Sermon – part 1
What we’re doing this morning is more of a Bible Study then a sermon, in some respects. We’ve had a number of readings from the letter to the Ephesians, and people have asked me to say a bit more about it.
Ephesians is one of a number of letters which were written in the early church. When we read the letters in the New Testament, we need to remember that they were all replies to letters that were sent, but we only have the reply, and not the original letter, so we don’t know the questions that they were responding to. We also need to remember that they’ve been heavily edited down the years, and like all Bible passages, we need to take account of who wrote it, why they wrote it, and who they were writing it to.
Now, turning to Ephesians in particular, traditionally, this letter was thought to be written by Paul, but for much of twentieth century scholars questioned this, suggesting it couldn’t be written by Paul because some aspects of the language and style are different to Paul’s other letters, and because it is much more theological and reflective, rather than addressing the more mundane matters the earlier letters address.
These views held sway for much of twentieth century, but the pendulum has swung back somewhat now, and many mainstream scholars are making the case for attributing authorship to Paul by explaining how there are fewer problems to solve if Paul was the author than if Paul was not. These are mainstream writers, people like Tom Wright who was Bishop of Durham, and now Professor at St. Andrew’s, and George Caird, the first Congregationalist to be Professor of Biblical Studies at Oxford University. For now, I’m going to leave that argument aside and assume Paul did write the letter, and if you’re really interested in that we can pursue that another time.
So, what I’m going to give you in a moment is a letter from the Ephesians to Paul – obviously it’s been written by me, but the idea is to show the kind of letter that Paul could have received to provoke the kind of reply that is what we call Ephesians, and much more importantly, it gives you an overview of some of the ideas and themes in Ephesians.
So what we’re going to hear now is the opening of this letter to the Ephesians, with a reading from the first chapter.
Sermon – part 2
A letter from Apollos in Ephesus to his friend and mentor:
The Elders of the church here in Ephesus were so worried when we heard of your sufferings in Rome, but then we heard that you had been released from prison and allowed to stay in your own rented house.
They asked me, Apollos, your wise old friend to write this letter to you as a brother philosopher.
The church is alive and well here in Ephesus; and ever since I returned from Corinth, the number of Christians has been growing. You led us, from when we were a tiny congregation meeting in a private house until we were big enough to hold our assemblies in the lecture hall of Tyrannus in the marketplace. Then we split into several different congregations meeting in different houses, and now there are twenty thriving churches, each with thirty or forty members. In a city of a quarter of a million residents (if you include the slaves, and we always do) that may not seem like many, but we have high hopes.
Several of your friends among the Asiarchs who rule the Province are faithful members of the church – and one of the proconsuls of the city. The Town Clerk, who defended you during the rioting in the theatre, was converted last year. And several gladiators, who brought their armour to our assembly because they won’t need it now. And the madam of one of the brothels, almost opposite Aquila and Priscilla’s tent-making shop where you stayed, has just become a Christian! Now we use her former premises, called The House of Love, for our meetings! The great Temple of Artemis is still the centre of the city’s life, but one of us received a prophecy that one day there will be nothing left of that. And the silversmiths, who sell silver models of the temple, and were the cause of the riot, are still bothering us. Of course Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians still argue over law and grace; but at last we are beginning to see each other’s point of view.
We hear you have written a letter to the church in Colossae. We’re actually rather jealous. It’s only a small place, way up-river from here, whereas Ephesus is the harbour at the river’s mouth, and the capital of the Province of Asia. Yet you’ve never written a letter to us! Couldn’t you summarize what you wrote to them, and repeat it in a letter to us and all the new churches in the towns around here? What we need is a summary of what you’ve learnt in your years as a missionary – visiting the churches; dealing with their squabbles and disagreements. What are the things you would like the churches in Asia Province, at the present stage of their development, to pay most attention to?
In the letters you wrote from here to Corinth and Rome, you stressed the importance of unity, between Jewish and Gentile Christians in the church, and between different races in the Empire. Does that mean unity at all costs, even if it involves ignoring the false ideas that some Christian preachers proclaim? Is it more important than the gifts of the Spirit? Can we make much impact on the Roman authorities while the church remains so small and divided?
Sadly some converts here continue to steal, or visit prostitutes; they quarrel and gossip. What have you learned about the relationships between Christian husbands and wives? Is the husband still the head of the house? I can think of some couples where the husband would order his wife to leave the church if you said otherwise! What about disobedient children, and parents who punish their children too severely?
What about slaves who become Christians? What is the secret we have to share – the mystery of our religion?
Give us a good, thoughtful, philosophical reply.
We’re asking Tychicus to bring this letter with him to Rome, and hope he may be able to bring back your reply. Then I shall be able to tell my friends that those who are in Christ have a philosophy to bear comparison with all the others.
Your devoted friend and colleague,
Scripture Reading Ephesians 6:18-20
Sermon – part 3
So, now we know a bit more about it, what does it mean for us?
First and foremost, if it’s anything, Ephesians is a reminder to keep God at the heart of all that we do, and all that we are. If we don’t try and do that, all else is pointless.
Ephesians also has something to say about unity. God wants not just Christians, but everyone to be united. If we’re not united, we’re not as close to God as we could be.
Ephesians also reminds us that we’re alive in Christ. Not dead, or asleep, or grumpy, but alive.
So, let us pause for a moment of silence, to reflect upon God at the heart our lives, our church, and the wider world.