Where Do We Grow from Here?
Ephesians 6:24 Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love.
We have come to the end of a five month journey that we began way back in June. At that time, I told you that we were on a mission to find a new path, a new direction for our church. In my heart, I felt that God was beginning to move us as a church to start thinking about how we could make an impact for Christ in our community.
When I was pondering over what our church should do, I felt led by the Spirit to take us through Paul’s letter to the Ephesians because they were also a church that knew the Lord, but needed to be pointed in the right direction. Today we complete our journey and I hope and pray that this has been something that has drawn all of us closer to Christ and ready for whatever he is asking us to do as a Presbyterian church in this part of Knoxville.
As Paul finishes his letter, he reminds the good folks at Ephesus that he is a prisoner for Christ. He is held captive, whilst the Ephesians are free. He is under house arrest or perhaps in jail. The Ephesians Christians still walk about in their own community, free to serve the Lord, free to worship together, free to do their own thing.
So apostle signs off with these beautiful words of faith: ‘Grace to all who love our lord Jesus Christ with an undying love.’ Paul is doing two things here: he’s finishing his letter with words of encouragement, prayer, and peace. He wants the Ephesian congregation to feel good about their faith, and to be strengthened by his positive words. But Paul is also doing something which is very important: when he gives the blessing to those who love Jesus with an undying love, he’s actually passing the torch of faith to the next generation.
We did something similar this morning when we recognized our young worship graduates. We showed them how pleased we were with their work and asked God to bless them as they graduate into worshipping with us throughout the service. As well thanking them for the work that they and their teachers have done, we were also setting them off on anew voyage of discovery where faith is more than Sunday School classes and Enrichment times – it’s a lifestyle choice of worshipping God and praising Christ. So, in effect were saying to these our precious young people – Grace to you who love the Lord with an undying love. In other words, become the torchbearers of faith for your generation.
Throughout the summer, I’ve talked about what previous generations of Erinites have done for God and Christ’s Kingdom and how their perseverance, sense of duty, and loyalty to Jesus has given us this church that we worship in today. It’s now our turn to continue that 130 year journey of faith and lead our church into its 14th decade. It’s our privilege to be a crossroads generation where the decisions we take and the sacrifices we make are going to enhance, expand, and increase Christ’s work in this community. The love that Erin Church has for Christ is an undying love, and one that we should all be rightly proud of undertaking, achieving, and accomplishing.
Revelation 2:4 Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love.
The story of the church at Ephesus does not end with Paul’s letter. It continues for many centuries producing some of the greatest teachers and leaders that the church has known. Paul’s protégé Timothy, to whom Paul writes two very personal letters becomes the bishop of Ephesus. And John the Apostle, the youngest of Christ’s disciples, lives in Ephesus with Christ’s mother, Mary, where both of them die and were buried.
But there comes a time in the church’s life when their faith began to cool and their passionate allegiance to the Gospel started to dissipate. When John writes the Book of Revelation, he lists the church of Ephesus as one of the seven stars held in Christ’s hand. The church is applauded for its perseverance, but it has one fatal flaw: the congregation has forgotten its first love.
Remember, Paul talked about Ephesus having a undying love for Christ, and yet about 25 years later, in John the Apostle’s vision, Christ accuses it of having lost that love. Churches go through cycles of being passionate for Christ and then they become comfortable and cozy, institutionalized and indifferent. Congregations can rest on the laurels of the past and individual Christians can coast along with their faith until they lose that love of Jesus, which meant so much to them.
Many years ago, when I first became a Christian, I had two friends who were also named John. One of them was an ambitious civil servant, whose zeal for the Lord was wonderful. The other was an electrician who was part of a youth group that used to visit the Gospel Club that both Evelyn and I attended. I was the third member of thee group – a recovering alcoholic who was trying to straighten out his life and make a real commitment to Christ. All three of us gave our hearts to Jesus. Each one of us was zealous for the work of the Lord.
John the civil servant wanted to learn administration skills so that he could one day be the CEO of a religious charity organization. He wanted to serve the Lord in that capacity and make important decisions that would save the lives of thousands of people. John the electrician wanted to have his own business, be happily married, and serve the Lord by using his business to help people who couldn’t afford to pay for his services. As for me, I just wanted to remain sober and to tell others about Jesus.
But as the years sped by, we all lost our love of the Lord. I went to university to become a minister, but found it difficult to keep my simple faith when the theological professors and biblical lecturers tried to tear it apart. They wanted me to believe in their research and study, their conclusions and opinions, their words and ways. There were times when I wanted to give everything up and I felt as though I was in a spiritual wilderness. And then one of the saints in the Divinity faculty, my Old Testament professor, who knew I was struggling told me this: John, it’s not our grasp of God that is important; it is God’s grasp of us that is all important. You don’t need to hold on to God – you just need to let Him hold on to you.”
At the same time, civil servant John was given some great promotions, which eventually led him to becoming a chief advisor to the Prime Minister in Britain. But it cost him his faith. As he climbed the ladder of success, he used his talents to better his life and build up his esteem and renown in the British Civil service. He eventually stopped going to church, believing that he could get along with organized religion and look after his own spirituality in his own way. In other words, he lost his love of Jesus and replaced it with love of self.
And what about John the electrician? I hadn’t seen him for a while and met him at a disco party for someone’s birthday. Yes, I said disco – that shows you how long ago this all took place! I had managed to stop drinking entirely and he was quite agitated by this. In the middle of the celebration, he came up and asked me as strange question: He asked: “And how is your soul? Are you still looking after it?” I didn’t know what to say, because John was drunk. There was a sad expression on his face and emptiness in his eyes.
He worked hard as an electrician, but he married the wrong person. His wife was immature and highly strung. She reminded me of a character in David Copperfield. John couldn’t handle the strain and one dark night he went absolutely crazy, smashed all the windows of his apartment, and jumped off from the ledge of the fourteenth storey to his death. I was in total shock when I heard the news.
Losing our love of Jesus can take us down paths that lead to dead ends and empty lives. John the Apostle was warning the Ephesus Church that they were in danger of losing the reason they were established: to love Christ first and to serve Him faithfully. They were on a ledge of losing everything that Paul had established and of letting go of the Holy Spirit who founded the church. They were at a crossroads of faith. Depending on how they responded to John’s vision of Christ, they would either go onward and upward, or fall backward and downward into death.
Revelation 2:7b To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.
Thankfully, the Ephesian Church chose the upward path. They corrected their course and rediscovered their first love. They went through a time of revival and three hundred and fifty years later, an important Council of all the churches in Christendom gathered at Ephesus in 451AD to make a decision that Christ was both human and divine, that He was Lord of heaven and earth, and that He was the Son of God and the Savior of the world. They overcame and were given that beautiful blessing of life which God promises to those churches that are faithful to Him and His precious Son.
So, where do we grow from here? Are we ready to rediscover that love of Christ which brought us to church in the first place? Are we prepared to express our undying love to Him and let the community around us see that love through our deeds? Are we set in place to commence a journey of faith and revival that will honor the Erinites of the past and prepare the way for the undying lovers of Christ in the generations to come?
I believe that we are and I know that we can do this. Where do we grow from here…to all the places and people that Christ is leading us. To Him be the glory and power. Amen!