Was Ephesus the Perfect Church?

Today is Saturday, June 24, 2017. Day 21,653. Ten days until the July 4 holiday.

“Nothing that has not died will be resurrected.” ~ C.S. Lewis, in The Weight of Glory

The word of the day is maffick (British), a verb meaning, “to celebrate with extravagant public demonstrations.”

Today is Fairy Day, a celebration of all things fae. I’ve been a huge fan of fantasy for most of my life, and there have been times that I wished that the world of fae was real. Perhaps it is, and we just can’t see them. I know that when we were walking around in the area of Munson Creek Falls in Oregon, it was a perfect place to imagine fairies flitting about in the lush, green woods. Who knows? Maybe they were watching us.

Today is a busy day, and a bittersweet one. It will start with a funeral at 1:30. I might also mention it is raining, and has been all morning. Later on, around 6:00 PM, we will have our monthly Night of Worship, which will be the “sweet” part, although, it will probably be a bit more somber than usual.

We had a pretty powerful storm blow through last night. When I say “blow,” I mean that, too. The rain was heading straight into our bedroom windows. When I got up this morning, the first thing I looked at was our back fence. It’s fine. But the pool is almost overflowing. The forecast predicts thunderstorms and rain for the next three days, too.

All Scriptures are from the ESV unless otherwise noted

(From The Divine Hours)

Bless the LORD, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word, obeying the voice of his word! 
Bless the LORD, all his hosts, his ministers, who do his will! 
Bless the LORD, all his works, in all places of his dominion. Bless the LORD, O my soul!

Psalm 103:20-22
Give ear to my words, O LORD; consider my groaning. 
Give attention to the sound of my cry, my King and my God, for to you do I pray. 
O LORD, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you and watch.

Psalm 5:1-3
You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.
For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”

Isaiah 26:3, 30:15
The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations.
Psalm 33:11
So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” 
Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”

John 8:57-58
The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” 
The LORD sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of your enemies! 
Your people will offer themselves freely on the day of your power, in holy garments; from the womb of the morning, the dew of your youth will be yours. 
The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind, “You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.”

Psalm 110:1-4
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.
Isaiah 9:2

(From Practice Resurrection)

The fact, as mentioned previously, that the letter to the church in Ephesus was not provoked by any problems, can easily cause a misunderstanding that the Ephesian church was one that “had it all together. However, we have at least two references that can prevent this errant thought.

Some time after Paul left Ephesus, he wrote a letter to a young man named Timothy. Timothy had been sent to Ephesus to pastor this church. Paul’s first letter to Timothy advises him on how to deal with this church. The picture that we get is nothing like an ideal church. “The Ephesians come off the pages of Paul’s letter as a talkative, argumentative gathering, engaged in silly speculations and ‘meaningless talk . . . without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make assertions’ (1 Tim. 1:6-7).”

Later in the letter, Paul gives some pointers about appointing leaders. In this section, Paul mentions “the danger of ‘profane myths and old wives’ tales’ (4:7).” He even states that “some have already strayed after Satan” (5:15). He also warns about those who might have an “unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions” (6:4). Rather than sounding like a healthy church, the church at Ephesus sounds like “a squabbling congregation.”

There is another reference in the New Testament to the church at Ephesus, which comes twenty or thirty years later. The apostle John was pastor to seven different congregations, which included Ephesus. At the time, he had become an exile on the island of Patmos. On a particular Lord’s Day, he had “a magnificent vision of what was going on at the time and what was going to come from it.” There was great persecution of the church from Rome, and some Christians within these congregations were “wavering, trying to survive by adapting to the conditions.”

“But there is something far greater than the raw power of Rome here. There is worship: God is on his throne, Christ is revealing his comprehensive salvation, the elders and all creation are in jubilant song and adoration, and Babylon/Rome, even while the Christians in their churches are at worship with the Scriptures and prayers, is doomed.”

As John writes out his vision for these seven churches, the church at Ephesus is mentioned first. They are commended for “patient endurance” and their stand against evil (2:2). But on the heals of this commendation comes a harsh rebuke. “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.” (2:4) A congregation that has abandoned love is far from the ideal congregation.

So we see that, within a few years of Paul’s presence at Ephesus, the church had devolved “into a squabbling, contentious, argumentative anarchy, and Timothy had to be sent in to bring health to their community. Thirty years or so later they showed courageous character in not caving in to the persecution, but they were conspicuously lacking in the ‘one thing needful.’ They were determined, but loveless.”

But Eugene Peterson doesn’t want to focus on these behavioral issues, “the heresies of belief, the silliness of immaturity that concern us in the congregations that we belong to.” We can readily see that even the church at Ephesus faced the same kinds of issues that we face today. Those issues, however, are addressed in other New Testament letters. What Peterson’s purpose in Practice Resurrection is, is to let Paul encourage us “as Christians-in-the-making to make the most in finding the appropriate forms for expressing who we have been created and saved to be, and to live to ‘the praise of his glory.'” And Peterson believes that Ephesians is the best text in all of the Bible to get us behind the scenes of our local congregations, so that we may “‘grow up healthy in God, robust in love’ (Eph. 4:16 The Message).”

Father, I thank you that we can see from your Word that even the “best” churches in the days of Paul had their issues, just like we do. Help us to see your Spirit’s work, behind the scenes of what we call “church,” that we might, indeed, grow in Christ and live to the praise of his glory.
Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

Grace and peace, friends.


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