Saying “good-bye” can be easy or difficult. If our kids are going off for a day at school, it’s easy. If they are going away to work for the summer, it can be a little harder. When they are leaving home for good, it’s even more difficult. Sometimes, you know you are saying good-bye for a long time and sometimes you don’t. A woman named Hilda used to work for us when we lived in Ecuador. One day when she finished her job, we said good-bye as we always did. It was easy. But the next time we saw her, she was in a coma. And there was no next time. We were in another city the following week when she died. That casual, simple “good-bye” at the end of the workday, turned out to be our last “good-bye.”
In the section before us, today, Paul closes his letter with words of farewell that would be his last to his friends in Ephesus. He was executed in Rome before he could return to see them again.
Ephesians 6:18 …praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints. 19 and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak. 21 So that you also may know how I am and what I am doing, Tychicus the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord will tell you everything. 22 I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage your hearts. 23 Peace be to the brothers, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 24 Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible.
Perhaps you’ll remember that as we closed last time, we noted that Paul encouraged his friends in Ephesus to see themselves as soldiers and to arm themselves appropriately for the spiritual warfare in which they were engaged. He goes straight on from telling them to make “supplication for all the saints” by saying “and also for me. Recognizing his own spiritual battles, Paul did not hesitate to ask his Christian friends to pray for him as they were praying for others.
Specifically, he wanted them to pray that he’d have the right words as he boldly proclaimed the gospel. This little request is an important one. Having the right words to say in our boldness is very important. Some people who are bold for Christ have a way of expressing themselves in such a way that they do more harm than good. An ungodly attitude comes through in their words even though their motivation may be right enough. Paul knows that he needs the right words when he speaks about the gospel.
If you are the kind of person who has great boldness for God, don’t hesitate to ask your friends to pray for you regarding the words you use. Heed Paul’s own words when he wrote to Timothy saying: “And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:24-26). If Paul, knowing what he did, also knew that he needed prayer in regard to his presentation of the gospel, how much more do we!
Paul continues his letter by commenting that it is because of his commitment to the gospel that he was “”an ambassador in chains.” This reminds us that when Paul wrote this letter, he was in prison. He would loved to have been able to travel to Ephesus to teach his friends there personally, but he could not. Paul was under guard in a prison in Rome. In this closing part of his letter, he acknowledged his limitations as a prisoner. Any of us could do that, but how often do we use our circumstances to excuse ourselves from the expectations of others – even of God?
What amazes me here is that even as he acknowledges his difficult situation, he rises above it. Look at what he’s asking them to pray for. We saw that just before this comment he asks them to pray that he’d have the right words as he proclaimed the gospel. Immediately afterwards, he asks them to pray for even more boldness for him. Think about that. Even while Paul was in one of the most challenging personal situations we can imagine, he asked his friends to pray that he would have boldness to speak words of life and hope to those around him. And who was around him? His guards and fellow prisoners.
A moment ago, I spoke of the importance of having the right words – God’s words – when we speak the truth of the gospel publicly. Now I’d like to point out that Paul also asked his friends to pray for something else which many of us need. He knew that as a prisoner, it would be easy for him to be intimidated by his circumstances and by the rough and hardened men around him. So he asked for boldness. Many of us are timid, especially in certain situations. We need boldness. We need to pray that God would make us bold to do the work He’s called us to. We shouldn’t hesitate to acknowledge this spiritual need to our Christian friends so that they can pray for us, too.
I can’t say for sure, but it seems likely that Paul knew that he was nearing the end of his life. As a Christian he was the political enemy of Caesar and he was in Caesar’s prison, in Caesar’s city. What’s more, being in prison had not shut him up. He was still presenting the gospel which had gotten him into trouble in the first place. Things did not look good for Paul. He knew this. He knew that the words he was writing would be his last to his dear Christian friends in Ephesus. Notice the tenderness of his tone here as he closes his letter.
Let me remind you of them again: So that you also may know how I am and what I am doing, Tychicus the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord will tell you everything. I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage your hearts. Peace be to the brothers, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible. Paul knew that his friends were worried about him, so he went out of his way to let them know what and how he was doing. Perhaps he’d use Facebook or an email distribution list if he were living today. That was not an option in his time so he sent his dear friend and partner Tychicus to carry the letter to them and give a first-hand report and to encourage them.
Paul closes with warm best wishes. We could slide over these without giving them too much thought, but considering the gravity of the situation, I don’t think Paul would have mentioned the things he did in a thoughtless way. In order, they are: peace, love, faith, and grace. We’ll consider them briefly.
For Christians in the first century, peace, as we usually think of it, was hard to come by. They lived in a hostile environment. It was a time of officially condoned violence and brutality. Slavery abounded. For followers of the Prince of Peace attempting to “lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence” (1Ti 2:2) the challenges could be overwhelming. No wonder in his letter to the Galatians, Paul mentioned the divine plan to “deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father.” (Gal 1:4) When Paul wished peace on his friends, it was for good reason.
Next, Paul mentions love. We use and abuse this word so frequently that it has lost its meaning to a large extent, but Paul knew exactly what he had in mind. Earlier he had written one of the most celebrated definitions of love in western literature. “ Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” (1Co 13:4-8) He knew that love meant surrendering your rights to the point of laying down one’s life and, I believe, he knew he was about to do this very thing. Paul knew that in a world of danger and potential betrayal, the Christians would need love.
Faith, comes to Paul’s attention next. First Century Christians lived amid both practical and philosophical challenges to their faith. They had been raised by their parents in man-made religions which abounded around them. These appealed to their sense of tradition – to the familiar – to the comfortable. To stand fast in their Christian faith, they had to stand firm against their own personal inclinations as well as the social pressure of the community to conform. Their faith in Christ was all they had, so Paul prayed this for them.
The last thing Paul mentioned was grace. The Ephesians had come out of a culture which was saturated with sin. They had not merely fallen short of God’s standard, they had rebelled against it. They deserved to be abandoned by God and left to die in their sin, but grace intervened. God extended His offer of salvation to them. He sent His Son to die in their place. Paul knew that while they had experienced the initial grace of salvation, they would need grace for the part of the spiritual journey which still lay ahead of them.
This brings us to the end, not just of this program, but of the entire series. I can think of no better way to close it than with the very words of the apostle, himself. “Peace be to the brothers and sisters, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love.” (Eph 6:23-24 NET)