Glancing back over these pages we might pick out some of the key words and phrases:
Grace. Power. Glory. Redemption. Adoption. Chosen. Saved. Peace. God’s workmanship. One body. Life worthy. Thanksgiving. Service. Armour. Pray. Stand.
When we were taught in school how to write a letter we were taught to finish with ‘Yours sincerely’ or ‘Yours faithfully’. It’s common these days in emails or texts to read ‘Regards’. I usually put ‘Best wishes’ or ‘Prayerful best wishes’.
Look how Paul ends his letter – ‘Peace to the brothers, and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love.’
The last word in our English NIV and Good News Bible is ‘love’. Whatever else we do, we are to love Jesus and love others.
In the original Greek the last word of Paul’s letter is actually ‘aphtharsia’, translated here as ‘undying’. It means ‘incorruptible’, ‘immortal’, ‘invincible’, ‘unending’, love that perseveres, that doesn’t give up but keeps going.
Paul finishes with a wish and a prayer for his old congregation, that they may live in harmony as brothers and sisters in God’s family, at peace loving Him and one another, depending always on His grace.
The last word, the last instruction of Ephesians is to love and this makes Revelation 2 interesting and challenging reading.
One way to measure success in life is to observe those coming after us. If we want to know how we’re doing let’s look at how the next generation is doing.
Ephesians was written in the early ‘60s, Revelation around 30 years later. The Apostle John is granted a vision of the risen, reigning Lord Jesus Who gives messages to a number of 1st century congregations one of which is Ephesus. So how is the ‘2nd generation’ Church of Ephesus getting on?
The Lord commends them for their hard work, perseverance and keeping the faith under trial. They have maintained sound theology and high moral standards, not going with the flow of the liberal ‘Nicolaitians’. So Paul’s hard work as pastor/teacher had not been in vain!
Oh but look, the Lord points up one key concern – they have forsaken their first love. They don’t love the way they used to. It had been their old pastor’s final written instruction but that’s where they’re falling down.
This was a good church with a solid foundation and busy programme. It seemed to ‘tick all the boxes’ but according to Christ the most vital thing was getting lost on the way.
Things we do repeatedly become traditions and we can have many good and noble traditions well worth keeping. The problem is that traditions can turn into institutions which can become mechanical, formal, nominal, cold.
Ephesus had many good things going for them but their work and witness were now under threat because they weren’t practising love like before. Perhaps some members just didn’t get on. Personality clashes got dressed up as theological arguments. They lost their initial zeal for winning and welcoming new members.
Saddest of all, grace ceased to be amazing. They got used to it.
‘We’re not quite lovers and we’re not quite friends, after the thrill is gone’ goes an old song by the Eagles. It sounds a bit like that for these next generation Christians in Ephesus in their relationship with Jesus. The thrill with the love was gone.
Let me say 3 things about Christian love:
1. Love is something we are given in Christ. It’s not ours by right, not something we earn or achieve – we don’t actually deserve it for we have offended God and broken his commands. If anything we deserve His displeasure, rejection, punishment. Instead we read here in Ephesians that from before we were born, before the world was created, God knew us, set His love on us, chose us to be His, ordained that His Son would die to redeem us and bring us to the eternal life of heavenly fellowship. We should never take it for granted, never cease to be amazed.
We are loved. That cross on a hill outside Jerusalem is the evidence.
2. But secondly, although love is God’s gift to us it is also something we must choose to practice.
We could choose otherwise, choose to be ruled by bitterness or cynicism or retreat into cool distance. We could choose to reject grace and not forgiven ourselves or others but that’s like requesting cancer for our souls today and damnation in the age to come.
Love is redemptive, life-bringing, soul-changing. The love of Christ changed Paul from a cruel racist to a self-sacrificing pioneering church builder among people of all races. We must choose to practice love.
3. Recognising thirdly that love is something with which we need help. Now let’s be honest, it’s enormously difficult to love some people. We may be afraid of them or find something distasteful about them. We may hold different views. They may have wounded us in the past. They may hurt us again. We may feel overwhelmed with every negative feeling other than love. But Jesus commands His followers to love as He does and He will help by His Spirit all who choose to obey and practice Christian love.
The fruit of the Holy Spirit living in the human heart is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. These are the qualities we’re saying ‘yes’ to when we choose to love like Jesus. This is the powerful help we need.
And so we must pray for our Lord to help us, to change and nurture our hearts and minds. Let’s read again one of Paul’s own prayers from Ephesians 3 v 14-19:
‘I kneel before the Father…I pray that out of His glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fulness of God.’
Now that’s what we’re talking about! For when we know love like this then we shall persevere. Then we shall overcome. Then we shall walk on the heights and eat from the tree of life in the paradise of God!