In Christ, and in Ephesus
Charles Naylor, 1920
Paul addressed his Ephesian epistle, "To the saints who are at Ephesus — the faithful in Christ Jesus." The people addressed were in Ephesus — and they were likewise in Christ. What did it mean to be in Ephesus?
Ephesus was one of the great centers of paganism. It was adorned with costly and magnificent heathen temples. It was rich and voluptuous. Both private and public life were utterly corrupt. Even the religious practices of the Ephesians were unspeakably vile. This city was a moral cesspool, a sink of pollution, filled with all corruption, and reeking with vileness! It was a second Sodom. Vice stalked abroad everywhere — and was honored and worshiped.
We might therefore well say, "Can any good thing come out of Ephesus? Can Christianity flourish in such surroundings?"
Yes! There were saints in Ephesus — and faithful ones, too. They were such in their lives and characters as to win the commendation of that great apostle to the Gentiles. Out of that obnoxious cesspool of iniquity, were growing the pure white lilies of Christian character! That is the glory of Christianity and of Christ. Those who were now Christians were not superior to the other Ephesians — they were not by nature different. In fact, Paul tells them that they had been the children of wrath, even as the others — and that they had been such by nature. What a triumph of divine grace, which raised these people up out of such unspeakable filth — and made them faithful saints! And yet that is the power of our great Christ! "For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord." Ephesians 5:8
Some people look around at the present condition of things in this world, at sin abounding on every hand, and say, "There is no use for me to try to be a Christian or to be different from the others." There are many who look at things in this way. They think it useless to try to be righteous under present conditions.
Once while walking down the street of a certain city, I came upon a policeman standing on the street-corner. I engaged him in conversation, which I quickly turned into religious channels, and began inquiring about his own state before God. He said to me in a hopeless voice, "Oh, there is no use talking — there is no chance for a policeman." I tried to tell him of the power of God and of what salvation would do for him. But it seemed as an idle tale to him, and he could only reply, "There is no hope for a policeman."
There are many other people today in various situations who say, "There is no hope for me. There is no use for me to try." Those Ephesians might have talked the same way. They had just as much reason to do so as any one else. Probably some of them did talk like that before God saved them — who can tell? There were a great many, however, who turned from idols to serve the true and living God, received Christ into their hearts, and found the power of salvation in the gospel. They found power in the blood of Christ to cleanse them from their impurities, and not only so, but also to raise them so far from the mire of sin and wickedness abounding around them — as to keep them faithful in Christ Jesus while still dwelling in Ephesus.
It is not so much a change of environment that people need — as a change of heart and of character. Diamonds are often found embedded in volcanic mud; mud surrounds them on every side, and yet they have lain there for centuries and are still diamonds. What is the secret of it? Why have they not become contaminated? It is because the mud never entered the diamond; and that was the reason that the Ephesian saints could be faithful and still live in Ephesus. They were left amidst the foul mud of corruption — but the mud was taken out of them, and the grace of Christ kept it from getting back in again.
We cannot get away from the mud and defilement of sin in this world. Sin will ever be all about us. Its stench will be in our nostrils from day to day. Our eyes will be offended by it, and our ears will be shocked. But so long as we keep it all on the outside — we can be saints and faithful in Christ Jesus.
We are told that one of the chief things for us to do, is to keep ourselves "unspotted from the world." Philippians 2:15 says, "That you may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom you shine as lights in the world." Again Paul says, "Neither be partakers of other men's sins — keep yourself pure" (1 Timothy 5:22). We are not only to keep free from committing any sins of our own, but also to avoid partaking of the sins of others. That is very important.
Now, we live, as it were, in Ephesus. There is sin abounding all around us. God wants us so to abhor the sins of others that we shall not follow them, nor find pleasure in those who do sinful things.
We must keep ourselves separate from sin. We cannot help being in Ephesus. We must live in this corrupt and sinful world. So the important thing is that we attend to keeping ourselves in Christ — unspotted from the world. If the Ephesians could do this, so can we. But to do it, we must walk uprightly. We must not stoop down into the mire of sin, but keep ourselves erect, and keep our spiritual nostrils above the poisonous gases of sin.
Lot was a man of God. He dwelt in Sodom, and we are told that his righteous soul was vexed from day to day because of the wicked conduct of the Sodomites. But he kept himself clean — he had no part with them — he hated their sins.
When we reach a place where we do not hate sin, where we can see it and hear and know of it and find no vexation in our souls, when it causes us no uneasiness, and we have no particular repugnance for it — then it is time that we awake. We are commanded to abhor that which is evil, and it is only by so doing and by keeping ourselves clean from it, that we can be safe in Christ Jesus and dwell in this wicked world.
There was a bit of Heaven, in every Christian heart in Ephesus. That bit of Heaven was just as pure as the celestial realms above. We too have that heavenly element in our hearts; and in that transplanted bit of God's holiness, will flourish all the plants of righteousness which bloom in the courts eternal. But we must guard these plants by keeping the gates of our hearts closed night and day against evil. Only thus can we keep pure and acceptable to God. This we can do and be holy and faithful in the worst "Ephesus" that exists today, if it be our lot to abide there.