The eagle-eyed among you will have noticed that we have flipped over a few pages in the Bible. We were reading through the book of Acts – don’t worry, we will come back to it, but we had got to the bit where Luke (the writer) tells us all about Paul’s trip to the city of Ephesus (in what we would now call Turkey) and what went on there (including a riot…church used to be so much less predictable back then!)
While they were in Ephesus, Paul and his mates started a little church – this week we have flipped over to read a letter which Paul wrote to that same church a few years later while he was kicking his heels chained to a Roman guard under house arrest in Rome.
The first main paragraph of chapter 1 (v3-14) has no punctuation on the original letter. It’s as if Paul got carried away with excitement when he was writing it and just plain forgot to include any pauses for breath…read it like that, out loud and fast, and you will soon see why!
Ephesus was a major city for trade, religion and economic deals. At the heart of the city was the huge temple of Diana (one of the severn wonders of the ancient world) and if anywhere was going to personify a belief in hard work, money, capitalism and hedonistic self-pleasure – it was Ephesus. So, Paul starts off with a page or two of a glorious reminder of what Jesus has done for us, what the nature of God is, and how our identity is forever changed when we sign up to being a member of the Jesus gang. Paul wants you to be totally overwhelmed with the goodness of God. Just in case you have accidentally got sucked into a cult, or a belief held in society that the gods are angry with you and need to be appeased even though they would rather just smite you, Paul keeps on using words about the ABUNDANT goodness of God, the LAVISHNESS with which he loves us and the PLEASURE with which he interacts with his children. He wants us to know that it was no accident that Jesus chose you to follow him, it was his plan from before the dawn of time. He wants you to be sure, that no matter what else might happen in life, you have been made alive through Christ in a way that surpasses understanding and cannot be undone or taken away. He wants you to know, that the temple in the centre of town might be impressive, but the love of God is WAY BIGGER in every direction.
Later on in the letter Paul is going to zoom in on some of the ways that he might expect a Christian to stand out from the crowd (be patient, love your kids, stop brawling in the streets, that kinda stuff) but priority numero uno is to understand that there are spiritual truths about you, God, and His love for you which are over and above all else and which are remarkable…so remarkable that to talk about them should leave you breathless.