June 5, 2022
Environmentally Sensitive – Part 3
Pastor Philip De Courcy
Time:
Ephesians 1: 1 - 2

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This powerful series will challenge you to understand your role in the body of Christ. Through the book of Ephesians, Pastor Philip will remind us of the joy and blessings God intends for believers to experience in the church as they live as a united family in Christ.

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Transcript

Let’s take our Bibles and turn to Ephesians 1:1–2. We just started a series on the book of Ephesians called Life Together. One of the great themes of the book of Ephesians is that you and I who are united to Christ are united to everyone else who’s united to Christ. And God is creating a new society and a new humanity within history called the church. If you and I love Jesus, we’ll love the church because Jesus loved the church and gave Himself for her. And we want to live life together. So that’s our theme: Life Together. We just started slowly here in verses 1 and 2, kind of setting out our stall with a message I’ve called “Environmentally Sensitive.” Because there’s three environments, spheres, relationships that you and I need to cultivate: one with Christ, one with other saints, and one with our neighbors and unbelieving friends. And we’re back to that this morning. We’ll wrap this up today, and we’ll start on verses 3 to 14 next Sunday morning.
Listen to God’s Word: “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints who are in Ephesus, and faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Some time ago, I was in the company of Dr. John MacArthur. He had just completed preaching through the 27 books of the New Testament. It’s quite an accomplishment, and all his preaching has been put into the MacArthur commentary series, of which we are all the beneficiaries. In a private conversation with him and a couple of guys, we said, “John, few of us will ever reach that high water marker, accomplish that goal of preaching through, verse by verse, every book in the New Testament. So, if you had to select some of the primary books, what would they be? Maybe give us your top three.”
And he said, “Well, I would preach John’s Gospel or a Gospel.” He said, “Secondly, I would preach the book of Ephesians. And thirdly, I would preach the book of Revelation. Because, you see, guys, in John’s Gospel we have the doctrine of Christ. In Ephesians we have the doctrine of the church, and in Revelation we have the doctrine of the consummation. Through the Gospel of John and then through Ephesians and through Revelation, we move from the beginning to the middle to the end of the gospel story.” Makes a lot of sense.
Now, I soon realized I haven’t preached John’s Gospel nor the book of Ephesians nor the book of Revelation. Now, thankfully, I preached Mark’s Gospel, so maybe I’ve covered a Gospel. So, I’m kind of repenting, and we’re preaching the book of Ephesians here, and maybe at some point hopefully we’ll get to the book of Revelation. But, besides the urging of John MacArthur, there are a host of good reasons to study the letter to the Ephesians.
Before we come back to our text, since we’re still in that kind of introductory mode, let me give you five reasons why we should study this book. Number one, it’s clear on the gospel. There’s nothing more important than the gospel. It’s a matter of first importance that Jesus Christ died for our sins and was buried and rose again, according to the Scriptures.
And you know what, sadly, today, even within the church, many believers suffer from an impoverished understanding of the gospel. And Ephesians is going to fix that. Ephesians is going to help with that. At times our pastors have kind of mourned the fact that in many membership interviews, even here at Kindred, some people struggle to articulate a clear understanding of the gospel. Yeah, they have got the bare bones of a time and a place where they believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, but they can’t articulate in a clear manner justification of what Jesus accomplished on the cross for them and what is theirs by faith alone.
So, the book of Ephesians is going to help us all because it’s clear on the gospel, and there’s nothing more important than the gospel. In fact, in chapter 3, verse 8, Paul talks about the unsearchable riches of Christ. One of the things Paul will do in this book is to help you understand the wealth that you have in Jesus Christ, the unsearchable riches of God’s grace put on display in Jesus Christ.
So, number one, it’s clear on the gospel. Number two, it details the importance of the church. There’s a lot said about the church in the book of Ephesians. We’re going to come to see that God at this moment in history is indeed creating a new humanity within humanity, a new society within society, a holy nation within the nations. We want to understand the importance of the church. This is a book that will give us a love for the body of Christ and her head, the Lord Jesus Christ. In Ephesians 5 we’re told that Jesus loved the church and gave Himself for her. You and I must have a love for the church just as our Savior has.
For too many Christians, the church orbits around their life. It’s something they fit in when time allows, when the calendar’s open, when there’s nothing to compete. The church is often at the circumference of many Christians’ experience, and that’s wrong. The church is central to God’s purposes. Listen again to Paul in Ephesians 3:10–11. He tells us that the church has been created to make known the “wisdom of God . . . to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose” of God. The church and its mission in the world is at the heart of God’s eternal purposes.
Number three, it speaks to us today like no other letter of Paul’s does. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is not situational. It doesn’t give us a lot of background. It doesn’t spend a lot of time on personalities, particulars, or problems. Now, you get that in a letter like 1 Corinthians, where he addresses a situation there, like the abuse of spiritual gifts. Some Christians were taking other Christians to court. Some Christians were asking what their status was within a marriage to an unbelieving spouse. Paul writes that letter, and he addresses all kinds of things that are particular to them. But he doesn’t do that in Ephesians. In fact, Tony Merida in his commentary on Ephesians says that this letter is more reflective than corrective.
Because it was a circular letter, it first went to Ephesus. But, Ephesus was the mother ship for many churches within Asia. That’s why it’s the first letter written by Christ in Revelation 2 to 3. It has a wide appeal. It has a general feel, and that’s very good. It speaks to us like no other letter of Paul’s, because we really feel that every verse is speaking directly to us.
Number four, it’s full of Christ-centered encouragement. Remember what we said a week or two ago? This letter splits into two halves. There’s the doctrine then there’s the duty. There’s the creed then there’s the conduct. We have in chapters 1, 2, and 3 what we call gospel indicatives. In fact, I believe there’s only one command in all of the first three chapters. And then in chapter 4, 5, and 6, we get gospel imperatives, which is the Greek for “a command.” So, the first half doesn’t tell us to do anything; the second half does.
But there’s wonderful wisdom in the very structure of this letter. Ephesians preaches the gospel to Christians to remind Christians to preach the gospel to themselves. This book has us marinating in what God has already done for us before we do anything for God. And that’s a wonderful encouragement—to know how much God loves us, to know what He set out to do from eternity past to eternity future, to know the work of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit on our behalf, to understand the glorious nature of the church and its calling within the world, to understand the resources we have and the power that’s available to us. Given what the world does against us, given what we fail to do even as Christians, it’s wonderful to be reminded of how much God has already done and what God promises unendingly to do for us.
Robert Murray M’Cheyne, a wonderful Scottish minister who died at 29 tragically, famously said, “For every look at self, take ten looks at Christ.” And the Ephesian letter will do that for us. It’ll have us looking at Christ a lot, and then we’ll move there, excited and encouraged to do something for Him.
Number five, finally, it provides practical answers to basic questions about the Christian life. Now, if you’re young in the faith here this morning, you’ve got all kinds of questions, right? What happened when I put my faith in Jesus? What does God want me to do? Or what’s my relationship with the world? And the book of Ephesians answers all of that. Why worship? You get your answer in 1:3–14. How should you pray? You get two model prayers in chapter 1 and in chapter 3. How are we saved? ( 2:1–10). Who are we in Christ? What is our identity? (2:11–12).
Why is the church a big deal? Why should I go to church? Why should I get involved in the body life of the professing church? (3:1–13). How can we be one? How do we stay united? (4:1–16). How then shall I live? (4:17–33). What would it look like to look like God? (5:1–14). What’s God’s plan for my marriage? How am I to love my wife, or how am I to serve my husband? (5:15–33). You know what, how are we to raise our children, and what is my role as a parent, my authority as a parent, in the life of my children? Well, there you go, 6:1–4. How should we see our work day week? I mean, is work a distraction? Is employment in the secular world God’s will for the Christian? You got an answer in 6:5–9. And then how do we fight the world, the flesh, and the devil? You know what, since I’ve become a Christian, I’ve quickly learned it’s not easy. It’s a fight. It’s hard. Paul understands (6:10–24). Lot of good questions there answered in this wonderful book.
Okay, let’s get back to verses 1 and 2 and finish this message, entitled “Environmentally Sensitive.” We have looked at the Christ environment, and this morning we’re going to look at the church environment and the city environment. You see, Paul wants you to be sensitive to certain environments, certain spheres, certain contexts in life. The first one is that you’re in Christ. The second one is that you’re in communion with the saints. And the third one is that you live in a certain place, and in their case it was Ephesus. And they were to live out their faith in a certain location.
So, there’s the Christ environment, the church environment, the city environment. Let’s get to the second one now, the church environment. Look back to verse 1: “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God”—notice—“to the saints”—plural. He wants them to be sensitive to their church responsibilities and to their church relationships. Here’s an interesting fact. The word “saint” . . . Remember, we defined that last week: set apart, dedicated to God. The word “saint” occurs some 100 times in the Bible but almost never in the singular. Very rarely will you read about “the saint.” More often you read about “the saints.” In fact, I like what Philip Graham Ryken says: “The singular thing about saints, therefore, is that they are always found in the plural.” Joined to Christ, the Christian seeks to immediately and intimately join themselves to others in their locality who are joined to Christ.
I mean, go back to the book of Acts, from the very inception of the church at the day of Pentecost. “And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47). And then in Acts 9:26, we read about Paul’s conversion. And after a time he finds himself in Jerusalem, and it says that he tried to join himself to the church in Jerusalem. See, when you and I are truly saved, when you and I are born again of the Spirit of God who now indwells us, He will create in us an impulse to join ourselves to the saints who meet in any location. That’s what happened to the Ephesians. You notice how Paul describes their conversion and the consequences of their conversion? Look at verse 15 of chapter 1: “Therefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and [consequently] your love for all the saints . . .” Those who put their faith in Jesus will have a love for the saints. They’ll want to be with the saints. They’ll assemble with the saints. They’ll live their Christian life in the company of the saints.
Listen to these words by Steve Timmis, a church planter in England: “It is not that I belong to God and then make a decision to join a local church. My being in Christ means being in Christ with those others who are in Christ. This is my identity. This is our identity. . . . If the church is the body of Christ, then we should not live as disembodied Christians.” You don’t join a church. When you put your faith in Jesus Christ, God joins you to the church—the church universal, all of those baptized into one body. That reality you practice, and then you go and find an expression of that church in the location in which God saved you. In their case, Ephesus. And so, we have this letter addressed to the saints who are congregating, living their life together in Ephesus.
This letter underscores the central importance of the church. In Christ, God has set out to create a new society and a new humanity—a new humanity within humanity, a new society within society, and a holy nation amidst the nations. Look at 2:14, “For He Himself [Christ] is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation . . .” This we can hear about the circumcised and the uncircumcised. The Jew and the Gentile have been brought into the body of Christ and are now one, right? Verse 15: “. . . having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in the ordinances, so as”—notice—“to create [to produce, to bring about] in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace.”
What’s the one new man? It’s the church. It’s a new man among men. It’s a new society among society. It’s a new humanity among humanity. You scroll down to verse 19: “Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” That’s who you are; you’re a member of the household of God. You belong to His family, as sons and daughters. You are a body part in the body of Christ. You are a branch in the vine. Whatever metaphor you take of the church, it’s always plural and always speaks of connection. The reality is that believers are belongers. If you’re a believer, you should be a belonger. You belong to a body of believers because you’ve been baptized by the one Spirit and of the one body, made to drink of the one Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:12–14).
How marvelous this morning that you and I, by new birth, belong to something that is universal (the church), something that is eternal (the church), and something that exists amidst a godless culture for the glory of God. The unchurch Christian is not a biblical category. In fact, I agree with Mark Dever, although he puts it in a very provocative manner. Mark Dever pastored Capitol Hill Baptist Church, and he said this once: “If you are not a member of the church you regularly attend, you may well be going to hell.” Well, you say, “Pastor, I thought it’s believing in Jesus that saves.” Of course, but as Steve Timmis reminds us, if you’re in Christ, you’re in the body of Christ. You don’t join a church; you’re already joined to the church. You go and find your brothers and sisters. You go and attach yourself to the communion of the saints. That’s what Christians do.
And that’s his point. It’s provocative. He’s basically saying there’s no such a thing as an unchurch Christian in the New Testament. Wasn’t it John Calvin who said if you take God as your Father, you’ll take the church as your Mother? There’s an element of truth in that. Remember what John said in 1 John 2:19: “They went out from us, but they were not of us”—now, listen to this—“for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us.” See, God adds us to the church when we get saved. And if God has truly saved you and me, we will find an expression of the church assembling locally under biblical leadership, where the Word of God is preached, where the ordinances are obeyed, where love in Jesus Christ is manifest.
Listen to these words by John Stott: “One of our chief evangelical blind spots has been to overlook the central importance of the church. We tend to proclaim individual salvation without moving on to the saved community. We emphasize that Christ died for us ‘to redeem us from all iniquity’ rather than ‘to purify for himself a people of his own.’” That’s a quote from Titus 2:14. Of course Christ died to redeem us from our sin, but He also died to purify for Himself a people of His own—the new man among men, the new society among society, the new humanity among humanity. He goes on: “We think of ourselves more as ‘Christians’ rather than as ‘churchmen,’ and our message is more good news of a new life than of a new society. Nobody can emerge from a careful reading of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians with a privatized gospel.”
That’s a good word, and that’s what we’ve got here. This is the second environment. As you live in Christ, you are now united to others in Christ, and you will live out that reality in communion with the saints. By the way, what would that look like? What would that look like to live in communion with others? I don’t have time to develop this. It’s going to be a bit more of a list, but I just kind of reread the book of Ephesians from start to finish, and several things jumped out. This life together. This is what we’re striving after here at Kindred Community Church. I don’t know if we’ll tick all of these perfectly at any one time, but this is on our list of what we want this church to be.
Number one, we ought to profess love. Ephesians 1:15, Paul says that he gives thanks for their “love for all the saints.” We ought to practice forgiveness. In 4:31–32, we’re told to forgive one another as God in Christ has forgiven us. We ought to provide time. We’re told in Ephesians 5:15–17 to redeem the time and do the will of God. Well, the will of God is for you to live in connection with a body of believers in a locality; you need to make time for that.
Profess love. Practice forgiveness. Provide time. Preserve unity. Okay? We need each other, but we will needle each other. We’re imperfect. We’ll stand on each other’s toes. We’ll hurt one another. There’ll be a word that’s out of place. There’ll be an action that wasn’t done that should have been done, or there’ll be an action that was done that shouldn’t have been done. We’re going to hurt each other, and we’ve got to work hard at preserving unity. Ephesians 4:1–6: “[E]ndeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
Promote service. According to 4:7, “But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” We all have gifts, both natural and supernatural. We all have abilities. We are all a part of the body, and we need to function for the body to function. We need to promote service. We need to prioritize accountability. Paul says in 5:21 that we ought to be “submitting to one another in the fear of God.” You are accountable to me, and I’m accountable to you. You can’t just walk off from the church and do your own thing and not expect us to chase you and hold you accountable. Because when you became a member of the church, you covenanted to submit to one another. “Now I’m out of here.” No, not until we have a conversation. You get the point.
Prize leadership. God gave pastors and teachers who kept the saints to do the work of the ministry (4:11–13). And then, finally, push patience. Ephesians 4:2 talks about being longsuffering. Those are just some of the elements of body life that will allow us to live in the communion of the saints.
I have a book at home called What’s Your Spiritual Quotient? by Mark Brewer. And in it he tells the story of a Christian missionary in the late 1800s. He’s walking with a Hindu businessman in the mountains of Northern India. In that high ground, snowstorms blow in very quickly, and you can get trapped. They come on very dangerous. And so, between the mountain passes, villagers had constructed small huts at a distance of a day’s walk. So, should one of these storms come in, travelers can get to these shelters.
As the missionary and the businessman are walking, one of these storms blows up, and they pressed on through the sleet and the snow. Suddenly, they heard someone crying from the bottom of the ravine. A man had fallen; he had broken his leg. And the Hindu said, “We must keep going. We cannot help him.” The Christian said, “I have to. I’m a Christian. I must.” To which the Hindu businessman replied, “We all die anyway. This is because of his karma. It’s something between him and life now, not us. We’ve got to move on.” The missionary said, “You go on.” The man headed off into the blizzard of snow that was moving against them, and the missionary said, “I’m going to stay.” So, what he did is he worked hard, got the man up from the ravine, put him on his back, and he stumbled along with this man on his back. He could feel the man’s hot breath on his neck, and he kept praying, “Lord, please help me get further. Please let me go a little further.”
Finally, looking down about 100 yards ahead of him was one of the travelers huts. He was excited and stumbled in his excitement, falling into the middle of the road. As he sprawled under the snow, they noticed a shape in front of them covered in snow. It was the frozen body of the businessman who’d gone it alone. As you reflect on that story, what prevented the missionary from also freezing to death was the warmth of the body of the man on his back. And you know what? You and I are to live out the “one anothers.” And that’ll be challenging, and it’ll be hard work, and it’ll be sacrificial. But there’s life in it; there’s health in it.
The great Scottish theologian James Bannerman said, “According to the arrangement of God, the Christian is more of a Christian in society than alone, more in the enjoyment of privileges of a spiritual kind when he shares them with others, than when he possesses them apart. . . . The Christian Church was established in the world, to realize the superior advantages of a social over an individual Christianity, and to set up and maintain the communion of the saints.” In society, American society, often it is the individual rights over the community wellbeing. In the church, it’s the community’s wellbeing over the individual’s rights. That’s the church environment, and we’ll get into that as we work our way through this wonderful passage.
Let’s get to the city environment and wrap this up this morning. Right? Environmentally sensitive. Are you well aware of that first environment? You’re in Christ. You’re in union with Christ, a branch in a vine. You need to bear fruit; you need to draw from Him by all the means of grace. Number two, there’s the church environment. You didn’t choose to join the church, but God chose you and put you into the church. And you live that out in a locality with the professing church, under elders, loving one another and serving one another. And I’ve got this third environment: the city environment. We need to be aware of our responsibility to the environment in which we’re in. In their case, it was the city of Ephesus: “To the saints who are in Ephesus . . . in Christ Jesus” (1:1). There’s those three.
Now, listen to this. It’s important. It’s just a little phrase; you could just read that and not think about it, but there’s a ton to learn from that little phrase “in Ephesus.” That’s where they were. And, it’s a reminder that the Christian life is not lived out in a monastery, in some hallowed hall of learning. The Christian life is lived out on the streets of a city, in its factories, in its universities, in its commercial centers. That’s how the Christians in the city of Ephesus lived. They had a physical, a political, and a philosophical context they had to deal with, for good or for bad. And it would vary from city to city. Philippi was a little different from Ephesus, and Ephesus was a little different from Colossae. But they all were dealing with their physical, political, and philosophical contexts, much of which opposed the church.
But that’s okay. God never called the church to a monastic lifestyle. If I can find this quote . . . I came across this a while ago: “Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a cross between two thieves; on the town garbage heap; at a crossroads so cosmopolitan that they had to write his title in Hebrew and in Latin and in Greek . . . at the kind of place where cynics talk smut and thieves curse, and soldiers gamble.” That’s striking, isn’t it? Remember how Isaiah puts it? “He was numbered with the transgressors.” That’s where Jesus did His best work.
And I just want us to remind ourselves of that. The Christ who dwelt among us, incarnated Himself among us, calls His followers to live out their faith in Him among people—unsaved people, unsavory people, just like people in Ephesus. Okay? God’s will and God’s work for you requires a zip code. God wants you to live out your Christian life at a certain location—a location that He either brought you to life in or brought you to new life in. And He wants you to be a witness for Him there.
So Paul writes to Christians in the city of Ephesus. Now, let’s take a tour of the city of Ephesus, just for a few minutes. I’m going to go somewhere with this. It was the leading city of the richest region in the Roman empire. Its population was about a quarter of a million, second only to Rome or Alexandria in terms of size. The makeup of the city was cosmopolitan, multi-ethnic. There were its residents, its indigenous people, and then, on top of that, there was quite a complement of Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans who had settled there. And there was a good-sized Jewish community that had been there since the 3rd century BC. So, it was a mosaic of all kinds of people, cultures, ethnicities, and backgrounds. It served as the Roman provincial capital of Asia minor. Today, that would be the kind of western third of modern Turkey. That’s where we’re at geographically.
It was a port city, like Los Angeles or Long Beach. It was busy and bustling. Ships were arriving from all over the Mediterranean Sea, full of goods and people who would disembark or be taken off the ship. And the goods and people would spread throughout the Roman empire. This was the city marked by enterprise, entertainment, and education. There were business areas. There were civic centers, expensive homes, public baths, sports stadiums, gymnasiums. Spiritually, it was a religiously pluralistic environment. There were some 50 gods and goddesses you can choose from, although dominant among them was the cult of Diana, or Artemis, on the temple of Diana—which was one of the Seven Wonders of the World. So, one of the Seven Wonders of the World was in Ephesus, and it was a pagan temple. It dominated the skyline, and it did more than that; it dominated the culture.
In fact, in Acts 19:35, you can read someone saying along the lines of, “Who hasn’t heard of the temple of Diana? We’re world famous for our worship of her.” She was a fertility god, and sexual immorality and prostitution and temple rites were tied in to the worship. In fact, there are pictures of her, and she’s just a statue with many, many breasts. Gross, pagan, godless, idolatrous. That’s what dominated that city. In fact, the major savings and loan institutions of the entire region was housed and run by the cult of Diana.
On top of that, you had the imperial cult, which was the worship of Caesar and the annual calling of him as Lord, which often got Christians into trouble. They were happy to obey Roman law where it didn’t cause them to disobey God. They lived out their lives in the Roman culture, but once a year, many of them were brought to put some incense into the altar and confess, “Caesar is Lord.” And when they didn’t, depending on the local procurator, they could be in a lot of hot water. And many of them didn’t, because Jesus is Lord.
On top of that, magic, shamanism, and all cult arts were a big part of that culture too. An animistic worldview permeated the culture—spirits to be warded off or conjured up. Some believers came out of that very lifestyle. You can read about that in Acts 19:13–20, where, now in Christ, there was this kind of book burning moment where they took all their books of spells and cult art and they burned them, like burning bridges to their past life. Okay, we’ll stop there. I think you get an idea. It was a rich culture. It was a pluralistically broad culture religiously. It was certainly a hub of commerce. It was certainly politically very antagonistic against rivals to Caesar’s power.
So, given all of that, we note it’s spiritually dark. Given all of that, we notice it’s politically intimidating. In fact, they could well remember the day when some of them were manhandled and dragged into the city theater. You can read about this back in Acts 19:28–34, during Paul’s second visit on his third missionary journey. For two hours they were harangued and threatened by 50,000 of their fellow citizens crying, “Great is Diana of Ephesus.” Just want you to get a flavor for when you read this little phrase “to the saints in Ephesus.” That’s where they were. That’s what they were dealing with. That’s where they were called to live out their Christian faith, to walk worthy of their calling, and to redeem the time.
Now, let’s think about this. Given all that we’ve said, watch this. Christ had called them to honor Him as Lord in the midst of a culture marked by imperial dominance. Christ had called them to preach Him as the only way to God in the midst of a city marked by multiculturalism, polytheism, and pluralism. Christ had called them to be filled by the Spirit in the midst of a city filled with spiritism. Christ had called them to raise their families in the midst of an occultic culture. Christ had called them to live according to eternal values in the midst of a materially rich and sensual location.
Look, Ephesus was pagan and prosperous. Ephesus was immoral and idolatrous. Ephesus was vulgar and vain. But squarely in the murky middle of this godlessness was a body of believers, the church—committed to walking worthy of their calling in Christ, committed to speaking the truth in love, committed to standing in the evil day, having done all to stand, committed to redeem the time and do the will of God, committed to live out their faith at Ephesus, not away from Ephesus.
I want to say that again. They lived out their faith at Ephesus, not away from Ephesus. Smack dab in the middle of all that godlessness was a body of saints—called out, separated under God, and dedicated to His glory. They were to stand for Christ, right? Chapter 6 casts the Christian life and casts their context of ministry in terms of a battlefield. In 6:11, they’re told, “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may able to stand against the wiles of the devil.” Look at verse 13: “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.” Look at verse 14: “Stand therefore . . .” Don’t run. Don’t retreat. Don’t vacate. Don’t leave. Stand in the midst of the evil. Withstand the evil, and be a witness for Jesus Christ.
The word “stand” means to hold your position. It even carries the idea of fighting back. They were not to withdraw; they were to withstand. Now, I don’t have time to develop this, their church’s relationship to the culture. But the church is not to be above the culture. There’s nothing in the Bible about you and me getting to a place where the church rules the culture. The kingdom comes when Jesus comes; we don’t bring the kingdom. The church is not to be apart from the culture—separated, living a monastic life, retreating from everyday existence, putting on white robes and standing on the top of hills waiting for Jesus to return. Now, the church is not to be above the culture, and the church is not to be apart from the culture. Rather, the church is to be the church amidst the culture, in contact without contamination.
And that’s where we’re to be. We’re to be at LA, at Orange County, at Riverside. That’s where God has put us. And He wants us to be in the middle of it. Standing, not running. Withstanding, not withdrawing. Listen to these words. I went back over verses that would remind me that I’ve got to live my Christian life in the midst of darkness, in the midst of spiritual darkness, in the midst of political intimidation. What did Jesus say to His disciples in Matthew 10:16? “I send you out as a sheep in the midst of wolves.” You and I are to live our Christian life among wolves. And some of us have the teeth marks to prove it (John 17:14–16). In John 17 is Jesus’ high priestly prayer, in fact, what we might call the Lord’s prayer. And what does Jesus pray in John 17:14? He says this: “I have given them [My people, Your people, Father] Your word; and the world has hated them . . .” A par for the course.
You should just write in, the world’s going to hate us. The world doesn’t like us. The world’s going to pressure us. They’re wolves; we’re sheep. We’re their target; we’re their prey. Don’t forget that, because there seems to be a narrative among Christians that we ought to escape that kind of stuff, that we don’t deserve that kind of stuff. Why would they do that to us? They’re coming after us. Yes, they are, always have. They did it at Ephesus; they’ll do it here. Although, I would remind you, I think here is still better than there. What they faced, we haven’t yet faced. But we need to just remind ourselves of that, because Jesus says, “Look, I do not pray that you should take them out of the world.” If Jesus is praying to the Father not to take them out, we need to make sure we don’t take ourselves out of where God wants us to be, a salt and light on the earth and in the world.
“But I pray that you’d keep them from the evil one. Father, I want them to be in the world, but not of it, in contact without contamination.” What about Philippians 2:14–15? Just listen to the language again, where Paul says, “Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights . . .” In the middle of it, among those who hate us, those who are in the world without God and without hope, those who are perverse.
And then, finally, what about the church at Pergamos? Have you read this recently? Listen. This is a letter to a church in Asia Minor, not far from the church at Ephesus. I want you to notice these words: “And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write, ‘These things says He who has the sharp two-edged sword . . .’” This is Jesus speaking: “‘I know your works, and where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is’” (Revelation 2:12–13).
The church lived where Satan lived. They shared the same zip code. That’s an intimidating contact, but that’s where God wants His people. That’s where God wants the church. We are sent by God to work and witness right in the midst of a godless culture and a groaning creation. God wants us to be a new society in the midst of the old society or, to borrow the words of Augustine, the city of God existing in the midst of the city of man. Just as God the Father sent his Son into the world, so the Son sends us, right? Jesus, in John 17:14–16, says that I pray that You won’t kick them out, “but that You should keep them from the evil one.” And then in verse 18: “As You sent Me . . . I also have sent them . . .” We are to go to sinners. We’re to live among sinners, with the same mindset and mission as Jesus, and that is a mission of self-denying love.
We’re not to seek Christian bunkers, and we’re certainly not to blend like chameleons in the culture, where you can’t tell us apart from the society. But we are, according to Ephesians 5:8, to walk as children of the light in the midst of the darkness. Listen to what Paul says. It’s going to be a great passage when we get there. In Ephesians 5:8, he says this: “For you were once darkness.” You did what they do, didn’t you? But now, you don’t do what you once did. You no longer do what they do because grace has changed you. You’re putting off the old man, and you’re putting on the new man. Now you’re to be the “light in the Lord,” so “walk as children of the light.” In the darkness, have a heart for your neighborhood, have a heart for people who you used to hang out with who are now living lives that are shameful and disgraceful.
This is a word for the church in California. Remember I told you to hold that thought? Okay, you can let go of it now. We’re there. Many Christians are leaving California because it’s too like Ephesus. Have you noticed that? I’ve heard that a lot recently. You know what, God’s judgment’s on this state. The schools, the government, the entertainment, business—it’s all against us. It’s corrupting. It’s shameful. We need to get out.
Now, I can give you many legitimate reasons for leaving California. I’ve had that discussion with myself. We all have. In fact, there was an article in the LA Times that stated that half of Californians have considered leaving. Amazing. In fact, our own church has seen it in the last two to three years. I think we estimate that we lost 20% of our congregation. Thankfully, we’ve regained that with growth. But many people are leaving the state for good and for bad reasons.
I understand the impulse, and, you know what, there may be economic reasons that drive you and your business out of the state. I completely understand. Maybe you’re near retirement, and your family is spread abroad. You’ve worked hard, and you’re cashing in and going to go and see your children’s children. Nothing wrong with that. That’s part of the cycles and seasons of life. But, what I’m hearing that bothers me, given all that we have just read, is, “You know what? California’s getting dark. I don’t want to bring my kids up here. I’m going to go to a more friendly state.” I’m not sure that’s the reason to leave California, given that Jesus told you to live as sheep among wolves—given the fact that you’re to be a light in the midst of a perverse generation.
My daughter Angela sent me a great article by a pastor, Chris Gordon. It’s entitled, “Arise Jonah and Go to California, That Wretched State!” That’s a great article, great title, right? Remember how God sent Jonah to go to that wicked city called Nineveh? But this pastor says somewhere in this article, “There are certainly legitimate reasons for leaving the Golden State, but that is not what this article is about. The larger question is why the Lord leaves us in this world to begin with. It was Jesus himself who prayed, ‘I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one (Jn. 17:[15]).’ No one would argue with this until we insert the word ‘California.’”
All right, let’s insert the word “California”: “Father, I pray that you do not take them out of California, but that you keep them from the evil one.”
“Wait a minute,” Gordon says, “why would I stay in a state with high taxes and so many problems? That’s a great question.” But it’s tied to the question, “Why are Christians in this world?” There’s a lot of talk, right, about why someone’s leaving economically, for religious freedom, and so on. But he says this, “It is one thing to move somewhere prayerfully and according to one’s conscience, but it is quite another to do it under the guise of freedom when the goal is more material happiness. This is how the world thinks. This is how the conservative policy nonbelievers think.” But is this the way the Christian’s to think? Conservative talk shows and advocates are getting out of California. They can do that. I’m not sure the church can do that, because we’re to go into all the world, into the darkest spots, the toughest places, and make disciples.
Let’s wrap this up. Just a challenge. Not trying to make anybody feel guilty. We had a wonderful couple who left the state and our church to go to another state. They were in first service, and they came out with their heads bowed low. “Pastor, were you talking about me?” “No.” They had good reasons, and I think their motives were good. Just trying to stop the rot, stop the unrealistic expectations and get back to gospel living, in Christ, as a body of saints, at the zip code where God has you.
Ephesus was no paradise for believers, but that’s where they lived out the will of God. Let’s do that by renouncing our former lives, reproving the darkness around us, redeeming the time, reflecting Christ in our marriages, raising godly children, respecting our employers and employees, and resisting the evil one. That’s all in chapter 4, chapter 5, chapter 6.
God doesn’t want you to hide your light. God doesn’t want you to grab your light and run away with it. He wants you to shine your light before men, before unsaved men, before unsavory characters. Shine your light before men, and may they see your good works coming out of your good life because you love our good God. And then they’ll give glory to God the Father in heaven. The world at its worst needs the church at its best. You know what was said of William Wilberforce? He made “goodness fashionable.” Goodness, common sense, righteous living, gender distinction, heterosexual marriage, parental authority: It’s all out of fashion in California. Have you noticed that? Let’s make it fashionable by the way we live.
Father, we thank You for our time in the book of Ephesians. We’re now inside the door, and we thank You for this lesson about the environments to which we must be sensitive, in Christ, in the church, in the city. Lord, we pray that we would be sensitive to all of those responsibilities and all of those relationships, that we might live a full and impactful Christian discipleship walk for Your glory. And these things we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.Let’s take our Bibles and turn to Ephesians 1:1–2. We just started a series on the book of Ephesians called Life Together. One of the great themes of the book of Ephesians is that you and I who are united to Christ are united to everyone else who’s united to Christ. And God is creating a new society and a new humanity within history called the church. If you and I love Jesus, we’ll love the church because Jesus loved the church and gave Himself for her. And we want to live life together. So that’s our theme: Life Together. We just started slowly here in verses 1 and 2, kind of setting out our stall with a message I’ve called “Environmentally Sensitive.” Because there’s three environments, spheres, relationships that you and I need to cultivate: one with Christ, one with other saints, and one with our neighbors and unbelieving friends. And we’re back to that this morning. We’ll wrap this up today, and we’ll start on verses 3 to 14 next Sunday morning.
Listen to God’s Word: “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints who are in Ephesus, and faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Some time ago, I was in the company of Dr. John MacArthur. He had just completed preaching through the 27 books of the New Testament. It’s quite an accomplishment, and all his preaching has been put into the MacArthur commentary series, of which we are all the beneficiaries. In a private conversation with him and a couple of guys, we said, “John, few of us will ever reach that high water marker, accomplish that goal of preaching through, verse by verse, every book in the New Testament. So, if you had to select some of the primary books, what would they be? Maybe give us your top three.”
And he said, “Well, I would preach John’s Gospel or a Gospel.” He said, “Secondly, I would preach the book of Ephesians. And thirdly, I would preach the book of Revelation. Because, you see, guys, in John’s Gospel we have the doctrine of Christ. In Ephesians we have the doctrine of the church, and in Revelation we have the doctrine of the consummation. Through the Gospel of John and then through Ephesians and through Revelation, we move from the beginning to the middle to the end of the gospel story.” Makes a lot of sense.
Now, I soon realized I haven’t preached John’s Gospel nor the book of Ephesians nor the book of Revelation. Now, thankfully, I preached Mark’s Gospel, so maybe I’ve covered a Gospel. So, I’m kind of repenting, and we’re preaching the book of Ephesians here, and maybe at some point hopefully we’ll get to the book of Revelation. But, besides the urging of John MacArthur, there are a host of good reasons to study the letter to the Ephesians.
Before we come back to our text, since we’re still in that kind of introductory mode, let me give you five reasons why we should study this book. Number one, it’s clear on the gospel. There’s nothing more important than the gospel. It’s a matter of first importance that Jesus Christ died for our sins and was buried and rose again, according to the Scriptures.
And you know what, sadly, today, even within the church, many believers suffer from an impoverished understanding of the gospel. And Ephesians is going to fix that. Ephesians is going to help with that. At times our pastors have kind of mourned the fact that in many membership interviews, even here at Kindred, some people struggle to articulate a clear understanding of the gospel. Yeah, they have got the bare bones of a time and a place where they believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, but they can’t articulate in a clear manner justification of what Jesus accomplished on the cross for them and what is theirs by faith alone.
So, the book of Ephesians is going to help us all because it’s clear on the gospel, and there’s nothing more important than the gospel. In fact, in chapter 3, verse 8, Paul talks about the unsearchable riches of Christ. One of the things Paul will do in this book is to help you understand the wealth that you have in Jesus Christ, the unsearchable riches of God’s grace put on display in Jesus Christ.
So, number one, it’s clear on the gospel. Number two, it details the importance of the church. There’s a lot said about the church in the book of Ephesians. We’re going to come to see that God at this moment in history is indeed creating a new humanity within humanity, a new society within society, a holy nation within the nations. We want to understand the importance of the church. This is a book that will give us a love for the body of Christ and her head, the Lord Jesus Christ. In Ephesians 5 we’re told that Jesus loved the church and gave Himself for her. You and I must have a love for the church just as our Savior has.
For too many Christians, the church orbits around their life. It’s something they fit in when time allows, when the calendar’s open, when there’s nothing to compete. The church is often at the circumference of many Christians’ experience, and that’s wrong. The church is central to God’s purposes. Listen again to Paul in Ephesians 3:10–11. He tells us that the church has been created to make known the “wisdom of God . . . to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose” of God. The church and its mission in the world is at the heart of God’s eternal purposes.
Number three, it speaks to us today like no other letter of Paul’s does. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is not situational. It doesn’t give us a lot of background. It doesn’t spend a lot of time on personalities, particulars, or problems. Now, you get that in a letter like 1 Corinthians, where he addresses a situation there, like the abuse of spiritual gifts. Some Christians were taking other Christians to court. Some Christians were asking what their status was within a marriage to an unbelieving spouse. Paul writes that letter, and he addresses all kinds of things that are particular to them. But he doesn’t do that in Ephesians. In fact, Tony Merida in his commentary on Ephesians says that this letter is more reflective than corrective.
Because it was a circular letter, it first went to Ephesus. But, Ephesus was the mother ship for many churches within Asia. That’s why it’s the first letter written by Christ in Revelation 2 to 3. It has a wide appeal. It has a general feel, and that’s very good. It speaks to us like no other letter of Paul’s, because we really feel that every verse is speaking directly to us.
Number four, it’s full of Christ-centered encouragement. Remember what we said a week or two ago? This letter splits into two halves. There’s the doctrine then there’s the duty. There’s the creed then there’s the conduct. We have in chapters 1, 2, and 3 what we call gospel indicatives. In fact, I believe there’s only one command in all of the first three chapters. And then in chapter 4, 5, and 6, we get gospel imperatives, which is the Greek for “a command.” So, the first half doesn’t tell us to do anything; the second half does.
But there’s wonderful wisdom in the very structure of this letter. Ephesians preaches the gospel to Christians to remind Christians to preach the gospel to themselves. This book has us marinating in what God has already done for us before we do anything for God. And that’s a wonderful encouragement—to know how much God loves us, to know what He set out to do from eternity past to eternity future, to know the work of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit on our behalf, to understand the glorious nature of the church and its calling within the world, to understand the resources we have and the power that’s available to us. Given what the world does against us, given what we fail to do even as Christians, it’s wonderful to be reminded of how much God has already done and what God promises unendingly to do for us.
Robert Murray M’Cheyne, a wonderful Scottish minister who died at 29 tragically, famously said, “For every look at self, take ten looks at Christ.” And the Ephesian letter will do that for us. It’ll have us looking at Christ a lot, and then we’ll move there, excited and encouraged to do something for Him.
Number five, finally, it provides practical answers to basic questions about the Christian life. Now, if you’re young in the faith here this morning, you’ve got all kinds of questions, right? What happened when I put my faith in Jesus? What does God want me to do? Or what’s my relationship with the world? And the book of Ephesians answers all of that. Why worship? You get your answer in 1:3–14. How should you pray? You get two model prayers in chapter 1 and in chapter 3. How are we saved? ( 2:1–10). Who are we in Christ? What is our identity? (2:11–12).
Why is the church a big deal? Why should I go to church? Why should I get involved in the body life of the professing church? (3:1–13). How can we be one? How do we stay united? (4:1–16). How then shall I live? (4:17–33). What would it look like to look like God? (5:1–14). What’s God’s plan for my marriage? How am I to love my wife, or how am I to serve my husband? (5:15–33). You know what, how are we to raise our children, and what is my role as a parent, my authority as a parent, in the life of my children? Well, there you go, 6:1–4. How should we see our work day week? I mean, is work a distraction? Is employment in the secular world God’s will for the Christian? You got an answer in 6:5–9. And then how do we fight the world, the flesh, and the devil? You know what, since I’ve become a Christian, I’ve quickly learned it’s not easy. It’s a fight. It’s hard. Paul understands (6:10–24). Lot of good questions there answered in this wonderful book.
Okay, let’s get back to verses 1 and 2 and finish this message, entitled “Environmentally Sensitive.” We have looked at the Christ environment, and this morning we’re going to look at the church environment and the city environment. You see, Paul wants you to be sensitive to certain environments, certain spheres, certain contexts in life. The first one is that you’re in Christ. The second one is that you’re in communion with the saints. And the third one is that you live in a certain place, and in their case it was Ephesus. And they were to live out their faith in a certain location.
So, there’s the Christ environment, the church environment, the city environment. Let’s get to the second one now, the church environment. Look back to verse 1: “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God”—notice—“to the saints”—plural. He wants them to be sensitive to their church responsibilities and to their church relationships. Here’s an interesting fact. The word “saint” . . . Remember, we defined that last week: set apart, dedicated to God. The word “saint” occurs some 100 times in the Bible but almost never in the singular. Very rarely will you read about “the saint.” More often you read about “the saints.” In fact, I like what Philip Graham Ryken says: “The singular thing about saints, therefore, is that they are always found in the plural.” Joined to Christ, the Christian seeks to immediately and intimately join themselves to others in their locality who are joined to Christ.
I mean, go back to the book of Acts, from the very inception of the church at the day of Pentecost. “And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47). And then in Acts 9:26, we read about Paul’s conversion. And after a time he finds himself in Jerusalem, and it says that he tried to join himself to the church in Jerusalem. See, when you and I are truly saved, when you and I are born again of the Spirit of God who now indwells us, He will create in us an impulse to join ourselves to the saints who meet in any location. That’s what happened to the Ephesians. You notice how Paul describes their conversion and the consequences of their conversion? Look at verse 15 of chapter 1: “Therefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and [consequently] your love for all the saints . . .” Those who put their faith in Jesus will have a love for the saints. They’ll want to be with the saints. They’ll assemble with the saints. They’ll live their Christian life in the company of the saints.
Listen to these words by Steve Timmis, a church planter in England: “It is not that I belong to God and then make a decision to join a local church. My being in Christ means being in Christ with those others who are in Christ. This is my identity. This is our identity. . . . If the church is the body of Christ, then we should not live as disembodied Christians.” You don’t join a church. When you put your faith in Jesus Christ, God joins you to the church—the church universal, all of those baptized into one body. That reality you practice, and then you go and find an expression of that church in the location in which God saved you. In their case, Ephesus. And so, we have this letter addressed to the saints who are congregating, living their life together in Ephesus.
This letter underscores the central importance of the church. In Christ, God has set out to create a new society and a new humanity—a new humanity within humanity, a new society within society, and a holy nation amidst the nations. Look at 2:14, “For He Himself [Christ] is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation . . .” This we can hear about the circumcised and the uncircumcised. The Jew and the Gentile have been brought into the body of Christ and are now one, right? Verse 15: “. . . having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in the ordinances, so as”—notice—“to create [to produce, to bring about] in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace.”
What’s the one new man? It’s the church. It’s a new man among men. It’s a new society among society. It’s a new humanity among humanity. You scroll down to verse 19: “Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” That’s who you are; you’re a member of the household of God. You belong to His family, as sons and daughters. You are a body part in the body of Christ. You are a branch in the vine. Whatever metaphor you take of the church, it’s always plural and always speaks of connection. The reality is that believers are belongers. If you’re a believer, you should be a belonger. You belong to a body of believers because you’ve been baptized by the one Spirit and of the one body, made to drink of the one Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:12–14).
How marvelous this morning that you and I, by new birth, belong to something that is universal (the church), something that is eternal (the church), and something that exists amidst a godless culture for the glory of God. The unchurch Christian is not a biblical category. In fact, I agree with Mark Dever, although he puts it in a very provocative manner. Mark Dever pastored Capitol Hill Baptist Church, and he said this once: “If you are not a member of the church you regularly attend, you may well be going to hell.” Well, you say, “Pastor, I thought it’s believing in Jesus that saves.” Of course, but as Steve Timmis reminds us, if you’re in Christ, you’re in the body of Christ. You don’t join a church; you’re already joined to the church. You go and find your brothers and sisters. You go and attach yourself to the communion of the saints. That’s what Christians do.
And that’s his point. It’s provocative. He’s basically saying there’s no such a thing as an unchurch Christian in the New Testament. Wasn’t it John Calvin who said if you take God as your Father, you’ll take the church as your Mother? There’s an element of truth in that. Remember what John said in 1 John 2:19: “They went out from us, but they were not of us”—now, listen to this—“for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us.” See, God adds us to the church when we get saved. And if God has truly saved you and me, we will find an expression of the church assembling locally under biblical leadership, where the Word of God is preached, where the ordinances are obeyed, where love in Jesus Christ is manifest.
Listen to these words by John Stott: “One of our chief evangelical blind spots has been to overlook the central importance of the church. We tend to proclaim individual salvation without moving on to the saved community. We emphasize that Christ died for us ‘to redeem us from all iniquity’ rather than ‘to purify for himself a people of his own.’” That’s a quote from Titus 2:14. Of course Christ died to redeem us from our sin, but He also died to purify for Himself a people of His own—the new man among men, the new society among society, the new humanity among humanity. He goes on: “We think of ourselves more as ‘Christians’ rather than as ‘churchmen,’ and our message is more good news of a new life than of a new society. Nobody can emerge from a careful reading of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians with a privatized gospel.”
That’s a good word, and that’s what we’ve got here. This is the second environment. As you live in Christ, you are now united to others in Christ, and you will live out that reality in communion with the saints. By the way, what would that look like? What would that look like to live in communion with others? I don’t have time to develop this. It’s going to be a bit more of a list, but I just kind of reread the book of Ephesians from start to finish, and several things jumped out. This life together. This is what we’re striving after here at Kindred Community Church. I don’t know if we’ll tick all of these perfectly at any one time, but this is on our list of what we want this church to be.
Number one, we ought to profess love. Ephesians 1:15, Paul says that he gives thanks for their “love for all the saints.” We ought to practice forgiveness. In 4:31–32, we’re told to forgive one another as God in Christ has forgiven us. We ought to provide time. We’re told in Ephesians 5:15–17 to redeem the time and do the will of God. Well, the will of God is for you to live in connection with a body of believers in a locality; you need to make time for that.
Profess love. Practice forgiveness. Provide time. Preserve unity. Okay? We need each other, but we will needle each other. We’re imperfect. We’ll stand on each other’s toes. We’ll hurt one another. There’ll be a word that’s out of place. There’ll be an action that wasn’t done that should have been done, or there’ll be an action that was done that shouldn’t have been done. We’re going to hurt each other, and we’ve got to work hard at preserving unity. Ephesians 4:1–6: “[E]ndeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
Promote service. According to 4:7, “But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” We all have gifts, both natural and supernatural. We all have abilities. We are all a part of the body, and we need to function for the body to function. We need to promote service. We need to prioritize accountability. Paul says in 5:21 that we ought to be “submitting to one another in the fear of God.” You are accountable to me, and I’m accountable to you. You can’t just walk off from the church and do your own thing and not expect us to chase you and hold you accountable. Because when you became a member of the church, you covenanted to submit to one another. “Now I’m out of here.” No, not until we have a conversation. You get the point.
Prize leadership. God gave pastors and teachers who kept the saints to do the work of the ministry (4:11–13). And then, finally, push patience. Ephesians 4:2 talks about being longsuffering. Those are just some of the elements of body life that will allow us to live in the communion of the saints.
I have a book at home called What’s Your Spiritual Quotient? by Mark Brewer. And in it he tells the story of a Christian missionary in the late 1800s. He’s walking with a Hindu businessman in the mountains of Northern India. In that high ground, snowstorms blow in very quickly, and you can get trapped. They come on very dangerous. And so, between the mountain passes, villagers had constructed small huts at a distance of a day’s walk. So, should one of these storms come in, travelers can get to these shelters.
As the missionary and the businessman are walking, one of these storms blows up, and they pressed on through the sleet and the snow. Suddenly, they heard someone crying from the bottom of the ravine. A man had fallen; he had broken his leg. And the Hindu said, “We must keep going. We cannot help him.” The Christian said, “I have to. I’m a Christian. I must.” To which the Hindu businessman replied, “We all die anyway. This is because of his karma. It’s something between him and life now, not us. We’ve got to move on.” The missionary said, “You go on.” The man headed off into the blizzard of snow that was moving against them, and the missionary said, “I’m going to stay.” So, what he did is he worked hard, got the man up from the ravine, put him on his back, and he stumbled along with this man on his back. He could feel the man’s hot breath on his neck, and he kept praying, “Lord, please help me get further. Please let me go a little further.”
Finally, looking down about 100 yards ahead of him was one of the travelers huts. He was excited and stumbled in his excitement, falling into the middle of the road. As he sprawled under the snow, they noticed a shape in front of them covered in snow. It was the frozen body of the businessman who’d gone it alone. As you reflect on that story, what prevented the missionary from also freezing to death was the warmth of the body of the man on his back. And you know what? You and I are to live out the “one anothers.” And that’ll be challenging, and it’ll be hard work, and it’ll be sacrificial. But there’s life in it; there’s health in it.
The great Scottish theologian James Bannerman said, “According to the arrangement of God, the Christian is more of a Christian in society than alone, more in the enjoyment of privileges of a spiritual kind when he shares them with others, than when he possesses them apart. . . . The Christian Church was established in the world, to realize the superior advantages of a social over an individual Christianity, and to set up and maintain the communion of the saints.” In society, American society, often it is the individual rights over the community wellbeing. In the church, it’s the community’s wellbeing over the individual’s rights. That’s the church environment, and we’ll get into that as we work our way through this wonderful passage.
Let’s get to the city environment and wrap this up this morning. Right? Environmentally sensitive. Are you well aware of that first environment? You’re in Christ. You’re in union with Christ, a branch in a vine. You need to bear fruit; you need to draw from Him by all the means of grace. Number two, there’s the church environment. You didn’t choose to join the church, but God chose you and put you into the church. And you live that out in a locality with the professing church, under elders, loving one another and serving one another. And I’ve got this third environment: the city environment. We need to be aware of our responsibility to the environment in which we’re in. In their case, it was the city of Ephesus: “To the saints who are in Ephesus . . . in Christ Jesus” (1:1). There’s those three.
Now, listen to this. It’s important. It’s just a little phrase; you could just read that and not think about it, but there’s a ton to learn from that little phrase “in Ephesus.” That’s where they were. And, it’s a reminder that the Christian life is not lived out in a monastery, in some hallowed hall of learning. The Christian life is lived out on the streets of a city, in its factories, in its universities, in its commercial centers. That’s how the Christians in the city of Ephesus lived. They had a physical, a political, and a philosophical context they had to deal with, for good or for bad. And it would vary from city to city. Philippi was a little different from Ephesus, and Ephesus was a little different from Colossae. But they all were dealing with their physical, political, and philosophical contexts, much of which opposed the church.
But that’s okay. God never called the church to a monastic lifestyle. If I can find this quote . . . I came across this a while ago: “Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a cross between two thieves; on the town garbage heap; at a crossroads so cosmopolitan that they had to write his title in Hebrew and in Latin and in Greek . . . at the kind of place where cynics talk smut and thieves curse, and soldiers gamble.” That’s striking, isn’t it? Remember how Isaiah puts it? “He was numbered with the transgressors.” That’s where Jesus did His best work.
And I just want us to remind ourselves of that. The Christ who dwelt among us, incarnated Himself among us, calls His followers to live out their faith in Him among people—unsaved people, unsavory people, just like people in Ephesus. Okay? God’s will and God’s work for you requires a zip code. God wants you to live out your Christian life at a certain location—a location that He either brought you to life in or brought you to new life in. And He wants you to be a witness for Him there.
So Paul writes to Christians in the city of Ephesus. Now, let’s take a tour of the city of Ephesus, just for a few minutes. I’m going to go somewhere with this. It was the leading city of the richest region in the Roman empire. Its population was about a quarter of a million, second only to Rome or Alexandria in terms of size. The makeup of the city was cosmopolitan, multi-ethnic. There were its residents, its indigenous people, and then, on top of that, there was quite a complement of Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans who had settled there. And there was a good-sized Jewish community that had been there since the 3rd century BC. So, it was a mosaic of all kinds of people, cultures, ethnicities, and backgrounds. It served as the Roman provincial capital of Asia minor. Today, that would be the kind of western third of modern Turkey. That’s where we’re at geographically.
It was a port city, like Los Angeles or Long Beach. It was busy and bustling. Ships were arriving from all over the Mediterranean Sea, full of goods and people who would disembark or be taken off the ship. And the goods and people would spread throughout the Roman empire. This was the city marked by enterprise, entertainment, and education. There were business areas. There were civic centers, expensive homes, public baths, sports stadiums, gymnasiums. Spiritually, it was a religiously pluralistic environment. There were some 50 gods and goddesses you can choose from, although dominant among them was the cult of Diana, or Artemis, on the temple of Diana—which was one of the Seven Wonders of the World. So, one of the Seven Wonders of the World was in Ephesus, and it was a pagan temple. It dominated the skyline, and it did more than that; it dominated the culture.
In fact, in Acts 19:35, you can read someone saying along the lines of, “Who hasn’t heard of the temple of Diana? We’re world famous for our worship of her.” She was a fertility god, and sexual immorality and prostitution and temple rites were tied in to the worship. In fact, there are pictures of her, and she’s just a statue with many, many breasts. Gross, pagan, godless, idolatrous. That’s what dominated that city. In fact, the major savings and loan institutions of the entire region was housed and run by the cult of Diana.
On top of that, you had the imperial cult, which was the worship of Caesar and the annual calling of him as Lord, which often got Christians into trouble. They were happy to obey Roman law where it didn’t cause them to disobey God. They lived out their lives in the Roman culture, but once a year, many of them were brought to put some incense into the altar and confess, “Caesar is Lord.” And when they didn’t, depending on the local procurator, they could be in a lot of hot water. And many of them didn’t, because Jesus is Lord.
On top of that, magic, shamanism, and all cult arts were a big part of that culture too. An animistic worldview permeated the culture—spirits to be warded off or conjured up. Some believers came out of that very lifestyle. You can read about that in Acts 19:13–20, where, now in Christ, there was this kind of book burning moment where they took all their books of spells and cult art and they burned them, like burning bridges to their past life. Okay, we’ll stop there. I think you get an idea. It was a rich culture. It was a pluralistically broad culture religiously. It was certainly a hub of commerce. It was certainly politically very antagonistic against rivals to Caesar’s power.
So, given all of that, we note it’s spiritually dark. Given all of that, we notice it’s politically intimidating. In fact, they could well remember the day when some of them were manhandled and dragged into the city theater. You can read about this back in Acts 19:28–34, during Paul’s second visit on his third missionary journey. For two hours they were harangued and threatened by 50,000 of their fellow citizens crying, “Great is Diana of Ephesus.” Just want you to get a flavor for when you read this little phrase “to the saints in Ephesus.” That’s where they were. That’s what they were dealing with. That’s where they were called to live out their Christian faith, to walk worthy of their calling, and to redeem the time.
Now, let’s think about this. Given all that we’ve said, watch this. Christ had called them to honor Him as Lord in the midst of a culture marked by imperial dominance. Christ had called them to preach Him as the only way to God in the midst of a city marked by multiculturalism, polytheism, and pluralism. Christ had called them to be filled by the Spirit in the midst of a city filled with spiritism. Christ had called them to raise their families in the midst of an occultic culture. Christ had called them to live according to eternal values in the midst of a materially rich and sensual location.
Look, Ephesus was pagan and prosperous. Ephesus was immoral and idolatrous. Ephesus was vulgar and vain. But squarely in the murky middle of this godlessness was a body of believers, the church—committed to walking worthy of their calling in Christ, committed to speaking the truth in love, committed to standing in the evil day, having done all to stand, committed to redeem the time and do the will of God, committed to live out their faith at Ephesus, not away from Ephesus.
I want to say that again. They lived out their faith at Ephesus, not away from Ephesus. Smack dab in the middle of all that godlessness was a body of saints—called out, separated under God, and dedicated to His glory. They were to stand for Christ, right? Chapter 6 casts the Christian life and casts their context of ministry in terms of a battlefield. In 6:11, they’re told, “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may able to stand against the wiles of the devil.” Look at verse 13: “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.” Look at verse 14: “Stand therefore . . .” Don’t run. Don’t retreat. Don’t vacate. Don’t leave. Stand in the midst of the evil. Withstand the evil, and be a witness for Jesus Christ.
The word “stand” means to hold your position. It even carries the idea of fighting back. They were not to withdraw; they were to withstand. Now, I don’t have time to develop this, their church’s relationship to the culture. But the church is not to be above the culture. There’s nothing in the Bible about you and me getting to a place where the church rules the culture. The kingdom comes when Jesus comes; we don’t bring the kingdom. The church is not to be apart from the culture—separated, living a monastic life, retreating from everyday existence, putting on white robes and standing on the top of hills waiting for Jesus to return. Now, the church is not to be above the culture, and the church is not to be apart from the culture. Rather, the church is to be the church amidst the culture, in contact without contamination.
And that’s where we’re to be. We’re to be at LA, at Orange County, at Riverside. That’s where God has put us. And He wants us to be in the middle of it. Standing, not running. Withstanding, not withdrawing. Listen to these words. I went back over verses that would remind me that I’ve got to live my Christian life in the midst of darkness, in the midst of spiritual darkness, in the midst of political intimidation. What did Jesus say to His disciples in Matthew 10:16? “I send you out as a sheep in the midst of wolves.” You and I are to live our Christian life among wolves. And some of us have the teeth marks to prove it (John 17:14–16). In John 17 is Jesus’ high priestly prayer, in fact, what we might call the Lord’s prayer. And what does Jesus pray in John 17:14? He says this: “I have given them [My people, Your people, Father] Your word; and the world has hated them . . .” A par for the course.
You should just write in, the world’s going to hate us. The world doesn’t like us. The world’s going to pressure us. They’re wolves; we’re sheep. We’re their target; we’re their prey. Don’t forget that, because there seems to be a narrative among Christians that we ought to escape that kind of stuff, that we don’t deserve that kind of stuff. Why would they do that to us? They’re coming after us. Yes, they are, always have. They did it at Ephesus; they’ll do it here. Although, I would remind you, I think here is still better than there. What they faced, we haven’t yet faced. But we need to just remind ourselves of that, because Jesus says, “Look, I do not pray that you should take them out of the world.” If Jesus is praying to the Father not to take them out, we need to make sure we don’t take ourselves out of where God wants us to be, a salt and light on the earth and in the world.
“But I pray that you’d keep them from the evil one. Father, I want them to be in the world, but not of it, in contact without contamination.” What about Philippians 2:14–15? Just listen to the language again, where Paul says, “Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights . . .” In the middle of it, among those who hate us, those who are in the world without God and without hope, those who are perverse.
And then, finally, what about the church at Pergamos? Have you read this recently? Listen. This is a letter to a church in Asia Minor, not far from the church at Ephesus. I want you to notice these words: “And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write, ‘These things says He who has the sharp two-edged sword . . .’” This is Jesus speaking: “‘I know your works, and where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is’” (Revelation 2:12–13).
The church lived where Satan lived. They shared the same zip code. That’s an intimidating contact, but that’s where God wants His people. That’s where God wants the church. We are sent by God to work and witness right in the midst of a godless culture and a groaning creation. God wants us to be a new society in the midst of the old society or, to borrow the words of Augustine, the city of God existing in the midst of the city of man. Just as God the Father sent his Son into the world, so the Son sends us, right? Jesus, in John 17:14–16, says that I pray that You won’t kick them out, “but that You should keep them from the evil one.” And then in verse 18: “As You sent Me . . . I also have sent them . . .” We are to go to sinners. We’re to live among sinners, with the same mindset and mission as Jesus, and that is a mission of self-denying love.
We’re not to seek Christian bunkers, and we’re certainly not to blend like chameleons in the culture, where you can’t tell us apart from the society. But we are, according to Ephesians 5:8, to walk as children of the light in the midst of the darkness. Listen to what Paul says. It’s going to be a great passage when we get there. In Ephesians 5:8, he says this: “For you were once darkness.” You did what they do, didn’t you? But now, you don’t do what you once did. You no longer do what they do because grace has changed you. You’re putting off the old man, and you’re putting on the new man. Now you’re to be the “light in the Lord,” so “walk as children of the light.” In the darkness, have a heart for your neighborhood, have a heart for people who you used to hang out with who are now living lives that are shameful and disgraceful.
This is a word for the church in California. Remember I told you to hold that thought? Okay, you can let go of it now. We’re there. Many Christians are leaving California because it’s too like Ephesus. Have you noticed that? I’ve heard that a lot recently. You know what, God’s judgment’s on this state. The schools, the government, the entertainment, business—it’s all against us. It’s corrupting. It’s shameful. We need to get out.
Now, I can give you many legitimate reasons for leaving California. I’ve had that discussion with myself. We all have. In fact, there was an article in the LA Times that stated that half of Californians have considered leaving. Amazing. In fact, our own church has seen it in the last two to three years. I think we estimate that we lost 20% of our congregation. Thankfully, we’ve regained that with growth. But many people are leaving the state for good and for bad reasons.
I understand the impulse, and, you know what, there may be economic reasons that drive you and your business out of the state. I completely understand. Maybe you’re near retirement, and your family is spread abroad. You’ve worked hard, and you’re cashing in and going to go and see your children’s children. Nothing wrong with that. That’s part of the cycles and seasons of life. But, what I’m hearing that bothers me, given all that we have just read, is, “You know what? California’s getting dark. I don’t want to bring my kids up here. I’m going to go to a more friendly state.” I’m not sure that’s the reason to leave California, given that Jesus told you to live as sheep among wolves—given the fact that you’re to be a light in the midst of a perverse generation.
My daughter Angela sent me a great article by a pastor, Chris Gordon. It’s entitled, “Arise Jonah and Go to California, That Wretched State!” That’s a great article, great title, right? Remember how God sent Jonah to go to that wicked city called Nineveh? But this pastor says somewhere in this article, “There are certainly legitimate reasons for leaving the Golden State, but that is not what this article is about. The larger question is why the Lord leaves us in this world to begin with. It was Jesus himself who prayed, ‘I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one (Jn. 17:[15]).’ No one would argue with this until we insert the word ‘California.’”
All right, let’s insert the word “California”: “Father, I pray that you do not take them out of California, but that you keep them from the evil one.”
“Wait a minute,” Gordon says, “why would I stay in a state with high taxes and so many problems? That’s a great question.” But it’s tied to the question, “Why are Christians in this world?” There’s a lot of talk, right, about why someone’s leaving economically, for religious freedom, and so on. But he says this, “It is one thing to move somewhere prayerfully and according to one’s conscience, but it is quite another to do it under the guise of freedom when the goal is more material happiness. This is how the world thinks. This is how the conservative policy nonbelievers think.” But is this the way the Christian’s to think? Conservative talk shows and advocates are getting out of California. They can do that. I’m not sure the church can do that, because we’re to go into all the world, into the darkest spots, the toughest places, and make disciples.
Let’s wrap this up. Just a challenge. Not trying to make anybody feel guilty. We had a wonderful couple who left the state and our church to go to another state. They were in first service, and they came out with their heads bowed low. “Pastor, were you talking about me?” “No.” They had good reasons, and I think their motives were good. Just trying to stop the rot, stop the unrealistic expectations and get back to gospel living, in Christ, as a body of saints, at the zip code where God has you.
Ephesus was no paradise for believers, but that’s where they lived out the will of God. Let’s do that by renouncing our former lives, reproving the darkness around us, redeeming the time, reflecting Christ in our marriages, raising godly children, respecting our employers and employees, and resisting the evil one. That’s all in chapter 4, chapter 5, chapter 6.
God doesn’t want you to hide your light. God doesn’t want you to grab your light and run away with it. He wants you to shine your light before men, before unsaved men, before unsavory characters. Shine your light before men, and may they see your good works coming out of your good life because you love our good God. And then they’ll give glory to God the Father in heaven. The world at its worst needs the church at its best. You know what was said of William Wilberforce? He made “goodness fashionable.” Goodness, common sense, righteous living, gender distinction, heterosexual marriage, parental authority: It’s all out of fashion in California. Have you noticed that? Let’s make it fashionable by the way we live.
Father, we thank You for our time in the book of Ephesians. We’re now inside the door, and we thank You for this lesson about the environments to which we must be sensitive, in Christ, in the church, in the city. Lord, we pray that we would be sensitive to all of those responsibilities and all of those relationships, that we might live a full and impactful Christian discipleship walk for Your glory. And these things we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.