The Letter to the Ephesians – 04 (“The Resources of God’s Elect: Paul’s Prayer”)
(Message by Kobus van der Walt, Three Rivers Baptist Church – 06 March 2016 – Please visit our Website: http://3riversbaptist.co.za)
Eph.1:15-23 ~ “For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, 16I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20that he worked 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 one to come. 22And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”
In vv.3-14 Paul sets forth that believers have unlimited access to amazing blessings in Jesus Christ, blessings that amount to our personal inheritance of all that belongs to Him. In the remainder of the chapter Paul portrays that the believers to whom he writes will come to fully understand and appreciate those blessings. In this prayer he focuses on believers’ comprehension of their resources in their Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. In vv.15-16 he praises them, and in vv.17-23 he makes petitions to God for them.
We know that many necessary and worthwhile endeavours compete for our time and energy as Christians. There is no doubt that prayer is one of the most important, if not the most important of things that should engage our attention. It was once said that, “prayer nurtures the soul, refines the character, promotes spiritual growth, and gives fortitude for victorious Christian living. We also know that a person’s prayers are the mirror of his inner life. They reflect the depth of his emotions, the tenderness of his affection, the breadth of his sympathies, and the sincerity of his devotion. Moreover, a person’s prayers are an index to his sense of values. They reveal the things he considers to be really important.”
In our text that we are studying tonight, Paul impresses on the Ephesians that from the very moment of their conversion he has been ceaselessly praying for them. He tells us exactly what he has been saying in his prayers and this prayer is by no means an ordinary one, for it is full of profound spiritual truth. In fact, this passage is so full of instruction that it is difficult to know where the prayer ends and where it begins.
Reading Paul’s prayer, we see that he starts with the word “therefore” (ESV – “for this reason”). We must remember that whenever we see this word “therefore”, we must ask ourselves, “wherefore” and the answer will always lie in the previous passage. So, if Paul starts the passage with the word “therefore” and we ask the question “wherefore”, the answer lies in the previous passage. We know that election and salvation is at the forefront and therefore, as a result of the Ephesian’s election and salvation, Paul is praying for them.
- PAUL’S INTERCESSION (vv.15-16):
In vv.2-14 Paul starts his letter with a benediction (Afr.: seënbede), but now he continues with a great intercessory prayer (vv.15-23) for the Ephesians.
He praises the Lord for the Ephesians’ faith (v.15) with the emphasis on true saving belief. The question is, how did Paul know that they had become real Christians? We find a twofold answer in v.15 on this question:
- Faith in the Lord Jesus (v.15b): Paul mentions the fact that he has heard of their saving faith, in other words, they must have been testifying of their faith in Christ. In Rom.10:9 it is written ~ “…because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” The mere fact that they testified about their faith in Christ, was a proof to Paul that they were indeed true believers. For the Ephesians, Jesus was indeed Lord, they were able to express this, because they possessed the Holy Spirit ~ “Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor.12:3).
- Their love toward all the saints (v.15c-16): Paul knew that these brothers were indeed true Christians, because there were testimonies of their love toward all the saints, thus Paul cannot but praise the Lord for their practical faith. What is also important to note, is the fact that Paul commended them for their love towards, not only their immediate fellowship, but for their love to Christians outside their Church. This is such an important lesson to us, because many Christians tend to shy away from Christians that are not known to them, or brothers and sisters who fall short of what their Christians standards should be.
These Ephesians had this love in their hearts through the work of the Holy Spirit ~ “…and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom.5:5).
Our love should not be limited to those of our own area of fellowship, but should flow out to all who have been cleansed by the blood of Christ, to all the households of faith.
The faith and love of the believers impelled Paul to praise the Lord for them and to pray for them unceasingly. What a privilege it is to have Paul’s prayer available to us today and to learn so much from it.
To begin with, Paul prays that God will allow His Church to understand four things about Himself:
- Concerning His Person (v.17): In v.17 Paul prays that the Ephesians will grow in their knowledge of God. It is essential that we should take note of how and to whom this prayer is addressed. It is designated as “…that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory….” Paul’s approach to God had nothing of thoughtless and irreverent familiarity about it. And we would do well to imitate him in this respect. When we go to God in prayer, there ought to be profound reverence, a sense of deep and inexpressible wonder.
Paul speaks of the Father of glory. If we keep Ex.33:17-34:7 in mind where Moses asked to see God’s glory and God revealed Himself to Moses, then Paul’s use of this expression in his prayer, refers to God who reveals Himself to us. That is exactly Paul’s longing, that God will reveal Himself to the Ephesians (and to us). The intent of Paul’s prayer is clear: that the people will receive revelation to know what they have in Christ and that is why he continues in his prayer in v.17 and asks that God ~ “…may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him.” Without the revelation and wisdom that only the Holy Spirit can give, we will not gain any knowledge of God, if our hearts and minds are not illuminated by the Spirit ~ “But, as it is written, ‘ What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him’ – these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God” (1 Cor.2:9-11). This is why Paul starts his prayer by acknowledging the role of the Holy Spirit and asking Him to grant the Ephesians wisdom and revelation of the knowledge of God.
There are many religious people who believe they are Christians and yet do not know Christ. Jesus warns in Matt.7:22-23 ~ “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name? ’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” So the question is: Do we really know Christ? Are we in Him? Are we His adopted sons? Even more important: Does He know us ~ “But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God” (Gal.4:9)? In the Ephesians’ case, they did know Christ, but Paul prays that they may know Him even better. The regular Greek word for personal knowing is γνωσις (gnosis), but Paul uses a much stronger word here – he adds the preposition “epi” to “gnosis”, namely ἐπίγνωσις (epignosis) (ê-piegha-nossies), which means a real, deep, full knowledge, or thorough knowledge – we find the same word in 1 Cor.13:12 ~ “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” – “fully known.” We all need a better, deeper, fuller knowledge of Christ – may the words of Phil.3:10 be true of all of us ~ “…that I may know him…”
- Concerning His Promise (v.18): In v.18 (“having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints”) Paul uses two significant words here together. The one is “hope” and the other “call”. In the Bible, the word “hope” is usually used to explain the “last things”. By combining “hope” with “call”, Paul is saying that the calling of God, which Paul elaborated on in the first half of this chapter, is not without deeper meaning, no He called us to something and for something.
God has called us “to belong to Jesus Christ”. He has called us “to be saints” and we were called “to be holy”, because He is holy. All this and even more, was in God’s mind when He called us. He called us to Christ and holiness, to freedom and peace, to suffering and glory. More simply, it was a call to an altogether new life that will, one day, result in an everlasting life in the presence of God – or glorious inheritance, and this is the hope to which we were called. Paul prays that the Ephesians and our eyes will be opened to know this.
- Concerning His Power (vv.19-20a): We read in vv.19-20a the following ~ “…and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead.” If God’s call looks back to the beginning of our salvation, and God’s inheritance looks to the end, then surely God’s power can fulfil the expectation which belongs to His call and bring us safely to the riches of the glory of the final inheritance He will give us in heaven.
We will therefore live safely between the call of God, which is past, and the riches of our inheritance, which (in its fullness) is still in the future. We live in the here and the now, and the question for the present is how we are to live as God’s children. How can we live as citizens of heaven in a world whose citizens do not acknowledge God’s sovereignty?
Paul’s answer is to know God’s power by experience. It is that exact power… ~ “…that (God) worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead.”
It is exactly the same power that Jesus is talking about in John 10:29 ~ “My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” When we are saved by God’s almighty power, He will carry us safely through this earthly life, until the end and nothing and no-one will or can rob us from our eternal inheritance!
We must realise that Paul did not pray for power to be given to the Ephesian believers. He first of all prayed that they be given a Divine awareness of the power they possessed in Christ. Later in the letter we will see that he admonishes them to employ that power in faithful living for their Lord.
We need not pray for power to evangelise. Believers already have that power. According to Rom.1:16, the Gospel itself “…is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…” In fact, one of the names of the Holy Spirit is, “The Power of the Highest” ~ “And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you…” (Luke 1:35). The Spirit is God’s power, the greatest power there is. God’s power, the Holy Spirit, can accomplish things through us that we cannot do ourselves. The same Greek word for power is the word from which we derive dynamite. [Greek: δύναμις (dynamis)]. All we have to do when, for example we evangelise, is to be obedient to our calling (Matt.28:19-20 ~ “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age”).
In the beginning we saw that Paul prayed that God will allow His Church to understand four things about Himself – the first is concerning God’s position; the second concerning His Person; the third concerning His power. The fourth is concerning Christ’s position.
- Concerning His Position (vv.20b-23):
– Christ’s position in heaven (1:20b–21): To further emphasise the magnitude of God’s power, Paul now (in vv.20b-21) describes the greatest example of Divine power the world has ever seen, namely, the resurrection of Christ; His ascension and His enthronement at God’s right hand.
Christ, now, occupies the exalted place at the right hand of the Father Himself. God the Father triumphed over every form of opposition and therefore Christ’s resurrection and glorification were a shattering defeat to Satan and his hosts, and a glorious spectacle of victorious power.
This unmatched power of God in action, serves as a marvellous encouragement and “belief-booster” to us, because we now know that the same power will one day raise us up from the grave and will lift us to glory!
Whenever we as children of God, are in doubt whether He can do anything through us, or can even bring us eventually into His presence, we must just remind ourselves of Christ’s position and that He was raised from the dead.
Our Lord not only is above, but far above, everything and everyone else. He is above Satan and above Satan’s world system. He is above all the holy angels and the fallen angels, above saved people and unsaved people, for all eternity.
If our Lord is in control; if He is above all, listen to what David says of us, the Lord’s children ~ “Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honour. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas” (Ps.8:5-8).
With this in mind, let’s look at the next point in vv.22-23.
– Christ’s position on earth (1:22–23): Most importantly, God gave Jesus Christ as Head of the Church ~ “And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (vv.22-23). The usage of the word “gave” (“…gave Him as head…”). in v.22 is very important, because that says that Christ was a gift to the Church. This is an astounding statement, and a concept that staggers the imagination. This exalted, sovereign Christ, is a gracious gift of God to His redeemed people – what a stupendous Gift!
Christ was therefore given to the Church as “head over all things” – He was therefore appointed as Head of the Church, but also given as sovereign Christ to the Church for the benefit of the Church.
Three very important things are emphasised in the figure of Christ’s Headship over the Church:
– He has supreme authority over the Church – He guides, governs, and controls it, to Him the Church is wholly responsible.
– Second, a vital union exists between Christ and His Church, a union as close and real as that of head and body. The relationship of the two is therefore intimate, tender and indissoluble.
– Third, the Church is completely dependent upon Christ. From Him it derives its life, its power, and all else required for its existence.
Two profound statements are made about the Church in v.23:
– First, it is said to be “his (Christ’s) body”. Together, the members and Christ constitute one organism, each, in a sense, being incomplete without the other. Christ, as their Head, is the Source of their life and power; and they, as His body, are the means by which He carries out His work in the world
– Second, the Church is said to be “the fullness of him who fills all in all.” This means that the Church as Christ’s Body, receives all that it requires for the realisation of its calling and the accomplishment of its mission.
The practical lessons to be gained from a study of these verses are many. Let me mention two in conclusion:
- Firstly the study of this passage calls for a personal appropriation of the spiritual realities it unfolds. The hope, the inheritance and the power God gives must be more than mere facts stored away in our minds. They must be experienced in such a way that we live in their strength everyday.
- Secondly, the crowning truth of this passage concerns the headship of Christ over the Church. In a practical way this means that every Church is subject to Christ’s authority and every action of the Church should therefore be an expression of His will. Every worship service should be hallowed by a sense of Christ’s glorious presence, and every response of our hearts should be marked by submission to His will, dedication to His purposes, and praise of His grace and glory.