Jeremy Taylor was a 17th century English cleric who was severely persecuted for his faith. But though his house was plundered, his family left destitute, his property confiscated, he continued to count the blessings he could not lose. He wrote: “They have not taken away my merry countenance, my cheerful spirit, and a good conscience; they have left me with the providence of God, and all his promises ... my hopes of Heaven, and my charity to them, too, and still I sleep and digest, I eat and drink, I read and meditate. And he that hath so many causes of joy, and so great should never choose to sit down upon his little handful of thorns.”
We have travelled a long way with Paul through his letter to the Ephesians. As we said at the beginning of our journey, when Paul wrote this letter, he was languishing in a prison in Rome. He would have every right to focus on his own problems and affairs, but just like Jeremy Taylor, Paul refuses to focus on his dire situation. Rather he counts his blessings and encourages his fellow believers. Over the past few months, we have seen how doctrine and duty, saving and serving grace operates. We have learned how to put on our defence against the darkness. As we come to our final sermon our series, “The Riches of God’s Grace,” Paul has one final encouragement to give us and the Ephesians by sending us A Believers Blessing and A Beautiful Benediction.
1. A Believers Blessing vs. 21-22
Two weeks ago, we read about the armour of God. Paul had also told the Ephesians to pray diligently and with perseverance. He asks them to also pray for him “that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains vs. 19-20a. Paul closes his letter with some final words of encouragement and a blessing for all believers. He tells the Ephesians he is sending them a messenger. “Tychicus, the dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord, will tell you everything, so that you also may know how I am and what I am doing. I am sending him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage you vs. 21-22”. Paul knows that the Ephesians will be worried about him, for the last time he saw them was when the elders met him on the beach at Miletus. He had planted the church and lived among the people. People knew his character, conviction and his absolute commitment to Christ and to the cause of the gospel. So he sends Tychicus who has been a faithful gospel companion and fellow minister with Paul on his gospel journeys. We see his name doesn’t only appear in this letter, but in many of Paul’s other letters, for example Titus and Timothy.
His purposes in sending him to the Ephesians are twofold. Tychicus is to bring them news about Paul’s condition and what he is going through in prison in Rome. And more importantly, Paul is sending one of his best ministers to help this church, to serve them and to explain to them any parts of this letter which they might have trouble understanding, and also to look after them as a faithful minister. Following the example set by Christ, Paul is sending out ministers and disciples he has trained to serve other churches and to spread the news of the gospel. Paul wants to create deeper bonds with the Ephesians. He wants them to grow in their Christian faith and to come to a deeper understanding. In both the ancient and modern church, the three ways of forming deeper bonds are prayer, correspondence and visits. Paul has said he’s praying for the Ephesians and requested that they keep him in their prayers. Even though we are part of Trinity, we still need to pray for other churches and ministers. We need to pray that the Bible will be proclaimed faithfully and that people will come to know Christ.
Letters and messengers were the only ways of keeping in touch with other believers and churches in Paul’s day. Today we are privileged to be able to communicate with believers near and far with our telephones, cellphones, WhatsApp, YouTube videos and online meetings. We have to inform one another of the issues or struggles in our lives. That way we are better able to hold each other up in prayer and to hold each other accountable. An unknown writer stated that we should: “Practice openness and accountability. This is the one thing we desperately need the most, and the one thing we most resist. We need support. Some things in life are just too hard to do on your own. We need people to come along side of us and encourage us. Whether you are dieting, or exercising, or trying to change a bad habit in your life—we all need people in our lives to support us, encourage us, and to ask us some hard questions about whether we are really following through on our commitment to change.”
The third way is visiting. Paul has sent Tychicus to visit a far-off church. Although we cannot physically visit other believers or other churches at the moment, we can still seek to maintain our Christian communities through reaching out to others with prayer and open communication. However, when we do once again visit other churches with family or on holiday, instead of criticizing them, we should seek to be a blessing. We should seek to build bonds with other Christians and churches, as long as the basis for our unity is firmly based and grounded on the Word of God and the love of Christ. Paul sent Tychicus to be a brotherly blessing to the Ephesians and God is calling on us to be brotherly and sisterly blessings to our fellow Christians and all that we meet.
2. A Beautiful Benediction vs. 23-24
The beginning of Ephesians started with a greeting of blessing. Paul said: “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ 1:2.” He ends his letter with a similar benediction. Although at first glance this may appear to be just a normal benediction, the type we hear every week in church, this final greeting actually contains three statements which are half prayer and half wishes. It also brings together all the major points of Paul’s letter and reminds the believers to hold to the teachings he has expounded in the earlier chapters.
The First prayer-wish is “Peace to the brothers and sisters vs. 23a.” Paul has preached on unity and how to live peacefully in human relationships. Even though we should have no expectation of a peace treaty with the devil and keep our armour firmly fastened, we should seek peace with fellow believers. In Christ, there should be no division between believers, because we are part of the same body. The peace which Paul speaks about here is Shalom, or well-being. It comes from being set free from our former lives and being reconciled to Christ. This peace should be lived out in our relationship with God and others.
The Second prayer-wish is “love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ vs. 23b.” Paul tells us, God has shown His love for us through election, by calling a people out of the darkness and into the light, through the work of Christ on the cross and the presence of God’s Holy Spirit’s as the source of this powerful life-giving love. He has sketched for us the expression of this love, through us and in us, in chapters 3-5 in this letter. Paul has also made it plainly clear that faith is not something which is naturally inherent to people, for we are all spiritually dead and insensitive to God. Our default setting is sin. But praise be to God for He has given us faith, through raising us from death, redeeming us from a sinful prison, setting us free and adopting us as co-heirs with Christ into His family.
The Third prayer-wish is a blessing for the whole church. Paul closes by saying: “Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love vs. 24.” This statement characterises his readers and all believers in terms of their love for Christ. God’s grace to us is incomparable, as a response we should worship God completely and live out the love of Christ in our lives. Even when the world tempts us to doubt the goodness, love, and grace of God, we have to stand fast and hold on to the love of Christ. When we truly grasp the magnitude of the riches of God’s grace and the reason for Christ’s death on the cross, we come to a point of response. When Christ’s love is received, it is met with an answering love, which is incorruptible, cannot die, and will last for eternity.
There are four words here that Paul has included in his benediction and of which we should take note: peace, love, faith, and grace. The two that stand out are peace and grace. Peace has been a major theme of this letter. Peace in the sense of reconciliation with God and one another is the great achievement of Christ. Our sermon series has focussed on “The Riches of God’s Grace” to the church. Grace is the way and the reason why this has been done. Paul’s wish in this letter was that these believers would be a family of brothers and sisters in Christ. He says this family goes beyond age, race, class, and sex. His final wish is that members of this family may live in harmony, peace and love with Jesus Christ and with one another.
Throughout this letter, we have traced the theme of “The Riches of God’s Grace” seen through our doctrine and duty, our riches and responsibilities in Christ. We have been taken to the heights of spiritual ecstasy and to the lows of human depravity. Also the need for the gospel to be proclaimed to every heart. This gospel brings peace, love, unity, faith, and grace. For the head of the church has always been Christ, is Christ, and will forever be Christ. Until He returns to make His church complete and has taken us home to be with him.
At the moment we may be facing extraordinary challenges, worries, anxieties and pressures. We might be feeling isolated, burdened, heavy-laden and depressed. Yet, these final words of Ephesians give us both a blueprint for how to keep in touch with other believers and encouragement for every day. The gospel is our eternal hope, a blessing in difficult times, and a strong boat in the midst of the storm. When you feel things are becoming too much, turn your eyes towards Jesus, the one who said: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls 11:28”.
Paul’s beautiful benediction is not only a summary of the entire book of Ephesians, but also a prayer for our Christian life and commitment to following Christ. So, church – arise! Put on your armour, stand firm and follow Christ, our Captain, Lord, and Victor. May Paul’s opening and closing words be the cry of our hearts today: Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ... Peace to the brothers and sisters, 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.