~by Randy Bushey
Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil (Ephesians 5:15,16).
The Christ-followers at Ephesus had an uphill climb: they were immersed in a thoroughly pagan city of young, wealthy retirees.
They had a well-earned reputation for their faith in Christ and love of other believers.
But the risk of being squeezed into the metropolitan mold and conforming to a secular worldview was always lurking in the shadows.
Here’s the context: from the time that Augustus Caesar had promised a luxurious retirement to those who served – and survived – in the Roman army, soldiers were envied for their rich pensions. Retirement was granted after 25 years of military service; part of that pension was the granting of free land in Rome.
But within a few generations, retirement land in Rome had been exhausted. To maintain the promise – and keep the army in subjection – subsequent emperors built beautiful Mediterranean cities in other parts of the empire, declaring them to be “Roman cities”.
Thus the retirement promise of Roman land for having served in Caesar’s military could be honoured. Sort of.
Caesar declared that such cities were “Rome away from Rome”.
Ephesus was one such city. Marble streets, a spacious agora, white columns, and every luxury a middle-aged retired Roman soldier could desire: a world-class library, public baths and toilets, an outdoor theatre seating 24,000, and minimal taxes.
For those who came to Christ during Paul’s 3 years of evangelism and discipleship in that town, the problem was not dissimilar to our own today: how does the church become a positive spiritual influence in a culture of wealth and entitlement, rather than having the toxic influence of the culture infect the church?
How do Christ-followers live their lives, conduct their marriages and raise their kids, and work their jobs without adopting the values, morals, meaning and purpose, and general world-view of those with whom they work and live?
That was the essence of Paul’s warning: Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise…
If not vigilant, 1st century believers, like the proverbial frog in the beaker, would be unaware of subtle, but imminent peril as the water is slowly heated to the boiling point.
And 20 centuries later, the Apostle’s warning echoes to us as valid and relevant.
We must ask, are we closer to being destroyed by absorbing the lethal culture that Paul called on the Ephesians to recognize and avoid?
Today’s church sees some worrisome trends, including a trio of Christ-dishonouring plagues:
1) the desire to be comfortable;
2) the demand to be entertained;
3) the decision to measure our response as a consumer: if I liked the experience – if it met my felt need – I might be back.
The personal challenge is obvious. And the time is critical.
Have I become addicted to lesser things than what Christ has called for me to experience in my local faith community?
Am I one who measures my experience by slick church services and well-crafted worship experiences conducted by smooth professionals with artistic, contemporary music, convenient parking, and reliable air conditioning?
Am I simply expecting a service without glitches? And with well-behaved children?
Do I demand church that is comfortable, entertaining, consumer-friendly and catering to my preferences? Then I can rate the experience…and leave unchanged.
But that was not the experience in Ephesus at the time of Paul’s writing. In addition to being known for their faith and love, Paul called on the church to declare Christ, nurture discipleship, and live out Gospel, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.
Takeaway: And so I ask myself, have I/we cheapened that which is sacred?
If so, we need to repent.
And to humbly re-learn and re-orient biblically to what the church is to be.
According to the New Testament, Bethel – and every authentic local church exists not to please us and cater to our whims and preferences, but to:
1) live out the gospel,
2) be a disciple-making factory for followers of Jesus Christ, and
3) reflect the Glory of God.
…photos of Ephesus archaeological excavation by Pat Bushey.