We must have God’s word in order to live (Matt. 4:4); it is more important than our daily bread (Job 23:12). When we rebelled against him, we plugged our ears against his word and cut ourselves off from the life and joy of his presence. Rather than running back to our Father and seeking his mercy, we turned away from him and hid from Him who is our life. He would have been just to wash his hands of us and give us the judgment we deserve, but he is rich in mercy and grace to the undeserving. He bruised his Son that we might have new life in him. Reconciled to him, we are restored to his word, to his voice, to fellowship with our God and Savior. This is one reason that we should rejoice with amazement at this word “apostle.” Whenever we read it, we should think, “God is reaching out his hand to us and sending us his word; Jesus Christ is coming to our tomb to call us out.” We should prepare our hearts to listen and give the utmost attention to the truth we are about to read or hear, for the apostles’ writings are nothing less than his commandment (1 Cor. 14:38) and his abiding presence with us (John 15:7; Col. 3:16). “He that receiveth whomsoever I send receiveth me” (John 13:20).
By the Hand of the Apostles (v. 1)
The apostles were Christ’s chosen messengers to teach us the word of God and to inscribe it permanently for the sustenance and direction of the church until our Lord returns. Each one had to be called by Jesus Christ to the office (Heb. 5:4), in his personal company and trained by him during his earthly ministry, and eyewitnesses to his resurrection (Acts 1:21-22). Paul’s calling was somewhat unique, in that he was not with the Lord during his earthly ministry, but this should neither surprise nor disturb us, for he was the apostle to the Gentiles. His special calling from the Lord Jesus was to “one born out of due time” (1 Cor. 15:8). Whereas the other apostles were sent to the Jews to complete the labors of the prophets who had gone before them (John 4:38), Paul was sent to lay the foundations for Gentile salvation. He received a special dispensation from the risen Jesus and can justly say that he is an apostle “by the will of God.” The important thing for us is to understand that the apostles were the foundational pillars of the church (Eph. 2:20). To hear them is to hear Jesus Christ himself (Luke 10:16). Thus, whenever we come to their writings in the New Testament, we treat them aright only if we revere them as the living word of the living Savior, who reigns at God’s right hand. Their writings, together with the Old Testament Scriptures that our Lord fully vindicated (Matt. 5:17-20; 22:29; Mark 7:8; Luke 10:25-26; 24:27; John 10:35; 1 Pet 1:11; 2 Pet. 1:21), are his will for our lives, both in doctrine and practice, his blood-sealed covenant, and the path that will bring us to be with him in his eternal kingdom.
It is shocking, therefore, to see how far some branches of the church have abandoned the truth of God and the faith of our fathers. Some have succumbed to learned yet wolfish critics who have assigned the biblical writings to who knows what unknown authors, gutted their authority, and have wickedly laid down the sword and shield the Lord has given us. Wisdom is justified of her children, and we behold with horror what happens to denominations and seminaries that refuse to receive the Bible as God’s very word and preach every line of it as our living bread. Others give lip-service to the Scriptures and may at some level believe that it is God’s word, but they are so mesmerized by novelty and gripped by the fear of man that they have turned away from its sound doctrine and use the Bible more for moralisms to justify their quest for relevance and to promote their own agendas and creativity. Still other branches have mingled God’s truth with so many errors that its power is somewhat muted and the sheep confused. Throughout the church, how cold our hearts usually are to the Scriptures our Savior has sent to us and slow to receive them by faith as we would listen to his own voice. If we believed this more firmly, we should tremble with joy and holy fear, meditate adoringly upon God’s precious thoughts, and seek every opportunity to read and hear it preached to us. Why would we do this? Because we would more sincerely and passionately believe that these Scriptures are the living voice of Jesus Christ in the church. What is the desire of every true disciple? He wants to hear the voice of Jesus Christ. We have and hear his voice in these very Scriptures, including the letter that his apostle wrote to the Ephesians.
God is merciful, and our Savior is ever reforming his church. He has not allowed human devils to resume burning up his word in flames ignited by their pride and wickedness. Sound doctrine has not perished from the earth, and we may joyfully say that multitudes around the world see through the lies of critics and are listening to God’s word with humility and zeal. Therefore, however much God’s precious word may be neglected, trivialized, and made to mesh with worldly thinking in order to avoid the offense of the cross, let us seek to be part of that number that are his true plantings. We are if we plant ourselves firmly in the apostolic soil of the Bible. As the earliest disciples, we must “continue steadfastly in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship” (Acts 2:42). Then, the word of God will grow and multiply in our midst. It is the only fruitful soil, and God’s voice has lost none of its quickening power. Planted here, we shall be holier and wiser, less inclined to listen to the sirens of compromise, and willing to suffer for the world’s most ancient, vindicated, and blood-sealed philosophy: that of the speaking God who created us to walk by his every word. Our homes will have more peace, joy, and purpose. We shall meditate more upon the word and thus have more of Jesus Christ to guide and encourage us as our Good Shepherd. These blessings are ours through the word of our Savior. Whenever we listen to his word with faith and love, he has come to us by his Spirit. He is standing at the tomb of our broken lives and saying to us, “Come forth, my disciple; be loosed from your sins, continue in my word, and be truly free” (John 8:31).
The Church in Ephesus (v. 1)
The words “in Ephesus” are so widely attested in the bulk of ancient copes of Scriptures that we may be assured that the apostle wrote this letter to the believers with whom he spent three fruitful years. Because they are absent from two old and isolated copies, some critics use this omission to begin weaving their web of doubt. The Holy Spirit, however, has born witness to his word in the vast majority of the ancient copies and versions of Scripture, so that the inclusion of “in Ephesus” should not be doubted, unless we would trust the critics rather than the Holy Spirit. Even copies that omit the words often have the title “Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians,” the copyists perhaps correcting the perceived omission in the text. But the critics of the Pauline authority of this letter and its Ephesian destination have another stronghold. If this is a genuine letter of Paul, they question why the letter is completely lacking any of Paul’s usual personal references. Compared to the letters to the Romans and Corinthians, it seems rather sterile, hardly written to a church to which he was so familiarly and tenderly known.
This criticism is easily answered by the simple observation that because Paul knew these believers so well that any mention of specific persons would have been superfluous. He could not possibly have mentioned everyone he knew and loved in Ephesus, and to mention some would have put him at risk of offending those whom he had to omit. A complete catalogue would have been longer than the letter itself! Upon their reception of the letter, the Ephesians would have known that it came from Paul. He taught them for three months initially (Acts 18:19-21), then for a period of two full years he set up a school of Christ there (Acts 19:9). He was constantly in their homes, taught them night and day, and spared himself no pains to instruct them in the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:19-20, 26-27). It is no wonder that John described this church as a bastion of orthodoxy (Rev. 2:2). Through Paul’s work in Ephesus, the word of God grew so mightily that its Temple of Diana, which had been the center of religious and cultural life in the region, was largely abandoned. Formerly given over to superstition, magic, and idolatry, the Ephesians burned their magic books and talismans (Acts 19:18-19).
So well-known was the apostle that a riot began against him through the instigation of one Demetrius, whose livelihood in the traffic of silver shrines of Diana was severely curtailed through Paul’s preaching and the mighty miracles he performed that confirmed the heavenly truth of his word (Acts 19:11-17). Some of the city’s inhabitants and many visitors, for this riot likely occurred during the Pan-Ionic games that year, gathered together in the theater and shouted for two hours, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians” (Acts 19:34). The city was filled with confusion, for social unrest sweeps along many who have little idea of what is actually occurring. Two of Paul’s companions, Gaius and Aristarchus, were seized and brought into the theater. Paul would have addressed the mob, but he was prevented by some of the leading men of the city who supported him (Acts 19:31). The town clerk, a much respected man with great legal authority, addressed the mob, rebuked their rebellion, and sent them home. Paul, therefore, was well-known to the Ephesians, as was his doctrine. There was no need of lengthy greetings. He had been away from them for seven or eight years by the time he wrote this letter as a prisoner in Rome, but those believers and their elders dearly loved Paul (Acts 20:37).
The Way God Makes Saints (v. 1)
God’s word had effected such a change in the Ephesians that Paul speaks of them as “saints” and “the faithful in Christ Jesus.” They had turned from their idols to serve the living and true God. They were faithful in doctrine and practice, which change in man is effected by the power of God’s word. We should not forget this, especially in our day that is so infatuated with the idea that something new is needed, that the old paths of discipleship by the word of God is insufficient to meet the needs of a modern age. This is a dangerous idea, gravely weakens the church, and will prove ineffectual to disciple the lost. If we want to be saints and faithful, if we would see the unholy and lost transformed into saints and faithful men, the church must do as Paul did: tirelessly preach and teach God’s word, with tears, urging men to turn to God and forsake their idols and superstition. As the living word of Jesus Christ transformed much of that region, so it will transform men and cities today if the church and her pastors would but preach and teach “the whole counsel of God.” We cannot be saints unless we take God’s word into our hearts, or faithful unless we build our whole lives upon his word.
Many today, even within the church, think that the word of God has not worked for them: same old problems, same old self, same old defeat and frustration. Some pastors do not dispel these doubts or encourage surrender to God and consecration to his word by their tendency to gloss over the express statements of Scripture in their preaching, choosing instead to strive to satisfy popular tastes and the craving for emotional reassurance. Notice that Paul preached faith and repentance publicly in the services of the church and from “house to house” (Acts 20:20). He undertook this work with utmost seriousness, for only by “declaring the whole counsel of God” was he cleared from blood guiltiness (vv. 26-27). This phrase rings strangely upon modern ears, for we are so bombarded with meaningless noise that we have grown dull when it comes to hearing our Father’s voice. God told Ezekiel that he would require the prophet’s blood if he hesitated to warn sinners from the errors of their way (Ezek. 3:18); he would “deliver his soul” only by diligently warning them (v. 21). Thus, sermons and house visitation are not for social and entertainment purposes. They should not be light and fluffy occasions but serious inquiries into God’s word, for the word of God is a life or death issue. If we yield ourselves to be taught by our Savior, we shall bear fruit (John 15:5); if we do not, we shall be cut off (John 15:2). The knowledge of Jesus Christ will never be fruitless or barren (2 Pet. 1:8). The surest way to be made saints and disciples of Jesus Christ, as well for the church to make disciples, is to follow the example of the apostles: faithful preaching and teaching of the word of God. It is living and powerful. It will never return to God without powerful effect (Isa. 55:11). His word grows and multiplies in us and in the world as we consecrate ourselves to it (Acts 6:7; 12:24; 19:20).
God Gives Us Grace and Peace through the Gospel of his Son (v. 2)
When the Lord gives his word to us, he reaches out his hand and gives us grace and peace. What a benediction! Never does he leave us to our own strength, or say, “Be fruitful by your own efforts;” or, “Overcome sin by your own wisdom.” Instead, he speaks to us words of “spirit and life” (John 6:63). In love and grace, he unites us to his Son so that in him we have life, joy, and peace. Through his sacrifice and righteousness, we have peace with God so that we are his reconciled and adopted children. He fills us with his Spirit so that we can resist sin and overcome the world. Thus, while God gives us his word, with his word he gives us faith to believe and surrenders ourselves to it. He gives us perseverance so that we are able to stay our course and walk on the old, sure path of hearing his word and obeying him. To be short, he gives himself to us, for his word is not an appendage to himself but his own life-giving voice, his nearness, his covenant. This should greatly encourage us. In ourselves, we can do nothing (John 15:4), but in Jesus Christ we can do all things (Phil. 4:13). When we feel weak and ready to fall, or are tempted to doubt that God’s word is “working” for us, let us remember this grace and peace that God freely extends to us through his Son. He is our Father, and he loves us. Let us believe his promises and walk in their light and power.
This is the way our Savior lived, and none was ever as joyful and peaceful as he was. It certainly looked to his disciples as if the course he was taking was a dead end. They resisted his word about the cross; none understood his constant “the Scriptures must be fulfilled.” He continued walking this path, pleasing his Father (John 8:29) and eating the meat of doing God’s will (John 4:34). His humble and patient obedience to the word of God brought salvation to the world! This should forever silence our doubts about the word of God “not working.” Christ’s unflinching obedience to the word of God saved the world, even as our disobedience corrupted everything.
But we must persevere in trusting and obeying the Father as he did. Through his word, communion with him must be our constant food and delight. In all things, pleasing our Savior must be our chief aim. When we are weak, we must remember him in the wilderness, clinging only to the word of his Father. When we are tempted by our various lusts, we must remember his “be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” When we are disturbed by our sinfulness, or the condition of the church, or the howling of wolves, we must remember his “My peace I give to you.” When suffering, we must remember that he surrendered to the Scriptures and drank the bitter cup so that it would be a sanctifying drought for us. Look to Jesus for everything, child of God (Heb. 12:2). He is the living Word. When the Father gave us his Son, he kissed us with his eternal word and gave us life and peace.