A Christian Goodbye

December 18, 2016 Series: Ephesians Scripture: Ephesians 6:21-24 by Chris Strevel

A Concern for One Another (vv. 21-22)

Even Paul Did Not Go It Alone

The rugged individualist, the self-sufficient man, the lone crusader are not the Christian ideal. The closer we walk with the Lord, the more we feel our need of other believers. God has placed us in the body of Christ; we are only strong in union with that body and sharing in its life. Paul saw the risen Christ in his glory, heard his voice, and received direct revelation from him. He did not say, “I am fine on my own. These hostile Jews and Gentiles believers are so troublesome to me. I am weary of all these pastoral visitations and letters and conflicts. Let me retreat to my mountain and enjoy God without all these trials.” He was vitally concerned about the welfare of the churches (2 Cor. 11:28). He took their struggles and sorrows upon himself. Jesus works this personal interest and compassion in all his disciples, for this was his heart. He loved to have his close friends around him. He rejoiced in the victories of his disciples and shared fully in their grief and sorrows. In him was fulfilled Isaiah’s remarkable statement: “In all of their afflictions, he was afflicted” (Isa. 63:9).

If our Lord and his servant Paul felt their need of the fellowship of other believers, something is dreadfully wrong with us if we do not. It may be pride or fear or guilt, for sin is always uncomfortable in the presence of holiness. Maturity makes immaturity blush. It may be that we do not know how to cultivate honest, transparent relationships with other believers. It may be that we love the children of the world more than the children of God. The pressures of life lead us to shy away from consistent effort to understand the needs of others and to feel those needs as our own. Nevertheless, we are very weak and should willingly open up about our cares and struggles. We must work at building edifying relationships with others. Our Lord did, and he will have us the do the same. If he willingly surrounded himself with such weak men as the apostles were, if he rubbed shoulders with the lowly among God’s people, if he bore their grief and sorrows, then it is nothing but sheer pride and a sub-human ugliness to stand aloof from others. We need them more than we know, and they need us. “He that would have friends must show himself friendly,” and the best way to be and have solid Christian companionship – beginning with your Christian family members and extending into the body – is to be concerned about them – sincerely, warmly concerned about their welfare, asking them questions, praying for them, and expressing love and care for them in words and service. And we must be willing to bare our hearts, when appropriate and carefully. Our Lord did not think the possibility of being hurt or betrayed compared to the joys and strength of close Christian friendship. He has called us friends and brothers, and so we must think of ourselves to him and to one another.

Tychicus: A Faithful Servant of the Lord

As with most of Paul’s letters, he closes them with a variety of greetings, well wishes in Christ, and prophetic benedictions. He knew how to say “Goodbye” in a meaningful way. Here he mentions only Tychicus, who was his brother and fellow-servant in the gospel. He was also Paul’s amanuensis, who wrote down Paul’s letter as he dictated it to him. Tychicus was a believer from Asia Minor, who is mentioned a few times in his letters. He was a faithful servant of the Lord. Like Paul, he was committed to the gospel and concerned for the church. He was also reliable, for Paul now sends him to Ephesus with this letter, as well as the ones to Colossae and to Philemon. In his company was the slave Onesimus, whom Paul was returning to his owner, Philemon, as a brother in Christ.

Concern for One Another’s Affairs

Tychicus was charged with another commission from the apostle: to make known Paul’s affairs to the churches. He was in Rome and likely still under house arrest, and the churches were concerned about him. The Ephesians loved their apostle (Acts 20:17ff.), for he was their father in the faith. Paul loved them and wanted them to be comforted. He did not want them worrying about him, for he is in the Lord’s hands. How compelling! Paul was in Rome facing an uncertain future and death, but he was concerned that they be comforted! We would fare better in our personal trials if we were more concerned about the needs of others. The trials God sends to us are not permission to become self-consumed. One of their purposes is to turn us to him. When we do, our hearts are enlarged so that we are able to enter into the needs of others. The power of God’s kingdom is seen in his ability to fill us with compassion for others when we are hurting. Our struggles and trials are the means God uses to strengthen us to help others. Our financial needs become a reminder to pray for the needs of others and to give our two mites. Our griefs, if we respond to them with submission to God and a true acceptance of his will for our lives, enable us to sympathize with the griefs of others. God uses our sorrows to comfort others, and thus he works much good in our individual struggles if we are turned outward by them, if we turn to him. Our Lord thought of his mother while on the cross; we must think of others while we carry ours.

A Blessing from God Our Savior (v. 23)

All Blessing from God in Christ

Of all the people of the earth, Christians alone understand peace. This is because they understand that peace is independent of our circumstances – or better, that we can know great peace in the worst circumstances by committing ourselves to our Father’s safekeeping and delighting in his nearness and power. These are usually learned the most deeply and enjoyed with the greatest satisfaction in our trials. At no other time does the Lord make his power and faithfulness more known to us than when we learn that peace is found in the path of the cross – bearing and accepting it, even rejoicing in it as working good for us and showing us his power in our weakness. The peace Paul wishes to the Ephesians is more than a feeling of inward tranquility. It is God’s total wellness to us through Christ. This is the reason that he assigns a twofold source of this peace: God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. First, however, remember that Paul wishes them peace from Rome in the midst of great personal struggle and an annoying confinement that prevented him from doing what his heart wanted to do – spread the gospel westward. Always the Lord returns us to this lesson. Peace of soul, a tranquil heart, a composed mind free of undue worry and care, and a joyful spirit are our privilege in every season of life. 

Peace and Love with Faith

They are God’s gifts to us in his Son. “God the Father” brings us back to a fundamental lesson of this letter. In rich mercy and great love, he has drawn near to us in his grace. He has forgiven our sins and cast them behind his back. His smiling face and intent to do us good are not to be measured by our circumstances in this life, for they are often difficult. We must instead trust his promise. The God of the universe is our Father! A child falls and scrapes his knee; his father picks him up, dresses his wound, and holds him close. It was almost worth the skinned knee to be held and loved by father! Much more satisfying, even exhilarating, is having the living God as our Father. He has taken us into his care, guards over, provides for us, loves us, and invites us to call upon him at all times. This is the solid and immovable foundation of the Christian’s rest and peace. And it is often found when we skin our knees. In our trials, he shows himself to be a Father to us and expresses his delight and love for us in countless ways. Did not Paul have time to write this precious letter that will bring us to heaven because he was confined in Rome? This is the way our Father always works – bringing blessing from hardship, joy through tears, and peace on the stormy seas of life – because he is with us. O Christian, learn to view God as your Father, take him at his word, and find what the world can never find – true, lasting, and unconquerable peace!

To know God as our Father in this way is the privilege of those who come to him through God the Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the Mediator of the covenant, the repository of every promise God has ever made, and the satisfaction for our sins. By his obedience and sufferings, he has removed every barrier between us and God our Father. So that our filial confidence will be more than a fleeting feeling, he has sealed this bonded relationship with his Spirit, the Spirit of adoption, who works in us so that we cry to God as our Father, feel close to him and loved by him, and are thus encouraged to set our affections on the things above, where Christ is – where the anchor of our soul is interceding for us, ruling over all things for us, and preparing a place for us. If we want peace, we must know Peace. Peace is a person, Jesus Christ. And having known him, we must never seek peace except as he has taught us – not in getting what we want or exemption from suffering and trials – but by looking in our trials to him (John 16:31). In him – knowing, loving, trusting, and obeying him – is our peace. This path is narrow. It is found in the discipline of the cross, the valley of the shadow of death, and “I die daily.” Yet, the closer we walk with him, the more we shall rejoice in a reconciled God, a Father who loves and cares for us, and thus have true peace that nothing in this life can disturb. And when we are besieged by trouble, this leads us back to God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. We have his promise that when we seek his face and strength, he will replace our rags of sorrow with garments of praise – and therefore with peace!

A Benediction to Lovers of Christ (v. 24)

Christians often say “goodbye” very poorly – like a limp-wristed handshake. When we take our leave of one another, we should say more than “Hey, I hope you enjoy the game,” and certainly not, “Good luck,” or, “I hope everything turns out like you wish.” Do not those who are heirs of heaven and will judge angels and reign with Jesus Christ upon thrones have nothing more meaningful to say to one another? Take Paul’s closings in his letters as an example of the joyful and even challenging hellos and goodbyes that ought to mark our personal greetings. Even if we are accustomed to seeing each other, special warmth should fill our hearts and an earnest desire to see one another remain steadfast to Christ.

An Enduring Love

It is difficult to characterize this particular closing. It is something of a personal challenge, but it is also a prophetic blessing. Considering the warning of our Lord to the Ephesians in Revelation 2 – that these Ephesians soon after this lost their first love (Rev. 2:4) – it is all the more compelling. “Grace to those who love our Lord Jesus incorruptibly.” There is certainly an implied limitation – grace only to those who love him in this way. Grace is God’s saving kindness to sinners, and even if we take this as a general “good will to you” or “blessing upon you,” it is nonetheless evident that it is tied to loving Jesus Christ. The only ones who will receive any good from God or enjoy his blessing upon their lives are those who love Jesus Christ. He is the fountain from which all good must be drawn. “Sincerely” is the key. This is the same word used in 1 Corinthians 15 – that we shall be raised in incorruption (15:42) and must put on “incorruption” (15:53-54). The basic idea seems to be enduring, without diminution, in perpetuity. True love for Christ, love that brings God’s blessing, is enduring. It must not fluctuate with life’s alteration or disappointments. It is enduring because we have undergone already a tremendous renewal in our lives. Our love is not set on self but on Christ our Lord and Savior. The world knows nothing of this love, and therefore it knows nothing of true love. Its many loves are always decaying, being transferred to a new, fleeting object of desire, never contented, always changing. Like the resurrection body, so is our love for Christ – it will endure forever, unchanged except in consuming growth and clarity. It is supreme.

A Dominating Love

Incorruptible love for Christ marks every child of God. The tie that binds our hearts to him and to one another is “whom having not seen we love.” Love for him dominates our life, for he is our life, and we cannot have him for our life without loving him above life itself. We may stray from love briefly or even betray it, as Peter once did, but we always return to him, to loving him and desiring him, weeping over our faithlessness but rejoicing in his steadfast love. The more we learn of him and of his love for us, the more we love him. The more we love him, the more we obey him and are willing to suffer for his name’s sake (John 14:15,21). The more we hear of what he did for us upon the cursed cross and is doing for us at God’s right hand, the more our hearts soar to him, desiring to be engulfed in the sweet embrace of his love and to know nothing but the love of God in Christ, from which we can never be separated (Rom. 8:33-35). Love for Christ closes the gap between earth’s sorrows and heaven’s delights, takes the alluring edge off the world’s pleasures, and makes us desire to be with him who “loved us and gave himself for us.” We are to strive for this kind of incorruptible, perpetually growing and always satisfying love. All that would quench it is a poison that must be forsaken, as must all that competes with it. We cannot love Christ and the world. He is the enduring reality; the world and its lusts are passing away.

A Distinguishing Love

Thus, Paul ends his letter on a high and challenging note. God’s sovereign grace, his adopting love, his forgiving mercies hit their mark when we love the Bridegroom, God our Savior, Jesus Christ. God’s truth is not an end in itself, for orthodoxy and even orthopraxy will take you only so far. The Ephesians would soon be tempted, either by pride or the pressures of this world, and they would lose their first love. Extremely vigilant for God’s truth, a bastion of doctrinal fidelity, these very believers drew the Lord’s rebuke. Do you do all this for the love of me? Do you love me? He asked Peter this three times, and he will ask the Ephesians the same in the form of a warning (Rev. 2:4). If you do not love me, what is the point? If my loving heart for you is not reciprocated, you have missed the point of truth, of grace, of my great church-building work in history. All that I have done for you, am doing for you, will yet do for you must lead you to love me unswervingly. Believe my truth and obey me because you love me. Yes, sin and Satan are fierce enemies to be overcome. Many of you are slaves and must work hard for your daily bread. Distractions and troubles abound in the world. Do you love me? If you do, my grace rests upon you. I will give you my blessing and my peace. I will be with you.