Well, you know the drill. The story is reaching its climax, and while significant action has occurred, the community is facing a struggle. There are dark hours, days, or years ahead. The leader needs to motivate and inspire the people. You know what happens: it’s time for the pep talk, right?
Do you remember William Wallace in Braveheart? “I am William Wallace! And I see a whole army of my countrymen, here in defiance of tyranny. You’ve come to fight as free men… and free men you are. What will you do with that freedom? Will you fight?”
Or Bluto in Animal House? “Did you say “over”? Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?…No!…And it ain’t over now…”
And, of course, there’s the legendary Knute Rockne, All American, where the coach speaks to the demoralized football team and uses the memory of a former teammate to inspire the Irish to victory:
I’m going to tell you something I’ve kept to myself for years — None of you ever knew George Gipp. It was long before your time. But you know what a tradition he is at Notre Dame… And the last thing he said to me — “Rock,” he said – “sometime, when the team is up against it — and the breaks are beating the boys — tell them to go out there with all they got and win just one for the Gipper… I don’t know where I’ll be then, Rock”, he said – “but I’ll know about it – and I’ll be happy.”
We love those scenes, don’t we? We want the hero to come and lay it all out and inspire us and show us how to win, how to succeed, how to beat the enemy. And it’s about that time for the Ephesians. Paul has started this letter with a lot of powerful and insightful theological truth. He has made fundamental claims about the nature of life and the hope for healing that exist in Jesus Christ. And then, in recent weeks, we’ve seen the verbs in his letter to this little church: submit, love, obey, discipline, serve. He’s given them imperatives to treat each other well…and now, well, now it’s time for the letter to close.
The camera zooms in on the aged apostle, writing from a prison cell in Rome. He knows it’s the end of the line for him – his death is imminent. And he can see the way that the wind is blowing for the church – the challenges and persecution that are on the horizon. The abuse and beatings that lay ahead for Christians. The martyrdoms that will characterize the church for generations.
Now, Paul. Now! Tell us how we will win!
Except he does not.
The conclusion to this letter starts out in the passive voice. He’s not telling them to do anything. Our translation reads “be strong”, but a more accurate rendition of the Greek might be “allow yourselves to be made strong” – he is telling us to receive strength from the Lord. It’s not ours to manufacture or create. We can only receive it. The strength is a gift.
And then, instead of telling us to go out there and destroy the powers of evil, he tells us…to stand.
“Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we are not contending against flesh and blood…Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore…”
Four times in these opening sentences of the climax of his letter, he tells us to stay put and take it. Things are tough, and they’re going to get tougher. Hold on. You’ll face the wiles of the Devil and flaming darts of the evil one. Hang in there. There are evil plans and evil deeds afoot. Stand there – and surround yourself with truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, and the promises of God.
Do you see? Paul’s not telling us what to do right now in this moment…Paul is telling us how to live our lives. None of these characteristics are a plan for action or a program to run. You can’t do truth or faith, and you can’t have them in your life alone. Each of these things is a gift that we are given in the company of the whole church. Eugene Peterson says this about the “armor of God”:
[These tools] can exist only by becoming incarnate in human beings with other human beings in acts of living – being. None is impersonal. We don’t look up the meaning of these words in a dictionary. They are not spiritual skills that we perfect.
Peterson explains that one reason that the Lord has given us the whole Bible is that we have page after page of flesh and blood stories of how God’s people have somehow, over the centuries, managed to live into truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, and the promises of God. These words are not individual items that we can check off our “to-do” lists as we go through the motions of our day – they are the elements that will shape us as we continue to become that thing that God is doing in the world.
Paul, as an individual, is clearly with his back to the wall at this time in his life. He knows he’s looking at a future that is going to be brief and probably painful. Note that he is not “claiming victory” over his circumstances. He’s not looking to the power of positive thinking, asking God to reveal his special blessing, or to bring him health, prosperity, or success. What he is doing is reminding the church that together, we can live towards truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, and the promises of God. Together, we can point to the places where God’s Spirit is unleashing those kinds of gifts. Paul does not seem to expect that an individual Christian will prevail against the wiles of the devil or the forces of evil. But he does indicate that in God’s strength, the church will know the resurrection power of Jesus and will live as a faithful reminder to what we know is always true, even when we can’t always see it. Pastor Paul is preparing his church for a time of struggle, not by promising them some sort of immunity from pain or distress, but by reminding them that dis-ease is not what defines us.
And then he does get down to brass tacks at the very end – after telling us what we are to be, he tells us what we should do. And that, of course, is to pray.
Pray in the Spirit, he says. Pray focused on the big picture. Pray alertly. Pray over the long haul. And not just for yourselves, he says – pray for “all the saints” – the entire church. And he does ask them to pray for him.
But look at his prayer request. I’m not sure what I would ask for if I was facing a death sentence for doing something that was not a crime – I’m not sure what I’d pray for if I were surrounded by guards all day long, limited in my movements and in my ability to express myself. But look at what Paul prays about: he asks for boldness. Twice. In the face of great challenge, Paul asks the Ephesians to pray that he would be bold about facing the difficulties that are ahead.
And that’s about it. No great stirring pep talk. No challenge to go out and build a better kingdom or claim a deeper blessing. The letter ends with a personal note. It’s very brief, but it’s worth looking at, because it exemplifies all that Paul’s been trying to say in these six chapters.
Paul tells the Ephesians to be on the lookout for their mutual friend, Tychicus. We don’t know much about Tychicus – but he is the only individual named in the entire book of Ephesians. Acts 20 tells us that he was a traveling companion of Paul when Paul visited Ephesus earlier, but that’s about all we know of him.
Except for this: we know what Paul expects Tychicus to do when he gets to Ephesus: he will “tell you everything.”
Really, Paul? You just wrote Ephesians. That’s…um, well, in the Bible. That’s pretty good. Are you saying that Ephesians 1-6 is not everything?
Ephesians 1-6 is great theological truth. It is profound spiritual wisdom. It has sound advice. It contains wonderful instructions for living. But the Christian life, and the Church of Jesus Christ, is more than theology, wisdom, advice, or instruction.
Look at it this way: if you were to get laid up tomorrow and be unable to join us for worship, we’d still send you the church newsletter. More than that, you could call the office and we’d send you the weekly bulletin and, if you wanted, a CD of each worship service. That’s a lot.
But it’s not everything. If you were to get laid up tomorrow and be unable to join us for worship, I have a hunch that even if you got the newsletter and the bulletin and the CD’s, that if someone from the church would call and say, “Would it be all right if I stopped by for a few moments?”, you’d say “yes.” If your church offered to bring you communion, or invited you to spend time together, or simply offered you the gift of human contact, you’d say “yes, please”.
Paul knows that the church in Ephesus is under attack. He knows that the evil one is at work in that community. And he’s sent them a magnificent letter that is filled with more wisdom than I’ll ever hope to have.
But he does more than that: he sends them Tychicus.
The Christians in Ephesus know what it’s like to feel under the gun. They know discomfort and uncertainty. They are acquainted with fear. Yes, they know the truth of Jesus and the power of the Spirit. But Paul knows that simply reminding them of the things they’ve learned is not enough. It is not “everything”.
That’s what Tychicus is for. A real person. Someone that they know and love. Coming to be with them. Coming to tell them “everything.”
I know you well enough to know that there are those in our midst who feel the flaming arrows of evil. We ache at the many places in our lives where there is pain or incompleteness.
Christianity is not something that is adopted in isolation. It is not a philosophy that is set on a shelf to be admired. It is a gift of community that comes when flesh and blood people gather and experience the fullness of life as God has given it. We practice it. We rehearse it. Some days, we get it better than other days.
Let me suggest, please, that if you are feeling as though you are under attack and it’s just about all you can do to stand – that you call out and ask for Tychicus. Let someone know where you are, and what’s going on…and look for (and expect) the support of those with whom you share the journey.
And let me further suggest that Tychicus did not pass away somewhere in Asia Minor two thousand years ago, but rather lives and moves today. Let me suggest that Tychicus sits in the pews this morning. You, beloved, are Tychicus. You know the truth. Great. But you are called to remind those around you of “everything”. Help those of us who are under attack to know the grace and power of the church – the whole church. Look for, listen to, and stand with those who need you.
That’s why the Cross Trainers ministry is so important. The kids who will come in this summer – they may not know much about the Story. They may not know too many answers. But they know you, staff. They love you. It’s your job to tell them “everything”.
I believe that the Bible is the Word of God. And that means that I believe Ephesians has the power of God in it, for me. But Ephesians is not “everything”. We have heard the Word this morning. Now we’ve got to get ready and go out to be the Word. For the Cross Trainers staff, that means the kids who will fill this building in the morning. For the rest of us, it may mean the people we work with, or our neighbors. God bless you, church, as you tell them everything. Amen.
 Please note that I am not suggesting that believers – or anyone – should be passive in the face of abuse, bullying, addiction, etc. There are many times and places where the obedient action is to stand up and resist that kind of evil. What I am suggesting, however, is that we ought to be aware that some hardship and trouble is inevitable.
 Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ (Eerdmans, 2010, p. 261)
After we heard this word, we sang, with joy, “Be Ye Glad”. Take a listen for yourself to this song by Michael Kelly Blanchard as sung by Glad.