Paul's Prayer for his Converts audio
Have you noticed how the more you want something the more likely you are to pray for it? And to pray for it consistently. That means if you want to know what someone is really passionate about see what they pray for regularly.
Well Paul is about to let us in on the great desire of his heart. He's about to tell us what it is he prays for the church. He begins, "For this reason ..." Then he stops. He'll continue his prayer in v14, but first he wants to reinforce what he's been saying. He wants to make sure that they understand the significance of 'this reason'. Remember last week we read "you were [once] without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ." Once there were two nations: Jews and Gentiles, separated by a dividing wall of hostility. But now an amazing thing has happened. Christ has broken down that wall. Christ "has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace." (Eph 2:12-13 NRSV) And Paul has been given the ministry of the gospel to bring this change to fruition.
So he begins to pray for them. But then he stops because he's so excited by the thought of this new humanity that he wants to make sure that they understand how much God has done for them. He wants them to see just how important this new sense of unity is to the proclamation of the gospel. He wants them to fully appreciate the privilege of being given the revelation of the mystery of the gospel.
The revelation of the mystery of the gospel
He says "surely you have already heard of the commission of God's grace that was given me for you, 3and how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I wrote above in a few words." Do you remember how Paul was converted on the road to Damascus? And how Jesus spoke to him and told him he was to take the gospel to the Gentiles? And now here he is explaining the mystery of the gospel, the mystery of Christ, to these people in Ephesus.
So what's so mysterious about it? Well, to our minds a mystery is something that needs to be unravelled by a detective, to solve a crime. But in Paul's day the term was used of the inner workings, the inner truths, of a religion, that were revealed only to the initiated. So they were truths that some people knew about and so could reveal to others. Here, though, the mystery was known only to God. Not even the angels in heaven knew about it until it was revealed through the apostles and the prophets. But now, at last, the mystery has been revealed. In fact Paul himself has been instrumental in revealing it to all peoples. You could liken this to the way scientists have been working to unravel the secret of DNA, so they can understand more of the mystery of life. The more they unravel, the more the mystery is revealed.
So what's the content of this mystery? (v6): That the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel of the same promise, (the promise to Abraham); that they're fellow members of the same body (the body of Christ); and that they're fellow sharers in the promise. What promise? The promise of eternal life, of the Holy Spirit's indwelling, of a place in God's kingdom, etc. And this shared privilege is at the same time "in Christ" and "through the gospel." In other words, it comes about as the Gentiles are incorporated into Christ and it's brought about by the preaching of the gospel (v6).
So he goes on to talk about the grace of God given to him:
To reveal that mystery to the nations
In fact Paul hints at it in v2. The word translated commission there is the term stewardship. That is, he's been made a steward, a caretaker, of the gospel, of the grace of God. The result of the revelation of God's grace is that he's given the responsibility of telling others about it. He says in v7: "Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God's grace that was given me by the working of his power. 8Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ." This is a great privilege he's been given! He says "I was the least of all God's people. But look what's happened to me. In God's grace I've been allowed to share the gospel with the Gentiles." "I've become the instrument by which this mystery has now been revealed to all peoples." Again, he points us to this mystery: (v10) "that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places." Here we come to one of the most amazing statements about the Church that you'll find.
The Church as the agent of revelation of this mystery
Notice how he expands here on what he said in v6. In v6 it was simply that the Gentiles are co-heirs, etc., with the Jews. But now what he's saying is that this bringing together of opposites is so we can proclaim the gospel. The Church is actually the means by which the wisdom of God is made known to the rest of creation. And not just our part of creation: it even includes the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places!
Have you ever thought about that? Have you ever thought about the fact that we're brought together into a Church in order to make known the wisdom of God in its rich variety. If you think about our Mission statement it reflects this, I hope: To Speak the Gospel, to Teach the Bible and to Build community that reflects God's love.
We're here to continue Paul's ministry of sharing the grace of God with people, of telling them about what Jesus has done for us. We're here to teach people what God has revealed about himself in the Bible. We run various programs that help us do that. But can I suggest that the third element of that mission plan is the central one as far as Ephesians is concerned. It's as we build community that reflects God's love that we begin to demonstrate the glory of God to the world. It's as we build a community built around the unity that God gives us in Christ that the wisdom of God in its rich variety begins to be seen by others. So how can God's wisdom be seen in our life together?
Well think about the plan of God that we read about in chapter 1. God's plan was to restore this broken world to the way it was when he first made it. His plan was to create a people who'd worship him and obey him the way Adam and Eve were meant to; who'd love and care for one another the way they did before the fall, before their sinfulness made them begin to blame one another and fear one another and try to control one another.
So how are we going to show to the world how God's plan is working? How will we demonstrate that his plan, to restore the world to what it was meant to be, is starting to work?
The way we'll do that is by demonstrating the unity we have in Christ; by showing how the relationships we have with one another have been changed, cleaned up, straightened out, by the work of the Holy Spirit within us.
That'll require some doing won't it? It'll require good grace and lots of forgiveness and understanding on our part as we relate to one another, as we bear with one another in our weakness. In a multicultural setting like ours it'll mean dealing with people of other cultures with love and understanding, with tolerance for our differences. In some instances it may require an enormous amount of effort as we seek to cross the cultural barriers, as we ring people from the other parts of the congregation to invite them to take part in some of our activities perhaps or as we take part in their activities. It might even require us to take risks as we try things we're uncomfortable with.
But remember it's by God's grace that we are who we are. And so we can turn to God as Paul does here to ask for the power to do this.
A Prayer for Power
"For this reason", says Paul, "I bow my knees before the Father, 15from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name." Now it's interesting: the usual position for Jewish prayer was standing with the hands upraised. But here, Paul falls on his knees in prayer. He's so earnest in this prayer that he falls on his knees before God. And what is it that drives him to his knees? I think the answer is twofold. First this is such an important issue for the Church. He's spoken of this one issue all the way through the letter so far. He'll say more about it in the next chapter. This issue of unity in the church is of primary importance. Christ commanded it, he prayed for it and he died for it. But, secondly, Paul realises how difficult a thing it is to achieve. I mean we don't have to look too hard at the worldwide Christian Church today to see how difficult it is. How many different denominations are there? How many independent churches? There are thousands! Even within the Anglican Church we've seen over the last few years just how divided we are over a number of issues, moral, theological and sociological. And at the local level, just think how easily our cultural differences could divert us from unity.
Paul no doubt realises that humanly speaking this is an impossible goal to aim for. And so he falls to his knees in prayer to the Father from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. If there's to be any hope for the Church, it's this: that we'll become more like our Father. That we'll grow closer to him. It's as though the family of God is like a cone, with the Father at the tip of the cone. So the closer we grow to the Father, the closer we're brought to each other.
And notice what he prays for?
The first thing he prays for is that they might be strengthened in their inner being with power through his Spirit, according to the riches of his glory. The Holy Spirit brings us the same power that God used to raise Jesus from the dead. This is life-giving power. It's the power we need to revive our hearts, to make them more like Jesus.
A foundation and experience of love
He prays that Christ may dwell in their hearts through faith as they're rooted and grounded in love. The key to unity is love, especially the love of God. As we saw two weeks ago, God loved us even when we were dead in our rebellion against him.
He wants them to be able to comprehend the vast dimensions of Christ's love. In fact more than just comprehend it. He says he wants them to know it, even though it surpasses knowledge. This is an experiential knowledge he's talking about. He wants us to know God's love from experience. He wants us to experience the fullness of God, he says. It's a bit like discovering that your wife or your husband loves you. My wife could have told me she loved me every day, and I would have believed her, because she's a trustworthy sort of person. But it was only when she held me in her arms and kissed me with the passion that comes from that sort of love that I really knew it was true. So too with our children. We can tell them we love them, but they really come to know it as their experience confirms what we say. Think about the way teenagers push the boundaries with their parents. How many times have teenager and parent ended up in a screaming match, with the teenager telling the parent exactly what they think of them, using all sorts of crude language. And what do they discover later, as they think back on what they said, as they maybe feel guilt and shame for the way they spoke? Well, hopefully they discover that their parents haven't disowned them, that they still love them for who they are. And so their understanding of being loved grows.
Well, that's what Paul prays for us. That we'll experience what it feels like to be fully accepted by Jesus Christ. That we'll experience this love that defies definition. But again, notice what he says in v18: "that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints." The individual Christian can certainly know something of the love of God, but it needs the whole people of God to comprehend the whole love of God. We find this particularly as we experience the acceptance and forgiveness within the body that reflects what we receive from God.
The glory of God.
He finishes his prayer with a doxology, a hymn of praise, that at the same time gives the grounds for expecting his prayer to be answered and the motivation for us to work towards allowing it to happen in our own lives. He says "Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine." What sort of power do you think is necessary for wilful human beings to be united as a Church? How about wilful human beings from totally different cultures? It'd take enormous power wouldn't it? Almost too much for us to even think of asking for it. No, he says, the sort of power you're talking about is already at work within us. And this power, already at work within us, is able to accomplish far more than we could even imagine. This power is greater than that of an atomic bomb. Greater than a neutron bomb. All we need, Jesus said, is faith the size of a mustard seed, and we could move mountains.
And, finally, the motivation for all this? The motivation for us to be united as a Church? God's Glory! He says "to him be glory (where?) in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen." What we're aiming for as a Church is that God would be glorified through us. And how will that come about? As we work towards unity. As we work at understanding one another. As we seek reconciliation with one another. As we forgive each other just as Christ forgave us. Then the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places will see God's eternal wisdom, his eternal plan, coming to fruition.