(D) Paul's advice to the Ephesian leadership.
(1) Be vigilant.
We need to watch our selves and watch out for others because it is easy to fall away. When I was a schoolteacher I used to monitor my pupils. As soon as I detected deterioration in attitude and performance I would take action to arrest the decline. Sometimes there was nothing I could do and a boy or a girl would grow increasingly alienated from school. Perhaps there was trouble at home and a pupil's lack of interest in education simply indicated that he was jarred off with life in general. On other occasions a student could be saved from disaster and restored to good working habits.
I am not convinced that many church leaders are aware of the spiritual condition of the members of their flock. Nor do they always take prompt action when a believer shows signs of losing interest. This makes it vitally important to watch our selves. Paul wrote to the Corinthians: So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall! 1Cor10v12.
(2) Contend against the enemies of the church.
The Ephesus church was threatened from without: "Savage wolves will come among you and will not spare the flock." v29. Wolves hate sheep. I shall never forget watching three sheep dogs savaging a sheep. They attacked it with appalling ferocity. Those three dogs were not even hungry - they just hated sheep.
Pastor Alan Carr points out that wolves are pack animals who operate in the dark and attack the young, the weak and the sickly. Sheep that are isolated from the main body of the flock are especially vulnerable. The communist wolves did much damage to the church from 1950 to 1990. Today the church is threatened wherever Christians are a tiny minority in Moslem, Buddhist or Hindu areas.
Where are the wolves in Western Europe and the U.S.A.? Where are the predators that will snatch a promising Christian from the flock? Some are in big business. City institutions demand total commitment to the exclusion of all else. Some are in academic circles. It is easy for an eminent scholar to demean Christian belief and undermine the faith of immature students. Some are in the work place. It is hard to maintain a Christian witness in the army or on a building site where the majority are antagonistic to Jesus Christ. Wherever a Christian is isolated and the wolves are in the majority there is danger.
The Ephesus church was threatened from within:"Even from among your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them." The greatest danger from within is of men who want a following. They usurp the position of Jesus for he is the one we all should follow. Such men will introduce all sorts of ideas to get a following. Some will be very strict insisting on circumcision or abstaining from every pleasure on Sunday; some will be very liberal and advanced to the extent of pooh-poohing the bodily resurrection from the dead; some will be very daring and embrace all sorts of deviant behaviour including homosexuality. The main motivation in all these cases is the same - to draw away disciples after them - to gain a following.
Whenever a church is split by what seems to be a triviality the real issue is usually a struggle for power and influence. Pastor Alan Carr tells of a church in a remote mountain community that divided over what colour hymnbooks to use. Half the congregation left, sawed the wooden church in half and took it with them. I have no doubt that the dispute over the hymnbooks was part of an ongoing struggle for power. My own church was riven many years ago by an argument over where to locate new toilets. It soon degenerated into a contest between two rivals for supporters. This was a time of great unhappiness for my parents who were caught in the middle.
The church at Corinth was nearly ruined by men leading factions based on personalities; some were of Peter, some of Apollos, some of Paul and a few were of Christ. Diotrephes, who loved to be first, ruined the church attended by Gaius. Diotrephes would allow no-one to preach in the church other than himself. The apostle John roundly condemned his attitude. See 3John.
(3) Generosity encouraged.
A generous spirit is a thing of beauty. We have some generous women in my church. I went to see Jesse this week. She is nearly blind and has an invalid husband to care for. This did not stop her from getting me a lovely tea and sending me home with two jars of homemade chutney. I also visited Dorothy in hospital. She is 93 and has broken her hip. When I sat down beside her she said, "I haven't got you any cakes for tea, today." Usually whenever I spend an afternoon with Dorothy she brings out about 6 plates with 5 or 6 cakes on each. After a while she will say, "Have another." I will reply, "I've already eaten 7!" "It don't matter," she will say, "go on - have another." After I have consumed another slice of ginger cake and a scone she will say, "Have another." That is how I shall always remember her, urging, "Go on - have another."
(4) Practice the Christian disciplines.
(E) Conclusion: how far was Paul successful?
A few Saturdays ago I attended the wedding of Katy - an old pupil. She is a primary school teacher now. I sat next to one of her colleagues at the reception and was delighted to discover that Katy is very forthright in staff meetings. When her headmaster introduces a new initiative of doubtful worth she will ask, "Why have we got to do that? We can't be expected to do something so silly!" As I listened I rejoiced that Katy was following in my footsteps!
Did the Ephesian elders heed Paul's advice? In Revelation2v1to7 John writes to the church at Ephesus. The church is commended for its hard work and perseverance.(v2) It is praised for not tolerating wicked men. The leadership tested those who claimed to be apostles but were not and found them false. The church endured hardships for Christ's sake and had not grown weary.(v3)
It is clear that the leaders of the Ephesus church took Paul's advice and warnings to heart and acted upon them. They did all Paul hoped for. Unfortunately they slipped up where they had been strong and in an area that Paul did not think it necessary to warn them.
The Son of Man instructs John to write to the church at Ephesus: "Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love." v4. They no longer loved the Lord or each other as once they did. When Paul wrote to the Ephesians he was able to commend them for their love: Ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints I have not stopped giving thanks for you. Eph1v15.
It might even be that their toil, vigilance, battles with erring brothers had hardened the Ephesians. I think my career as a teacher and the continuous struggle to maintain discipline hardened me. I have seen it harden others.
When the Ephesian elders said goodbye to Paul: They all wept as they embraced and kissed him. The hugging had stopped, the kissing had stopped and the tears no longer flowed. We need to pray to God that he will keep us tender, keep us gentle and keep us loving.
The church at Ephesus had fought the good fight but it had forgotten some other advice of Paul's: