Ephesus was a dreadful place. It was a city full of evil spirits where people used books of magic. In particular, it was in Ephesus that the great goddess Diana was worshipped in the temple built for her.
It was also a city in which many listened to the apostle Paul preach. The sick were healed and many were freed from the bondage of evil spirits. But it was also at Ephesus that a silversmith called Demetrius stirred up others in the same line of business and caused a riot. For two hours, the crowds were shouting, ‘Great is Diana of the Ephesians!’ After the uproar ceased, Paul called the disciples to him, embraced them, and departed.
Some time later he wrote to the Ephesian believers. Did he begin with the riot or by spelling out all the evils that were rampant in that city? Not at all; his emphasis was upon the glory of the Father and the Son. ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places… in him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace… in him we have an inheritance, having been predestined according to [his] purpose’ (Ephesians 1:3-11).
What a wonderful opening! No hint of the difficulties and dangers of the past; no dwelling on how difficult it was to be a Christian in Ephesus. Nothing to bring back despondency or despair – only the glorious reality of the goodness and mercy of our heavenly Father who predestined us in Christ and sealed us with the Holy Spirit.
Paul’s letter proceeds to cover many important aspects of the Christian life. As he drew to the conclusion, it seems that Paul reverted to the difficulties then confronting the Ephesian believers: ‘Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God that you be able to withstand against the wiles of the devil’ (6:10-11).
Then, the crunch line: ‘For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities… powers… the rulers of the darkness of this age… against… wickedness in the heavenlies.’ As Christians, our enemies are invisible, yet very real and far more lethal than any human being.
Unlike Paul, we often begin with our troubles and setbacks, our disappointments and the difficulties of our age for us as Christians. Instead of dwelling upon the power, goodness, and greatness of our God we are in danger of developing a mindset which can border on the edge of accepting feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.
Part of our problem is short-sightedness. We tend to feel that what we need to do is to resist and outsmart the many hostile unbelievers. But we are looking purely on the human level. As Paul has made clear, our enemies are not unbelieving people and our battle is not with them. They are simply dupes of the devil; our battle is with him, not them. We start on the victorious side, and we must look at our situation from that perspective!
Paul Brown is a retired pastor now living in Lancashire.