Living with the Ephesians
Well for those of you who are visiting or haven’t been here in a little while, here at St Mary and St Martha we been reading through Paul’s letter to the Ephesians all summer. In some ways we’ve been living with the Ephesians… tramping the streets of Ephesus, listening to the market-talk, passing the Temple of Artemis, and sitting at the feet of the Apostle Paul as he writes from prison in Rome to the churches around Ephesus.
We’ve drunk deep from the firehose of the gospel that he has poured on us: that we are saved by grace, that we are sealed with the Holy Spirit, that we are being built into a glorious temple, a dwelling place for God, here, in our midst. We’ve let ourselves be rooted and grounded in Christ’s love for us and for the Church.
We’ve listened in as Paul has called the Gentiles and the Jews to recognize each other as members of the same body, united in Christ, with different gifts but the same Lord.
And we’ve been challenged by his therefore – therefore, because of our worthiness in Christ, because of our identity as Christ’s body and Christ’s bride, because of our unity with each other: this, then, is how we shall live: as members of one body, caring for each other.
And now Paul has one final thing to say to the Ephesian Church and to us: stand firm.
“Finally,” he says, “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.”
Be Strong in the Lord
Paul, writing to this group of churches that faces challenges on every side, wants his final words to them to be a strong encouragement – something to literally fill them with courage. And so he writes, “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power.”
All of this spiritual battle language is apocalyptic and dramatic, and while in the west we are tempted to write off any talk of demonic influences and spiritual forces of evil as fairy-tales, most of the world understands that there are real realities undergirding what Paul is writing about – that principalities and powers are not just words but forces beyond our understanding, and forces that are trying to bring down Christians and bring down the Church. We are in a battle, and we are hard pressed on every side. The evidence of this battle can be seen around us and within us: discouragement, despair, doubt, feelings of unworthiness or confusion over what is truth. Hard things to fight on our own.
But we are not on our own. Remember: this passage comes at the end of a letter that is overflowing with the good news of what it means to be members of the Church: not solitary, not alone, but part of something bigger. We do not fight any battle on our own, and Paul’s language here is all plural – the armour that we put on is most effective when used as a group, not individuals.
And the armour is defensive, because our goal is not to win this battle, but to stand firm.
What is so lovely about Paul’s encouragement here is that he makes it clear that this battle is not up to us.
“Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of HIS power.” The Church belongs to God. Even with all of her spots and wrinkles and blemishes, she is Christ’s Church, and his alone. He will fight this battle – we are called only to stand firm, in the strength of his power. “Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her”, and “the gates of hell will never prevail against her”, because he has “disarmed the principalities and powers, triumphing over them.” We do not have anything to fear while we rest close to our Saviour, nestled in the strength of his power.
The Truth of the Armour
And the armour that we are given is not complicated: it’s simply what has already been given in this letter to the Ephesians. Truth. Righteousness. Proclamation of the gospel. Faith. Salvation. This letter has been packed with what Paul calls armour already, and simply by meditating on these truths, allowing ourselves to mull over them, we have already been arming ourselves in them.
Here is some of the armour we have put on for this battle:
“He chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love.” (Eph 1:4) Holy and blameless. That is how Christ sees us.
“He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ.” (Eph 1:5)
“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.” (Eph 1:7)
“In him you were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit.” (Eph 1:13)
And finally, “God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” (Eph 1:20-23)
This is our armour: to believe these things, to proclaim the truth of them. We are loved by God. We are members of one body, of which Christ is the head. And we are declared righteous in his sight.
Equip yourselves with these truths, beloved Church – strap them around you, bind them to you, and remind yourselves of them over and over. And learn to wield that sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
There is only one piece of armour that Paul mentions that is offensive rather than defensive, and that is the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. The word, Scripture, is the only weapon that we are given, and it is not to be wielded in anger or pride, but only with grace and love: to build up, rather than to tear down.
Over the course of the whole summer we have been taking Paul’s words to the Ephesians personally – because we know that he is writing those words not just to them, but to us as well, as members of the body of Christ. We are not immune from the attacks of the spiritual forces. And the more we act like Christ in the world, the more we draw the attention of those who want to eradicate him. And so now, as the Church of St Mary and St Martha on the corner of Eglinton and Weston, as we approach our third anniversary of being one body together, and as we seek to become more and more like Christ in the world, I want to encourage each of us in the final words of Paul to the Ephesians
- Pray. Pray in the Spirit at all times, in every prayer and supplication. Pray for each other! Pray for the Church. Pray for her leaders, for me and for Canon Beth and for Father Murray and everyone who plays any leadership role. Pray for integrity and faithfulness to the gospel. And pray for each other, as I know you do. Pray for the Church.
- Keep alert. We have an enemy who is looking to tear down the church, and who would like nothing better than to see this beautiful body be torn apart. Remember that your words are to give grace to each other. Remember that your actions affect the members of this body. Remember that you are not on your own, you are not alone, and you are part of something beautiful.
- Be bold. It is not only Paul’s responsibility to declare the mystery of the gospel, or mine, or Beth’s. It is up to each of us to remind each other, and to tell the world, over and over, of the truths of scripture and of the joys of redemption. It is up to each of us to invite others to be part of this body. Pray for boldness for yourself, and for each of us, to declare the gospel to our friends and neighbours and colleagues.
Your First Love – An Ephesians Postscript
4. Don’t forget your first love.
You won’t find this in Paul’s letter. But although we have reached the end of the letter to the Ephesians, there is a postscript to this story, in the book of Revelation. There are letters, given by Jesus to seven churches, and in Revelation Chapter 2 we find a letter to the Church in Ephesus. This was written probably 20-30 years after Paul’s letter to them.
“I know your works,” he says, “your toil and your patient endurance… I know that you are enduring patiently and bearing up for the sake of my name, and that you have not grown weary.” (Rev. 2:2-3)
Isn’t that lovely? This church that Paul was writing to – they endured! They endured under persecution, and did not grow weary, and Paul’s letter was a part of that.
But the final thing that this letter in Revelation to the Church in Ephesus says is this: “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.” (Rev 2:4)
You have abandoned your first love. In the end, all of the action of the church, all of the endurance, all of the work, all of the bazaars and the services and the garage sales and the community suppers – all of this matters only if it is founded on love for Jesus Christ. And so, Mary and Martha – beloved Church, beloved body of Christ here at Eglinton and Weston – as we finish this book of Ephesians for now, remember your first love. Remember the joy of salvation, and the thrill of delight in the knowledge that Christ loves each of you, personally and passionately. Remember his body and his blood broken and spilled for you.
And in the final words of Paul to the Church in Ephesus:
“Peace be to the whole community, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all who have an undying love for our Lord Jesus Christ.”