Can you remember streetcars? They were a common sight in most American cities sixty years ago. In streetcars two important connections were essential to get them going. First, the wheels had to be on the gray steel tracks. And the overhead connection had to reach out to the power lines.
A streetcar in a pasture would be as hopeless and useless as a ship on a parking lot. On the other hand, if a streetcar were solidly and squarely on the tracks but out of touch with the power lines overhead, it would simply be an obstruction to street traffic.
Paul had no illusions about either the power or the overwhelming attractiveness of sin. Ephesus in his day radiated temptation of many lurid sorts. Sexual orgies and drunkenness were perfectly acceptable forms of worship. As in our day, a powerless Christian had about as much chance of effectiveness as a prohibition petition in a town full of taverns. Small wonder Paul said, “Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might” (Eph. 6:10).
The term “in Christ” is more than oratory. It’s more than fancy preaching. To be “within Christ” means to be in the fellowship of his body, the church. It means reaching back into history and drawing on the strength of the apostles and prophets.
How can we do that unless we read their words? The word of God incarnate is Christ. The word of God preserved is the Bible. The word of God actualized is the obedient Christian. These are a set, a matched system.
For the believer in today’s world, our direction is clear. We must be made aware of our sources of power. This power must be far more than mere gritting of teeth, or flexing our will power. Like the streetcar in the pasture, we're powerless without those vital connections. Throughout this letter, Paul has emphasized again and again the togetherness of believers. Separation from each other is costly. Separation from God’s power is deadly. We must maintain that togetherness, that unity, at all costs.
Although Ephesians was addressed to non-Christians, it did remind them that the roots of their faith were in the seed of Abraham. Not even Gentiles could disown their heritage. Nor could they allow breakdowns between themselves and other Gentiles—no breakdown in the church, in the home or in the marriage. Moreover, they had to maintain that spiritual up-reach that connected them to the power of God in Christ.
They could not do it alone. Nor can we. Jew and Gentile, men and women, bond and free: we're part of each other.
It's clear to Paul that we're involved in battle, in a war. “Not against flesh and blood,” he says in chapter 6, verse 12, “but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (NIV).
To survive this kind of fight means that we must have both an effective offense and an effective defense. Part of these, God provides: “loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace … and … the shield of faith…the helmet of salvation” (Eph. 6:14–17). We simply accept them from God and put them on. For offense we have “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,” Paul tells us in verse 17. This is God’s revealed truth. If we try to live victoriously and win the battle with empty hands, we fail. Mere cunning won't do it. We'll become one more set of dry bones left to bleach on the desert sands of failure.
For us, the word of God is in the Bible, revealed to us by the Holy Spirit. Just as Jesus used scripture to withstand Satan’s power in his desert temptation, so we must make use of this essential weapon, provided by God. Human reasoning won't do it. Human arguments won't prevail. “It is written,” says Jesus (Matt. 4:4). Only God’s written word can effectively face the devil.
To be very practical, Christians should have a full quiver of spiritual arrows with which to face spiritual enemies. Or, to put it in modern, swashbuckling terms, Christians need a spiritual cartridge belt full of biblical bullets. “Equalizer” was the term used for the revolver in the old west. Short men became tall with a gun in hand, weak men strong. Spiritually, the Bible makes giants of us all. Midgets become tall in the saddle with God’s word in hand. Our warfare is spiritual. It's impossible to fight a spiritual war with material weapons, just as impossible as it is to fight a tornado with a flyswatter. Energy and a well-meaning disposition won’t cut it.
Is the battle intense? Of course, but when Paul sends the word, “Stand!” he also tells us how to do it (Eph. 6:13). No one can accuse Paul of underestimating the power of evil, neither the evil in our world or the world of evil itself. Paul’s spiritual enemy was as real as the cold, stone prison walls that surrounded him. Evil was powerful, but note, not all powerful. We steadily gain the unspoken conviction that Christ is in charge. And with this note, Paul closes the letter.
The late William E. Reed once told me of a soldier walking through a bombed out city in France at the end of World War II. In a cemetery the soldier spotted a statue of Christ. It was toppled over and some pessimistic survivor had chalked “His reign is over.”
The soldier, a thorough-going Christian, took the time to hoist the statue to an upright position and shoulder it back onto its stone base. He read the chalked inscription again. He could not walk away with that message scrawled on that statue of his Jesus. Finding a white stone, he scratched three more words. “His reign is over … heaven and earth.” So Paul’s message to Ephesus…
And in our day the shadow of St. Paul speaks again. He invites us to take on gladly the spiritual armor that God provides. Victory is sure. God invites us to share the triumph he has ordained for the Son of God and all who would enlist in his army.
Let's Perish Any Thought of Quitting!
"Rise, let us be going."
The disciples went to sleep when they should've kept awake, and when they realized what they'd done it produced despair. The sense of the "no way to correct what's done" is apt to make us despair, and we say - "It's over, now", it's no use trying any more." If we think that this kind of despair is "the exception", we're mistaken, it's a very ordinary human experience. Whenever we realize that we hadn't done that which we had a magnificent opportunity of doing, then we're apt to sink into despair; and Jesus Christ comes and says - "Sleep on now, that opportunity's lost forever, you can't alter it, but arise and go to the next thing." Let's let the "past sleep", but let it sleep on the bosom of Christ, and let's go out into the irresistible future with Him.
There are experiences like this in each of our lives. We're in despair, the despair that comes from actualities, and we can't lift ourselves out of it. The disciples, in this instance, had done "a downright unforgivable thing"; they'd gone to sleep instead of watching with Jesus, but He came with a spiritual initiative against their despair and said - "Arise and do the next thing."
If we're inspired of God, what's the next thing? To trust Him absolutely and to pray on the ground of His Redemption.
Let's NEVER let the sense of failure corrupt our new action.
Paul uses the term "persuaded" in the sense of assurance. When he said that he was persuaded of a thing involving God's attitude, he meant that he was fully convinced that it was as it was stated to be. He meant that to him it stood out as a reality. It was a thing that he no longer questioned. In Rom. 8:38 and 39, he speaks of one of the things of which he was persuaded. He didn't seem to feel about it as some feel; and when they read what he says, they realize that they don't feel just as he did. He says, "For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
Some people are all the time worrying lest they should be separated from that love, lest God's love should be turned into hatred against them. They walk before him with fear and trembling. They're all the time questioning whether their conduct merits his approval. They're ever fearful lest they might do something that would bring his wrath upon them. Their life's a life of fear and of bondage. Paul had no such fears and no such feelings. He knew that the great heart of God is a heart of love, a heart of tender pity, compassion, and sympathy. He knew that God is tender toward his earthly children. Why even when we were sinners, Christ died for us! And the Father so loved us that he gave his only begotten Son. This love was for rebels. How much greater his affection for his sons! Instead of thinking that he might be easily separated from the love of God, and that he should have to be exceedingly careful lest he should be, Paul cries out, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" (v.35). By this he means, who or what shall be able to separate us?
Paul knew something of the strength of earthly love. He knew mother-love--how tenderly it holds to its own. He knew that no matter where the son wanders, mother-love goes with him; mother-love calls him back; mother-love yearns over him. He knew love in other forms--how tenaciously it clings to its objects. But the love of Christ, or the love of God in Christ, is above and beyond all this human love. And so he cried out, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" Then he named some things and asked if they should separate us from God's love, and when he looked at them all, he was still persuaded that nothing should be able.
Paul says, "Neither death nor life." If death should lay his icy fingers upon us, it would be but the ushering into the more immediate presence of that great love. But if we must continue to live on in our earthly circumstances and surroundings, that very life can not separate us from the love of Christ, for he will love us through it all. Through various changes, through all the trying situations that may face us, that love will hold us fast. Time and change cannot make that love grow cold.
Again, he says, "Nor angels." God's in heaven, surrounded by the angels, but he wants us to understand that those angels cannot take up so much of his time and attention that he'll forget us. Ah, let's not be afraid. Satan has no knife sharp enough to cut that love. He has no strength to tear its tendrils out of our hearts. He can't burn those cords that hold us. Even all his legions can't touch that love, if we trust it and trust ourselves in God's keeping.
Then he says, "Nor things present." Now, do we believe that? Do we believe that the things of this hour, whatever they may be, can't separate us from the love of God? "Things present;" How many things there are present. How many things there are, that press in upon us! How many discouragements there are in life! How many perplexities! How many things that trouble! How many things that would draw us away! Yet, if we keep our trust in God, none of these things will make him turn his back upon us.
"Nor things to come." Do we look into the future with dread? Do we see with forebodings the things that appear there? Do we think, "How shall we ever pass through it? How shall we ever overcome?" Ah, those things that are ahead of us can't separate us from God's love. That love is going to securely hold us through them all. That love's going to be our strength and our safeguard, our hope and our all. Let's cast away our forebodings. Let's look to God with confidence until the confidence of Paul enters our soul and we can say with the same assurance that he did, "I'm persuaded."
Again, he says, "Nor height, nor depth." It matters not if God's in heaven, high above us. It matters not, if he's so great, so majestic, so powerful. His height above us shall not prevent his love from reaching us and holding us up. "Nor depth." It matters not to what depth we sink, whether it be depths of fear or depths in the feeling of our own helplessness. It matters not if God's very high and we're very low, if he's very great and we're very small; our depth shall not separate us from his height. His love will bridge the gulf.
O, let's trust in that love. Let's rely upon it. It'll never fail us. It'll securely hold us in the gales of life. Tribulation or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or perils or storms--none of these things shall be able to separate us from him. And the apostle continues to say, "Nay, in all these things we're more than conquerors through him that loved us" (v. 37). Love will bear us up as with eagles' wings. It'll make smooth the rough paths. It'll give strength to the fainting heart. It'll preserve us while in the midst of temptation; and even when we've come short of our expectations, when we realize that we've in a measure failed, that love won't cast us off, but will hold us safe and secure until the end. Let's look to that love, and be confident, and rest in full assurance of faith, knowing that:
When the storm-winds rage, and the rain falls fast,
And the clouds hang low above,
I shall be secure till the storm is past,
For I trust my Savior's love,
And he knows the way, and he holds my hand,
And he will not let it go.
He will lead me home to that better land
Just because he loves me so.
I will trust his love, for it e'er will last:
It is rich and warm and free.
Through the years of life it will hold me fast,
And my help and comfort be.
To my waiting heart all its treasures rare,
As a sparkling stream shall flow;
In the joy of God I shall ever share,
Just because he loves me so.
Now, are we persuaded ?