"Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God."
Read Ephesians 4:25 – 5:2
Ephesus was a centre of the worship of the Greek goddess Artemis, and the Temple was bigger than St Paul’s Cathedral in London, though very little remains today.
It was Paul who had established the Christian community there, which almost immediately began to have an impact, because we read about a silversmith called Demetrius who had been doing very nicely, thank you, making silver models of the gods to sell in the Temple. He heard about the effect of Paul’s teaching, and complained bitterly that he would lose all his business, so he stirred up a riot against what was happening in the Church.
So, Ephesus, a busy city buzzing with life. There’s a wonderful mix of people there, from the poorest slave to the richest of merchants, and among the mix of folk who are attracted to the Church are both the godly and the dodgy – but then I guess if you picked a random 100 people from the streets of most towns today you’d end up with a similar mix of humanity.
Paul’s in prison in Rome as he writes this letter, but his heart is very definitely in Ephesus. He’s been talking about the blessings that come from living the Christian life – the hope that Jesus brought, the forgiveness and mercy, love, peace and power that are poured out on those who believe. He’s talked of being brought from death to life, made citizens of a new kingdom, members of God’s household he calls it.
He’s talked about himself, who he considers least of all people to be blessed by God, considering his background, and yet he has been given this wonderful gift by God, of being able to bring others to faith by God speaking through him so powerfully. Paul loves the believers in Ephesus and wants nothing but the best for them. He wants to see them as a united fellowship living a life worthy of the call of God on their life.
This is what he says to them just before our reading. “I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”
Right at the beginning of his letter he calls these believers ‘the saints in Ephesus’, which is an interesting description when you hear what he says to them in our reading, insisting that their lives must reflect the faith they profess – they must no longer live as they used to, as the Gentiles live. And he gives a few pertinent examples, which say so much about this group of people…
I get the impression that the fellowship at Ephesus was quite an interesting mix of people!
The small group of believers who had started the church must have been very welcoming, sharing God’s love and putting aside, initially at least, the obvious and maybe not so obvious faults of newcomers such as dishonesty, untruthfulness, inappropriate language, outbursts of anger, back-biting, insensitivity and so on.
Those character traits, though not appropriate for Christians, were secondary to the response to God’s call on their lives. But now is the time, says Paul, to make a start on eliminating these things and imitating not the people around them, but the one they were following, Jesus.
That’s their challenge now, to look at Jesus’ life and learn from that. The Message version translate Paul’s words, ‘Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that.’
And of course, Paul’s message is not just for the Ephesian Church, it’s as relevant today as it was then. If we take a look at our own lives, then I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that there is room for improvement in one or two areas.
How honest am I in my dealings with, say, the tax authorities, how easily do I find myself getting angry, or frustrated with people? How critical am I about others without considering my own faults (remember the story Jesus told of not concentrating on a speck of dust in one person’s eye when there’s a great big log in our own!) How’s my tolerance levels, my patience? When was the last time I was extravagant in the giving of love?
These things matter, because they get in the way of both our relationship with other people, and our relationship with God. Because they stop us from fully appreciating the blessing that comes from all that Jesus has done for us and hinder us all in the building up of the Church.
Because newcomers, friends, colleagues, all those who know us and the strangers we strike up a conversation with need to see something in our lives that is different, different to the prevailing culture of fake news and half-truths, the endless struggle to gain wealth and possessions, and our preoccupations with self.
They need to see something more like Jesus, who was happier to give than receive, who accepted all people as worthy of his love, whether they were beggars or wealthy young rulers.
We are not perfect, we whom I am sure Paul would call the saints in this town! We’re work in progress, just like the church in Ephesus, and God calls us, through Paul’s words, to look at Jesus and model our lives around his example – let Jesus be the one who influences our words and actions, and if that’s a big challenge, then so be it, for the rewards are great, as we’ll hear from our Gospel reading shortly!