Summary: This sermon was the first one of a series on the book of Ephesians. It unpacks the first two verses. Specifically Paul's authority to write the letter, and the value of the specific recipients of the letter (i.e., who Paul would refer to as "Saints)."
Good morning. We are beginning a new series on the book of Ephesians called The Church in Christ and the Church in Culture. In case you are not familiar with the book of Ephesians, it is actually a letter that the apostle Paul wrote to the church that he founded in the ancient city of Ephesus. It is more of a letter than a book. I am very excited to cover this series because as you will see, if you are familiar with the book, you know that book has a lot of really deep, theological insights, but it also has some very practical insights that allow you to live out your faith within the world. As a side note, I think some of you might be participating in the study of Ephesians on Monday night. If you are doing that, that is very good. Hopefully, what I give today will actually reinforce and complement some of the things that you are learning there. My aim was originally to give a background about the city of Ephesus, but I had never been there. So I thought instead of boring you with a bunch of facts and figures that I would draw out of some commentaries or glean from the internet, I thought I would show you a brief video about the ancient city of Ephesus that is narrated by a guy on public television by the name of Rick Steves. (Video shown here.)
Hopefully, you enjoyed that little video. It was a very good background. Hopefully, you can kind of imagine the city of Ephesus that we learned through this video. But we really learn about Ephesus and really Paul’s connection to Ephesus in the book of Acts. In the book of Acts, Paul had three missionary journeys. It was actually on the second missionary journey, as outlined by this map, where he first entered into the city of Ephesus. We see the city of Ephesus right about here. It is kind of modern-day Turkey. On his second mission, he visited Ephesus for the first time, but for some reason he didn’t stay long. He left his associates, Priscilla and Aquila, to stay there and minister to the people in his absence. It was on the third missionary journey where Paul spent the most amount of time, up to three years, and really where he began to make the biggest amount of impact amongst the locals. So much so that we read in the book of Acts that “Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed their evil deeds. A number who had practiced sorcery brought their magic scrolls together and burned them publicly.” So Paul was beginning to make an impact in this pagan city. A city that is known for its Greek worship of gods and goddesses, including the goddess Artemis. In a city that drives its economy by selling these little statues and things of the gods and goddesses, when Paul began to preach like he was, he was becoming a threat to the local merchants because he was cutting into their profits. As Rick alluded to, they began to riot. One person incited a riot. Before you know it, Paul was forced to leave the town in kind of a hurry. The good news is after he left town, the church didn’t just fold up. It continued to grow and expand. It continued to reach new converts and having them baptized in the faith. But because they had come out of a pagan society, a society known for its astrology, sorcery, witchcraft, and that sort of stuff, they had to know what it meant to be grounded in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Because they had come from those pagan religions, a lot of them were very fearful of what was going to happen. They were afraid that the gods or goddesses would somehow punish them because of their newfound faith. They had to be educated not simply on the power of the gods and goddesses, but they had to be educated on the power that comes through Jesus Christ. Because they were living in a pagan culture, they were also living in a very immoral culture. Pretty much everything that wanted to happen did. People were just raised up in this immorality, sexual immorality, drunkenness, and all sorts of different vices. They had to be trained on how to cultivate a lifestyle that is consistent with the gospel. The bottom line is that they had to learn how to be the church that is in Christ and also the church that is in the culture. We have the apostle Paul writing to the Ephesians from a Roman prison cell in Rome.
What I wanted to do is just unpack the first two verses of this passage. I thought it would be good to read it together starting with “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints in Bellevue, the faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” I think you guys got a little tripped up by the insertion of Bellevue. That was my intent. I wanted to trip you up a little bit. But more than that, I wanted to trip up your mind. What I wanted to do was knock you out of this idea that these stories in the Bible are simply things that happened a long time ago in a faraway place. Specifically, I wanted you to realize that just because this letter to the Ephesians was written over 2000 years ago in a remote part of Turkey, it doesn’t really matter. Everything that Paul says in the letter applies to pretty much any church anytime in history, including Bellevue Christian Church on October 2, 2016. It is applicable to us. I could even make a pretty good case for substituting words because if you have your Bibles open, you may notice that next to the word Ephesus there is a footnote reference. If you look at the footnote, some of the Bibles say something like some of the ancient manuscripts do not contain the words “in Ephesus”. Before you get panicky about that and you have some sort of a corrupt Bible, what you have to realize is all that is saying is this letter was not simply dedicated or written to the Ephesians but to many churches in the area. It is what is known as a circular letter. A letter that was circulated amongst the various churches throughout Asia. Sometimes the church name was basically left blank. Scholars seem to try to confirm this by suggesting that if you look at the style of Paul’s writing in Ephesians and you compare it to the style in Corinthians or Philemon, you see that Paul doesn’t call out specific people or specific instances and events. It is more of a general type reading. But that is okay because the content is so good and applicable to so many churches, including us today. So I feel justified in inserting Bellevue here.