Last Sunday at Spen Valley Church we started a new sermon series working through Ephesians. I’m a bit daunted as we start. Ephesians has been my go to book for almost all of my Christian life. And some of the passages in it are just mind-blowing (not that the whole Bible isn’t, you pedants! You know what I mean!). It’s surely a book that stirs the emotions of all Christians, even Yorkshire ones.
But as I prepared to preach on the first two verses last week, it struck me that at points in my Christian life, and especially since I’ve been in full-time ministry, I’ve gone wrong precisely on that point. In fact, so often, I do with Ephesians, and the gospel as a whole, precisely what the Ephesians did with it.
Because Ephesians is a letter written into a very specific context. I want to think a bit more about the Jewish/Gentile thing next week, but for now let’s just remember that Ephesians was written in between Acts 20 and Revelation 2.
You know, in Acts 20 when Paul warned the Elders of the church to watch out for false teachers, to keep their doctrine pure, and make sure heresy was dealt with. And I’m convinced that’s one of the reasons why Ephesians is so doctrinally rich. Why he gives them so much of the truths of God’s eternal plan. Why he develops in such detail what lives lived out in obedience to that doctrine should look like. He’s reminding them so clearly of the truth, so that they might see heresy clearly for what it was and give it the treatment it deserved. And it worked, right? In Revelation 2, Jesus tells the Ephesians they’ve done a good job on doctrine. They’ve told the heretics where they can stick their nonsense, and given them the boot. Paul’s letter worked, right?
Apart from where it didn’t…
Because Jesus tells the Ephesians that they kept their doctrine pure right enough. But they’ve become the classic frozen chosen. Pure, knowledgeable, careful, clear…and loveless. They read the letter and thought, ‘Wow, that’s interesting. That’ll preach won’t it?’ But it failed to stir them up to love God and others.
Which, if I’m reading Ephesians owt like right, is the entire point of the letter…
And I reckon that so often I am so like the Ephesians. And so, probably, are you. Especially if you’re in full-time ministry. The constant round of sermon prep, one to ones, Bible studies, investing in people’s lives. We’re constantly applying the Bible to others, calling those around us to love Jesus more, find their joy in him, marvel and wonder at God’s eternal plan worked out in our lives together. And yet, if you’re owt like me, we so often forget to do that ourselves.
Over the last two years I’ve found preaching the unsearchable riches of Christ harder than at any other point in my Christian life. Because I’ve looked around and seen so little progress. Because it’s hard to believe that God could ever turn this little town upside down with the gospel. Because my heart believes the lies of what my eyes can see, rather than the awesome, eternal, certain plan of salvation Paul reveals in Ephesians.
If we want to serve the Lord, especially in hard, slow, contexts like ours, then we’re going to need the joy of the Lord to be our strength. We’re going to have to be continually blown away by the fact that the Father has brought us into his family, through his Son, by the power of his Spirit. And that he’s given us the unutterable privilege of being at the heart of that eternal plan to bring unity to all things in heaven and earth under Christ. At the heart of his means of bringing his people together in his Son, his church. And he’s given us the unspeakable privilege to declare these truths to those around us.
When I find myself struggling to keep going in ministry, it’s because I’ve forgotten that. I’m trying to find my love in numbers of people there on Sunday, or in preaching an awesome sermon, or in just having a decent kip. If I, if we, want to keep going, perhaps we need to come back and remember why we do this. To remember our first love. To remember just how awesome the eternal plan of God is. To remember just how awesome the eternal Trinitarian God is in and of himself. To refocus our eyes on Jesus. And to fix them there, on our glorious Saviour Jesus, that we might run with perseverance the absolute privilege of a life that our loving heavenly Father has marked out for us. Whether we’re in full time ministry or not…