Although we should, perhaps, let the latter part of what we have written overlap into this second phase, we feel that the full blaze of the noon-time of the significance of Ephesus is to be seen in the Letter to which its name was attached. Paul was then in prison in Rome. In the sovereignty of God he had been cut off from actual traveling among the churches in person, and from all those activities which, although ever vital and important, must now give place to a new phase.
The Lord who ruled all things in the life of His servant, acting on the principle of comparative values, judged that the greatest purpose would be served by shutting His servant away in seclusion, at least for a time. So, to the prison in Rome he went, despite every evil effort to end his life on the way. How fully and perfectly the wisdom of God has been vindicated!
Since "the heavenly vision" broke upon him on the road to Damascus, over a period of approximately twenty-eight to thirty years, that vision had been steadily and unceasingly growing in meaning and significance. It had been added to by special visions and revelations of the Lord (2 Corinthians 12:1), in meditation, thought, and experience; in many long journeys on foot, and by sea. Much as he had given in letters, there remained a vast residue stored up in his heart, which demanded quiet detachment and freedom from administrative responsibilities for its release. So, the Lord planned it. What a mighty debt the Church universal through all the subsequent centuries owes to that act of Divine wisdom and sovereignty!
We do not hesitate to say that the greatest document ever penned and given to men is what is called "The Letter to the Ephesians". (We know the contention that it was an encyclical, and that 'Ephesus' was filled into a vacant space left for various other places, and we have no quarrel with that conclusion.) For Ephesus it certainly was intended and that fact carries with it certain implications.
Firstly. It is a well-attested fact, known to all preachers and teachers who fulfill their ministry in the Spirit, that the measure of liberty and the degree of utterance depend upon the capacity of the recipients. Jesus enunciated this fact when He said: "I have many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now" (John 16:12), and it is stated categorically in Hebrews 5:11. The limit is imposed by the immaturity, and arrested growth, or lack of spiritual life in the hearers. A servant of the Lord, speaking in the Spirit, will know when he can go no further, and to try to go on will result in loss of unction and help. It is as though the Spirit said, 'That is as far as I can go with these people, they cannot take any more.' On the other hand, what a thing it is when there is no such restraint, and it is possible to give all that you have because the people are just drawing it out and are unwearied!
This is evidently how it was with those to whom this Letter was written. The Apostle was able to pour out the pent-up stores of heavenly riches. His only handicap was language, Superlative is heaped upon superlative. He beggers language and sometimes ruins grammar in his effort to free himself of his burden. There is nothing so profound; nothing so glorious; and nothing so significant for the Church as is here contained - or released!
Those believers must have been in a healthy spiritual state to receive all that. Paul must have felt how free that state made him, to so open the 'heavenlies' - a word so characteristic of the Letter.
A company of Christians will get what they are ready for. The Lord has vast stores and He is only straitened in us. One of the saddest things said about Israel was: "He gave them their request, but sent leanness into their soul" (Psalm 106:15). An attitude and condition of heart will determine 'leanness' or plenty.
Secondly. It was not only the measure of what could be given, it was also the nature. Not in volume alone is value to be found. Volume could result in surfeit and oppression. Neither is it on the words or statements as such. The people to whom this letter was sent had not just developed an ability to take large assignments of wonderful ideas.
There was that in the ministry which corresponded to the phrase of the Psalmist - "Deep calleth unto deep." They had discernment born of hunger and necessity, and they detected that this was very life. Because of a condition it was life to them.
(continued with # 3)