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A Special Delivery Letter

January 10, 2016 Speaker: David Gough Series: Ephesians

Topic: Pauline Epistles Passage: Ephesians 6:21–6:24

21 So that you also may know how I am and what I am doing, Tychicus the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord will tell you everything. 22 I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage your hearts.
23 Peace be to the brothers, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 24 Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible.

Introduction

Long before FedEx and DHL, the fastest and safest method of getting mail from one place to another was by way of what the United States Postal Service called “special delivery.” Even then, there were conditions and stipulations that could delay the arrival of an important piece of correspondence for several days.

Such delays in communication may be difficult to remember or even imagine... especially if you happen to have been born within the last thirty years Today because of iMessage, Skype, and other satellite and cellular technologies, we are able to text, speak, and see one another in “actual time” nearly anywhere on the planet.

Things were vastly different two thousand years ago. When the Apostle Paul composed the concluding sentences of his letter to the Ephesians from his confined residence in Rome, I wonder what expectations he would have had in terms of its arrival. There is no doubt that he wanted this epistle to get to its recipients as quickly as possible, but back then there was no “guaranteed delivery date.” In fact, given the constant dangers of ancient travel, there was no assurance that the dispatched mail would even get to its destination.

The distance between Rome and Ephesus is much shorter now than it was in Paul’s time. Today the flight distance between those two cities is approximately 800 miles. But in the 1st-century, when traveled by foot or horseback, someone would have to cover more than 1400 miles. In biblical times, a “day’s journey” was reckoned to be about 25 or 30 miles. By doing the math and conservatively speaking, any piece of mail sent from Rome to Ephesus would have taken the better part of two months to arrive.

What’s more, there would have been no duplicate copies or back-up files. Once a piece of mail left the originator’s hands, it was at the mercy of any number of unpredictable factors. If the original document were to be lost, it would likely never be recovered. Therefore, if it were to safely reach its intended destination it must be placed into trusted and capable hands. Indeed, the greater the letter’s importance, the greater the imperative for the messenger to be dependable.

Fortunately, there was a trustworthy and dependable man who was available to Paul at the time Ephesians was written. His name was Tychicus, and he is introduced to us in the closing section of this letter. It is here, in verses 21 and 22, that we find Paul’s...

Endorsement of a faithful servant (verses 21 and 22)

There can be no greater sense of frustration when one is involved in an important work than to feel as if he is laboring alone. Although he was confined, awaiting trial, and unable to carry on his itinerant ministry, Paul rarely complained—as Elijah had done (cf. 1 Kings 18:22)—that he was “the only one” carrying on the work of the Lord. His epistles are filled with the names of those—both near and far—who engaged in the work of the Lord with him. Never did he fail to give thanks for his co-laborers in ministry.

At the same time, because he had founded most of the churches to whom he wrote and had served as a mentor to many of the young believers in those churches, Paul knew that they would be concerned about his well-being and in need of assurance that, despite his incarceration, he was still persevering in the faith and in his ministry to the saints.

Paul was constantly sending his trusted companions in every direction to strengthen and challenge those churches he had founded and with whom he maintained a vested interest. Tychicus’ name may not be as familiar to us as some others of Paul’s coworkers, but neither is he a stranger. He is first mentioned in Acts 20(:4), where we learn that he was a native of Asia Minor...and, quite possibly, Ephesus. If that was indeed so, then he would have been well familiar with the area to which he would be traveling and would not have to stop and ask for directions where the Christians were meeting once he got there.

Tychicus is also referenced in two of Paul’s pastoral epistles—Titus (3:12) and 2 Timothy (4:12)—where he is again seen as a messenger of the apostle to young churches.

When he was commissioned to bear the Ephesian epistle to the Christians in that region, it is also believed at the same time he was charged with carrying the one that Paul had written near the same time to the Colossians, and quite possibly the more personal letter addressed to Philemon on behalf of his slave, Onesimus. In addition, there may have also been a fourth letter—one written to the church at Laodicea (cf. Colossians 4:16)—but which has not survived and is not, therefore, considered divinely inspired.

Even a cursory reading reveals that here is a great deal of similar material shared in the Ephesian and Colossian letters. A reference to Tychicus in the Colossian letter is comparable to the one we find here at the end of Ephesians. There Paul wrote:

“Tychicus will tell you all about my activities. He is a beloved brother and faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are and that he may encourage your hearts” (Colossians 4:7-8).

When we put the Colossians 4 and Ephesians 6 passages together, we can see that this man was personally selected to carry these urgent and important pieces of correspondence because he was “a beloved brother and faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord.” That is quite an apostolic endorsement!

It is quite possible that these three epistles—Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon—were actually dictated by Paul to Tychicus, who would have served as his amanuensis or secretary. At the very end of his Colossian letter, the apostle adds, “I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand.” This would suggest that Paul, after dictating the content of the letter to Tychicus and perhaps having it read back to him, would have then taken pen in hand and affixed his signature to it, as if to guarantee its authenticity.

No ministry can long survive without faithful and dependable people like Tychicus. Fortunately, Temple Hills Baptist Church has its own list of “unsung” servants...those who serve in any number of ways—often behind the scenes—with little to no recognition. As Paul could attest, there can never be enough of such persons. Such individuals don’t seek to be acknowledged and are embarrassed whenever their names are mentioned publicly. But they need to know how much we value their sacrificial acts in Jesus’ name and on our behalf. So as you see them and recognize their labor, share your heartfelt appreciation for them and with them. The very fact that we meet in this room this morning is due to the efforts of several who prepared it for us.

Tychicus would travel hundreds of miles over many weeks to assure that the Word of God was received by those for whom it was intended. In our time there remain countless multitudes who have yet to hear the Gospel. Some live next door to us while others are scattered around the world. As technology increases, you and I are running out of excuses to complete the task of reaching the nations with the Gospel. The challenges we face are nothing like those Paul and his contemporaries encountered, and yet they labored tirelessly for the cause of Christ so that others might hear.

But there is something else in these two verses that we dare not overlook. Paul wasn’t simply dispatching people with the Good News. There was another more personal purpose. The apostle was aware that others who owed their spiritual lives to him would be worried about him. He did not want them to be unduly concerned about his circumstances. Even in his time of trial, he wanted to comfort them in their anxiety. Notice the wording in these two verses: “So that you also may know how I am and what I am doing,” and “that you may know how we are, and that he (Tychicus) may encourage your hearts.”

These are purpose statements and part of the charge given to Tychicus. Not only would he be bearing the written word of the apostle, but he would bring a personal word from the apostle as well. Paul anticipated that they would be asking, “So, how is Paul doing?” “Is he holding up well as he awaits his trial date?” And Paul wanted to give them an honest and informed answer.

There is no more encouraging word that we can receive than in knowing our brothers and sisters in the Lord are persevering in Christ and maintaining their witness for the Savior. Whether they be serving in faraway places—like Beijing, China and Amman, Jordan—or within our own local gathering, it is imperative that we share our lives—meaning both gladness and sorrow, both victory and defeat, both encouragement and disappointment—with one another.

Some of us have yet to learn that lesson and are still trying to live the Christian life on our own. How’s that working out? As Bill Withers once sang, sooner or later, “We all need somebody to lean on.” Nowhere in the New Testament do we find an isolated believer. By nature, sheep flock together. It is what the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ is all about.

The early Christians understood this better than we do today. In many cases, their families had disowned them because they had come to identify with Christ. Their family—in the truest sense of the word—was those who shared a like-faith in Jesus. Like them, we must realize that we need each other...far more than we often think.

The doctrine of ecclesiology permeates Ephesians. The Church is referred to as “the mystery of Christ” (Ephesians 3:4 and 5:32) and is also depicted as “the Bride of Christ” (Ephesians 5:32) in this letter. The New Testament Church is central to the Christian life. It is through the church that the Lord is making Himself known to the world. I cannot emphasize strongly enough that if you are not committed to a local church, then you are falling short of God’s plan for your life.

Paul was a churchman through and through. He loved the Church and structured the entirety of his ministry to building up and strengthening the Body of Christ. Therefore, as he brings this letter to its conclusion, he has some words of...

Encouragement for a young church (verses 23 and 24)

There are two main salutations that the apostle wanted to leave ringing in the ears of those who heard this epistle being read. The first is “peace” in verse 23, and the second is “grace” in verse 24. Let me pass along a comment or two about each.

In verse 23, Paul writes, “Peace be to the brothers, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” “Peace,” a major theme in this letter, has been described as “a state of inner tranquility regardless of outward circumstances.” It is not the absence of turmoil, as we sometimes think, but rather the ability to be at rest in the midst of trying times. In one sense it is closely linked with “reconciliation,” whether that be with the Lord, with people, with circumstances, or with ourselves. In some instances, it can be virtually synonymous with “deliverance,” and even “salvation.”

The expression, “love with faith,” suggests that those two qualities go hand-in-hand. Certainly, for the Christian, the two are inseparably linked. You can’t have one without the other. When God-sent “love” and Christ-inspired “faith” are linked within the heart of the believer, the inevitable result is “peace” with God and with one another. Because this is such a vital part of our witness for Christ, Paul took pains to drive this point home.

The second salutation and the one that closes this letter is found in verse 24: “Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible.” Therefore, Paul ends where he began...with “grace” (cf. Ephesians 1:2). “Grace” was Paul’s “signature subject.” It is a word he employs and explains more than eighty times in his inspired letters. If anyone was a living testimony of “grace,” it was Paul. Once God’s amazing, irresistible “grace” overtook him, he was never the same. Are you able to echo that same sentiment?

God’s “grace” is available to anyone who desires it. It is that “grace” that saves, and it is that “grace” which keeps us saved. And, as Paul adds, it is that “grace” which enables us to “love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible.”

That’s an unusual way to conclude a letter. Three times the word “love” appears in these last two verses. It’s as if Paul is trying to impress upon his readers that “love” is fundamentally essential to the Christian life. It must be received, it must be maintained, and it must be shared. But what could possibly be meant by the phrase, “love incorruptible”?

That word "love" speaks of something that is “undying” or “unfading.” It is a “love” that never diminishes in character or quality. It is not corrupted by wrong motives or secret disloyalties. John Calvin called it a “love” that was “free of hypocrisy.” Paul seems to be saying that “grace” belongs to those who “love our Lord Jesus Christ” in that way, refusing under any and every circumstance to turn away from Him.

So what is Paul alluding to in these closing words of blessing? I believe these two terms—“peace” and “grace”—encapsulate the content of this entire letter: “Peace” summarizes chapters 1 through 3 because it describes the privileged position that is ours by virtue of our being related by faith to Jesus Christ. And “grace” summarizes chapters 4 through 6 by reminding us that the only way we are able to live lives that match our heavenly calling is through His divine enabling. “Peace” is our position, and “grace” is our power.

There is nothing that the venerated apostle desired more than for those who had come to faith and grown under his ministry than to know “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7) and to walk in the “grace” by which they had been saved (cf. Ephesians 2:8 and 9).

As with all of his epistles, those who would read them or hear them read would have been unable to miss the heart of Paul. So deep was his love for them and concern for their well-being that, even in his confinement, he devoted hours of prayer interceding on their behalf. What’s more, he wrote to them expressing words of deep pastoral counsel, reminding them of their rich calling in the Lord, and exhorting them to persevere in their walk with Christ. This is how your elders pray for you. There is no reason to believe that those in Paul’s care would not have been deeply moved in their response...just as we all should be.

Thus concludes Paul’s “special delivery” letter. Were the story of the Ephesian church to end there, we could all go home happy and with a warm glow in our own hearts. But life is rarely—if ever—that simple. There is a sequel that I would prefer not to have to share with you. But share it I must.

Conclusion

Before we close, would you turn in the back of your Bibles to the Book of Revelation? There in chapters 2 and 3 we find seven much smaller letters—more like postcards, actually—spoken directly from the mouth of the Lord to the ears of seven local churches located in Asia Minor. More than three decades had passed since Paul had dispatched Tychicus to that same region carrying the letter we now know as Ephesians, along with at least two or three other epistles. Here in Revelation 2, beginning at verse 2, we are given insight into the spiritual climate of this same Ephesian church, now some thirty years later. The Lord says to them:

“I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. (So far, so good. But read on.) But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent” (Revelation 2:2-5).

Something had happened within a generation of the planting of the church in Ephesus. Something was missing. The “love” for which Paul had prayed for that church at the close of his letter to them (cf. Ephesians 6:23 and 24) was now conspicuously absent. In the more familiar wording of other translations, they had “left (their) first love” (NASV, KJV). The New Living Translation, although more of a paraphrase than a translation, captures the Lord’s rebuke well: “You don’t love me or each other as you did at first!” What a sorrowful rebuke from Christ to His church!

Their departure from the Lord was not something that the Ephesian church arrived at overnight. The erosion had taken place gradually over time. It may not have been intentional, but it happened nevertheless. Their initial fervor and intrinsic desire for Christ and His Church, which God’s Spirit had awakened in them thirty years earlier, had grown frigid. Their work, from all outward appearances, had seem to have continued, but their love had waned. They were still serving the Church of the Lord, but they had lost intimacy with the Lord of the Church.

This is what happens when a church ceases to preach sound doctrine, teach biblical theology, know and live the Gospel, understand what conversion and salvation mean, evangelize and disciple, practice meaningful membership and church discipline, and raise up Godly leadership. Those are the marks of a healthy church, as well as the goals toward which we as a local church strive to fulfill. To do anything less is to set up any church for inevitable failure.

Ancient Ephesus is now but a pile of uninhabited ruins, and the church addressed in this letter is but a memory. Ninety-nine percent of the inhabitants in that region today adhere to the Isalmic faith, and the area is nearly completely devoid of an evangelical witness. A local assembly of believers that once stood as a beacon light for the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all of Asia Minor has ceased to exist.

By God’s grace, may that never be our legacy. As we operate as a local gathering of Christ followers, we must not do so with only the next Sunday or the next year in view. We must think long-term while continuing to pray that our Lord will return soon. Quickly, our stewardship here will pass and we will be gone, handing off the keys of this ministry to the next generation. What is the foundation we are leaving for those who come after us to build upon?

In a moment I am going to pray for us, but before I do I would like for you to bow your heads, close your eyes, and allow these words from the Ephesian letter to resonate in your hearts and minds:

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10).

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Ephesians 1:3-4).

“I...urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3).

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us” (Ephesians 5:1-2).

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 6:10-11).

Prayer

Gracious God and Heavenly Father of those who know You by faith, as we turn the final page in our study of the Ephesian letter, we pray that You would quiet our hearts and silence our thoughts before You just now. Grant us the ability of hearing the Lord of the Church speak to this church right now. Lead us where You desire to take us, and show us what You would have us to do. May we realize that these same words that You gave to a group of our 1st-century brothers and sisters are addressed just as much to us today as they were to them back then. Help Your church here in Temple Hills to recognize that ours is a high and holy calling that we have been privileged to share...and that, with that calling, comes the responsibility to live in a manner that exalts and magnifies the Christ whose blood has purchased us. Forgive us, we plead, for our failure to live for You and to serve You as we should. And though we fall far short of Your glory, remind us daily that we are saved by grace through faith. May Your work of grace continue in us until that day when our Savior returns and calls us to be with Him in heavenly places forevermore. Until then, may we remain faithful in declaring Your glory to the nations and to one another. Help us, we pray, to become what we are in Christ Jesus. It is in the matchless name of Your precious Son that we offer this prayer. Amen.

More in Ephesians

January 3, 2016

Preparing for the Epic Battle

December 27, 2015

In the Home and in the Throng

December 20, 2015

The Mystery of Marriage

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