Paul’s Closing Words to the Ephesians
Ephesians 6:21-24 (The last of this series)
We have approached our reading of the book of Ephesians as a study more than anything else, but it is in fact a letter. It is a letter written from Rome by the Apostle Paul to a group of people who met together as a church in Ephesus, a harbor city on the banks of the Aegean Sea. As you would expect, the letter was hand delivered. No international postal service in those days. The name of the man who was to carry the letter was named Tychicus.
As Paul introduces his helper in the letter that Tychicus was to carry to the Ephesians, he calls him a, “A beloved brother and faithful servant in the Lord.”
“Tychicus will tell you everything,” Paul adds, “so that you also may know about me and what I am doing. I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know about us, and that he may encourage your hearts” (Ephesians 6:21-22 BSB).
With those words of presentation of Tychicus to the Ephesians, Paul is now preparing to put down his pen. His final closing is one of the most beautifully written anywhere in Scripture:
“Peace be to the brothers, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible” (Ephesians 6:23-24 ESV).
The beautiful closing is fitting for one of the most beautiful letters that has been written. I call the letter to the Ephesians beautiful, for in it, we have learned about the riches of God’s grace and of our redemption through the blood of Christ. In the letter, we have also seen God’s involvement with us from the time even before the creation of the world, and of our security in Christ in these present days. In addition to these astounding truths, we have even received some glimpses of what God has in mind for us as individuals and as his church in eternity.
We have learned that despite the displays of power and importance that worldly governments and the people of the world put forth, and despite all of their self-important talk, in the end all authority in heaven and on earth rests in Jesus Christ alone. The powers of the world are nothing.
As the Psalmist writes, “The nations rage and kingdoms crumble. The earth melts when He lifts His voice” (Psalm 46:6).
Paul tells us that Christ is “far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in the one to come” (Ephesians 1:21).
In the book of Ephesians, we have learned about the riches of God’s glory, and that it is by his grace that we can also live and flourish in his life. This life is given to us as a gift of God, which we attain through faith. We have been told how we as believers have emerged from a state of darkness and now have the right and the power under Jesus to walk as children of light.
In the book, we have also come to understand how to walk with God. It is from this relationship that we have with God, which is rooted and grounded in love, that we receive the power to comprehend the riches that we have in Christ. In this love we can also begin to comprehend the length and width and height and depth of the love that God has for us.
We have seen that through Jesus, all barriers that have been erected by the world in order to create divisions among us can be removed. Jesus has instead now become our peace to make us one in Christ. In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he has taught us how to begin to practice living in that peace with our brothers and sisters by putting away our old manner of living and putting on our “new selves,” and being renewed in the spirit of our minds.
We have learned how to live in peace and security in our family and work relationships. Paul has told us of what he called the “armor of God,” which will give us the power and ability to ward off any weapon that Satan can use against us.
We have learned certain truths about prayer that are found in very few places in Scripture, and we have come to appreciate the need for consistent and regular prayer for our brothers and sisters.
Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is filled with teachings of the Christian life, teachings both basic and advanced. It is a book of the Bible that deals with such a wide variety of applications for our own lives, that simply to read it is not enough. Despite the fact that it was written as a letter, it must be contemplated with some consideration. To understand it, it must be pondered. One must meditate upon its words and its thoughts.
Ascending the Mountain
As you may remember, when we began this reading of the book of Ephesians, I likened it to climbing a mountain. I mentioned how, in ascending a literal mountain, there will always inevitably be some very difficult portions of the climb—steep grades and hazardous trails. These we have also encountered in our journey through Paul’s letter.
But there are also beautiful vistas along the way. There are places that we come to during our climb that offer us a comfortable rock where we can sit in a setting that is either shaded from the sun or sheltered from the wind. It is there where we can rest our tired bodies and aching legs and enjoy the truly beautiful scenery that unfolds in the broad valleys below.
And at the horizon, where the eternal sky reaches down and touches the distant hills, we realize that there is much more yet to see. We anticipate climbing still higher on our mountain, knowing that our vision will be expanded. At the same time however, we become aware that we will never see it all. There is so much more that will remain beyond our sight.
What Paul Saw from the Mountaintop
This is the book of Ephesians. The Apostle Paul has told us of many of the truths of God’s works that he has seen in some of his climbs on the spiritual mountains where the Lord had led him. Some of what he has told us has been understandable to us; much of it has not.
Nevertheless, it has given us a thirst to know more. It has given us the desire to forget the difficulties of the climb and encouraged us to continue on up just a little higher on these mountains. It has provided us with a new burst of strength and determination to ascend just a bit more so we can get a clearer view of what we are only beginning to understand.
The day will come when all who love God will see clearly. More than any other aspect of the book of Ephesians, the greatest to me is that it encourages my vision upward. It lifts me above the drudgery of living in this world and gives me a vision of what is to come.
At the Summit
There are several passages of the Bible that have a similar effect on my thoughts. One of these readings that also causes me to lift my eyes to the skies is from another of Paul’s own writings. In this particular passage, in the midst of a rather heavy doctrinal dissertation, Paul suddenly breaks off talk of doctrine and interjects a view from the mountaintop:
O, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!How unsearchable His judgments, and untraceable His ways!
“Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been His counselor?”
“Who has first given to God, that God should repay him?”
For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.
To Him be the glory forever! Amen. (Romans 11:33-36 BSB)
The doctrine that Paul was explaining was something that he was shown by God and had come to understand—at least to a degree. It was this he was trying to explain. But as he lifted his eyes to the horizon, he realized that what he had seen and what he understood was only a beginning, and it was a rather small beginning at that.
What he saw was not insignificant, for in it he saw the very source of life in Christ, but it was small in the sense that the presence of God is so vast that the human mind does not have the ability to understand it all. The presence of God encompasses all of eternity.
Another of these Biblical writings that gives me the drive to further my exploration into the mind of God is found in the book of Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament. The third chapter of that book is well known for its opening verses that deal with events that happen to us during our time on this earth:
And a season for every activity under the heavens:
A time to be born and a time to die,
A time to plant and a time to uproot,
A time to kill and a time to heal,
A time to tear down and a time to build,
A time to weep and a time to laugh,
A time to mourn and a time to dance…
From there the enumeration of the activities of this life continue, but then the self-identified Preacher who wrote these words, follows them by recognizing that all of these deeds that we are called to do on this earth, despite the fact that each may be “beautiful” in their own way, are nevertheless in large part a burden that God has put upon us.
But the Preacher then writes the following words. These are the words that give me a foretaste of what is to come: “God has also set eternity in the human heart; yet a no one can fathom what He has done from beginning to end.”
Within each of us exists a sense of the eternal. There is not one person among us who can look into a night sky inundated with stars and the rest of the host of heaven and have no further thoughts about our place in this unbounded universe in which we exist and breathe. We all marvel at the vast and limitless sky.
Thoughts of Eternity
Each of us possess within us thoughts of eternity. Despite every effort by the people and events of the world to keep our concentration upon the daily burdens of simply surviving, in our innermost and most private thoughts, we know that there is something much greater that exists beyond this life. The human heart has thoughts of eternity that will not be denied.
In my own climbs of spiritual mountains, I have learned a few things about catching a view of eternity. Our comprehension of the eternal may remain far off into the horizon, but they are glimpses. I have learned, for instance, that God does not grant these tastes to those who have great thoughts of themselves. The prophet Isaiah writes these words:
“For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in a high and holy place, and with the oppressed and humble of spirit, to restore the spirit of the lowly and revive the heart of the contrite.’” (Isaiah 57:15 ESV)
“Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool…All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be…But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.” (Isaiah 66:1-2 ESV)
Paul tells us “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling you have received: with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:1-2 BSB).
If you would experience a taste of the eternal, know that you are but a bit of dust that God has formed into a person and has breathed within you His breath of life. We live only by the grace and love of God under His sovereignty.
Looking into Eternity
Like Paul, with these thoughts of eternity, I am also about ready to put down my pen. But also like Paul, my own climbing will not end. I will always be looking for another mountain, for more glimpses of eternity. It is there where my own future lies.
I forever look to the skies.
I wonder what is beyond the stars
And where my destiny lies.
Occupied now with work below,
My ties here just seem to grow,
I toil and labor in my daily tasks,
And to what end? I often do not know.
But poor is the man who does not dream.
Wretched is he who is caught in the scheme.
Destitute the one so seized by this life
That he cannot break loose from its stream.
So for the moment I will set aside the task.
For the moment I break free from the grasp.
I take these minutes to set aside my labor
To remember again the questions to ask.
And so it is that I lift my eyes.
So it is my thoughts toward heaven fly.
I ponder things that are yet unknown
And ask the questions that have no reply.
On what morning did the stars begin their song? (Job 38:7)
What must it have been like to witness that dawn!
How did God choose the place in the great and dark curtain
For each of the starry and sparkling throng?
The stars were not randomly flung into the night,
Not just cast forth, to stop where they might.
It was the work of God’s fingers, a work precise; (Ps. 8:3)
And each star given its own song of light.
What are these star songs that reach my ear?
Songs are to be heard – but these I do not hear.
God numbered the countless, and gave names to all! (Ps.147:4)
If I learn to listen, would these songs become clear?
Is it God’s righteousness that the stars declare? (Ps 97:6)
Can this be the song of Orion and the Bear? (Job 9:9)
The heavens will praise Thy wonders, O Lord, (Ps.89:5)
To this I respond in praise and with prayer.
I, like the men of Galilee, shall always lift my eyes. (Acts 1:11)
I wait for the sun of righteousness to rise. (Malachi 4:2)
I believe the words of the angels. “Just as He left,” they said,
“He will again return to you from the skies.” (Acts 1:11)
O Maker of all, do not delay long, (Revelation 22:20)
For I wish to join the stars in their song.
(The Song of the Stars – Donald Rhody, February 2017)