Thanks to God for Other Christians

Ephesians 1:15-16

by The Rt. Rev. Daniel R. Morse


Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints, cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers. Ephesians 1:15-16

We must never forget that the epistle to the Ephesians is a pastoral letter, and that its purpose was thoroughly practical. St. Paul’s object was to help Christians, to strengthen them, and to encourage them in their daily Christian living. The Apostles believed that the best way to help Christians was to make sure they understood who they were in Christ, and to help them live in terms of that.

The Apostle has been rejoicing in the fact that salvation in Christ is for Gentiles as well as for Jews. He is particularly concerned that those to whom he is writing should realize that they are partakers in these blessings; and so he begins his new section with an emphatic “wherefore,” a word that acts as the link between what has gone before and what is to follow. Because all that he has been describing is true of the Christians at Ephesus he tells them that he prays for them constantly—“Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints, cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers.”

Observe that there are two aspects to his praying. First of all, he “ceases not” to give thanks for them. He thanks God for the fact that they are in this Christian life at all; for the fact that they have been made fellow-heirs with the Jews in the glorious kingdom of God. No one can truly be a Christian without rejoicing that others also have become Christians. Nothing should make us happier than to know that others also are enjoying the same blessings. Only then does he begin to offer his petitions, which are found from verse 17 to the end of the chapter.

As we turn to this last section of the chapter we find that the Apostle starts by thanking God for the Ephesian Christians. But what exactly has Paul heard about these Christians? What is it that gives the Apostle this definite assurance concerning them? This is important for the reason that it supplies us with tests that we can apply to ourselves. How do we know we are Christians? What are our grounds for thanking God that we are Christians, and for thanking God for other Christians? The mere fact that someone may say he is a Christian does not prove that he is. Sometimes those who have called themselves Christians have been the greatest enemies of the Christian faith. The mere fact that we think we are Christians is not enough; the fact that other people may say that we are Christians is not enough. There must be some test. If we are to have real and solid assurance, then we must have some valid tests to apply.

The Apostle gives us two tests. One refers mainly to our belief; the other mainly to our practice. The proof of true faith is that it shows itself in action. Here, the Apostle gives us these two things together—“Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints . . .” Of all the many things that St. Paul had heard about the Ephesians, he says these two things assure him that they are true Christians, and enable him to thank God for them.

I. Faith in the Lord Jesus

This is, of course, the most vital thing of all. We must not put conduct and behavior in the first position. There are many very good people who are not Christians. Many do not even claim to be; indeed they may be opponents of the Christian faith. But as regards life and living they are good people.

We must also be clear that it is not a vague, general, benevolent, idealistic view that makes a person a Christian. The kind of remark that is sometimes made about a man who has died is that he was not a Christian, but he was a great man, an able man, a man who did much good, and who had many noble ideas with respect to life; then, as if to sum it up, they add: “We may not be able to say that he was a formal Christian, but . . .” What they mean is that though he did not say that he was a Christian, and was not a member of a Christian church, and did not subscribe to the Christian Creeds, he was nevertheless a Christian. No man could have lived such a wonderful life without being a Christian. In other words, a man’s life, or a man’s ideas, or a man’s nobility of character, or his concern about the uplift of the race, or the improvement of life in general, determine whether he is a Christian.

But we must go even further. We are not even to start by asking whether a man believes in God. There are many people in the world who believe in God who are not Christians. Orthodox Jews today who may be strongly opposed to Christianity believe in God. Muslims are believers in God. So the Apostle emphasizes, “your faith in the Lord Jesus.” The Lord Jesus himself, this blessed Person, has to be at the center. This is an all-inclusive test.

A Christian is a person in whose life the Lord Jesus Christ is at the center. He sees everything in him. Jesus Christ has become the controlling factor. Many religious people and religious movements are very active and zealous, but often Jesus Christ is not mentioned by them. They talk about “Coming to God” and “Listening to God” and “Spirituality” and so on without Jesus Christ being mentioned. That by definition is not Christianity, however good they may seem to be.

There are some people who seem to think that to have faith in the Lord Jesus means that you believe that he came into the world to tell you that God loves you. But that is not faith in the Lord Jesus. Such people teach that the Cross is just a great declaration of the fact that God is ready to forgive you. But if that is so, then the Lord Jesus is not the Savior; he simply announces that God forgives and that salvation is possible. The New Testament, however, tells us that the Lord Jesus is himself the Savior, that he came into the world in order to save us. It is he, and what he has done on our behalf, that constitutes the means of our salvation. That is what “faith in the Lord Jesus” means. In other words, it means that if he had not come there would be no salvation.

But according to the other teaching, God would still forgive, and all the Lord Jesus does is to tell us that God forgives. The New Testament asserts that “In Christ we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins”. Faith in the Lord Jesus means, then, that I cast my entire hope upon him and what he has done on my behalf; it means that I have no confidence in my good deeds, nor in those of anyone else; that I realize that I am a hopeless and a lost sinner, and that I am saved only because of “Jesus blood and righteousness”. A hymn by Count Zinzendorf, translated from the German by John Wesley, states it perfectly—

Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness

My beauty are, my glorious dress;

Midst flaming worlds in these arrayed,

With joy shall I lift up my head.

Observe that St. Paul says “faith in the Lord Jesus.” He has been referring to him as “Christ Jesus”, as “Jesus Christ”, as “the Lord Jesus Christ” and so on; but here he deliberately says “faith in the Lord Jesus.”

Lord and Jesus are the two extremes which include everything. The Christian’s Savior is the Lord of glory, the eternal Son of God; yet Jesus also. This Lord is the Babe in a manger in his utter helplessness, the One who came down so low, the One who went to the Cross, the One who was buried, the One who rose again.

A Christian is one who believes that Jesus of Nazareth is the eternal Son of God. A Christian believes in the Incarnation, in the Virgin Birth, and the miracle involved in that Birth; he ascribes to him no lesser term than this—The Lord! Elsewhere we find the Apostle referring to him as “our great God and Savior.” Of course, if a person believes this miracle he will have no difficulty in believing in the rest of Jesus” miracles. If the miracle of the Virgin Birth is true, every other miracle is a piece of cake.

Finally, we must emphasize that you cannot separate the Lord Jesus. If this is true a man cannot accept him as Savior only, and then perhaps later decide to accept him as Lord, for he is always the Lord. The One who died for our sins is the Lord. If I say that I need a Savior it is because I need a Savior from sin, including deliverance from the power of sin and everything connected with sin. We believe in one indivisible Person. In him there are two natures in one Person; and when we believe in him we believe in him as the Lord of glory and the Lord of our life.

II. Love Unto All the Saints

The one follows the other as the night the day. The Apostle Peter, having reminded the people to whom he was writing his First Epistle that they had purified their souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, proceeds immediately to say: “See that you love one another with a pure heart fervently” (1:22). Because of sin we all hate one another, as the Apostle reminds us. “For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another.” (Titus 3:3) But Paul has heard that the Christians in Ephesus love all Christians; so he knows that something must have happened to them.

One who is not a Christian, has no interest in Christian people. He generally dislikes them because he finds them to be dull and uninteresting, and “narrow-minded,” and he certainly would not choose to spend hours in the presence of such people. He feels that there is no affinity, no community of interest. It follows therefore that when it can be said of a man that he loves Christians, you can be sure that the man has been given a new nature. “Birds of a feather flock together.” “Blood is thicker than water.” We are ready to forgive things in people related to us which we would not forgive in others, because we belong together and there is a community of interest. So when we find ourselves beginning to love Christian people, we have a proof that we must be one of them.

I have sometimes thanked God for this test when I have been assaulted by Satan, when he seemed to have pressed me hard by his accusations and driven me almost into a corner. At such times I have been glad to be able to fall back on this argument and say: “Well, whatever I am, I would rather spend my time in the company of the humblest Christian than with the greatest in the world who is not a Christian.” The devil has no answer to this. Or to state the matter in a different way; it is a proof that the Holy Spirit is in us. We cannot love truly unless the Holy Spirit is within us. It is he who produces love, and especially love of other Christians. The Apostle has been referring to the Holy Spirit as a “seal” and an “earnest” and as the One who dwells within us; and love of other Christians is a proof of it.

Note that the Apostle says that he has heard of their “love unto all the saints”. They not only love those whom they happen to like; but all the saints. Not only the smart ones, not only the pleasant ones, not only those who belong to a particular social group— no, all the saints. When a Christian meets a person for the first time he does not look at his clothing, he does not look at his general external appearance. He does not ask himself, Where has he come from, what school has he attended, what is his bank balance? He is interested in one thing only. Is he a child of God, is he my brother in Christ?

A good story is told in connection with Philip Henry, the father of Matthew Henry the Commentator. He and a certain young lady had fallen in love with each other. She belonged to a “higher” circle of society than he did, but the young lady had become a Christian, and therefore social standing no longer counted with her or constituted any kind of obstacle to their marriage. Her parents, however, were not pleased, and said, “This man Philip Henry, where has he come from?” to which she gave the immortal reply, “I don’t know where he has come from, but I know where he is going.”

We love the saints because we know where they are going. We are marching together to Zion. We belong to the same Father, to the same family; we are going to the same home and we know it. Some of us are very difficult, and very trying, and very hard to get along with; but, thank God, we are traveling together towards our heavenly home; and we know that the day will come when all our faults and blemishes will disappear and we shall all be perfected together, enjoying the same glorious eternity.