07 October 2014

Love, love, love — hey, listen!

by Dan Phillips

Last Sunday I got to launch a series I've been excited about ever since I settled on it. Before, actually. It's in the book of Ephesians.

Yeah, I know; and actually I resisted it. I thought about preaching this, and I thought about teaching that; but I kept coming back to Ephesians as containing a storehouse of what I thought would best serve my dear ones here at CBC. So I finally yielded, and with the yielding came a measure of peace and a lot of excitement.

The first sermon served as an intro to Ephesus and the impact of the Gospel thereon, and was titled The Lifecycle of a Work of God. Let me just lift out (in a different way) one theme that struck me anew and afresh, even after having studied Ephesians for 470 years.

I take it that the letter was actually written to churches in Ephesus (as I'll develop a bit this coming Sunday, DV). That fact leads to a really interesting thread. To wit:

Paul first comes by Ephesus in autumn of 52 AD (Acts 18:18-21). He's on his way somewhere else, but as a good soul-fisherman he can't resist dropping in a line to see what happens. Instantly he gets a couple of hard strikes, and resolves to come back if he can.

Come back he does, for an extended stay, around 53-56 AD. Paul's ministry there is very effective and very fruitful, and probably leads to the planting of the seven churches of Revelation (cf. 19:10). Then he departs, only to call a pastors' retreat for the Ephesian elders, and urge them to serve, feed, and guard the flock as he had (Acts 20:16-38; Spring 57 AD).

Just a few years later, 61-62 AD, Paul writes them this magnificent letter. Among the themes he stresses (as I mean to show Sunday) is love — God's love for us, our love for each other, our love for God. In fact, you'll note that the last note in the letter is just that: "Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible" (6:24).

Then a few years after that, he writes his apprentice Pastor Timothy, whom he had especially tasked to remain at Ephesus (1 Tim. 1:3). And in writing Timothy, what does the apostle identify as the core emphasis of his ethical instruction? "The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith" (v. 5).

Do you know where I'm going next? After 1 Timothy, did Ephesus disappear from the Canon? Not at all. Our Lord Jesus dictates a letter to them as the first of seven, in Revelation 2:1-7. He wants them to know that He is glad to see their action, their hard work, their persistence, their doctrinal purity (vv. 1-3). He only has one problem, one concern — but it's a serious one. So serious that, despite all the other pluses, if they don't rectify this, He'll remove their lampstand.

What's the problem? You know what it is: they have abandoned their first love (v. 4).

My point here isn't to do an exegesis of that verse, as I do to a degree in the sermon. My point is the simple theme:
  1. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul stresses love.
  2. In his letter to a pastor of the Ephesians, Paul stresses love.
  3. When Jesus needs to upbraid the Ephesians, it is for having left their first love.
But what is even more interesting is the connection. The very last words of Ephesians, rendered very literally, are "Grace with all those who love our Lord Jesus with incorruptibility." Who love Jesus, that is, with a love that doesn't degrade, doesn't break down. Then Paul reminds Timothy to keep up that theme. (We could stick in here that tradition says the apostle John served in Ephesus; and what was a big theme of his? Yep.)

But then fast-forward, and what has happened? The Ephesian Christians' love has degraded. It has broken down. And that, despite repeated apostolic warning.

We can marvel at Paul's pastoral heart and foresight, and at his proactive ministry. We can also marvel at the obtuseness of this people, who'd had the blessing of what we'd all agree is just about the best pastoral care that any group of churches has ever had.

But what it leaves me with is the painful desire I feel for those I have served, whether as a pastor or as a father. You can see an issue coming at someone you love, see it with crystal-clarity. You can be pro-active. You can plead, instruct, warn, urge, thunder and weep.

But without faithful reception, even the most urgent transmission of truth only ends up being another bit of evidence in the final judgment

"He who has ears, let him hear."

Dan Phillips's signature


Michael Coughlin said...

Wow. Really great so far. I've only listened to about 36 minutes, but I'm coming back to it later for sure!

Personal confession born from your sermon which I may have made before, but here goes. When I was a relatively new believer, I was running low on money so I took all my books to a half priced book store and got a few bucks for them.

Some of the books included in the box were 'magic arts' type books and other blasphemous spiritual books. My conscience tugged at me at the time not to let these books be read by anyone else, but I valued the 50 cents I was going to get at the time more than I cared for others' souls.

I've repented, by the grace of God. I only hope someone else may learn from my mistake and from the believers in Acts 19.

creekid1 said...

Hope I don't wander too far off the trail. I read and think I understand the spirit of the rules here.
Huge topic...love... I always remember first what Dr. Dobson said (I think it was a book title): "Love is a choice". This is illustrated when we compare it to lust, infatuation, and various other emotions. Actual love is is "managed" by our intellect, not our feelings.
A good definition of love is "acceptance without condition" . Contrast that to "rejection without condition" which is hate. It is like a light switch which is either on or off. No squishy middle ground that can change over time or with our finnicky body chemistry.
I say all that to say this :
I think the truthful understanding of the omnipotence of God, His omnipresence and omniscience along with His sovereignty leave one with no choice but to love Him. He commands us to love our neighbors as well. Disclaimer - this also includes "tuff-love". Never forget, as well, that we are given liberty at the same time we are saved- we are not robots. A hard concept to understand, even a contradiction to many.
To conclude - To understand God, his power and his character and to love Him is the first step. Then we need to model that when relating to our fellow created beings.
This may seem all too sterile and scientific, but it seems to work for me as a starting point.

creekid1 said...

New to this, did u get my earlier comment (minutes ago). It referred to Dr. Dobson. After that I updated google account ?

Christina said...

Very cool, Dan. Last year our women's Bible study went through the book of Titus. It was amazing. I used your series as my go-to source and relied on it heavily for the outline. I'm looking forward to listening now to Ephesians.

DJP said...

Christina, that's very encouraging to hear. Thanks!

CCinTn said...


Dan, your Southeast Texas flock is blessed to have you as their teaching pastor.
This was a most excellent post and should be taken to heart by all attending our churches.

Jacob Phillips said...

Well dang. This was eye-opening and extremely instructive.

Brad Mason said...

Real love is hard.

donsands said...

I like how Paul says: "Grace be with all . . ."

Grace is needed to love, and when we love Christ, we know we need more grace, and His grace is sufficient to help us love even our enemies.
as you say Dan, we need to hear the Word and receive it, and pray for grace, God's grace, so we continue to grow in love, and mature in His love.