18 October 2020 (Trinity Nineteenth Sunday Morning Prayer) Ephesians 4:17-32
Last week, we meditated about the Grace of our LORD Jesus Christ according to Bible. Christian life is not like walking on a red carpet. The early Christian churches faced many difficulties. The traditional Jewish people and people from other faiths were barriers to the early Christian church. Jesus’s teachings were diluted by the Jews and people from other faiths. The church in the city of Ephesus is one of the early Christian churches. The city of Ephesus was the capital of Asia minor during the Roman reign and dynasty. The temple of Artemis which is one of the seven wonders of the world was in this city. Ephesus was very famous for idol worship. Paul played a major role in building the early church in Ephesus. People in the early Christian church of Ephesus were confused about the doctrine. In this situation, St. Paul wrote the epistle of Ephesians to encourage the church in Ephesus to grow in Christ. In his letter, Paul addressed the issues and gave solutions.
We can read more about the church of Ephesus in Revelation chapter 2. Verses 1-7 tell us about the characteristics of the early church in Ephesus. God was pleased with their works, labour, patience, stand against evil, discerning of spirit and their love for Jesus. God was also pleased because they hated the principles of Nicolaitans which God also hates. However, God was not pleased with a few qualities in the early Christians in Ephesus. God expected perfection in their Christian life. They were asked to correct themselves in their Christian life and to reconcile with Jesus Christ. We read about this in Revelation 2:4-5. Although the early Christians in the Church of Ephesus had many good qualities and faced many challenges, God did not give them assurance about their eternal life in the kingdom of heaven.
First let us meditate what we are required learn about Christ according to Paul. Ephesians was written in the first century after Jesus Christ died on the cross for the redemption of our sins. During that time, what was the learning they had about Jesus? Jesus preached about repentance and eternal life in the kingdom of God. In Ephesians 4 verse 17, Paul says to the Ephesus church “walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind”. In verses 18 and 19 he continues to say about the characteristics of the gentiles. Their understanding was darkened, they were alienated from the life of God, they were ignorant, their heart was blind. In the following verses Paul asks the Ephesians to put down the old man, reconcile with Jesus and put on the new man to live for Christ.
Paul also mentions that what we, the church, have learned about Christ is different from what the gentiles have learned. Psalm 103:8 is often quoted to describe the Lord: “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy”. Other verses like Joel 2:13, Jonah 4:2, James 5:11 also say that the Lord is gracious and merciful. 1 John 4:8 says that “God is love”. While the gentiles understood Jesus as gracious, merciful and love, the church had more understanding about Jesus.
So what is our understanding about Jesus?
Let us recollect a couple of incidents from Bible:
- We are familiar with the parable of talents. The master gave five talents to one servant, two to the second servant and one talent to the third servant. When the master returned, the first servant gave the master ten talents and the second one gave four. The third servant who received one talent said, “Lord, I knew thee that thou art an hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed: And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine”. The master calls him “wicked and slothful servant” and cast the unprofitable servant into outer darkness.
- Let us recall another incident. After Palm Sunday, when Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem, he felt hungry and saw a fig tree. He went close to the tree to find fruit. He could not find any fruit on the tree and cursed the tree. Bible says that the tree withered soon. Theologians say that it was not the season for the fig tree to bear fruits. Was Jesus right to expect fruits from the fig tree when it was not its season?
It is true that Jesus loves us and God is love. That is the reason He died for us on the cross as Passover lamb to redeem every one of us by shedding His blood. He died so that we may live. He paid our debts so we can be free. He is holy and expects us to be holy. Jesus expects us to bear fruits in our Christian life. The servant’s reply shows us that we are expected to meet high expectations. We should live our lives profitable to Jesus.
Because of this understanding, what are we expected to do?
Repent and endure unto the end: When Jesus started his ministry, He preached about repentance and the kingdom of God. Matthew 4:17 says, “From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”. Jesus did not preach only to Jews. Matthew 4 says that Jesus departed to Galilee and started His ministry in the land of Zabulon, and the land of Nephthalim, by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles. Jesus’s preaching about repentance was not restricted to one community but it was for everyone. All through His ministry, He preached about inheriting eternal life and enduring till the end through many parables. We read about enduring to the end in Matthew 24:13 and Revelation 2&3, where the Holy Spirit encouraged the early churches to endure to the end. Paul followed Jesus’s commandment in Luke 24:47 “that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem”. Paul said in Ephesians 4:22–24, “put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness”. We have to put off the old man with our in-born characteristics and put on the new man Jesus Christ.
Do not to give place to devil: Once we have put off the old man, Paul asks us not to give place to the devil. Ephesians 4:27 says, “Neither give place to the devil.”. James 4:7 says, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” We cannot inherit the kingdom of God if we do not resist the devil. 1 Peter 5:8 encourages us to “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour”. When meditating this passage, I was reminded of the song ‘I have decided to follow Jesus, No turning back’. When we have decided to follow Jesus, we must not turn back. The world will be behind us and the cross before us.
Bear fruits and give much: From the parable of the talents, we must give back at least twice of what we have received. We must bear the fruits that the master expects. In the early churches, when people from other faiths accepted Jesus, they did not give importance for bearing fruits in their Christian life. But Jesus expects us to bear fruit in all seasons throughout our life. Galatians 5:22-23 says about the fruits that Jesus expects us to bear: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law”. Luke 12:48 says, “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more”. We are called to give much of whatever we have received.
Do not grieve the holy Spirit: In Ephesians 4:30, Paul says “grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.” It is very important that we do not grieve the holy spirit. Acts 7:51 says that we grieve the Holy Spirit when we are “stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears”. Jesus said in Matthew 12:31&32, “Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men. And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come”. We are all redeemed by the blood of the lamb of God and sealed by the Holy Spirit while we are waiting for the day of the LORD. It is only through the Holy Spirit’s guidance that we can repent from our sins, resist the devil, bear fruits and endure to the end. On the other hand, we grieve the Holy Spirit when we do not give heed to the voice of Holy Spirit.
Let us self-examine ourselves. What is our understanding about Jesus? Earlier today we sang the song “All to Jesus I surrender”. Have we really surrendered everything to Jesus? Are we giving heed to the Holy Spirit’s still small voice that guide, convicts and confronts us? Or are we limiting ourselves saying God is gracious, merciful and love? We must be careful not to grieve the Holy Spirit. John 14:26 says, “the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you”. The early Christian Church of Ephesus had many good qualities that God admired but we read in Revelation 2:4–5, “I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.” The servant who did not multiply the talent was cast into the outer darkness where there was weeping and gnashing of teeth. The fig tree that did not bear fruits was cursed and it withered. It is our choice to enter into the joy of our Lord or outer darkness.