Sunday 17 June 2012

An undying love (Ephesians 6:18-24)

Now I know that know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again. Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God.
Acts 20:25-27

These are the words of the apostle Paul as he said goodbye for the last time to the leaders of the church in Ephesus. “None of you,” he says, “will ever see me again.” Paul wasn’t going on a holiday. He wasn’t leaving the church because of some big disagreement with the council. He loved this church with all his heart. For three years, he lived in the city of Ephesus in order to plant this church as its founding pastor -  not by buying a building, not by setting up a committee, not by having evangelistic rallies and holding big celebrations during Chinese New Year - but simply by doing one thing again and again: Paul taught the bible every day. Acts Chapter 19, and verse 9, tells us that Paul had discussions “daily”; about Jesus, about God and about the bible, and he did this in a school hall. Not once a week; not in a fancy cafe where everyone could have free lattes and sit on comfy seats; but in a lecture theatre at the Engineering Faculty. There Paul opened up the scriptures and explained the gospel. Imagine that! And Paul says here, to the Ephesian elders, “I am innocent of the blood of all men.” Why? “For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God.” He held nothing back, that’s why he is innocent. He told them everything from God’s word about who Jesus is and what he came to do on the cross; everything including salvation as well as judgement that is revealed through the single cosmic event of the cross. And because of Paul’s faithfulness with God’s word, Paul could stand before God throne, and before God’s people and say, “I’ve done my job. I have carried out my responsibilities to the full.”

But you see, even though Paul knew he would never see them face to face ever again, he always had a special place for the Ephesian Christians in his heart. More than that, he did everything he could to encourage his old friends back in Ephesus. How do we know this? The evidence is right here in the form of the letter to the Ephesians, which we have been looking at these six months. Paul was in prison and as he sat there awaiting his trial, his thoughts went back to his brothers and sisters in Ephesus, and he wrote to them this letter, saying, “I have not stopped giving thanks to for you, remembering you in my prayers” (Ephesians 1:16).

I want you to imagine someone like Judy, Alan, Kinki or Joyce writing a letter like this to us here at the Chinese Church. I want you to have in mind friends who have left us in past years - Richard, Humberto, Qi, Zhu Lin, Ray, Molly, Mimi, Peggy, Chee, Sophia, Andy, Susan, Helen - some of whom we may never see again, at least in this lifetime. Then, one day the post arrives, with a thick handwritten letter addressed to “the saints in the Cambridge Chinese Church, the faithful in Jesus Christ.” What would that letter say? What would you hope to read about this good friend whom you haven’t heard from for ages - this faithful brother or sister, whom you dearly miss - what would you expect him or her to say to us today? “I’m still walking with Jesus.” That would be so encouraging! “I’m serving in a local church and might even be pursuing full-time ministry.” That would be amazing! “Let me tell you how God has been so good to me in my life!” Hallelujah! I think we would all rejoice at receiving such good news from such good friends.

And yet, Paul goes one step further. You open up his letter to the church in Ephesus, and what you find is that he says very little about how he is doing. Rather what you find is Paul saying to us, “How are you doing? Are you still walking with Jesus? Are you still going for Rock Fellowship every week?” In other words, Paul writes the letter of Ephesians to say to them on paper, what he always said to them in person: Jesus Christ is Lord. Keep trusting in him. Keep living your lives centred on him.

You see, the reason why Paul left the church was not in order to find a better position elsewhere. He is in prison. He has been arrested for telling people about Jesus. But nowhere in Ephesians does he say, “I’ve been a victim of a horrible injustice!” Neither does he say, “Pray for me, that God will get me out of this mess.” Actually what he said to the Ephesians elders was, “I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me” (Acts 19:23). And here in the letter to the Ephesians, Paul reminds his fellow brothers and sisters, “Make sure that you are praying for the needs in your church. And if you do pray for me, pray that I will not waste any opportunity to speak out for Jesus.”

That is, Paul is saying, “Here is the agenda for your next prayer meeting: Pray over God’s word.” That’s what he means when he tells us to pray “in the Spirit”. Look at what he says in verse 18:

Praying in the Spirit

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and keep on praying for all the saints.
Ephesians 6:18

Some of you are thinking, “Hold on! Where do you get this strange idea about praying over God’s word from this one verse? There’s nothing there about the bible. It just tells us to pray!” Some will go as far as to say, “When we meet for bible study, we read the bible. But when we pray, we put the bible aside, and we come with our burdens and needs. Please don’t talk to me about some passage you read this morning in Ephesians. Leave all that intellectual stuff behind when you come here. This is a prayer meeting!” If we’re honest, a lot of our prayer meetings are like that. We spend time talking about concerns and worries, “Hey, did you hear about Mr So-and-So who did this-and-that?” And if we are not careful, these prayer meetings can turn in sessions for gossip and for slander.

The vitally important thing to note is that this whole section on prayer - from verses 18 right up to 20 - where Paul reminds us to pray at all times, to pray all kinds of prayers, to pray for all situations, to pray for all our brothers and sisters, to pray for Paul himself - this entire section on prayer is an expansion on a single point we looked at last week in verse 17. What does Paul say in verse 17?

Take... the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Ephesians 6:17

And immediately following that, Paul says, “Pray in the Spirit.” The English Standard Version is helpful at this point because it makes verse 18 part of the same sentence as verse 17 - “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit”. In other words, we take up the sword of the Spirit by praying in the Spirit.

What does he mean by praying in the Spirit? It’s not praying in tongues (In 1 Corinthians 12:30, he asks the question, “Do all speak in tongues?” by which the answer is, “No.” Yet, here is a kind of prayer in the Spirit that every believer is called to.) Neither is it a special kind of meditation whereby you enter into ‘Spirit-mode’ by walking round and round the city of Cambridge, reclaiming spiritual authority over Trinity College from the devil, reclaiming King’s College chapel from the occupying forces of the evil one. No, if you remember, last week we learnt that Paul describes the sword of the Spirit as the spoken word of God (Instead of “logos”, which means revelation, expression and word, Paul uses the word “rhema” which is the spoken revelation, an expression that is verbal, a word that is preached). These words are not meant to stay on the printed page. We need to speak them daily into our lives - whether it’s the preaching of the gospel on Sundays, or the study of the bible in our small groups, and even - Paul is saying, and even - in the praying of God's word in our prayer meetings. The Spirit of God works through the spoken word of God, and if you want God’s spirit to work through our prayers; if you want God’s will to be done through our prayers, Paul is saying, the way to do that is to pray according to his word. When you do that, you are praying in the Spirit. You take up the sword of the Spirit by praying in the Spirit.

Meaning, when we do come together to pray, God’s word is not an optional extra. If anything, the bible is teaching us that the only way to know that you are actually praying according to God’s will is by praying according to God’s word. Jesus warns us that some people think their prayers are heard “because of their many words” (Matthew 7:7). James tells us that some of us don’t get what we pray for, “because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” And Peter tells the men in the church to be considerate to their wives, to treat them with respect as the weaker partner, as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, “so that nothing will hinder your prayers” (1 Peter 3:7). Paul writes, “I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger and disputing” (1 Timothy 2:8).

Sometimes we tell our friends, “Just talk to God. He’ll hear your prayer and he’ll answer all your prayers.” Do you know that the bible teaches that God doesn’t listen to some of our prayers? When I’ve treated my wife with disrespect. When I come to God full of myself with hidden motives to sin, he won’t hear my prayers. When I have hatred towards a brother and sister in Christ, Jesus says, “First go and be reconciled with your brother; then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 7:23). God turns away from some of our prayers - perhaps he even turns away from many of our prayers - when they are offered up with pride, with presumption and with prejudice. I say this to you because, many of us don’t know that. And we don’t know that because we don’t know the word of God and we don’t pray according to the will of God.

To say that God hears all our prayers is simply not true. I’m sorry if that comes as a shock to some of you. Prayer is a privilege and a prerogative of those who have a relationship with God as their heavenly Father. That was the radical lesson that Jesus taught his disciples. “This, then is how you should pray,” Jesus said. “Our Father in heaven.” Daddy. That’s the one and only basis. Not your sincerity. Not your position in church. Not even the urgency and seriousness of the problem you are praying for. You approach God on his terms, through his Son, Jesus Christ, who brings us before his throne; who says before his heavenly Father, “I have given my life on the cross to pay the price for Calvin’s forgiveness and now I clothe him with my righteousness and my holiness. Accept him as you would accept me. Love him as your son.” On that basis, and that basis alone, we come to God and say, “Father.”

And he hears us. The amazing thing that Ephesians 6:17 does is it frees us up in order to be able to pray. Paul says, “Pray in the Spirit on all occasions, with all kinds of prayers and requests.” Everywhere and anywhere. Every occasion and every situation. God will hear your prayers and God will answer your prayers.

I was speaking at an event last month on the rich young man who approached Jesus for a place on his mission team. Here was a Cambridge graduate. Here was a morally-upright man. Here was the perfect candidate to lead the next church plant in Arbury. And the surprising thing is, Jesus turns him away because though this young man was sincere and moral and good, his basis of approaching Jesus was his own sincerity, his own morality and his own goodness. Right after the talk, one of the students asked me, “So how should this man have approached Jesus instead?” I pointed him back to the same passage. Right after the rich young man left, all the disciples were shocked and said, “Jesus, do you know what you’ve just done? You’ve turned away Mark Zuckerberg!” But immediately after, Peter speaks up on behalf of the gang and asks, what I think is the most outrageous, the most insensitive and the most idiotic of questions. He says to Jesus, “We’ve given everything to follow you, Jesus. What are we going to get in return?”

Now most of us hear that and think, “What an idiot! How thick-skinned! Not shy man, this guy!” But let me just say, a lot of our prayers to Jesus sound exactly like that to him. A lot of our prayers are insensitive, thick-skinned and not shy. We think we’ve done something extraordinary that deserves a reward (“Jesus I played the keyboard really well at church today, how are you going to bless me?”). We come to Jesus looking to get something from him. But do you know what Jesus does? In response to Peter's bold request, Jesus promises him much more than what Peter asks for. A hundred times more.

“I tell you the truth,” Jesus replied, “no-one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields - and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life.”
Mark 10:29-30

What kind of request was Peter’s? A silly request, yes. A childish request, yes. But it was a request that was spoken out of faith, out of trust, out of dependence on Jesus alone to fulfil that request. In that sense, it wasn’t so much childish as it was child-like. Prayer is saying to God, my hands are empty, I have nothing in and of myself to offer you, but accept me on the basis of your word, on the basis of the promises found in your word, and on the basis of Jesus’ death on the cross. Jesus is, in effect, teaching us that God loves to answer such prayers. In fact, he will do abundant more than we ask or imagine to bless us through such prayers.

In all occasions, at all times, will all kinds of requests. Some translations have, “supplications” which means asking God for something. That’s important because a lot of prayer, if not all of our prayers, involve asking God for something. We sometimes hear Christians describe prayer as “talking to God”, and that’s true. But according to the bible and according to Jesus, in reality and in practice, the heart of our prayers have less to do with talking with God and more to do with petitioning God, requesting God to do something for us. And therefore, Paul is impressing upon us the need for prayer not simply as a discipline, even less as a kind of skill that you develop, but essentially as an expression of our need and dependence upon God. You pray at all times, at all occasions because you always need God’s help at every moment of your lives. It means constantly approaching God in humility, in need and yet with full confidence that he hears us, with every expectation that he will help us.

If you remember again, Jesus’ model or template prayer to his friends, teaches them to say:

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.
Matthew 6:9-13

At each and every point, Jesus’ model prayer teaches us to ask God for something - for the glory of his name, for his kingdom, for our food and livelihood, for the forgiveness of our sins, for protection from temptation and the devil. Request upon request, upon request. We are confessing before God our need. We are trusting in his goodness and faithfulness to meet our need. Meaning, when someone asks you how they can pray for you, and you are tempted to reply, “Oh, I’m OK. Thanks very much for the thought.” The reason we give such answers - and I have done so, myself, at times - isn’t because we are embarrassed, or that we are so content with our lives we don’t have anything urgent that needs attention. If we are honest, such requests take us by surprise. We stutter in embarrassment and we don't know how to respond. That's because most of us don’t get up in the morning and say to ourselves, “Boy! Today’s going to be a real pickle to get through. God, please help me!” Oh, we do so when we’re in the midst of our exams. We turn up at the prayer meeting when there’s that emergency situation that sorely needs attention. But Jesus’ prayer is meant to be an everyday prayer, an all-day prayer. We need God to answer this prayer every single day. “Forgive my sins.” Even, “Please put food on my table.” When we don’t see our need for God everyday we won’t recognise our need for prayer every day. The issue that Paul is getting at is complacency. That’s why he says, with regard to the Ephesians’ attitude to prayer, “You fellas need to wake up!”

With this in mind, be alert and always keep praying for all the saints.
Ephesians 6:18b

On the night that he was betrayed, Jesus told his closest friends to stay awake, to be alert, and to pray with him. But their eyes were heavy and they kept falling asleep. They had, after all, just had a big dinner and a nap felt so good. Paul uses that language of staying awake and staying alert here to bring home the point of spiritual awareness, prayerful alertness. Be alert, he says. Keep on praying for all the saints, he says. Some of us pray at the end of the day, and that’s not a bad thing. The bible does not prescribe set times for prayer. And yet, I wonder if the reason we pray at the end of the day, on our beds in the horizontal position, two milliseconds before knocking off into lala-land, is simply because we put it off till then end of the day. We don’t see the urgency. We go through the entire day unaware of of our need for prayer, the importance of prayer - for ourselves, and Paul says here in verse 18, for our brothers and sisters. “Always keep praying for all the saints.” Here’s a tip if you find yourself stuck in knowing what to pray for: Get out piece of paper and write down the names of everyone who turned up at bible study this week. One by one. As you write each name, pray for him or her. Don’t ramble on. Just say out loud that specific requests for that brother - that his car will be fixed, his job application will get through, that he will prepare for the next bible study well; for that sister - that her family will come to know Jesus, that she will apply today’s sermon in her life. Be short, be specific and move on. Next time you open up Facebook, pray for the person whose name pops up. Next time you fire up your email, pray for the person who just wrote you. This is one way to stay engaged in your prayer life, by praying specifically for each of your friends and for all your friends. And if you are one of those with a thousand friends on Facebook, there is no reason why your prayer would be at all boring! If anything, you will probably end up praying all day, every day!

In this sense, the time at prayer meetings is not well-spent going through long lists prayer requests, especially when there are lots of you, and there are lots of requests. When we do come together to pray, we should... well, just pray. Not talk about praying for someone, and then say, “We’ll go home and pray for all this stuff we didn’t have enough time to pray over.” In fact, resolve to turn up, not to say anything at all, and to just pray. If you do open your mouth, first open the bible and then open your mouth only to read God’s word to God’s people. Because the only basis we have for prayer is God’s promise in his word. We are leaning on his faithfulness to fulfil all that he has said he will do in his word through Jesus Christ. In this way, we hear God’s voice and we respond in worship and prayer, with alertness and supplication, for ourselves and for our brothers and sisters.

Jesus once prayed, “Father, I thank you that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of those standing here, that they may believe that you sent me” (John 11:42). Even Jesus did not feel the need to let everyone know what he was praying for, but when he did, it was for the benefit of those who heard him. Why? So that they would know who he was and so that his hearers would know the God who sent him. How much more for us, when we open our mouths to pray before God’s people, to actually have our hearers in mind, and to consciously reveal who Jesus truly is. When we do pray aloud - here in church, in our bible studies, in our prayer meetings - it’s not just a private conversation between you and God. It is you, together with God’s people, gathering before God. And if Jesus felt the importance to speak with clarity the gospel when he prayed in the presence of his friends - hence, the Lord’s prayer which teaches us about God’s kingdom, our sinfulness and need for forgiveness; and hence, Jesus’ longest prayer in the whole bible, found in John Chapter 17 for the disciples, where he asks God to “sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth... I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known...” - how much more should we be conscious to pray like Jesus, to make God known through our words of prayers, to pray God’s word made known to us through the scriptures.

So, to recap, praying in the Spirit is Paul’s explanation on what it means to take up the sword of the Spirit. It means praying in accordance with God’s truth. Such are the prayers that God empowers by his Spirit. But secondly, taking up the sword of the Spirit means asking God to empower the preaching of his word through his Spirit. This is at the centre of Paul’s prayer request for himself.

Boldness in preaching

Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, 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. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.
Ephesians 6:19-20

Paul does not say, “Pray that God will release me from my chains.” That’s because Paul knows the reason why he is in chains, not simply as a result of preaching the gospel and annoying a whole lot of powerful people who decided to lock him away. No, he is in chains in order to preach the gospel. He calls himself an “ambassador in chains”. (That's like Barack Obama introducing himself as the President in Prison.) Elsewhere, he tells the Ephesians not to be discouraged because his sufferings for them, which are their glory (Ephesians 3:13). And his prayer request is for God to enable him not to waste even his suffering as an opportunity to display God's glory in his suffering for the gospel.

The one thing he says that he needs is fearlessness, or boldness (as the ESV and KJV has it). Twice, he asks for boldness in making known the mystery of the gospel (verse 19), and in declaring it boldly, “as I should” (verse 20), as if to say that boldness is the manner in which the message of God deserves to be delivered. It deserves to presented with full confidence, with full conviction. And yet, this is not the kind of proud, confident, boastful speech that comes from power and experience. Paul isn’t trying to impress his hearers with his skills in bible interpretation packed with witty illustrations conveyed with eloquent oratory. He needs boldness because of he is a broken man. He is in prison, under guard and in chains. His audience will regard him as trash. His hearers will be those who have the authority to put him away for life or to torture him to death. Paul says he needs boldness in these very situations of brokenness; confidence in the midst of contriteness. And so his prayer is for the Spirit to sustain him amidst his suffering.

And yet, it is worth noting that that word “boldness” could equally be translated “plainness”. That is, Paul concern is to preach the gospel as plainly and as clearly as possible. For all his theology and education, this is still Paul’s number one prayer request, “Please pray that people will understand what I’m saying when I tell them about Jesus.” That’s the concern: For people to know God. Not for people to like us. Not for people to be impressed by our grasp of Greek and Hebrew. But that Jesus is seen as who he really is: Lord and Saviour and God. “Pray that I may declare it plainly, as I should,” Paul says. “I want to be clear, and I need God’s help to do this. Please pray for me,” Paul is saying.

Last night I had a chat with a brother about preaching, and he was quite honest in telling me that after so many years he still gets nervous about preaching the bible in front of the church. I was surprised because, in my estimation, he is a good speaker and an experienced leader. Yet his nervousness was not so much about standing in front of a crowd and having to deliver a speech. He said, “I’m always concerned about the responsibility of saying something from God’s word that will help my brothers and sisters.” That’s a right kind of nervousness to have. Paul says, “Pray that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me.” Paul doesn’t want to give his opinion, he wants to God to give him the words that he is to speak. Paul is nervous about opening his mouth and saying something other than God’s word whenever he preaches the gospel.

In Matthew Chapter 5, Jesus sees the crowds approaching him, and the gospel writer, Matthew, has a very interesting description of what Jesus does next. Verse 2 reads, “He opened his mouth and taught them.” And you might think that is a strange thing to say. Of course Jesus had to open his mouth in order to teach them! (Hence, the NIV leaves this description out completely; you will need to turn to translations like the ESV to notice this phrase). The expression “to open his mouth” actually describes a deliberate action to say something very carefully in a circumstance of great seriousness. It means the speaker is choosing his words with immense care and thought. Psalm 78, and verse 2, reads, “I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter hidden things, things from of old” (which Jesus himself quotes from in Matthew 13 when explaining why he chooses to explain the Kingdom of God using parables. He was choosing his words carefully to filter out the fans from the faithful hearers.).

Paul uses the same expression when describing his preaching of the gospel. He wants to be clear. He wants to be bold. But also, he wants to be careful with what he says. He is speaking God’s word - making known "the mystery of the gospel" is how he describes it - and this is a solemn responsibility given him as a pastor-teacher. “Pray that I may do this fearlessly, as I should.” Would you pray this for me, as I teach from the bible? Often times, whenever I speak to the students here in Cambridge, they ask me how they can pray for me. In the past, I’ve asked for prayer for our church. I’ve always asked for prayer for my family; my own walk with God as a husband. But of late, I say this, “Pray for this week’s message at the Chinese Church,” and I tell them what that message is about. By that I don’t just mean that I need more time, or more wisdom, or more insight - all these things are true and vital. But what I mean is what Paul means here: That I be very careful with the words that I say, because they are not just my own. I am passing on to you God’s word. I am representing him when I speak on behalf of Christ. My desire is that the gospel be heard with conviction, but most of all, with clarity, because as Paul says, “That is the way I ought to speak.”

Similarly, I wonder if you might be in need of such prayer, as you speak about Jesus to the kids at Sunday School? As you share the gospel with your brother, your sister, your mum or dad? You need that boldness and brokenness that comes from relying completely on God’s Spirit to give you the right words to bring across the message of salvation in Christ alone. Why not ask someone to pray for you to be able to do that fearlessly and clearly as you should?

The sword of the Spirit is the spoken word of God, and here Paul shows us two important ways of applying that word in our lives: in prayer and in evangelism. We pray according to God’s will by praying according to God’s word. We become ambassadors of Christ - his representatives and spokespersons - by speaking the gospel clearly to our friends and family. In doing so, we become partners with God in the work of his kingdom. One such person is Tychicus, whom Paul commends to the church in Ephesus as a brother and faithful servant in the Lord.

The faithful friend; A firm foundation

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.
Ephesians 6:21-22

Tychicus was a missionary, but a special kind of missionary. You see, we think of a missionary as someone the church sends out to a distant country to preach the gospel. Missionaries are sent out. They plant new churches. They tell other people about Jesus. But Tychicus was a special kind of missionary; I call him a reverse-missionary. Instead of going out from the church, Paul kept sending Tychicus back into the church. He is a missionary in reverse. We find Tychicus mentioned elsewhere in Colossians Chapter 4 and 2 Timothy Chapter 4. In both cases, Paul keeps sending Tychicus back to the churches, which already have the gospel, who already have elders, who are already Christian. Why? Firstly, to let them know how the mission is going as kind of like a missionary update; Paul says, “so that you also may know how I am and what I am doing.” But also for another important reason. Paul is deeply concerned that these churches who began with Jesus Christ, continue on faithfully in Jesus Christ. Tychicus went back to Ephesus to bring the letter of Ephesians. Tychicus was sent to Colossae to bring them the letter to the Colossians. Both of these letters say surprisingly little about the mission itself. Both of these letters are packed with reminders of the gospel. Paul’s number concern is for Christians who began in Jesus Christ, to continue in Jesus Christ.

But it also says something that Paul sends a brother whom he trusts, whom he loves to convey a message that he values. Tychicus is a dear - literally, loved - brother and a faithful servant in the Lord. Paul sends his best, most trusted friend to encourage the Christians in Ephesus. Remember that Paul was their founding pastor. Remember that Paul said that he would never have the opportunity of returning to this church ever again. Yet Paul never left them in a lurch. Before Paul left, he made well sure that the church in Ephesus had elders - good men who were able to lead the church. By the way, here was a church that was only three years old, meaning that these elders had only been Christians for three years at the most, and yet Paul saw the importance of spiritual leadership and didn’t neglect to provide the believers in the church with the elders that they needed. And on top of all that, Paul prayed for them and he wrote back to them. He didn’t write about the weather in Rome. He didn’t send them photos of the places he visited. No, he wrote doctrine. Ephesians is packed with teachings on Jesus as the fulfilment of God’s promise in reconciling Jews and Gentiles - the religious and irreligious - to himself. Ephesians is a testament to the sovereignty of God and the lordship of Jesus Christ. This was heavy, meaty, solid doctrine on the Word of God. And he delivered it through his most trusted friend, Tychicus, who probably stayed on Ephesus to preach through the lessons found in the book of Ephesians. Meaning this, Paul was away from the church but he ensured that this church was always rooted in the gospel by making sure that they had other faithful leaders who could remind them of the gospel - leaders like the elders he appointed before he left; leaders like Tychicus whom he sent back to them to preach the gospel to these believers.

All this is to say, Paul never took the church’s foundation of the gospel for granted. He wanted every believer - young and old - to be rooted in Jesus Christ; to continue on growing in Jesus Christ; to mature in their love for Jesus Christ. Look at how he ends the letter in verse 23:

An undying love

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.
Ephesians 6:23-24

Here is a church that has received God’s love and have responded to God with love. The word “love” occurs four times in these closing words, did you notice that? Twice it is sent and twice it is responded to. Paul sends Tychicus, a beloved brother (verse 21) and Paul sends them love with faith from God and Jesus (verse 23). The believers in Ephesus in love to Jesus with an undying love. In other words, what we have in the Ephesian church is a loving church: a church that is loved by God; and a church that loves God faithfully in Jesus Christ.

As we close our study of the entire book of Ephesians, after six months going through every chapter and verse, my question to you is simply this: Do you love Jesus? Do you love him with an undying love? Meaning, Do you love Jesus, resolving to always love him faithfully and continually with all that you are?

That’s an important question to get across here in the Chinese Church. The question that seems to be on most of our minds these days is: When will we get another pastor? Who will lead our church? By the way, the Ephesian church had the apostle Paul as their senior pastor. But do you know who else pastored this church? The apostle John. John actually lived in Ephesus, and even wrote the three letters of 1, 2 and 3 John which we have in the New Testament, right here in this city of Ephesus. That’s like saying to the Chinese Church, “Our next pastor is going to be John Piper! And after John Piper retires, Mark Driscoll will replace him as the next pastor of the Cambridge Chinese Christian Church!” Wow! Wouldn’t that be something? Having two heavyweight theologians and preachers as the pastors in our church? On top of all that, Ephesians has four books in the bible written to it and from this church. Here was a church that published books on Jesus which everyone else in the world referred to as textbooks of the Christian faith. Wouldn’t that be the ultimate dream if it were to happen here in the Chinese Church? Setting the standard for doctrine and holiness for believers worldwide!

And yet, it is worth noting that Ephesus is mentioned one last time in the bible, by someone even more famous than the apostles Paul and John combined: Jesus speaks directly to the church in Ephesus in the book of Revelation as the first of seven churches addressed in his letter. The resurrected Jesus Christ says, “Hey, Ephesus! I’ve got something to say to you!” Well, what does he say? Have a look:

Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.
Revelation 2:4-5

What does Paul say again in the very last verse of Ephesians? Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love. What happened? Their undying love eventually... died. “You have forsaken your first love,” Jesus says to them.

Do you love Jesus? (You know, that’s a much more fundamental question than: Who’s going to be our next pastor?) The real question to deal with is this: Have you forgotten him as your first love? Do you still love him with an undying love? It is an honest question that demands an honest answer.

For those who have left for Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, China, I do want to know how they’re doing back home. I am concerned that they are in a good church that teaches the bible. But the real question I would want to ask them is this: Do you love Jesus?

And what about you here today? What do you think is the most important thing to get right here in the Chinese Church? The church in Ephesus had the best pastors on the planet and still, if you were to go to Ephesus today, which is in modern-day Turkey, the entire city lies in ruins. It’s gone. Jesus warned them, “If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.” If that’s what he did to Ephesus, do you think Jesus wouldn’t dare take the same action with us here at the Chinese Church? I ask you again: Do you love Jesus Christ with an undying love? The answer to that question has eternal consequences for you and all of us as a church.

That’s the reason Paul wrote the letter back then to the Ephesians - to encourage them to remain faithful. And that’s why we read this same letter as Christians today, so that those of us who began with Jesus Christ, continue in Jesus Christ, and finish well in Jesus Christ. Over the course of the past months, we have seen that this kind of faithful sacrificial love has practical relevance for our marriages, for our witness to the gospel, for our submission to our parents and employers, for our growing maturity in God’s word and for our constant battle against the sin, the devil and temptation. We do all this as recipients of God’s love in Jesus Christ and we do all this in response to God’s love through Jesus Christ.

Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love. I hope that this is a blessing that describes you and me today, as those who love Jesus undyingly, unwaveringly and wholeheartedly all of our lives.

In conclusion, let me recap four points of application from today's passage:

1. Pray at all times, at all occasions, for all people in the Spirit
No time is a bad time. No time is an inappropriate time to pray. But pray in the Spirit. By that, Paul means for us to pray according to God's will as it is revealed in God's word. There is no sense in asking God to do something that he hasn't promised in the bible. And it is a shame to miss out on the abundant blessing he does want to bless us with that he does make clear in his Word. The promise of himself. The promise of holiness. The reminders of his love. The forgiveness of our sin. The giving of his Son. Know this but also, pray this, Paul says.

2. Pray for God's word to be given you when you speak God's word to others
When you open your mouth to speak for Jesus in any situation - be it to your classmate, in your bible study, or even after this to the person next to you - you are representing God as an ambassador. A representative. Paul says this needs boldness but also brokenness. This needs confidence and contriteness.

3. Value faithfulness in the gospel
Tychicus was the guy Paul could depend on. Paul doesn't call him the impressive guy. Paul says nothing about his qualifications and credentials. Rather, above all else. Tychicus is the faithful servant, the brother who is always at Paul's side. Look out for the brothers and sisters who keep on doing what needs to be done for the gospel. Those of the kind of people we need in our lives to keep us faithful to our spouses, to our friends, to our leaders, to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

4. Love Jesus
It all comes down to love from Jesus and our response of love to Jesus. Do you love him with an undying love? I pray that with God's help, we do.

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