The Letter to the Ephesians opens with rapturous praise to God who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ. Who has lavished the riches of God’s grace on us.
Reading it in a modern paraphrase like The Message or The New Living Bible captures Paul’s ecstatic gratitude and thanksgiving–for what remains when everything is lost
Astonishingly, Paul wrote the Letter to the Ephesians from prison.
Let’s imagine ourselves in a primitive prison, bereft of everything all material and tangible blessings, save life.
* We have lost all the money we ever had.
* Own no home
* Have lost the possessions of a lifetime
* Are separated from all our friends and family
* Our books are taken away; we have little mental stimulation.
* Not only do we have no power or influence over others, but our life and comfort is totally in other people’s power.
* Even our health is no longer under our control—we eat what, and how much we are given; cannot control the temperature, our bedding, sleep, routine, or the cleanliness of our surroundings or even our access to fresh air and pure water or food. We probably have no access to exercise
We have nothing.
Or to read the Letter to the Ephesians: We have everything. Every spiritual blessing in Christ (Eph 1:3). The riches of God’s grace which he lavishes on us (Eph 1:7).
What are these riches lavished on the one who had nothing?
The “every spiritual blessing” given to the one who had few visible earthly blessings?
What might we find to be grateful about if we were in prison, like Paul, bereft of all earthly goods?
1) We would have the presence of the Holy Spirit, the joy-giver, who gives us joy better than corn or new wine. (Ps 4:7). We would have his comfort.
2) Christ shed his blood, sacrificially, to redeem us; we are now the adopted children of the Most High God.
And so we would have hope. Hope that our present sufferings might end, but we would also know that he has put eternity in our hearts, and that we will be with him in eternity
3) As he is with us here. We would know that Christ was intimately present with us, in prison. In fact, we would have a best friend with us in solitary confinement.
4) We would have someone to talk to and we would have the gift of prayer. The Spirit himself would help us in our weakness, and we would be able to talk to Christ in tongues, if we were Paul. When we were bored, or sleepless, we would pray, and we would know our prayers are heard. We would be comforted.
4B) We would have the great gift of worshipping God even in prison.
5) And what would we pray about?
We would thank God for his past goodness to us, his present presence with us; we would thank him for all that was good in our present straitened circumstances, and for the character he was forging in us.
6)We would have faith and trust, that God would give us the grace we needed in our hour of need, and that we could trust him for our future.
7) We would have the gift of the teaching of the Lord Jesus, statements like
· * Do not worry about anything at all. God will care for me like he cares for the lilies
· * Do not let your hearts be troubled
· * Forgive, and do not resist evil.
· * Do not fear him who destroys the body, but cannot touch the soul.
· These teachings would be an antidote against anxiety
8 ) We should have the spirit-enabled gift of forgiveness and the deep relief it brings. This would help safe-guard our souls against bitterness.
9) We would have the peace of God, which transcends understanding guarding our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
These spiritual gifts were enough for Paul to write, “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say Rejoice.” (Phil 4:4)
Is all this theological? Yes. Abstract, yes
As Christians down the ages have found, when you have little else, when all other idols fail, theology becomes exceedingly real.
Spiritual life and real life merge and become one, as in fact they always are. Our spiritual blessings are the realest blessings.
Let me never forget to pray for earthly temporal blessings, and to thank you for them, Lord, but let me not forget the realest blessings are those which endure when the music fades, and all is stripped away.
Then we return to the heart of worship, in a mansion or a dungeon. And it’s all about you Jesus.
And since, in fact, I am not in prison, but am surrounded by the goodness and mercy of God, oh Lord help me to be as joyful, as peaceful, and as grateful as Paul was in the Mamertine Dungeon.