If Paul’s warnings to the Ephesian elders fill us with disquiet (can we really be distracted from the path of truth so easily?), it is also worth noting that Paul speaks with confidence to these men, saying, ‘I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.’ (Acts 20:32) We do well take the warnings of Scripture seriously – that’s what they are there for, surely? – but we need not live cowed lives, fearful of everything, including our ‘accidental’ falling away from God.
Paul’s warnings are always balanced with hope and grace. Here, he commits or commends the leaders of the Ephesian church to God and to the word of His grace. Like the writer to the Hebrews (who says, ‘we are convinced of better things in your case’ Heb 6:9), he writes with assurance (being confident that God who started His work in the Philippians will bring it to completion, for example – Phil 1:6). He says to Timothy, ‘Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus’ (1 Tim 3:13), and because we are saved by grace through faith (Eph 2:8-9), we can have hope, even in the darkest of circumstances. ‘He gives us more grace,’ James reminds us (James 4:6); we are never left to keep ourselves, but can always be confident that God ‘is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy.’ (Jude 1:24)