In most of his letters to the early church, Paul begins with doctrine and ends with the practical application of doctrine in the lives of believers. Paul was “an apostle of Jesus Christ“. The Greek word apostolos means to be a delegate; one sent with the full power of attorney. It means to act in the place of another, the sender remaining behind to back up the one sent. In the case of Christians, it means that God sends us to do what he Himself would do in our place.
There are two categories of knowledge: pure, or theoretical (doctrine) and
applied, which is practical. For example, in his letter to the Ephesians, chapters 1-3 deal with doctrine (the calling of the church) and chapters 4-5 deal with application (the conduct of the church). This letter was addressed to the saints in Ephesus. The Greek word for saint is hagiois, or “the Holy ones”; those set apart for God’s own use. It is the essence of what it means to live as a Christian; a follower of Christ.
Paul was in prison when he wrote this letter, sometime around 60 A.D. He was under guard in rental quarters in Rome (Acts 28:30) and the letter was delivered to the church by Tychicus. At the time, Ephesus was the leading center of the Roman Empire; Paul stayed there for three years on his third missionary journey. It was the capital city of the province of Asia.
Paul taught that the Jewish and gentile believers are one in Christ, to be demonstrated by love for one another. He encourages them to love both God and their fellow saints in Christ. Agape is the Greek word for love as a noun; agapao is the verb form. Paul uses both in his letters; agape being the love of God (as in ‘God is love‘ and agapeo being how that love is expressed through the lives of the saints.) There is also a third Greek word for love: phileo, or the love between people, but here Paul is primarily dealing with the application of doctrine, the foundation of which is the love of God in us and through us. Paul’s focus was on maintaining unity within the church.
This letter begins and ends with love; it was most likely a ‘circular letter’ meaning that while it was written to the saints in Ephesus, it was most likely passed around to the other churches as encouragement to love each other, and as a reminder to establish churches that were not based on rules and structure alone, but churches where the love of God was to be manifested to the people through the lives of the saints.
Fast forward several thousand years. Paul is under house arrest, somewhere on the outskirts of the city of Syracuse. Tychicus is sitting with him; the two men are having coffee and Paul is listening intently to the report of the churches. He is disturbed by something that Tychicus is saying: “There is a teaching going around in Syracuse, Paul, that in order to love others you must first love yourself, as though it is doctrine. The people have focused on this, and their activities seem to include reading a lot on self-love, and attending groups to learn how to love themselves.” Tychicus sits in silence as the Paul lowers his head into his hands, and sits silently. After a time of deep thought, he lifts his head and says “Please bring me my pen.” Pouring another cup of coffee for himself and his guest, he sits down and begins writing. “To the Church in East Syracuse…..to the Church on Erie Boulevard…. To the Church in the Valley….”
This has been my study for today; I haven’t written much this week, because of illness in the family, and some other personal issues. I have been doing a lot of thinking, reading and studying. And soul-searching. I worked for a time at the Salvation Army, which functions as a church, but from my observations, does not act like The Church. An employee said to me once “I was taught how to manage these people, and I have tried to do exactly what I was taught. You are different; you actually love these people.” This is what Paul was trying to tell the church leaders. My own church has this same problem; they are very good at managing people, not so good at loving them. I have heard, however, that they are trying to change this, which is good. Time will tell.
In the meantime, lets not wait for those in positions of leadership to exemplify love to those in and out of the church. Maybe it is our turn to set the example.
“It must be considered that there is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle, than to initiate a new order of things.” ~Machiavelli