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Chris Appleby Ministries

Chris Appleby Ministries

 

A Prayer for Knowledge -                                 

by Rev Bill Stewart                                                   audio

 1. Paul gives thanks for God's grace in the life of the Ephesians (15-16)


Chris mentioned last week that the entire section from verses 3-14 was just one long sentence. Today's reading is just the same. Paul is still exploding with excitement about God's work. He's much too excited to bother with trivial things like punctuation! I'm sure we can all remember a time when we just couldn't wait to share some great news. Perhaps it was the news of being appointed to a new job? Or perhaps it was the news of good exam results? Or maybe it was the news that you are getting married? Or maybe it was the birth of a child or a grandchild? What is the news that Paul was so excited about in his letter to the Ephesians? His first words in this reading are:

15I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints,

Paul is excited because he has heard that the members of the church in Ephesus believe the good news about Jesus. And not only has he heard that they believe but he has also heard of the love they show towards other Christians which demonstrates that their faith is real. What does Paul do when he hears this news? He prays:

and for this reason 16I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.


Paul gives thanks to God "for this reason" – because in their faith and love Paul also sees evidence of God's work in their lives. He takes it for granted that their faith and their love would not have happened without God's intervention in their lives. This is how today's reading is linked to last week's reading. Paul sees in the Ephesian church an example of what he was talking about in last week's reading. God blessed us with every spiritual blessing:

  • God chose us before creation.
  • God predestined us to be adopted through Christ.
  • God gave us redemption – the forgiveness of sins – in Christ.
  • God lavished on us all wisdom and understanding.
  • God made known to us all the mystery of his will.
  • God sealed us with the seal of the Holy Spirit, guaranteeing our inheritance. (v. 3-14)

So Paul makes it his business to thank God for the faith and love of the Ephesians. And he does it every time he remembers them in his prayers.

When I was in my second year at theological college, Paul gave me this book for Christmas. Not Paul the apostle but a lecturer at the college who also happened to be named Paul. The subtitle of the book is: Priorities from Paul and his prayers. It is a collection of sermons by Don Carson, a well known teacher of the New Testament. Each sermon is on one of Paul's prayers in the New Testament. Don Carson believes that prayer is the most urgent need of the church today. But, he says, the prayers the church needs are prayers that share the priorities found in Paul's prayers. Carson points out that one of those priorities is clear from the first verse of today's reading. Paul prays about the sharing of the good news about Jesus. Paul wants the good news of Jesus to be shared with everyone, everywhere. So obviously Paul is excited when he hears that the church at Ephesus has heard the good news.

2. Paul prays that the Ephesians will come to know God better (17-19)

In verses 17-19 Paul prays that God's work in the lives of Christians at Ephesus will continue. Can we see another priority in Paul's prayer here? Paul's priority is that they will know God better. For me this raises a couple of questions. The first question for me is: HOW will the Ephesians come to know God better? Paul goes on to say:

17I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know…


Paul implies that real knowledge of God is impossible without God's Spirit revealing it to us. Did you notice that mixed metaphor Paul used in verse 18? He prays that "the eyes of your heart" will be "enlightened". In our language Paul might have prayed that God's Spirit will make their eyes wide open to see what God wants them see.

In verses 8-10 of chapter 1, Paul says: "With all wisdom and insight, God has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth". Paul tells the Ephesians that there are many things that it is important to know about God. But nothing is more important than knowing God's plan for the world in Christ.

My second question here is this: WHAT is it that they need to know about God? Paul prays that their the eyes of their heart will be enlightened "so that"

18 you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.

Paul's prayer is very specific. He prays to God for the gift of the Spirit. So that the Ephesians might know three truths:

  • (1) The "hope to which God has called you" (v. 18)
  • (2) The "riches of God's glorious inheritance" (v. 18)

What are "the riches of God's inheritance"? In verses 11-14 Paul had already shown that our "inheritance" and our "hope" are related:

  • (3) The "immeasurable greatness of God's power" (v. 19)

Paul doesn't actually tell us here what the first two truths mean. What is "the hope of your calling"? I expect Paul doesn't define them because he has already done this in last week's reading. He is talking about "spiritual blessings in Christ". We've cut this chapter in half in our sermon series. But Paul is assuming that his listeners have just heard about how God has "blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing" (v. 3). And about how "he chose us" (in v. 4); and that "he destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ" (in v. 5). This is the hope of our calling: to be blessed "in Christ".

What are "the riches of God's inheritance"? In verses 11-14 Paul had already shown that our "inheritance" and our "hope" are related:

11In Christ, we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12so that we, who first set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14 this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God's own people, to the praise of his glory.

So the church's inheritance is to be "redeemed". To be part of God's own people, living to God's praise and glory. What the Ephesians really need to know, Paul says, are the things he's just been talking about.

How is all this possible? Paul says only God's power can do it. Only God's power can fulfil the hope of God's call. Only God's power can bring the church safely to its inheritance. Does Paul have any doubt that God is able to do these things? It doesn't sound like it, does it? The third truth Paul wants them to know is "the immeasurable greatness of God's power" (v. 19).

3. Paul reviews God's most revealing displays of power (20-23)

What do you think of when you think about God's power? Perhaps like me you think of the power of God in creation? – God who made the furthest stars in the universe; God who made the tiniest subatomic particles. Paul chooses three events which he says best reveal God's power at work:

20God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. 22And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, 23which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

The three events which Paul sees as most clearly revealing the power of God are:

In Christ God has defeated death. In Christ God has defeated every power and authority in this age and the age to come. But what Paul says next is even more amazing. God did all this "for the church" (v. 22). Everything God has done in Christ has been "for the church". Or all Paul said earlier in v. 19: "for us who believe". All this is just amazing isn't it? Isn't it just incredible! But Paul has one more amazing revelation to share. At the beginning of Ephesians chapter 1, those who believe, are described as "in Christ". In fact, verses 3-22 are two very long sentences about what it means to be "in Christ". But Paul's final words here are:

(1) Jesus "raised from the dead" (v. 20)


23which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. (vv. 22-23)

(2) Jesus seated "far above all rule" (v. 21)


"Of course, in one sense I'm still here not there. But because God views me as 'in Christ', and Christ is seated with his Father in the heavenlies, therefore God views me as there in principle. That is my destination; that is where I properly belong, because of God's great love for me". (Carson, p.179)

(3) Jesus made "head over all things" (v. 22)


In Christ God has defeated death. In Christ God has defeated every power and authority in this age and the age to come. But what Paul says next is even more amazing. God did all this "for the church" (v. 22). Everything God has done in Christ has been "for the church". Or all Paul said earlier in v. 19: "for us who believe". All this is just amazing isn't it? Isn't it just incredible! But Paul has one more amazing revelation to share. At the beginning of Ephesians chapter 1, those who believe, are described as "in Christ". In fact, verses 3-22 are two very long sentences about what it means to be "in Christ". But Paul's final words here are:

God has made Christ the head over all things for the church,

23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. (vv. 22-23)

I want to share with you three small sections from Don Carson's book on "Priorities from Paul and his prayers". I'm confident that at least one of them will speak to each of us. Paul has spoken about our spiritual blessings in Christ "in the heavenly places" (v. 3). Don Carson makes this comment:

"Of course, in one sense I'm still here not there. But because God views me as 'in Christ', and Christ is seated with his Father in the heavenlies, therefore God views me as there in principle. That is my destination; that is where I properly belong, because of God's great love for me". (Carson, p.179)

Carson goes on to say:

"Not a drop of rain can fall outside the orb of Jesus' sovereignty. All our days – our health, our illnesses, our joys, our victories, our tears, our prayers, and the answers to our prayers – fall within the sweep of one who wears a human face, a thorn-shadowed face. All of God's sovereignty is mediated through one who was crucified on my behalf". (Carson, pp. 179-180)

Finally, Carson draws our attention to the question that is implied in every word Paul has written in chapter 1 of Ephesians: "Do you see what I see?"

"God's valuation of his people is established by his valuation of Christ. We need to know who we are, as God sees us. Paul wants us to appreciate the value that God puts on us, not because we are intrinsically worthy but because we have been identified with Christ." (Carson, p.176)

There is nothing I could add to these comments that wouldn't take away from them. Let me just conclude by reading Ephesians 1, verse 15-23, to you again, but this time from The Message translation which seems to me not just to get Paul's point but to capture his passion. You might like to close your eyes as you listen.

15That's why, when I heard of the solid trust you have in the Master Jesus and your outpouring of love to all the Christians, 16I couldn't stop thanking God for you – every time I prayed, I'd think of you and give thanks. 17But I do more than thank. I ask – ask the God of our Master, Jesus Christ, the God of glory – to make you intelligent and discerning in knowing him personally, 18your eyes focused and clear, so that you can see exactly what it is he is calling you to do, grasp the immensity of this glorious way of life he has for Christians, 19oh, the utter extravagance of his work in us who trust him – endless energy, boundless strength!

20All this energy issues from Christ: God raised him from death and set him on a throne in deep heaven, 21in charge of running the universe, everything from galaxies to governments, no name and no power exempt from his rule. And not just for the time being, but forever. 22He is in charge of it all, has the final word on everything. At the center of all this, Christ rules the church. 23The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church. The church is Christ's body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence.

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