Doug Van Meter - 18 February 2018
Dispatch from the Front (Ephesians 6:21–24)
This year, at our annual missions conference, we look forward to hosting Tim Keesee as our keynote speaker. Keesee is founder and leader of Frontline Missions International, and author of a very helpful book on missions titled Dispatches from the Front.
Frontline Missions International (FMI) targets the most difficult places to reach with the gospel. It undertakes to support churches, pastors and missionaries in the 10/40 Window. In many respects, the burden of FMI is to encourage the church in these areas, as well as to encourage those of us who don’t live there, that God is at work there. And one means of this is through a series of videos called Dispatches from the Front.
As noted, this series of videos began as a book in which Keesee records the faithfulness of God in planting and sustaining his church in areas that are considered closed to the gospel. He visits these areas and records the faithful, and often frightful, testimonies of these believers. The “front” indicates the frontline of the spiritual warfare, and the “dispatches” are his reports of what the battle looks like, and how it is advancing to the glory of God. He writes (and records) as an eyewitness, and his goal is to encourage the likes of you and me.
In many ways, this is precisely what Paul is doing as he brings his epistle to a close. He is on the frontline of the spiritual warfare. In fact, we could say that he was behind the frontline, since he was under the custody of the Roman Empire, incarcerated under house arrest in Rome. You would agree, I’m sure, that this was hostile territory.
As with Keesee, Paul writes to encourage the Christian church to continue in and for the Lord. He commends peace and faith and love and grace upon them as he closes his letter, and, again, he does so in the context of warfare (vv. 10–20). These final verses are indeed a dispatch from the front. And Paul’s motive is that they will persevere in their faith on the frontline. May our study help us to do the same.
As far as we are aware, these were the final written words of Paul to this local church (or, as many suggest, to the various local churches that were in this region). In Acts 20, we have the final spoken words of Paul to the undershepherds of this congregation (20:17–38). In that speech, Paul revealed his loving care for this church where he had spent considerable time—three years of night-and-day, tear-soaked, passionate, hard-working, sacrificial, gospel-faithful, word-teaching ministry. He then moved on without any expectation of ever seeing them again. There is no evidence that he ever did see them again. But this was not the last time that this congregation would benefit from his ministry. No, this epistle was in many ways the greatest legacy that he left them.
He has finished his doctrinal explanations and dutiful exhortations, but there are some final words that he pens, words that once again reveal his love for the church of God and his desire that she mature in peace, faith and love, undergirded by God’s persevering grace.
Every minister of the gospel will speak final words to his congregation. What do you suppose these should be? The final four verses of Ephesians indicate what it should be on the heart of a shepherd of the flock of God.
An Assumed Affection
Paul knew that the Ephesians loved him, and he assumed that they were therefore concerned to know how he was doing.
But that you also may know my affairs and how I am doing, Tychicus, a beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord, will make all things known to you; whom I have sent to you for this very purpose, that you may know our affairs, and that he may comfort your hearts.
Paul was not alone while experiencing incarceration. He had others who were with him at various points, and one of those was a man named of Tychicus. He is mentioned four other times in the New Testament.
In Acts 20:4, we learn that Tychicus accompanied Paul to Jerusalem, along with several others, including Trophimus of Asia (Ephesus). It is quite likely that Tychicus, like Trophimus (Acts 21:29), was an Ephesian. He most likely accompanied Paul to Rome—via shipwreck! He was a loving and loyal companion—a true friend.
Paul mentions Tychicus in Colossians 4:7 in the same context as here in Ephesians.
In Titus 3:12, Paul mentions his desire to possibly send Tychicus to Crete to fill the gap as Titus was requested to come to where Paul would be wintering—in Nicopolis.
In 2 Timothy 4:12, written during Paul’s final imprisonment, he writes that he had sent Tychicus back (again) to Ephesus.
Whoever Tychicus was, and from wherever he came, we know that he was “a beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord.” Paul emphasises the faithfulness of this beloved member of God’s family. He was, like a man I spoke with this week, a friend who sticks closer than a brother.
I assume that Tychicus was well-loved by the believers in Ephesus. As mentioned, he most likely was from this church. In his case, he found that he was not without honour in his own country.
When Paul refers to him as a “faithful minister,” he uses the word from which we derive “deacon.” This word has a wide range of meaning, including one who executes the commands of another, and the servant of a king. Tychicus was faithful in his service to his king and to his fellow Christians. That is, he was reliable and trustworthy. He believed and therefore was believable.
The church should be filled with such. It is this kind of Christian that will not only be on the frontline, but will encourage those on the front line (see Philippians 2:25–30).
The most important description is that Tychicus was “in the Lord.” The believer’s identity in Christ is the fundamental theme of Ephesians. This identity is the most important thing about us.
But this is an identity that we share with one another in the body of Christ. And the body of Christ is the overarching theme of Ephesians.
Paul’s great burden has been that the body of Christ love one another with a Christ-centred love. The first three chapters emphasised this great love of Christ for his church. The next three chapters emphasised the need for every member of the church to actively work for the ongoing unity and maturity of the church. Paul loved this church, and no doubt this was the human motivation behind writing this epistle.
But what I find equally a blessing is that he knew that this church loved him. We see this when Paul writes that Tychicus is coming to them that they “may know my affairs and what I am doing.” He repeats this in v. 22. Simply, but importantly, Paul assumed that they would want to know how he was doing. He assumed that they would be concerned about him. He assumed that he was not presuming on their affection. He assumed that they therefore would want to hear his dispatch from the front.
This is not an insignificant observation. Paul thought the best of them, and he assumed that they thought the best of him. We should remember this when it comes to those who are on the frontlines: our missionaries; other pastors whom we know who are undergoing difficulties; and Christians suffering challenges.
What a blessing it is to know that there are Christians who love you, who care enough that you know that they want to know what is happening in your life! What an immense joy to be assured of the affection of others. What a blessing to have this assurance of affection when you feel like you are in a situation like Paul—on the frontline for the faith, and when your faith is on that frontline.
We need to let those on the frontline know that we care for them. This will require that we correspond with our missionaries, that we build a relationship with them to assure them of our affection, and that we practice affirmation. We need to develop of caring at home that assures one another that we care. There should never be hesitancy about that.
Recently, a woman in our church experienced a sudden, life-threatening medical condition. Happily, she was attended to in hospital in time, but the surgery required was extensive, and will require several months of recovery. Her and her husband have testified how loved they have felt by the church, reaching out to minister to them. That is a wonderful testimony for any pastor to hear.
We should be disturbed when our brothers and sisters are afflicted. This is implied by the comment “that he may comfort your hearts.” Some commentators are persuaded that Paul’s words have reference to Tychicus’s teaching ministry, and that Paul is saying that he was sending him in order to help them to grow. Perhaps. But the context, it seems to me, points to the comfort that Tychicus would bring in reporting that Paul was doing well (Acts 28:30–31).
There is an underlying assumption here that these Christians would be concerned about Paul, to the point of being disturbed, to the point of being restless to such a degree that they would need someone to come alongside them to bring them comfort.
Hebrews 13:3 highlights our responsibility to share in the sufferings of others: “Remember the prisoners as if chained with them—those who are mistreated—since you yourselves are in the body also.” This refers to such a carrying of a burden for others. I believe that this year’s WOC will go a long way to helping us to do likewise—if we will listen.
We should look upon Tim Keesee as a Tychicus who has been sent by God for the purpose of comforting us, but also to inform us of how and what Pauls who are serving elsewhere are doing. We need to hear the good news of what God is doing on the frontline, especially since some of our missions endeavours have run into hardships. God is at work, for as Paul told Timothy, who would have then told the Ephesians (along with Tychicus), “I suffer trouble as an evildoer, even to the point of chains; but the word of God is not chained” (2 Timothy 2:9).
No doubt such a visitor would have been important to bolster the spirit of this church. Paul has just spoken about spiritual warfare. These believers were in the thick of battle. They knew that Paul was incarcerated. Perhaps they were in danger of losing heart. Now Tychicus came to encourage them that all was well. It was well with Paul’s soul, and it was well with the kingdom of God!
Let me apply this to each of us. We may not all be a Paul, but we can each of us be a Tychicus. We can be a “beloved brother” and “faithful servant” who comes alongside the Pauls who are afflicted.
But also, like Tychicus, we can come alongside the church and be a source of encouragement. It is easy to be a discouragement. Let us come alongside one another reminding us of what God is up to. Let us be used to encourage one another to pray for the spread of the gospel and the extension of the kingdom.
Another application: Pay attention to the dispatches from the front. Read prayer letters, read good websites, pay attention to unreached people groups, read historical dispatches (John Paton; Adoniram Judson; Jim Elliott and company; etc.) and be encouraged.
An Assured Affection
In v. 23, Paul assures his readers of affection: “Peace to the brethren, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Hendriksen comments, “These were the very qualities that needed to be emphasized in that day and age. Is not the same true also today?” And Austen adds, “These last two verses are in many ways a prayer in which Paul picks up the ‘great qualities of the Christian life … and prays that his readers may possess them.’”
The words “peace,” “love,” and “faith” are dominant concepts in this epistle. “Peace” (used seven times in this letter) means well-being. It is equivalent to the Old Testament concept of shalom. In this letter, it is clear that peace between God and man is the emphasis. But this vertical reconciliation involves a horizontal reconciliation between peoples—Jew and Gentile (chapters 2–3).
The “love” (fourteen times in Ephesians) that they were to exercise arises from their “faith” (twelve times in this letter) in Christ which connects them to the outpouring of God’s inestimable love (3:14ff). Faith works by love, as Paul says elsewhere. Paul prays that they will grow in assurance of the love of God for them.
Note that, while Paul was on the frontline, yet he was thinking of others. To the very end, he was passionately concerned that the Christian church be the Christian church.
Only someone who was experiencing this trinity of blessings could commend them to others. Clearly, Paul was experiencing the very thing that he commended, namely, the source of these: “God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Perhaps we should learn from this that the price for credibility in our counsel is paid in the currency of difficulties on the frontline. Perhaps we should learn from this that the frontline is the best place to experience peace, love and faith, because it is here where we experientially connect with God our Father and his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Read missionary biographies and you will discover that those who are on the frontline are often blessed with such experiential knowledge. Is this not what should drive evangelism? Experiential knowledge of God cannot be hid under a bushel.
An Answering Affection
The letter closes with words that are familiar to readers of Paul’s letters; “Grace be with all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity. Amen” (v. 24).
This is a fitting closing. After all, Christ sacrificially loved the church and it is assumed the church will continually love him in return—forever. As Ferguson observes, “Paul had already prayed that his readers’ spiritual sight would be illumined to see and grasp the immensity of this divine love. When that love is received it is met with an answering love—a love that cannot be corrupted, a love that will never die, a love that will last for all eternity.”
From beginning to end, Paul’s Christianity was about the grace of God. So with this epistle. It begins with grace (1:1–4) and ends with grace. That is the only way to remain on the frontline. Amazing grace is arming grace. And it is also assuring grace. Is such grace yours? How do you know? By whether our life answers back with a life of love.
Paul wanted nothing more than for fellow believers to experience the grace of God. But he reminds them that this grace is exclusive. It is only for those who love Christ—with incorruptible, undying love. In other words, if deep answers to deep, then love for Christ answers to the love of Christ. The deep, deep love of Jesus produces a deep, deep love for Jesus.
The word “sincerity” or “incorruptible” basically means unending existence, and carries this idea in every New Testament usage. Romans 2:7 translates it as “immortality,” as does 2 Timothy 1:10. It is translated as “incorruption” in 1 Corinthians 15:42, 50, 53, 54 and “incorruptibility” in Titus 2:7. By use of a related word, Paul warns the Corinthians of being “corrupted” from the simplicity that is in Christ. In the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament), the word is various translated as “ruined,” “destroyed,” “corrupted,” “marred,” “dried out,” “fade,” and “to leave empty.”
There is a vital principle here: Our love for Jesus is not seasonal, it is continual. Though it may ebb and flow like an electrical surge, nevertheless, those saved by the grace of God will have a love for Jesus that will never cease. This verse provides a sobering test of our profession of faith. The frontline is often the examination room, and, as here, it is also the exhortation room.
One episode of Keesee’s Dispatches from the Front tells the story of a Cambodian woman who collects plastic bottles and sells them to a recycling company. She supports herself and her son on $1 per day—and yet her face is overwhelmed with joy. What an encouragement it is to see her story.
Paul is making it very clear that his commendation of grace, his encouragement concerning ongoing grace, is for those who continue to love the Lord Jesus Christ. This grace is for Christians. And—oh!—how we need it!
Calvin wrote, “I wish there were not so many instances in the present day to prove that Paul’s admonition, to love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity is as necessary as ever.” Paul’s benediction from the frontline, to those who will face their own frontline, is for true Christians. True Christians are those whose love for the Lord Jesus Christ is ongoing. MacArthur observes that Paul is describing the “the love that belongs to true believers” and therefore “the ones who will receive grace [are] only those whose love is not temporary and thus untrue, but permanent and thus genuine.” Or, as Hodge says, “The divine favour rests on those to whom the Lord Jesus is the supreme object of love.”
Such love is not fair-weathered, though it is tested by the storms of life. It is not seasonal though it is tried by the various seasons of life. It does not blow hot and cold though its temperature is often tempted. It is, to use another metaphor, without wax.
Our English word “sincere” comes from a combination of two Latin words: sin and cera. Literally, these words mean “without wax.” In the ancient world, dishonest merchants would use wax to hide defects, such as cracks, in their pottery so that they could sell their merchandise at a higher price. More reputable merchants would hang a sign over their pottery—sin cera—to inform customers that their merchandise was genuine.
I am not sure that Paul had this usage in mind as he penned this (though he might have when he wrote Romans 12:9). Nevertheless, it illustrates the point that those who are Christians—those who have been born again—will manifest genuine and undying love for Christ, especially when the heat is turned up—that is, when our faith is on the frontline. Jesus’ parable of the sower makes this very pint (Matthew 13:18–23).
Persevering grace is for all of God’s children, and all of God’s children are marked by love for God and love for God’s people as well as love for God’s neighbours. Perhaps the Great Commission is the ultimate proving ground for such love.
Love for Christ that is “without wax” will endure whatever fires God kindles for us on the frontline. It is such love that enabled Paul and Silas to sing in prison. It enabled Daniel to pray three times daily for all to see. It is such life that enables Christian wives to endure belligerence from ungodly husbands, and Christian employees to work joyfully for cruel bosses. I personally know of a pastor who was falsely accused of rape. He spent several weeks incarcerated before the truth emerged. During his time in incarceration, he (moved by sincere love) faithfully witnessed and sought to win people to Christ.
This is a searching examination that we must all sit for. It is one thing to profess love for Jesus Christ; it is quite another to practice this so consistently.
The Danger of Introspection
Our love for Christ is not an easy thing to measure. In fact, we probably should not speak of measuring it at all. However, our love for Christ is detectable. We know if we love Christ. And how do we know this? By our love for one another (see 1 John 4:19–5:5).
In the context of Ephesians, this stands out. Paul’s burden was to instruct the church to live like the church. That is, fuelled by the love of Christ (3:14ff) they (we!) were (are!) to love the church—not theoretically but practically.
So, do you? Do you love the body of Christ? Then you love Christ. If you do not love the body of Christ then it is highly suspicious that you love the Head of the church. Think of the practical implications of this.
Those who only serve Christ when it is convenient cannot with integrity claim to love in sincerity. Spurgeon noted this during his ministry. Comparing membership in his own church to membership in German churches of which he was aware, he wrote,
Oh to get a working church! The German churches, when our dear friend Mr. Oncken was alive always carried out the rule of asking every member, “What are you going to do for Christ?” and they put the answer down in a book. The one thing that was required of every member was that he should continue doing something for the Savior. If he ceased to do anything, it was a matter for church discipline, for he was an idle professor, and could not be allowed to remain in the church like a drone in a hive of working bees. He must do or go.
Our love for Christ is for the long haul and this means that our love for the church is for the long haul as well. Quit quitting and start staying!
This is of eternal import! If your love for Christ is not “immortal” then do not expect immortality after you die. If your love for Christ is not undying, then the hope of your “Christianity” will die with you. If your love for Christ is not unfading then your guise of Christianity will fade when you die. The reason is clear. As we have seen over and over in this letter, we can only stand by the grace of God. And his “standing grace” is only given to those who love his Son.
Is There Hope?
Lest we misunderstand, we do not earn grace by loving Christ. Rather, we love Christ because of grace. This grace is revealed by love for Christ. And thankfully this grace replenishes us to continue to love Christ.
Grace is just that—a gift. Paul made this clear from 1:2–2:10. And this grace can be yours.
Are you troubled that you do not love Christ? Then ask him for grace to make you a lover of Christ. Your discomfort is evidence that God is willing to give you grace for faith and peace and love. Jesus came to save the world, not to condemn it. Don’t be foolish. Why will you die? Confess your lack of love of Christ and ask for it. You will experience the deep, deep love of Jesus, and you will answer back with a love incorruptible, a love indestructible, and a love, as Paul has taught us in this epistle, that is essential for the church as we stand together on the frontline.