Monday, October 10, 2016

First Hand Encourager (Ephesians 6:21-24)

“But that you also may know about my circumstances, how I am doing, Tychicus, the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord, will make everything known to you. I have sent him to you for this very purpose, so that you may know about us, and that he may comfort your hearts. Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ with incorruptible love.” (Ephesians 6:21–24, NASB95)

Paul had just asked the audience of his letter to be praying for him in a more general sense. In these final words Paul informs them that his desire in sending Tychicus with the letter was that they also might hear in more detail first hand from someone who was there with him. Paul was sending Tychicus as a beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord to them. Their relationship with him was important, and just as it was important to hear how they are doing so was it important for them to hear how he was doing.

Paul had just told them to pray and petition at all times for all things, and here he follows it up by giving them more specifics for how to pray which reinforced the oneness that they had in Christ despite the physical distance they shared. In Christ they were one regardless of their location. In the same Spirit they could pray for one another. As people who had shared in his ministry, Paul desired to give them appropriate updates on just how that ministry was going and how he as the minister was doing.

Hearing how he and those with him were standing strong even in prison and persecution was to be an encouragement for them to stand also. This is the instruction of Ephesians 6:10-18—to stand firm. Hearing how Paul was standing firm was similarly to bring comfort to their hearts and encourage them to stand firm also.

As I reflected on these words I thought about the email updates that I get from friends on the mission field or in service to God in some other area. These letters are more than just updates. They are sent so that we might continually enter into the work with them as our hearts are knit together and we remember them before our God. Knowing how they are doing and what they are facing encourages us to pray for them, but it also encourages us as we are reminded that we are not alone in service to our Lord. It is because of this same relationship that we share with our God that we also can encourage one anther knowing that He is firmly in control of each of our lives. Just as He was working in Paul and Tychicus, so was he working in the believers in Ephesus and us today.

These last words are used to remind them of not only their oneness, but also to let them know of his continued prayers for them. The benediction, “Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ with incorruptible love” are read in churches regularly as one of many benedictions from the Word as churches send their people out for the week. They are a hope for the days ahead as we separate from one another. They are not well-wishing, but they are firmly founded in truth.

Paul prayed for peace to be with them. Looking back to the salvation we have in Christ, we are reminded that we are at peace with God because our sins have been forgiven fully in Christ. There is no more charge of sin against us. We are also reminded that as we go into the world that we do so with the presence of God who holds us firmly in His hands. This means that we can find His peace even when there is turmoil all around us. And, as we walk and rub against each other we are reminded that we are to continually be mindful of the oneness we have in Christ as we are longsuffering and forgiving. We are to seek to be at peace with one other because we belong to the God who makes us at peace with Himself. In this prayer for peace is also the recognition that they are living in a world that knows no peace and that there will be various forms of trials, tribulation and suffering. There is the hope that things will go well, knowing that God always holds our welfare.

Paul prayed that they would know the love of God and that they would love for one another. Knowing that God loves us and that He is working His good will in us emboldens our faith to trust Him more even when things on their surface seem to say otherwise. We can choose to love even when others might be or act unloving. We can do this because we choose not to love with the feelings of our immediate response, but with the love that we know is right from Him. This is how we evidence our faith in Him as we respond in love toward others. We become vulnerable because we know that our God is totally in control.

The context of all of this is exactly what Paul wrote, “from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” We are in Christ because of Christ’s sacrifice for us. We have a relationship with God the Father because He sent His Son to bring us to Him. He is the one from who all things come, and it is Christ who holds all things together. Our God loves us and all that we have is from Him, even our ability to stand when things get tough. Our great joy is in knowing that we have a great hope from our God who will never disappoint.

The last words of Paul in this letter are, “Grace be with all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ with incorruptible love.” The love we have for God is a result of His love for us, and His love is unchanging and incorruptible. It is unable to be contaminated or diluted. His love is perfect and this is exactly how He has loved us, and now we love in return because we have known and are learning more and more of His perfect love. We love because He first loved us, and as we grow in Him we understand more and more just how perfect His love is. In Christ we are given the ability to love, and having graciously been given that ability we are called to put it into practice in our lives. And Paul is encouraging them and us in these last words that we would know daily God’s incredible favor toward us as we live and love in His love.

This was his prayer for them. It is his prayer for us. And as we pray for others, we are incredibly privileged to pray the same for them, even as we side-by-side are to put into practice the encouragement that God has given to us.

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