Faith of a mustard seed

Barbara A. Woods Washington, M. Div.

Barbara A. Woods Washington, M. Div.

“And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church. And when they came to him, he said to them: “You yourselves know how I lived among you all the time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which befell me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance to God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Acts 20:17-21). Faith’ in the Acts of The Apostles.

Pauline scholars have spent painstaking time in paralleling this Acts account with Paul’s own personal references to his experiences in Ephesus; most notably his writing in First Corinthians of ‘the fight with beasts in Ephesus’. Filled with ‘spiritual foreboding’, Paul has stopped in Miletus deciding this time not to go into Ephesus, perceiving the delays that would occur for him there would disrupt his plans to get to Jerusalem. Notwithstanding this, he has business with the Ephesian Church and sends for the elders to come to him. In recounting to the elders his life’s journey among them, he speaks of their knowing how he has served the Lord with humility, tears and trials with a ‘testimony’ of repentance (to God) and faith (in our Lord Jesus Christ).

To look at Paul’s testimony it begins with humility ‘tapeinophros’ (I know, right). In the Greek world, humility is left for the poor and the slave. It is ‘small’; ‘insignificant’; lowly’; ‘servile’; where the state of humiliation is forced. In Judaism, the operative becomes ‘who is the forc-er’! Paul understood that his chosen state of ‘lowliness’; the absence of arrogance is in direct relationship to God who brought the message of humility through the prophets.

And tears, ‘dakru’ is so rare in New Testament that a word study is literally void. But what a fine time to introduce the world religion Buddhism whose teachings are so little known in the Christian church. Of the ‘Four Noble Truths’ of this faith, the first is “The Noble Truth About Suffering: that all life is suffering— there are more tears in the world than water in the ocean.” (Talk about ‘faith of a mustard seed!) In this testimony of Paul’s, the tears come BEFORE the trials.

The trials, the trials, ‘peiras’ at it’s root, which in it’s earliest use had the sense ‘to attempt’; ‘to strive’; ‘to make an effort’; ‘to experience’. Then, when used in a hostile sense it takes on ‘to put to the test’; ‘to test whether a city can be taken’; ‘to try someone’;— most always of distrust. It is a precursor to ‘temptation’ and in fact, is the same root used in the Synoptic Gospels for most temptations of Jesus. Paul is now fully aware of the hostilities he faces in his church building mission.

One of the difficulties that I am faced with on Sunday morning has to do with the fact that far to often in my life now, I wake up on Sunday with a testimony in my heart, for I am, come forth, ‘a living testimony’. Far too many churches now have no room in their order for a testimony so I have to figure out what Church to attend where the humility, the tears, the trials, the testimony and faith can give way.

The message to the elders of Ephesus is a ‘benediction’ as he further says to them that “I know you will never see my face again”. It is a ‘passion narrative’, a ‘eulogy’ in his saying to them.

“I commit you to the Lord and to the word of Grace which is able to build up and grant the reward of inheritance to all who are sanctified.”
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