Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Faithful in Ephesus (Ephesians 1:1)

“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints who are at Ephesus and who are faithful in Christ Jesus:” (Ephesians 1:1, NASB95)

We read here that Paul is the author of this letter. We also see that the saints, and in particular the ones in Ephesus, are it recipients. But in addressing them we further read that it is particularly pointed to those who are marked as being faithful in Christ Jesus. Having said this, today we will focus primarily on Paul’s relationship with these Ephesian believers and leave the next couple of posts to explore them as “saints” and being … “in Christ.”

The first mention of Ephesus in the Bible is in Acts 18:19 where we read that Paul had left Corinth and set sail for Syria, bringing Priscilla and Aquila (a married couple who and shared faithfully in ministry) with him. And as much time as Paul had spent in many different cities establishing the local believers there as they came to faith, he did not do so in Ephesus, but leaving Priscilla and Aquila behind because of a vow he had made he continued on his journey. We read of his first recorded encounter with this city, “They came to Ephesus, and he left them there. Now he himself entered the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. When they asked him to stay for a longer time, he did not consent, but taking leave of them and saying, “I will return to you again if God wills,” he set sail from Ephesus.” (Acts 18:19–21, NASB95)

As we continue reading in chapter 18 we find that it was Priscilla and Aquila who stayed on in Ephesus even to correct the teaching of Apollos who was having a large impact in the area. Paul had a great affection for this couple, and he would later write of them that they had risked their necks to save his life (presumably in Corinth prior to arriving in Ephesus). In chapter 19 Paul returned to Ephesus, this time to remain for more than three years (according to Acts 20:31) where he first spent three months trying to reach the Jews in the synagogue but was rejected by their hard-heartedness and would then he began “reasoning in the hall of Tyrannus,” continuing for two years (Acts 19:8-10).

We read of this time that, “God was performing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul,” … “So the word of the Lord was growing mightily and prevailing.” (Acts 19:11, 20, NASB95) But continuing with verse 21 we read that things changed, and after some rioting Paul spoke to the people of Ephesus and departed for Macedonia. “After the uproar had ceased, Paul sent for the disciples, and when he had exhorted them and taken his leave of them, he left to go to Macedonia.” (Acts 20:1, NASB95)

Later Paul would have opportunity to return to Ephesus, but chose for some reason to sail past it to the city of Miletus from where he would send for the leaders of the church in Ephesus. When they gathered we read that he said to them, “You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which came upon me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house, solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. “And now, behold, bound by the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me. “But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God. “And now, behold, I know that all of you, among whom I went about preaching the kingdom, will no longer see my face. “Therefore, I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. “For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God. “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. “Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears. “And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. “I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothes. “You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my own needs and to the men who were with me. “In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ” When he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. And they began to weep aloud and embraced Paul, and repeatedly kissed him, grieving especially over the word which he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they were accompanying him to the ship.” (Acts 20:18–38, NASB95)

Paul loved these men and they loved him, and it was a difficult parting he had with them knowing that he would not see them again. And it was after this parting that Paul would later write to them to encourage them from prison (Acts 28:16-31) probably between 60 and 62 a.d. Clearly we can see from the words of Acts 20 that Paul had many good things to say to the Ephesian leadership about their faithfulness, but he also had a very strong warning for them concerning keeping watch so that wolves do not enter and lead them astray. He knew his days were numbered, and he encouraged them not to let his imprisonment or even his death become cause for them to lose heart and hope. What he had told them was the truth, and he was entrusting them as faithful men to be on the alert and continue in the truth as they shepherded the church in Ephesus.

So, as we read Paul’s introductory comments in the letter to the saints at Ephesus we should not be surprised that he commends them for their faithfulness in Christ Jesus. Just as Paul was called by God, so were they called to be faithful to the ministry given to them which was to shepherd the flock and Paul reminds them of that as he writes this letter to encourage and shore up the work which they were given to do.

And as we read this encouragement to the leadership in Ephesus and his introductory words in chapter one of Ephesians we also are to be encouraged to stand strong ourselves. We live in a time when what was once considered right and normal and consistent with biblical ways of living is and has been for some years eroding in our places of power. We live in a time when being a Christian is becoming less and less acceptable in the public forum, where speaking for God and His truth is challenged as being narrow and unloving. These voices have grown in our culture, and sadly they have even grown as Paul warned in many of our churches. But our God calls us to be faithful, and He is the One who is faithful to make us stand when others want to see us crushed.

“Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.” (1 Thessalonians 5:23–24, NASB95)

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