebellion? Your whole head is injured, your whole heart is afflicted. From the sole of your foot to the top of your head there is no soundness – only wounds and welts and open sores, not cleansed or bandaged or soothed with oil” (Isa. 1:5&6). Daniel Smart of Grove Chapel once preached on that text and elaborated on it with the phrase: “Old scabs and running sores of thirty years standing.” That is what he wrote, and he gave the text to the printer for the sermon to be published but the printer blanched when he read those word. “Let me run my pen through that,” he said to Smart. “You let it alone.” Smart said, “a believer once said, ‘my sore ran in the night, and ceased not.'” I am saying today that that is how God saw them, so persistently unlovable, and yet the wonder of sovereign grace is this that he determined to have them for himself, millions of them. He would wash them and heal them. He would find the finest clothes to cover them. He would adopt them into his family. He would change them completely and make them as loving and pure as Jesus Christ. This is what his grace has done through Jesus Christ. Never despair while grace has you in its grip. Grace to you! May you understand it and be filled with it, and may it be your hope night and day.
“‘Tis of grace, let no man boast,
For Jesus came to save the lost.”
Then his second greeting is this:
B] THE PEACE OF GOD.
Because of our sin there is alienation between ourselves and God. The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. Between heaven and earth there is no peace. God doesn’t say, “Well, you on earth run things your way, but I in heaven run things my way.” That is impossible because earth is not independent of heaven. Earth can only operate as it is sustained in its every movement, moment by moment by heaven. In God we live and move and have our being. He upholds everything by the word of his power. Earth is not on an equal footing with heaven. It is as subordinate to heaven as a slug which devours young lettuce is to a gardener. God’s wrath is upon all men and women. All have sinned and come short of the glory of God. There is none righteous in God’s eyes. Not a single person. Everybody is under the just condemnation of God. Is that a fair judgment?
We hastily acknowledge that there are people who live moral lives, keep their marriage vows and spend their days serving their fellow men – grand people – but, alas, at the same time these people will not have Jesus Christ reign over them There are others who lace every sentence with expletives. Drunkards, they live for themselves and destroy all the people they touch. They have no time for religion and they say that they hate God. Two very different types of people, but all men alike are under the wrath of God for their rebellion. Let me use this illustration: “Suppose we are both soldiers in trench warfare. You have a single firing rifle. I have a sub-machine-gun of the latest variety. The enemy charges us and we both blast off with maximum potential. There is no doubt that I will fire more shots than you will. Suppose we are both captured. No one will ask, ‘Who fired the most shots?’ We will both be treated like enemies because that is what we are. The question is really whose side are we on. Some of us have demonstrated our rebellion by the sub-machine-gun method. Others do it by the single firing method, and there are yet others who are at the base boiling the kettle for the rest of the troops. However, all are enemies, and when we are captured we will all end up in the prisoner of war camp. We have all rebelled” (John Chapman, “A Fresh Start,” Matthias Media, Sydney-London, 1997, p.35). All men are at enmity with God and the wrath of God is revealed toward us all. There is no peace with heaven and earth while man defies God.
How, then, can peace with God be attained? Through what God has achieved. He’s made the terms for peace. He has taken away the enmity he had towards us by imputing our wickednesses to his own sinless and beloved Son. The Lamb of God bore our sin in his own body on the tree.
“Sin’s within thee, all about thee,
But the remedy’s outside thee
See it in a Saviour’s blood.”
God accomplished the reconciliation by removing the cause of the enmity. There is peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ – through him alone. The alienation between us is over. The dying of Jesus has propitiated the wrath of God. God will look at the Lamb of God and he will pardon us. God commends his love towards us in this remarkable way. He condemns us for our rebellion, but he has provided his own Son to take that condemnation in our place, so that every cause of his anger towards us has been removed. Sinners can be at peace with God, and have been raised and are seated with the angels in heaven, united with them on the side of the victory of grace. There is peace with heaven. Peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Do you know this grace and peace? Who are the recipients?
3] THE RECIPIENTS OF PAUL’S EPISTLE.
Paul’s letter has a specific address. It is not being sent promiscuously to the entire population of Ephesus. It is not the whole city’s letter. They may not read it and steal its comforts, for it is addressed to a certain constituency within the city boundaries. For example, he is not writing to the people who worshipped the idol Artemis in her vast temple. The letter is sent to a very small group of people, a number of whom had actually left the temple to follow Jesus Christ. Who are these people? How does Paul define them? He has two titles:
A] THEY WERE SAINTS.
i] The word ‘saints’ means the separated ones. Some time in their past there had been a great and decisive moment of transition. From that time a noticeable change had taken place in their lives. They were cut off from behaving as the mass of people in Ephesus behaved. They were separated from the common, and separated from the profane. They had entered upon a wholly new life style. They had become ‘saints.’ Henceforth they were the property of Jesus Christ. They still lived in Ephesus but they didn’t live according to the lifestyle and values of the Ephesians because they knew themselves to be the possession of God. They were no longer serving the world, neither were they serving themselves. They’d been set apart to God, dedicated and consecrated to him. Remember that in the Old Testament there were sanctified vessels, and buildings, and utensils, that is, ordinary objects and places that had been set apart to be used for God. That is what a saint is; he is someone who has a special relationship with God.
ii] But more than that separate lifestyle is implied in this word ‘saint.’ Here were people with a new character. They no longer spent their lives serving sin. They were not men and women who habitually obeyed their lusts and desires. They were not sinless; they fell frequently. Ebenezer Erskine puts it so simply,
“Sin in me shall work and win,
Though ’tis not good for me to sin.”
In every way these Ephesian saints sinned, but they didn’t respond to their falls by self-pity and bitterness and an unforgiving spirit. They used to do that, just as they’d once been bullies, and drunkards, and womanisers. Not any longer. They became people whose lives were cleaned up by grace. Now they fight against those sins that often won skirmishes in their lives. They know a daily struggle with remaining sin. There is no total victory yet, though that lies before them and encourages them, rather now there is a steady aversion to their weaknesses and falls. They are often exasperated with themselves. They find they have new resources to do battle with sin, and they have a confidence to keep on following Jesus Christ. They are certainly not crestfallen at the vast gulf between themselves and Christ. Jesus himself helps them to keep on trusting and loving and forgiving and bearing the burdens of others. The Lord pities us: let me us this analogy, a Wimbledon tennis champion teaching his own ten year-old son pities his immaturity, restrains himself and encourages his boy each step of the journey to triumph. They were saints in Ephesus.
Let me remind you of an incident in the life of the missionary William Carey that illustrates the new resilience of a saint. He, his wife and children and one or two companions set sail for India, but they had only got as far as the Isle of Wight. They had to wait there for a convoy to accompany them and some other ships across the Channel and on south past Spain. The convoy was necessary because England was then at war with France. One evening, while their ship was at anchor, a small boat came alongside with the bailiff on board. One of their companions, called John Thomas, had failed to pay some debts. So the captain had him, and William Carey and his son Felix put off the boat. Mrs Carey and the other children were destined to sail on to India without William. So Carey reluctantly went back to Portsmouth and there he stored his luggage, and from there he took the coach to London. He discussed his dilemma with some friends; there didn’t seem much likelihood of getting another boat to India. Then William Carey said to them quite simply, “I know what I’ll do, I’ll walk to India.” He planned to get a boat to France, and then walk to Greece and Turkey and so on all the way to India. He was dead serious. That is the energy and initiative of a saint.
In the end the walk was unnecessary. Carey found a Danish boat and by that vessel he caught up with the rest of his family and they all went to India. You know his subsequent history, how all his children followed him in becoming missionaries, and he cared for his wife when she lost her reason until her death. Carey worked heroically translating the Bible into a score of Indian languages and dialects. This former cobbler never returned to England from India. His body lies buried there today. The grace of Jesus Christ had made him a saint. By the last year of his life he had become a legend, and he heard that back in England they were collecting relics from his early days – boots he had made when he was a shoemaker, the sign he used to put up outside his cobbler shop, some samples of his hand writing. Carey was horrified when he heard of it. The Scottish missionary, Alexander Duff, spent many of Carey’s last months in his company and always referred to him as ‘Doctor Carey.’ One day as he lay dying Carey whispered to him, “Don’t speak of ‘Doctor Carey’, ‘Doctor Carey’. Speak instead of Doctor Carey’s Saviour.”
That same grace lived in the lives of these saints in Ephesus. How indestructible grace is! Sometimes we look at the power of Islam, and the nations it has in its grip. We hear the cry that’s always going out from the minarets summoning Moslems to pray. We know of the network it controls with its strong chains on every member of a family. What a grip it has on a significant part of the world. Our hearts could sink at the thought of its hatred of the claims of our Saviour. It will offer him some fake respect on its own terms, but they are weasel words, utterly unacceptable for us. They will allow our Lord no redeeming death and no resurrection. They are saying to us, “Take the heart of your faith away, the cross and the empty tomb – and we will respect Jesus!” Not our Jesus. That is another Jesus whom we don’t know and we don’t want! But the consolation we have is this: that Islamic religion too, that vast construction of beliefs and worship and pilgrimages, must disappear like all those systems of the past.
Where are now the ancient gods of Egypt and Canaan and Babylon? Where today is Artemis, the goddess of the Ephesians, to whom all Asia and the whole Mediterranean, both Greek and barbarian, came to sacrifice? She – like all of them – is no more. Nothing is known of Artemis today. False religions will die. They will die because the true God will kill them. He will triumph over them. There were hundreds of thousands of pilgrims going every year to the temple in Ephesus, and passing them, on their way to church, was this rag-tag-and-bobtail group of saints meeting in its shadow. I ask you, who lives today? The saints go marching on because of the power of God in their lives, renewing them. Their outward man is indeed perishing, but their inward man is renewed day by day. Saints are separated people with a new character. More:
iii] Saints are also people of hope. As we look to the future we know certain things without a shadow of a doubt. Every prophetic word of Scripture promise is going to be verified. God the Father of our Lord Jesus will be magnified. God the Son will be satisfied. God the Holy Spirit will be gratified. The saints will be raised and glorified, and the world will be horrified. If God’s word is true – and that is my only premise for making those claims – that is what lies before us. We are looking forward to meeting the person of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Think of a woman standing at Aberystwyth station waiting for the train to come around the bend at Southgate and roll down the lines to the platform. See her looking at her watch and looking up the track. She goes to the booking office and she asks the clerk, “Did you say that the train is due in at 5.25?” She has asked him that question before and he snaps back at her, “I have told you ten times, 5.25, 5.25, 5.25,” and then he looks down at his newspaper. The girl keeps looking at her watch and the minutes goes by and again she begins walking over to the booking office. He sees her coming: “Check the monitor,” he shouts to her through his glass screen, “5.25. Have you go it?” He goes back to his paper. He knows exactly when that train is due. He knows the times of all the trains arriving and leaving Aberystwyth station each day. There are not too many of them. The girl has got a copy of a British Rail booklet with all those times printed in it, and she can check with the printed timetable behind the glass screen at the entrance, and she can also read the notice high on the monitor screen. Yet she’s still anxiously looking down the track and waiting. The difference between her and the clerk in the office is this: he was waiting for a train to arrive, while she is looking for a person. He had all the facts but was bored. The girl was unsure of the details but kept looking in expectation for the arrival of someone she loved. The saints are people of hope. The next event on God’s calendar of redemption is the coming of Christ with power and glory. The saints are not looking for the event; they are not concerned to prove that their view of prophecy is the correct one. They are looking for a person to return whom they love.
B] THEY WERE THE FAITHFUL IN CHRIST JESUS.
This phrase ‘faithful’ means ‘the believing people’, and it also means ‘the people of faithfulness’. The one has to lead to the other. No one becomes a person of faithfulness in God’s eyes unless he is a believer in the God’s faithful Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul began his missionary work in Ephesus by speaking to the disciples of John, and then to the Jews and God-fearers, and finally he expanded it to all who came daily to the lecture rooms he had hired. He wanted people to change from their own religion, the one that they and their parents before them might have had. Paul’s desire was that they abandoned their old beliefs and began believing in the Jesus Christ whom he preached to them. Was that arrogance? Should Paul have left these Ephesians as they were, and respected the fertility cult and the priestesses and the great idol at the centre of the temple of Artemis? People say, “Yes, that is what Paul should have done, not gone meddling in other people’s sincere religions.” Some older folk will remember a rock musician of a generation ago named Frank Zappa. He says this in a book he wrote called “The Real Frank Zappa”: “Missionary evangelism is the height of cultural arrogance. To go to somebody’s country and attempt through trickery, food, or medical treatment to capture souls for Jesus presumes that the guy with the t ravel budget or the hypodermic needle has a spiritual edge over the native he’s going to save.”
If we are buying people’s change of loyalty by trickery, or medical treatment, or money then we should be ashamed. But if we are presenting to them truths of what has actually taken place maybe we have a right to say, “Let me share with you some good news.” Zappa has such an incredibly static view of the world, because the truth is that everybody these days is surrounded by voices saying such things as, “Live for pleasure. Seize the moment. Trust your feelings. Believe in Islam. Embrace this guru. Believe in meditation. Go for this cult. Humanism is the thinking person’s religion. There is no god.” Think of the whole way of life Frank Zappa pushed so shamelessly and its attitude to drugs and sex and rock’n’roll. Was Zappa right, or the one who said, “Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest”? All of us are having to make choices, and we are saying that it is worth your considering the claims of the man who preached the Sermon on the Mount. Christ had changed the life of this Saul of Tarsus. He had saved him from bigotry and cruelty, and he might do the same for you if you take him seriously. Jesus is worth taking seriously. That was Paul’s message.
Some of the people in Ephesus responded positively and immediately, while others weren’t sure. Paul told them of God’s plan of salvation, that he had sent his Son into the world to fulfil all righteousness for us, and to clear away our shame and blame by becoming the atoning Lamb of God. To him God had imputed the guilt and deserts of our sin. Paul told them that Christ could cleanse them from their defilement and give to them eternal life. He told them that Jesus was risen and alive. Now he interceded with God the Father for all who believed in him. His death had removed their guilt so that those who trust in him are righteous in him.
Some shook their heads; they weren’t persuaded. How could they trust in Jesus when they didn’t believe in him, and Paul might have said to them something like this, “Suppose there was such a Jesus – suppose for a moment that he existed – and he has died for your sins, and now he lives as a risen Christ that you might be saved, wouldn’t you want to know such a Saviour?” “Of course,” some answered, “if such a person existed and lives now, but we don’t believe there was and is such a person.” “Well,” Paul might have said very often, “take what you believe, and ask God about it, and tell him your doubts, and pray to him to show you the real truth. Don’t do it in a way of trying to test God, but as sincere men and women who want to know. Pray and ask God for help.” Then Paul continued, “If you’ll do that, then I believe you’ll be saved, because the Bible promises whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” And Paul would go on, “After that you’ll discover how everything will change for you. Your attitudes, and your viewpoint on the silly sinful things of this world will begin to change. You’ll have new desires for things that are life-enriching and lasting. You’ll know that you are saved because, if any man is in Christ, he is a new creation. Old things are passed away. Everything becomes new.”
So that night some of these doubters began to pray, “God (if there is a God) show me this Jesus Christ whom Paul keeps talking about (if there really is Jesus Christ). In his name, Amen (if that is his name).” This is how they prayed, and they were in earnest about it. In other words, they thought about what they were saying, and they checked out what Jesus Christ had said and done. In a short time God heard them, and he did just what he promises he’ll do. He gave them new attitudes, and a new heart. He made them new people with new desires and a new way of looking at life and death. In fact he gave them a new birth, a brand new beginning. They could date their lives around their conversation with Paul and their beginning to pray. The dates were B.C. – before Christ became their Saviour: A.D. – the years of the Lord living in them and with them. They became the faithful in Christ Jesus.
When the Australian minister John Chapman was in theological college an evangelist visited the college and he told them how he’d become a Christian. It was through the change that he had witnessed as a boy in the life of his own father. He’d been scared of his father because he drank a lot, and then he would hit his wife – and beat them also. The father had taken everything that was valuable in the house and sold it to buy drink; the furniture left was a few broken pieces, and the whole household occasionally went without food. Then one night this pathetic father stopped and listened to a Salvation Army man preaching in the open air. He heard about the Lord Jesus Christ and what he’d done. The man turned to Christ and cried to him asking him to forgive him and make him a new person. God heard his prayer. The house was still cold and echoing, and the children were still afraid, but in times of temptation the father had new resources. Each night that first week he came home sober, and then the second week too. Soon on a Friday night he brought home his pay-packet unopened and he gave it to his wife – something he had never done before. That week they had all eaten every day. The following week he came home carrying a chair, and all the children played games by sitting on it in turn. The months went by and increasingly they became a normal family.
The change in his father’s status before God had taken place in a moment: from a sinner to a saint: from an unbeliever to a believer; from outside God to in Christ; from a faithless husband and father to the faithful in Christ Jesus – all in a moment that radical change of status. But it took years to work it all out in practice, but his father kept trusting in the Saviour, kept repenting of his sins. He became increasingly faithful in Christ Jesus, and the impact was enormous on the life of his children. This son could remember what his Dad had been without Christ and the difference Jesus had made, and as the boy grew up in this new household he wanted to spend his life telling others of the reality of this change, how faithless people can become the faithful in Christ Jesus. What distinguishes these faithful men and women in Ephesus? Three things I can select:
i] They faithfully prayed to the Lord Jesus. Every day they thanked him for all that he was and all he had done for them. They asked for wisdom and strength for the tasks of the day. They continually prayed and he faithfully answered them. A Christian went to a new barber, and the barber asked him while he cut his hair whether he lived in that part of town. He said he did and that he had for many years. “I haven’t seen you around,” said the barber. “Which pub or club do you go to?” “I don’t usually go to them,” he said. “Then where do you drink?” he asked him. “As a matter of fact I don’t drink beer at all,” he said. “Well, how do you cope with your problems?” the barber asked him. “Lots of ways,” he replied, “I talk them over with my wife . . . sometimes with my friends . . . mostly I pray about my problems.” There was some silence in the barber’s shop when he’d said this, people thinking about praying, but to whom? Who do you pray to if you don’t know Jesus Christ? The faithful in Christ Jesus pray.
ii] They faithfully met together on the Lord Jesus’ day. The Christian faith is personal, but it isn’t private. God’s plan is to call together people not just to convert individuals. The Christians in Ephesus loved to see one another. There was no encouragement for living the Christian life in the place where they worked, or from their old friends, but whenever they gathered together as saints their spirits were lifted. They met together on the first day of the week. It was the day Jesus Christ rose from the dead. They referred to it as his day – ‘the Lord’s Day’ – and all these new converts tried to be present. The slaves would try to get a few hours’ break and they would meet together for preaching, and the Lord’s Supper, and a love meal and fellowship. They would sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. One of the first reports of these meetings was made by a Roman gentleman named Pliny who had become a provincial governor. About sixty years after Paul had visited Ephesus this man Pliny was governing an area a couple of hundred miles to the north of Ephesus and there came a certain time when he had to investigate what these Christians did when they got together because there were a lot of rumours circulating. This was the heart of his report: “They meet regularly before dawn on a fixed day to chant verses alternately among themselves in honour of Christ as if to a god.” Then later they sat down and had an ordinary meal together. That is the report Pliny sent on to the Emperor in Rome. That is what we have done today and millions of Christians like us. The faithful in Christ Jesus meet on the Lord’s Day.
iii] They faithfully shared their faith with others. You might have heard that recently our brother Pastor Mort who is a member of our congregation was coming back to Aberystwyth on the train and got into a long conversation with some people. To his surprise a letter was delivered to his door in Llanfarian by the efficient Aberystwyth postal service at the end of August. It was addressed like this, “Mr P. Mort, Works with the Deaf, A House by a Bridge, Aberystwyth.” The lady on the train who had written was very taken by the testimony and spirit of our brother and she wrote to tell him so, hoping her letter would reach him. He showed us the letter last week. Pastor Bud Mort now has an opportunity to tell her more, and send her some literature. There is something of the spirit of the New Testament about that encounter. The apostle Peter urges us to be ready to give a reason for our hope to anyone who inquires. The New Testament tells us that there was once a man whose life was changed by Jesus Christ and soon he was being interrogated and asked some questions that he had no way of answering. “I don’t know . . . I don’t know,” he was saying. Someone might have said, “He doesn’t know much.” He turned to them and replied, “One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see.” The faithful in Christ Jesus bear witness to their Saviour.
What about you? A saint in Aberystwyth? Is that you? If not, why not? The faithful in Christ Jesus? Is that you? I pray you will gladly own him. I trust that you can say, “Yes, that is exactly the way it happened to me. I prayed until I knew God had heard me. He made everything new, and now I seek to be faithful to him.” Why shouldn’t it be like that with you? What is preventing you from responding in that way?
7th September 2003 GEOFF THOMAS