A few years ago I was invited to speak in a Russian institute located in Kaliningrad. It was a wonderful, unique opportunity, and it was a powerful experience. That visit touched my life, my mind, and my heart. It provided me an unusual education. The people I met at the institute were extremely kind and generous beyond comprehension.

I received a special blessing because I visited Kaliningrad at a critical moment in their history. During their entire lives, they were told that the only hope for recovery from indescribable poverty was communism. Then communism collapsed. And the Soviet Union ceased to exist. And the people were totally convinced that all hope died.

I had never been among a huge population who had no hope. I could not have been prepared for what I experienced. I was in an ancient city much older than this nation that had a population of several hundred thousand people. These people were totally powerless to change anything. There was nowhere to go. There was nothing different to do. There was nothing that they could make different. They existed with no hope, no promises.

Life's heaviest burden is existing without hope.

  1. Travel with me back about 2000 years ago to an area that we call Turkey.
    1. It was tough to be a Christian in Ephesus. "Why?"
      1. First, even by today's standards, Ephesus was a huge city.
        1. In the first century its population ran from over 250,000 to over 300,000.
        2. It was as big or bigger than any city we have in Arkansas or you have in West Virginia.
      2. Ephesus' location gave it all the advantages.
        1. Besides its huge population, a lot of people passed through Ephesus.
        2. The most traveled caravan route from the east ended in Ephesus (that was their version of a truck route).
        3. Ephesus had a wonderful harbor that opened the way to Rome in the west.
        4. So Ephesus was the greatest commercial city in that region.
          1. The main commercial road that went through the city to the harbor was over 12 feet wide--that is a big road for that age.
          2. The whole route was lined with columns.
      3. Second, Ephesus was one of the religious centers of the western world.
        1. Its religious anchor was the temple of Artemis.
          1. The worship of Artemis was a world religion.
          2. The temple itself was one of the seven wonders of the world; it was the largest single structure in the Greek world.
          3. Not only was that temple the home of a world religion, but it was also one of the major financial institutions in the Roman empire.
        2. It was a major center for emperor worship.
          1. This cult worshipped the Roman Caesar as a god.
          2. Three temples in Ephesus were dedicated to emperor worship.
          3. It was simply a matter of good citizenship to worship in those temples.
        3. It was also a center for the magical arts.
          1. We are not talking about a form of entertainment; we are talking about a religion (such as Simmon the sorcerer practiced in Acts 8).
          2. There was a special kind of religious magic taught in Ephesus (Ephesia grammatta).
        4. A large colony of Jews lived in Ephesus.
    2. The mix created created some special problems for Christians.
      1. The emphasis on emperor worship caused special problems for the Ephesian Christians.
        1. It created a major crisis for them in establishing their identity as peaceful, law abiding, good citizens.
        2. People did not understand why Christians never visited the temples that honored Caesar; it made them look suspicious.
      2. The commerce made Ephesus what we would call a worldly place.
      3. The other religions did not understand why Christians were exclusive.
        1. It was common for religions to accept each other, not oppose each other.
        2. Christians did not do that.

  2. The congregation in Ephesus certainly was not what we would call "the ideal congregation."
    1. They had leadership problems in the eldership.
      1. In Acts 20:17-28 when Paul met with the elders from Ephesus, he gave them both a charge and a warning.
        1. He charged them to understand their responsibility as God intended it.
        2. He warned them that the elders themselves would cause division.
          1. Rivaling elders would act like wolves who used the church to satisfy their own objectives.
          2. Elders would seek their own followers who endorsed their perverse views.
      2. 1 Timothy 1:3 states that Paul left Timothy in Ephesus to care for a number of needs.
        1. According to chapter 3, Timothy was to oversee the appointment of additional elders.
        2. Not just any man could do the work of shepherding.
        3. To provide the flock the type of mature, unselfish shepherding those Christians needed, a specific type of Christian man was needed.
    2. Ephesians 2 acknowledges that a major problem existed between Jewish Christians and Christians who were not Jews.
      1. That was a common, serious problem in congregations where Jews and people who were not Jews became Christians.
      2. These Christians did not understand that God made them one in Christ.
      3. They did not understand what God did in the life of the Christian individual.
    3. Ephesians 4:17-32 acknowledges a major problem existed because they did not understand conversion to Jesus Christ.
      1. Too many Christians lived their every day lives in the same way that the people who did not believe in God lived.
      2. They reduced the Christian life to beliefs with little thought about the life they lived.
      3. They did not understand the basic principles of Christian morality.
      4. They did not understand that God's teachings should change their hearts and behavior.
    4. Ephesians 5 singled out the problem of sexual immorality.
      1. I do not think Paul singled it out because sexual immorality was worse than other forms of immorality.
      2. I think Paul singled it out because the majority of the people in their societies thought it was okay.
      3. Many thought sexual behavior had nothing to do with being moral.
    5. Ephesians 5:22-6:9 acknowledges that they had significant relationship problems.
      1. Christian husbands and wives had relationship problems.
      2. Christian parents and their children had relationship problems.
      3. Christian masters had relationship problems with their slaves.
      4. Christian slaves had relationship problems with their masters.
    6. Ephesians 6:10-20 acknowledges that they had not learned the true nature of the war they fought.
      1. They had not grasped the fact that it was a spiritual war.
      2. They needed to learn how to let God protect them.
      3. They needed to wear spiritual armor.
      4. They needed to learn to rely on prayer as God intended.

  3. What is your reaction? "Those Christians surely were in trouble! They were making enough 'hell-bound' mistakes to be lost for sure!"
    1. That is not my reaction.
      1. That is not my understanding of the message of Ephesians.
      2. If you hold that reaction with a sincere, honest heart and mind, take your sincere, honest heart and mind and carefully read Ephesians again.
      3. This time, focus on the message of the book, not the problems that existed in the congregation.
    2. Let me focus you as we examine chapter one.
      1. 1:3--They were blessed with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places in Christ.
        1. God's spiritual blessings are found only in the heavenly realm--do not look for them anywhere else.
        2. God's spiritual blessings are found only in Christ--do no look for them anywhere else.
        3. And God had given all of those blessings to these people.
          1. The blessing of holiness before God in the forgiveness of Jesus.
          2. The blessing of sonship with God in Jesus.
          3. The blessing of redemption in Jesus' blood.
          4. The right to live in God's grace in Jesus.
          5. God's inheritance given to them in Jesus.
      2. Notice the powerful, encouraging assurances that Paul gave them:
        1. Verse 4: God chose them (existing reality) in Christ before the creation.
        2. Verse 5: God predestined them to the adoption of sons (existing reality) through Christ.
        3. Verse 7: They have redemption in Christ (existing reality).
        4. Verse 8: God lavished His grace upon them (the fact that they live in God's grace is an existing reality).
        5. Verse 11: They have obtained an inheritance (existing reality).
        6. Verse 13: They have been sealed in Christ (existing reality) by the Holy Spirit of promise.
      3. Now give careful attention to the prayer that Paul prayed for them (beginning in verse 18).
        1. May God open the eyes of your heart so that you can see what God did for you in Christ.
        2. That is the only way you will know the hope God gives you by calling you in Christ.
        3. That is the only way that you will understand the incredible wealth God gives you in His inheritance.
        4. That is the only way you will grasp the greatness of God's power that He gives to those who believe in Jesus.
        5. Everything God did for you--choosing you, adopting you, redeeming you, giving you an inheritance, placing the mark of His own seal on you--is in full keeping with the strength of God's might.
      4. If you doubt God's power to do those things for you, consider what God did with Jesus whom He made the Christ.
        1. He raised the dead body of Jesus from the tomb.
        2. He seated the resurrected Jesus at His right hand.
        3. He made the dead but resurrected Jesus superior to every existing power.
        4. He gave the dead but resurrected Jesus a name that will never be surpassed.
        5. He placed everything in subjection to the dead but resurrected Jesus.
        6. And that Jesus who is the Christ is your head.
        7. And you are his body.
        8. And God's purpose for you on earth is to be his fullness.
      5. What is the message? If God could do that with the rejected, forsaken, shamed, executed Jesus, how can you possibly doubt that God in Jesus can make you His chosen people, His adopted children, His redeemed ones, who exist as God's heirs?
    3. What Paul told them in 3:20,21 was so encouraging to these imperfect people who have been adopted by God.
      Ephesians 3:20,21 Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.
      1. God can do it! He has the power to do it!
      2. Even with all your problems, all your human imperfections, God can do it!
      3. He is not limited by your ability to ask!
      4. He is not limited by your ability to understand or comprehend!
      5. He is not limited in the power that works in you!
      6. Hope! Incredible hope! Hope founded on the incredible power of the incredible God!
    4. When God opens the eyes of my heart , when I see the grace that God lavishes on me, what will I do as a Christian?
      1. Will I abuse the grace? No!
      2. Will I reject responsibility, sit down, and do nothing? No!
      3. When I see what God did for me in Christ, I am filled with awe; I am overwhelmed with appreciation; and I am consumed with a desire to look like Jesus.

To me, the only appropriate way to end these thoughts is by using Paul's closing words in Ephesians.
Ephesians 6:23,24 Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ with incorruptible love.

You and I live in a country and in a world starved for hope. May we show them the hope by showing them Jesus Christ!

The message of the gospel must be the good news about what God has done in Jesus for us. If our message is that we are better than brand X church, people will leave us when someone proves to them that brand Y church is better than we are. The message of God's incredible hope is found in the Savior, not in us.

David Chadwell

Ohio Valley Christian College Lectureship
Parkersburg, West Virginia
Evening Lesson, 4 April 2000

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