Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. (St. John 14:27a)
Have you ever been traveling outside the Deep South and come upon a restaurant advertising “real Creole cuisine?” Ever tried it?
If you haven’t, please don’t – unless you are certain the chef is from Louisiana and gets true ingredients fresh every day. That stuff might look a little like gumbo, and they might call it gumbo, but you and I know the real deal. Everything else is a poor substitute, no matter how much the folks “up there” might claim to like it.
We recently welcomed the new year, and with it worldwide wishes for “peace” and “love” and “harmony among men” (the sort of empty drivel we hear every year). Certainly there is nothing wrong with desiring such unity and calm among men; but you and I as Christians know the “back story.” We know that unless the peace and harmony and love come from the Lord Jesus Christ, then what men call “peace and love” is nothing of the sort. It is as authentic as Creole gumbo in Erie, Pennsylvania.
As we conclude our study of St. Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians, filled as it is with Heavenly and majestic doctrine and exhortation, we turn to the apostle’s closing benediction, in which he wishes the Ephesians love, peace and grace. You might be tempted to overlook these verses, just as you don’t pay much attention to someone’s closing an e-mail to you with “Sincerely yours.”
But this is the heart of the Gospel, and the heart of Ephesians: only as you look to Christ in faith as your Savior – which, we know, is a miracle of God – can you truly enjoy love, peace and grace.
Only Christ, Paul tells us, makes loving fellowship possible among sinful men.
These four verses pulsate with the life of the communion of saints, demonstrating to you and me what true fellowship in Christ looks like. Twice Paul mentions “brother” or “brethren,” and his concern for the brethren in Ephesus is apparent. Clearly there is a strong “horizontal” element to Paul’s theology as he demonstrates interest in and love for his fellow Christians.
It’s important to observe early, though, that you and I may enjoy the blessings of fellowship, peace and grace only as we are united to God’s Son, Jesus Christ. Paul speaks of peace and love being from “God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ,” and he wishes grace only upon those who “love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity” (or “with an undying love”). His prayer here is not indiscriminate (for all people everywhere). Paul is well aware that only those who are covered in the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ have peace with God and may lay claim to fellowship, grace and love.
Nowhere is this truth more evident than in our relations to one another. Naturally, you and I are sinners – we’re not born morally neutral as a tabula rasa but instead corrupted by the sin of Adam. Your inherent sinfulness means, as Paul wrote elsewhere, that “all seek their own, not the things that are Christ’s.” Even if you as a pagan were kind to another person, it ultimately was for your own self-gratification – and most likely your act of kindness really didn’t cost you very much. Only as you have a sincere love for Jesus Christ as your Redeemer – and please observe Paul’s emphasis on “sincere love,” because everyone here in Greene County says he loves Jesus, but do you really cherish him above all else? – can you love sinners around you with sacrificial, Christ-like love.
If you do love Christ (because he first loved you), then take a look at the deep, blessed fellowship you can and must enjoy with the people sitting around you. Paul had sent his dearly beloved brother Tychicus, who was a faithful minister of the Gospel, to tell his beloved brethren in Ephesus how he was doing. Remember, Paul had spent a couple of years steadily ministering in Ephesus. He loved these Christians greatly. He knew they loved him. So he sent a reliable brother named Tychicus to tell them not only “what was up” with Paul but, more personally, how Paul himself was getting along in prison. (And as further evidence of the powerful victory of Jesus Christ, Paul sent Tychicus to comfort the Ephesians, who surely were unsettled by the news of Paul’s imprisonment. Only our living God can bring encouragement from such a negative situation!)
Love with faith, and genuine, personal care for one another might be the dream of many people today, but such fellowship emerges as a reality only as the blood of Jesus draws you and me and Egyptians and Yankees and Californians together in the family of God.
If you do know Jesus as Savior, how do you show love and personal affection for the believers seated behind you? Do you ever read the missionary letters posted on the bulletin boards in the fellowship hall? Do you pray for and seek information about persecuted believers around the world? Have you called that person in this church whom you haven’t seen lately?
You and I say every Sunday we believe in the forgiveness of sins and in the communion of saints. Paul, Tychicus and the Ephesians did too.
They practiced the communion of saints. Do you?
Second, only our Lord Jesus Christ makes true peace possible for you.
St. Paul prays for “peace to the brethren from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ” – note again the qualification that peace comes only from God in Christ – but it’s important to observe what biblical peace is not. It is not, “Act nicely to one another.” It is not, “Live and let live.” It is not, “Hope all is well with you.”
Peace from God is wholeness in Christ.
The apostle writes in Romans 5:1 that because of the reconciling work of Christ at Calvary, you and I have peace with God. Because the Father no longer is set against you in His wrath for your sin, you have new life: new understanding, new purpose, new confidence in His sovereign goodness. There can be no peace among men or in your own heart unless you first are washed in the blood of the Lamb and set at peace with God your Judge. If Christ is your Savior, you will enjoy peace and a settled joy regardless of your circumstances in life. (Just ask Paul, who rejoiced even while in prison for Christ’s sake).
Are you feeling unsettled deep in the hidden places of your heart? Most likely, there is sin in your life that you have not confessed, or you are living apart from God’s revealed will. So long as you draw His Fatherly displeasure, you will not be at peace.
Are you uncertain as to what 2009 might hold, concerned that something might shake you? Know, Christian, that the Lord of eternity is in control, and with Christ as your Savior you will enjoy peace – an assured joy – even in the most tumultuous of times.
Are you at odds with someone in the church, or with another person at work? You, Christian, can be a person of peace because the Prince of Peace owns your heart and life.
The nations might long for peace, but they will know peace only through the blood of Jesus Christ, who gives a lasting wholeness that rightly orders your life before the God who created you.
Third, only Christ bestows grace, and he does so only on his followers.
We may define “grace” as “God’s favor to those who love Christ in sincerity.” Remember, though, that grace is the very heart of the Gospel, which is the heart of this epistle. Grace is God doing for you and me what we could not do for ourselves: raising the dead to life, bringing Jew and Gentile together in Jesus, totally transforming your manner of life. Grace is God converting Paul the murderer to Christ, making him Paul the sufferer for Christ. Grace is God saving you and me, who were perfectly content to go to Hell.
Paul’s prayer here, then, is for the Ephesian Christians – who knew God’s grace already – to grow in the knowledge and experience of that grace. He prayed for God’s continued undeserved mercy in Christ for those who deserved Hell. This needs to be your prayer also.
Meritocracies are fine so far as human institutions are concerned. I’m all for rewarding hard work and for not rewarding laziness. Yet when it comes to your standing before God, thank the Lord his church is not a meritocracy!
There is the story of an older black woman whom a judge promised justice. She, being a Christian, replied, “It’s not justice I want, your honor – it’s mercy I want.”
Think of your sin before God just in the past hour, then think of the mercies He has poured out on you today: waking up, seeing a loved one, taking in the sunshine, safe travels during the Christmas season, worshipping Him in Spirit and truth this morning. This is grace. Beg the Lord, for Christ’s sake, for more of it.
If you want to divide Christians based on their belief – or lack thereof – in the sovereignty of God, teach through the letter to the Ephesians.
I’m always astonished at professing believers who read this book, especially chapters 1 and 2, yet grow angry at the fact that predestination is a reality. They do not like to admit their own spiritual condition (death) from conception, and they do not like to admit that they depend totally, start to finish, on Christ alone to save them. When it gets down to it, they detest the message of Ephesians.
Yet they still want grace, peace and love. The grace, peace and love they get, however, is about as true and lustrous as is a bowl of jambalaya at Olaf’s Restaurant in Minnetonka, Minnesota.
You might well accept the doctrine of God’s total sovereignty – yet you really don’t enjoy much peace, love and fellowship in your own life. The issue for you isn’t Presbyterianism; it is the gospel. Do you truly love Jesus as your Savior above everything and everyone else? Do you apply that love and knowledge to your interaction with others, and with the world around you?
Every one of you wants more peace and sweeter fellowship in the year to come. This, then, is the answer, found in the message of Ephesians: unless Jesus the Lord pours out his grace on you, your wishes will go unfulfilled. But if he is your heart’s delight, you will experience peace, harmony and grace directly from the only One who can give them.