Sunday, February 17, 2019

Bringing the Gospel Home – Ephesians 6:21-24



The book of Ephesians is one of the most important letters in the entire New Testament.  It contains in relatively brief form the Apostle Paul’s major theological ideas as well as his understanding of their application in the life of the first century church.  Of course, we believe that since this book is written by an apostle of Jesus Christ, it is therefore not just the apostle’s own personal understanding of these things, but an authoritative message from our Lord himself.  These are good words.  They are true words.  Some people have tried to separate Christianity from Paul’s understanding of Christianity.  But the fact of the matter is that you simply cannot do that.  You are not a Christian in any authentic sense of the word if you are not Pauline in your orthodoxy.  And that makes books like Ephesians simply foundational for the identity of the church today and the way it lives out the gospel.

So as we come to a close in our series of expositions on this great book, let’s remind ourselves of some of the major themes that the apostle has set before us in his letter.  In fact, we have them right before us in the closing words of the apostle: “Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity.  Amen.”

There are several words here that really summarize the message of this epistle.  They are peace, grace, love, and faith.  These words tell us what God has done for us in Christ, how this came to us in Christ, and why this came to us in Christ.

Peace.  This is what God has done for us in Christ.  It is a central element to the gospel.  Essentially, the gospel is about reconciliation, above all between God and man.  In 2 Cor. 5:18, Paul calls his ministry “the ministry of reconciliation.”  According to God’s word, sin has created a chasm between God and man and the gospel tells us that this chasm is bridged by Christ.  In the gospel, we have the announcement of peace from heaven: “For he [Christ] is our peace, who hath made both [Jew and Gentile] one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; and that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: and came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh” (Eph. 2:14-17).  This idea is also present at the very beginning of the letter, when Paul tells us that the purpose of God’s predestination of his people is that we should be adopted into his family (Eph. 1:5).  Those who were once enemies are now part of his family!

Now this is a two-fold peace.  There is a horizontal and vertical dimension to it.  Horizontally, we are reconciled to our brothers and sisters in the body of Christ.  Though this is a very diverse group of people, with very different backgrounds – as illustrated in the bringing together Jew and Gentile into one church – yet we have far more in common than we are different from one another.  For we are members in a family, we are brothers and sisters in Christ.  We share a family likeness as the result of the new birth and a family name as a result of adoption into the family of God.  We share a family inheritance as well, one that is not dependent upon the rising and falling fortunes of the stock market, but one which is kept for us, reserved in heaven.

But this peace is primarily vertical, and it is this peace that makes the peace with our fellow Christian possible.  Through Christ’s atonement, we have been reconciled to God.  Our sins have been purged and done away with.  With have obtained forgiveness and justification.  Moreover, our hearts have been changed.  So we are no longer hostile toward God and God is no longer hostile toward us.  If you are in Christ, God is on your side.  He is with you, and no longer against you. 

Again, this should lead to us being at peace with each other.  Paul put it this way to the Romans: “Wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ also received us to the glory of God” (Rom. 15:7).  Peace with God leads to peace with the brethren.  It should lead to peace in the church.  The Spirit of God, who unites us to Christ, is a Spirit of unity and therefore of peace: “Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3).  Peace is not some theological abstract that we are supposed to hold independently of our day-to-day lives.  It ought to manifest itself in longsuffering toward one another, forgiving one another, submitting to one another. 

Now depending on how important this is to you will determine how you will read this book and respond to it.  If you are more concerned with your financial portfolio than you are about your relationship with God, then this epistle isn’t going to mean much to you.  If politics is more important to you than whether or not you have a relationship with God and his people, then this epistle isn’t going to mean much to you.  If your personal comfort and security in this life is more important to you than the forgiveness of sins, then you might just yawn through this book.  But how in the world does it make sense to put politics, personal comfort, or money before a relationship with the God of the universe?  How does it make sense to prioritize those things above the gospel?  When we see things the way we ought to see them, this announcement of peace in the gospel is the most amazing thing in the world.  Indeed, “how beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!” (Rom. 10:15).

Grace.  In the final benediction, Paul prays for grace.  It is a fitting thing, too, because this epistle has begun with grace and grace has weaved its magic throughout its pages.  Grace tells us how God brings peace to us.  For the fact confronting every human being is that we are not what we are supposed to be.  We are massive failures.  We have failed at the most important thing: loving God with all our minds and hearts.  Instead, we have alienated ourselves from God.  We have ignored God.  We have sinned against him over and over again.  We deserve judgment.  We deserve hell.  We need to be saved.

But how can we be saved?  That is the question.  And the answer is grace.  “By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).  Grace is God’s unmerited favor.  He does not save us because we were good enough; he saves us because it is his gracious will to do so.  Our salvation does not originate in our goodness, for we have none, but in God’s generosity.

But how can grace and justice coincide?  For God is holy.  God can have no fellowship with sin.  He is “of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity” (Hab. 1:13).  How can a just and holy God embrace sinful men?  How can grace come to us?  The answer is that grace comes to us through Jesus Christ.  That is why you read this phrase “in Christ” or something like it over and over again throughout this epistle.  It begins that way: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ” (Eph. 1:3).  God can be just because Jesus Christ came as the perfect sacrifice to purge our guilt by taking the punishment of our sin upon himself.  He became a propitiation for sin, to take it away, so that God “might be just and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus” (Rom. 3:25-26).  Through Christ, grace comes to the guilty and justifies those who are ungodly (Rom. 4:5).

But grace runs deeper than most people think.  Grace did not begin when I made a decision to follow Christ.  Grace went before and gave me life when I was in a state of spiritual death (Eph. 2:1-10).  I would never have made one step toward Christ, had not God opened my eyes to my need for the gospel, and that was a work of pure grace. 

But grace goes back even further: it began in eternity past when God, apart from any consideration of works on our part, chose us in Christ (Eph. 1:4-5).  My salvation did not originate in my will but in God’s gracious and loving will.  God did not choose me because he foresaw that I would choose his Son, but I chose his Son because God the Father chose me.  Just like it has always been: “and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48).  In other words, I owe all my salvation, from beginning to end, to the grace of God in Christ Jesus.  There is no ground of boasting.  All crowns belong at the feet of Jesus in the age to come.

Love.  But the question then is, why did God do any of this?  If there is no reason to be found in me, what motivated God to save me?  The answer of the apostle, and of the entire Bible, is that God loved us before the foundation of the world.  It was his “great love, wherewith he loved us” that caused him to give us life from the dead (Eph. 2:4).  It was not a love that responded to loveliness in us.  If you want a picture of what we were like before God saved us, look at Ezek. 16.  No, we were not lovely, we were loathsome.  God’s love was not responding to anything in us; God’s love originated in himself, from the fellowship of the Holy Trinity.  We love him because he first loved us (1 Jn. 4:19). 

Now we are confronted with a mystery here.  No wonder the apostle talks about “the love of Christ which passeth knowledge” (Eph. 3:19).  But it is a glorious and wonderful mystery, because it means that God’s love for me does not depend upon my fickle love for him.  It means that God’s faithfulness to his people is rock-solid and eternal.  Our confidence and reliance upon God’s commitment to us can never be misplaced.  Thank God for the reality of Jer. 31:3, “I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee.”

Of course, if we have really been embraced in God’s love, we ought also to love one another.  And this is the practical dimension to this epistle.  Knowing the love of Christ, we are to bear with one another in love (Eph. 4:2), we are to speak the truth in love (4:15) and grow up into Christ in love (4:16).  We are to walk in love as Christ loved us (5:2).  Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church (5:25).  What Paul said to the Colossians applies here: “And above all these things, put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness” (Col. 3:14).  You cannot know the love of God expressed in the doctrines of the first three chapters of Ephesians and not go on to live them out in a life of love to others in ways expressed in the exhortations of the last three chapters of Ephesians.

In particular, we will love Christ (Eph. 6:24).  In the KJV, the prayer is for those who love our Lord “in sincerity.”  Probably a better translation is that of the ESV, “with love incorruptible.”  (See 1 Cor. 15:42; Rom. 2:7 for example uses of the word).  Those who truly know Christ will love him with an undying love.  Those who abandon him for the things of the world, like Demas, never really knew him or his love.  The love of Christ is not something you can ever recover from, thank God. 

There is one more word here at the end.  It is “faith” which Paul puts together with “love.”  Why is that?  “Love with faith.”  Well, clearly the love here is a love centered on the gospel.  And that is impossible apart from faith.  You cannot exercise the love commanded and commended in the pages of the NT unless you believe the gospel.  It also points us to the nature of saving faith.  True faith is a faith which works by love (Gal. 5:6).  If you have this faith, then you will love Christ with an undying love.  This faith is a faith which sees the beauty of holiness and the ways in which Christ is uniquely and perfected fitted to be our perfect Lord and Savior.  It will have no other rule over it.  Its allegiance is to Christ above all.

Faith is also important because faith is the way by which, in God’s perfect plan, we become personally connected to all the saving benefits of Christ’s redemption.  We are saved by grace through faith.  Do you feel your need for peace with God?  Do you want to experience his saving grace?  Do you want to know God’s love for you?  Then believe on Christ, and you shall be saved. 

These are the great themes of Ephesians.  However, before we end our time in this epistle, back up a couple of verses to verses 21-22.  Here Paul mentions a man by the name of Tychicus.  I think it’s important for us to consider what Paul says here because it illustrates a very important point, one which we dare not forget when reading these epistles.  The principle is this: we can never separate the truths of God from the people of God. 

This is true for a number of reasons, not least of which is that it is usually people who bring us the word in the first place.  We get the word of God from the people of God.  As children, perhaps we got it from our parents or a close friend.  As we grew up, we have been influenced by the godly people God put into our lives, whether it be at church or in the workplace or in our circle of friends.  We ought to thank God for this.  For the Ephesians, it was Paul who brought them the gospel in the first place.  But we don’t just need to be converted, we need to grow in our faith.  And so he writes them this epistle.  But Paul cannot go, he is in prison, and so he sends this man Tychicus in his place.

Who was Tychicus?  Well, he is mentioned in four passages in the Bible, excluding this one: Acts 20:4; Col. 4:7-9; Tit. 3:12; 2 Tim. 4:12.  When you put these verses together, what emerges is a picture of a man who was obviously a trustworthy servant of God.  Paul probably sent him to relieve both Timothy at Ephesus and Titus in Crete.  So he was someone Paul could trust to carry on the work of guys like Timothy and Titus in their absence.  Like them, he could act at times as an apostolic representative.  It is also possible that he was a native of Ephesus, since he is said to be from the Roman province of Asia (where Ephesus was), and is linked to Trophimus who is explicitly called an Ephesian in Acts 21:29.  Tychicus also probably served as Paul’s postal service in carrying no fewer than five different epistles of Paul to various locations (Colossians, Philemon, Ephesians, 2 Timothy, and Titus). 

If Tychicus was from Ephesus, then you could say he was bringing the gospel home.  There, he would not only share the news of Paul’s health and goings on, but also minister to them himself with words of encouragement (ver. 22).  But the point here is that all this happens through the ministry of people like Tychicus.  Paul wrote the epistle, but it would have never made it to the Ephesians without the service of Tychicus.

But there is another reason why we can never separate the truths of God from the people of God.  It is because those who bring the word commend the word only so far as they are willing to live by the word.  The word of God does not simply live on pages in a Bible.  It lives in the lives of the followers of Christ.  And that is why the description of Tychicus is so important here.  He is called “a beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord” (21). 

He is first of all “a beloved brother.”  Paul loved him.  And it’s obvious that he must have loved Paul.  But by describing him this way to the Ephesians, Paul is saying that this man is someone any Christian could love.  He is not the kind of Christian that you want to avoid being around.  He was not one of those difficult people who are always creating problems for others to fix.  He was someone who invested in others, who thought about others, who served others.

Which leads to the second way Paul describes him: “a faithful minister.”  Now the word here is not a term designating a person who is in “the ministry” as we use the term today.  It’s the more general word for service – in fact, the word here is diakonos, though it doesn’t refer to the office of a deacon either.  A diakonos was a person who served others.  And that is what Tychicus did.  Sometimes he did it by carrying Paul’s letters to various churches.  Sometimes he did it by serving as a temporary pastor in a place.  Sometimes he did it by simply encouraging others with the word of God.  But the point is that this was not a man who lived for himself – like his Lord, he did not come to be served, but to serve.  It was the life of a man like this, one who characterized the truths of Ephesians, that made its message more plausible. 

And so we too need to be like Tychicus.  We need to be people who bring the word to others.  Sometimes this means bringing the word to a non-believer by sharing the gospel.  Sometimes this means bringing the word to fellow believers by teaching truth and reminding and exhorting and encouraging them to live out its truths.  And above all we need to be people who live out the word.  Knowing the doctrines and exhortations of this letter will do us absolutely no good unless we put it into practice.  Ephesians was not written to be merely understood and studied.  It was written to help God’s people live out the kind of life that is appropriate for those who are saved by grace through faith.  Knowing the doctrines of this epistle and doing nothing with them is like a billionaire sitting on his wealth and doing nothing with it.

The book of Ephesians offers to us a perspective on life that the world will not and cannot give.  It gives the perspective of God.  It gives an eternal perspective, one that reaches back into the mists before time into God’s eternal plan in Christ, and one that reaches forward into an unending future of glory for those who are embraced in the family of God.  Its message of peace with God who loves us and gives us grace through faith is one that ought to inspire us to a living hope and deep joy.  It remains for us to take that message, and, like Tychicus, bring it others by our word and works, by our lips and our lives.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Rom. 11:16-22 Pride and Presumption

There is a danger lurking in all our hearts.   It is the danger of thinking that God favors us because of who we are.   This had been a prob...