Paul was in prison in Rome following his third missionary journey. During his extended ministry in Ephesus he came in contact with Philemon and his slave Onesimus from the nearby town of Colossae. Philemon became a Christian and began to host a church in his home. Onesimus later ran away and met Paul in Rome. Paul was grateful to hear news of the Ephesian church but convinced Onesimus to go back to his master. The news of the church impressed Paul of their faith in the Lord and their love for all the saints.
“Just have faith.” It is a common phrase, but it is empty and useless. What’s wrong with saying “just have faith”? This is faith but in a generic sense. People say “just have faith.” The problem with that is that faith is only as good as its object. Faith has to be in something or someone. Saying “faith” in a generic sense is no better than a hope or a wish at best and blind ignorance at worst. The phrase “faith in the Lord Jesus” is closely knit in Greek. The only truly valuable faith is faith in Jesus.
Faith was the first part of the report – the second marked Ephesus as a great church. What makes a church “good” or even “great”? There are many popular answers: good preaching, good music, maybe a good coffee bar and close to home. Certainly a good church has a good children’s ministry. These are all important but what makes a church good or great is the love the members have for one another.
Taken together, these two aspects mark the two dimensions of the Christian life. The vertical relationship to God is faith. The horizontal relationship is love for others. These are the same one Jesus described in the Great Commandment – love God and love others. Draw intersecting lines vertically and horizontally and you will see the cross. (See Matthew 22:35-40; Mark 12:28-34; and Luke 10:27a for the Great Commandment).
I get to think about Paul’s perspective a bit now. It is thrilling for a pastor to see signs of church members taking steps in faith. It is a blessing when the church grows more loving. When someone hears about our church, this is the report I hope they hear.