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*"EPHESIANS: The Letter of the Church"*
1. Tracing the Congregation's History!
Reading : Acts 20: 17 - 38
*~*  Introduction:  * John A Mackay's familiar sentence needs to  be written  large  in  our  minds  and  hearts:"WE  COME  TO  CHRIST INDIVIDUALLY, BUT WE DO NOT LIVE IN CHRIST SOLITARILY".
As people in  a strong evangelical tradition we have a very "high" view  of the Gospel,  of personal commitment,  and even of discipleship  - but an extremely "low" view of the Church.
The personal dimension of  the  Christian faith is very important - don't get  me  wrong about that - but our belonging to the Body,  the fact that we are a  community is equally important.
It dare not  be  undervalued, taken  for granted,  or dismissed.
By such attitudes we "despise the church of God" [cf 1 Cor.
The  NT supplies a blueprint for the Church,  and Ephesians is about  spelling out what it means to be the people of God and how we  should live as the people of God.
It deals with the  general principles, which we in our turn need to appropriate to ourselves and apply specifically to our situation where we are.
The plans, blueprints,   plans,  models  and  metaphors  are  all  there  in compelling and colourful array.
They need to be interpreted  and followed up  on the ground of our situation today!
Ephesus  was a major city in the Empire and a strategic centre of  Christian  mission  and  ministry  - similar  to   Jerusalem, Antioch, Corinth - or later, Rome itself.
As a preliminary to our exploring  Ephesians  together,  as  well  as the  need  for  its message,  let's  look at the sequence of the story of the  church there as we have it in the NT.
* *
*~* 1.
The Nature of Paul's Ministry in Ephesus*
On the occasion of his farewell address to the Ephesian elders at Miletus Paul reviews his ministry among them - cf Acts 19
~*  It  was a ministry of the Word - publicly and  from  house  to house.
ie  large  group - small group  strategy;  preaching  and pastoral counsel.
Notice how he describes his ministry:
preaching, teaching, declaring, testifying, proclaiming, warning
~* It also included action - things happened.
In Acts 19 miracles and riots!
~* Notice too the personal qualities of his ministry:   humility - v19, passion  - v19, urgency  - v31, integrity- v21,27,33
The outcome of this ministry was the evangelization of the region and the expansion of the Church: Acts  19:10, Acts  19:20
Paul's Departure from Ephesus*
During  the meeting and address at Miletus Paul  is  deliberately handing  over  responsibility ~/ power ~/ authority to  the  elders with  whom  it had previously been shared.
Notice there  is  the implicit recognition of giftedness in the body - cf Eph 4:11-3.
~*    There  is the exhortation to fulfil  their  ministry:  "Keep watch  over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has  made  you  overseers" v28;  "Be shepherds of the  church  of God.....Remember [Paul the model]"
Notice: the sequence of the keeping watch!  how the Church is described - in terms of the Cross!
how Paul has modelled the ministry!
~*   There  is  the  warning - to keep watch and to  be  on  guard against savage elements outside the fellowship as well as cunning elements within the fellowship [the power vacuum].
* *
The Situation in Timothy's Ministry*
Next  is the situation as described in the letters to Timothy  as bishop~/pastor in Ephesus.
Timothy is urged to make a firm stand in the face of steady decline.
~*  cf:  1 Tim.
1:3 - 7; 1:18 - 20; 4:15 - 16; 6:11 - 16
        2 Tim.
1:12;  1:13 - 14
~*  Paul urges perseverence,  because it is not only decline it is corruption:
    -  corruption of devotion to Christ: cf Demas has forsaken me
    -  corruption  of Christian living and Christian standards by society's attitudes and code of conduct
    -  corruption of Christian belief~/doctrine - doesn't matter!
* *
The Word about the Lampstand!*
The  final  scene  is that set out in the letters  to  the  seven churches  [Rev 2-3],  set as they are between the figures of  the transcendent,  reigning  Lord on the one hand and  the  impending persecution and travail of the Church on the other.
~*  Notice  the  particular word to Ephesus - including  words  of praise and commendation.
All the laudable attributes are  offset by the fact they have lost ~/ left their first love.
They are now urged to "remember...repent and do".
The alternatives are stark: repentance  or removal of their lampstand of witness.
We have no independent  right  of continuance - only  through  faithfulness, obedience and service.
~*  Notice the word:  "Listen to what the Spirit is saying to  the Churches!"
Are we doing that?
How can we do that today?
~*   Thus, now as then, there is great need for:
     ~*  RECOVERY - of vision, purpose, insight and understanding
     ~*  REDEDICATION - a true returning to the Lord with all our heart
     ~*  RENEWAL  - a mighty, sovereign, authentic work of the Holy Spirit in the church
* *
* ~*~* CONCLUSION: *We always seem to be beset by seasons of decline, of lukewarmness, of half-heartedness.
Frequently it is because we fail  to capture the significance if the people of God - our life in Christ TOGETHER.
If we are truly to be "the holy seed",  "the stump in the land",  as Isaiah saw it [Isaiah 6:13], then we need to  set our faces to the renewing of the Church in our  time,  as well  as opening up our lives to the ministry of the Holy  Spirit in these days.
\\ *                *
*"EPHESIANS: Letter of the Church"*
"God's Grand Design"*
* *
Reading : Ephesians 1: 1 -14
* *
*Introduction:*   Think of the Church - any church ~/ congregation ~/ fellowship you have known or been a part of over the years.
What has  your experience been?
What memories do you have?
Even  the best of them is :
       ~* FINITE - got its particular limitations
       ~* FLAWED - got its particular blind spots, weaknesses
       ~* FALLIBLE - makes its particular mistakes
       ~* FRUSTRATING - has its own brand of tension between
                    vision~/practice, ideal~/reality, will~/deed!
We  can  share  these responses because  we  tend  to  think primarily of the church in terms of structures [even buildings at times] programmes and people.
And because people are involved NO church is perfect!
To be true the the NT when we think of the Church, we should first of all think of GOD.
That is precisely where Paul begins in Ephesians.
He  launches  into  a marvellous  doxology  [strictly speaking - eulogy:  blessing] in which he praises God for all  He has  done for believers in bringing them to himself and thus into the family of the Church/.
"BLESSED be the God and Father of  our Lord  Jesus  Christ,  who  has blessed us  with  every  spiritual blessing  in  heavenly places in Christ Jesus......"/* *Three  times over  the  idea of blessing appears in the one verse  - and  then Paul  takes  off  for the next 11 verses  in  one  long  involved sentence  with metaphor piled upon metaphor,  without seeming  to draw his breath!!
*~* 1.
The Great Charter of the Church:*
When  a  body~/organisation  comes into being  - often  granted  a charter  - established  with  all its  rights~/prerogatives  - its duties  and  responsibilities.
So  - a   college,   university, professional society or association, or a service club.
So for us in  the  Church - the full majesty of the Godhead is involved  in granting such privileges to believing people;  all the  resources of  God  in  his  eternal council  [the  community~/fellowship  of Father,  Son and Holy Spirit] have been brought to bear upon  our great  need,  and  released to help us.
Notice what  this  great founding charter of the Church declares and sets forth that:
~* BY THE FATHER, we have been -
    CHOSEN  -  election;  his choice of us is prior to our choice of Him       
    ADOPTED -  brought into God's family with all the prestige, privileges and rights due to such status
    ACCEPTED - we are acknowledge ~/ received by God
In  all  of  this,  let us be quite clear,  the  Father  acts  in sovereignty and love rather than cold indifference.
~* BY THE SON, we have been :
    REDEEMED  - "through his blood" - the great cost of the Cross
in  the suffering of Jesus both physical and spiritual.
This  is the  picture  of being released from bondage  into  freedom  - of  membership in the family, of citizenship in the Kingdom of God.
FORGIVEN  - forgiveness  of sins - all that offends God  and what  Christ  did  on the  Cross.
Incidentally,  the  Father  is directly  and personally involved in redemption and  forgiveness.
It  was the Father's plan and purpose of redemption.
"God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself" [2Cor5:18 RSV]
~* BY THE HOLY SPIRIT, we have been  -
      SEALED -  marked out clearly as belonging to God - a signal to the enemy not to tamper with us.
Is that all too spiritual  ~/ theological for us?
How can we tell if we have been marked~/sealed in  this  way?
Do you find it easy to speak to God in prayer  - what do you say,  how do you begin?  - "FATHER..." That is is the work of the Spirit,  teaching us to cry "Abba - my Father"!
Also all  those little green shoots of the harvest of the  Spirit  are evidence of his presence and working - and our sealing!
GUARRANTEED  - firmly  assured and divinely promised a future  -  no  matter  what  may be the difficulties or  privations  of  our pilgrimage.
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