A Prayer for Understanding
Topic: Pauline Epistles Passage: Ephesians 1:15–23
15 For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that 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, 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, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far 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. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
William Randolph Hearst was an American newspaper publisher who built the nation’s largest newspaper chain during the late-19th and early-20th centuries. His business ventures earned him hundreds of millions of dollars during this lifetime. It was said that he was so wealthy that even he was unaware of how much he actually possessed.
Hearst invested a large part of his fortune purchasing art treasures from around the world. One day he found a description of some valuable items that he felt he simply must add to his collection, so he immediately dispatched a trusted employee to Europe to search for them. After months of travel and investigation, the agent reported that he had finally found the location of the items. They were where they had been for years...stored in the Hearst warehouse. Mr. Hearst had been frantically searching for treasures that he already owned! Had he bothered to read the catalogue of his own possessions, he could have saved himself a great deal of time and trouble.
Too many Christians have never bothered to discover the vast “spiritual blessings” that have been put to their account as result of their relationship with Jesus Christ. From the very beginning of Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians, the apostle wanted his readers to be aware of the great wealth that they already possessed “in Christ.” In fact, Paul said that they had been “blessed...(by God) with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” One doesn’t get any richer than that.
Most of us here this morning have spent the past three Sundays considering a number of those “spiritual blessings” as they are delineated in Ephesians 1. Allow me to refresh our memories before we look at today’s passage.
- Followers of Jesus Christ are said to have been “chosen” “in (Christ) before the foundation of the world...(to be) holy and blameless before him.”
- What’s more, they have been “predestined” to be “adopted as sons” according to God’s predetermined purpose.
- Furthermore, Christians have been “redeemed” through the sacrifice of Christ and have received “forgiveness of sins.”
- In addition, they have both become “an inheritance” of God, as well as having received an “inheritance” from God. Or, as Paul expresses it elsewhere, we have become “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17).
- And as if that were not enough, they have been “sealed with the... Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee” that God has delivered on every promise He has made. God Himself guarantees that what is now seen only with the eyes of faith will one day be possessed fully by all those who are His children.
So concerned was Paul that the recipients of this letter—including all who would subsequently read and study it—understood these facts pertaining to salvation that he launches into a prayer on their behalf. We read that prayer a few moments ago, so let’s take a more in-depth look at its content this morning.
While it is a prayer for understanding, it may be sub-divided under three headings. In verses 15 and 16, Paul begins by expressing thanksgiving for the faith and love that these Ephesian believers possessed. Then in verses 17 through 19, he intercedes on their behalf, praying that they would come to a mature knowledge of God and all that He has provided for them “in Christ.” Finally, he concludes in verses 20 through 23 with a confession of praise extolling the work of God in providing the “spiritual blessings” that have become theirs.
We’ll begin by looking at verses 15 and 16, where we see his...
Thanksgiving for the faith and love of his fellow-believers (verses 15-16)
Paul’s prayer builds upon the lengthy sentence of verses 3 through 14 and recalls the “spiritual blessings” that have been inherited by every blood-bought child of God. Because the “saints” have been “blessed,” God is to be “praised.” So he begins, “For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.”
Paul had a pastor’s heart, and it was his ambition to see that everyone under his pastoral care would grow to maturity and reach their full potential “in Christ.” Those of us who are familiar with Paul’s writings may immediately spot two-thirds of the familiar trilogy—“faith,” “hope,” and “love”—to which he refers so often, most notably in 1 Corinthians 13:13) and 1 Thessalonians 1:3) but in several other places as well. Here in these opening verses we see “faith” and “love,” but we must wait until we get to verse 18 to find “hope.”
Here in verses 15 and 16, he expresses his thanksgiving to God for their authentic “faith” in Jesus and the demonstration of that faith by the “love” they had for one another. Every pastor worthy of the title desires that for his people, and when he sees it he cannot help but “give thanks” to God for them. How encouraging it must have been for these first-generation Christians to know that Paul’s heart was with them in prayer. I have said this before, but you need to be aware that your elders regularly and systematically pray for every member of this church by name and by need. We trust that is an encouragement to you, and we request your prayers for us as well.
I remind you that by the time Paul arrived in Ephesus there was likely already a small group of Christians in that city, but they do not appear to have yet come together as a local church. The Book of Acts tells us that he invested the better part of three years there evangelizing, discipling, and planting a church in that vicinity. This seems to have been the longest time that this itinerant missionary spent in any single location. Doubtless, these believers occupied a special place in his heart. Therefore, his “giving of thanks” for them was not perfunctory or mere formality. It was sincere, and his prayers on their behalf were consistent and ongoing.
But for what specifically did he pray for them? Verses 17 through 19 tell us. His prayer included...
Intercession for the full knowledge of God and His spiritual blessings (verses 17-19)
Verse 17 begins with a “‘ινα”-clause, denoting purpose. What was the stated-purpose of the apostle’s prayer for these Ephesian believers—and, by extension, for us today? “That 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.” Let’s pause here for just a moment to observe a couple of things.
In the first place, all three members of the Godhead are mentioned in this verse: God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit, who is here called “the Spirit of wisdom and...revelation,” a reference that comes out of Isaiah 11:2, where a seven-fold as[ect of the Holy Spirit’s ministry is alluded to.
And then secondly, “the knowledge of him” speaks of a “full knowledge,” one that is intimate and personal. Paul is known for transforming ordinary words into superlatives, and here he employs the normal word for “knowledge” (“γνωσιs”) and adds a prefix (“επι”) to make it emphatic or to strengthen its meaning. Such knowledge goes beyond the intelligent comprehension of a matter to a “perceptive understanding.” In other words, it advances beyond abstract and theoretical knowledge to that which is individualized and practical. His hope is that they come to “experientially know” God, and not just know “about Him.”
In verses 18 and 19, the writer goes on to explain that this “full knowledge” will result in “Having the eyes of your hearts enlightened” so that three things will be known.
The first of these is knowing “the hope to which he has called you.” Interestingly, Paul employs a different word here than the one the one found in verse 17. This term (“οιδα”) means “to know about something.” It is less personal than the previous term, but that is because the emphasis in these verses is upon the need to “know the actual facts” about their “calling” before such knowledge can be personalized. Many of us are not aware of how rich we are in Christ, and Paul wants to make that fact perfectly clear. So first of all, he wants us “to know what is the hope to which he has called you.”
This “hope” is the third piece to the trilogy mentioned earlier. Paul was able to give thanks for the evidence of these believers’ “faith” and “love,” but it was their “hope” that needed bolstering. We see the same deficiency among the believers in Thessalonica when Paul wrote to them a second time. For most of us, “hope” is where we tend to stumble in our Christian walk. That is because “hope” has a future orientation, and we all seem to have difficulty applying our faith to what is yet “unseen.” But when claim is laid to “every spiritual blessing” provided by God by those who are His, we can face the future with certainty and with confidence. So, Paul wants his readers to see with “spiritual eyesight” the “hope” to which God has called them.
In addition, he wants them to know “what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.” It is one thing to know that we are heirs with Christ, but it is something else to be aware that God considers us to be “his glorious inheritance.” He delights to “show off” those who are His “in Christ” because of the price that was paid in order to purchase them for Himself. Consequently, we are considered “riches” to Him...a treasure, not due to any merit of our own, but because of our union with His Son in faith. It is utterly astounding to consider the value He places on those who are His.
There is something additional that Paul wants his readers to “know.” It is stated in verse 19: “What is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according the working of his great might.” Notice that Paul switches from “you” in verses 17 and 18 to “us” in verse 19. In other words, he cannot help but include himself in this great promise. And what is the content of that promise? That we realize that God’s awesome “power” is at work within us.
When you were drawn to Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and given new life in Him, God equipped you to live dynamically for His glory. Too many of us are not aware of that truth, so instead of opening up our faith to “full throttle,” we coast along in “first gear,” and at times even—sad to say—in “neutral.” Paul was compelled to pray for the Ephesian Christians because he wanted them to become all for God that He intended for them to be.
So Paul’s prayer is primarily one of intercession for his original audience as well as for us. He desires for the objects of his prayer to have full knowledge of God, to understand the hope to which they have been called, and to avail themselves of the power of God that has been imparted to them. May our Lord supply the grace for us all to see what has already become ours by virtue of our position as His chosen heirs.
As is often the case with Paul in exhorting others, he instinctively finds himself being carried away in a confession of praise. Such is the case in verses 20 through 23, where he piles descriptor upon descriptor in expressing...
Praise for the mighty works of God in Jesus Christ (verses 20-23)
This final section of the prayer begins with a lofty expression of praise that expands upon Paul’s discussion of God’s “power” which began in verse 19. Verses 20 and 21 tell us that the supreme demonstration of this “power” took place when God raised Christ from the dead and exalted Him to a position of supremacy in the heavenly realms “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named.” Paul used similar descriptors in 1 Corinthians 15:24 in reference to hostile spiritual forces, and that is how those terms should understood here. By virtue of the resurrection and exaltation of Christ, every other spiritual authority has been placed in subjection to Him. Whatever levels of power exist in the universe, all are subordinate to Him.
The relevance of this for believers is, as Paul will point out in chapter 2:5-6), they too have been “raised...up with him and seated...with him in the heavenly places.” Therefore, as Scripture elsewhere reveals, the power that raised Christ assures our resurrection as well (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:14). It has been accurately pointed out that “Christ’s resurrection means that ‘He lives forever;’ and His exaltation means that ‘He reigns forever.’” And what’s more, because He lives and reigns, we too will live and reign with Him...forever!
The phrase “at his right hand” is a clear allusion to Psalm 110, one of the most Messianic songs in the Hebrew Psalter. During our recent study of Hebrews, we noted that writer referenced that psalm and employed this phrase no fewer than five times. To be at someone’s “right hand” is to be in the position of special honor and privilege. In relation to God the Father this is Christ’s exclusive position. And as we pointed out when we were in Hebrews together, His being “seated” implies that His work of accomplishing our redemption is finished. Nothing more needs to be added to it.
As a result, Christ has been endowed with a name “that is above every name that is named.” How reminiscent is this expression of that great hymn of praise Paul cites in Philippians 2:9-11), in the passage referred to as the “kenosis.” There we read that in light of our Lord’s self-humiliation and willingness to die for sinners, “God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
That Christ’s comprehensive reign is not of limited duration is brought out in the phrase, “not only in this age but also in the one to come.” The “age...to come” has been inaugurated with the first Advent of Christ, but has not yet been consummated. It will be when He returns. The comprehensive statement here in verse 21 specifies that Jesus’ reign has already begun and will continue throughout eternity. The fact that He is seated even now at the Father’s “right hand” assures us that all that God has foreordained through Him—including the climax of His long-awaited Kingdom—will come without fail. In the words of Handel which repeatedly echo in his “Hallelujah Chorus, “And He shall reign forever and ever.”
The statement in verse 22 that “all things (have been put) under his feet” serves to amplify the fact that Jesus has not only been given the position of authority over every other power, but that He is now able to exercise that authority. Not only is He superior to “all things,” “all things” are subject to Him. David, the beloved psalmist, was aware of this centuries earlier when he wrote in Psalm 8:6), “You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet.”
What’s more, Paul adds, God the Father “gave him as head over all things to the church.” You and I must never forget this. There is some debate over whether Paul’s references to the “church” throughout Ephesians refer to the local church or the universal church. I believe it is the latter, but that doesn’t mean that Paul’s statement here has no immediate application to local church bodies. We must never forget that even our small gathering is subject to His supreme governing authority. We do not “make the rules” ourselves and merely “follow the dictates of our own consciences.” He is the “head” and we are “his body,” at least in part. Collectively, along with every other local assembly that He has and is “calling out” from the world, we comprise “the fullness of him who fills all in all.”
What I believe this means is that there is no accurate representation of Jesus Christ in the world apart from His visible church as described in the New Testament. Our Savior is not to accurately depicted by undefined, disconnected, scattered, and uncommitted substitutes that are far-too-often propped up in its place. Jesus gave His life for His Church, not for loosely-connected, half-hearted individuals who occasionally get together with the best of intentions. It has never been left to us to define what “the church” is. The Scriptures have already done told us. What remains is our duty to follow the pattern that has been left for us. He promised to “build His Church” (cf. Matthew 16:18). Therefore, “accept no substitutes.”
Describing the church as a “body” with Christ as its “head” is a favorite metaphor of Paul. It is in 1 Corinthians 12 that its meaning becomes most clear, at least in terms of every member fulfilling his or her uniquely given role. But here at the end of Ephesians 1, Paul emphasizes that the “body” must be vitally united with its “head.” It is, after all the “head” that serves as the “control center” for the “body,” and not vice versa.
Christ’s headship over the church is at the very heart of the Father’s eternal purpose. He planned and orchestrated the entire plan of redemption as a way of exalting His Son as the Lord of all creation. In fact, as this passage reveals, everything God is doing in the universe ultimately pivots on His plan to make Christ Lord of all, including Head of the Church.
So, let’s take just a moment to...
After offering thanksgiving for the “faith” and “love” of these believers for whom he had such great care, Paul prays that they would come to know God personally and intimately in order that they objectively come to realize...
- ...the past call of salvation that produces “hope” in their lives,
- ...the future inheritance that God has in His saints,
- ...and the present power of God that is available to them.
May God help us to see that same prayer is being spoken over us today.
It used to be that people considered “truth” to refer to a “standard” or “fixed point” against which all other options were measured. If something was not “true,” it was looked upon as “false” by comparison. No longer is that the case. Instead, we are living in a day when “truth” is being redefined by cultural norms and is thought to be relative to given situations. Tragically, many churches have experienced the drift away from the infallibility of God’s Word and embraced contemporary trends of thought in its place. Absolute standards of “truth” have been sacrificed in the name of “tolerance” and “open mindedness.”
Perhaps none of us here this morning would admit to having abandoned the Scriptures, at least not in a theoretical way. Practically, however, we all too frequently do not seize upon the promises of God and laid practical claim to the “blessings” that the blood of His Son has purchased for us.
I have observed that there are two types of church members. For lack of a better way of categorizing them, I’ll simply call them “active” and “passive.”
The “passive” ones hear or read a chapter like Ephesians 1 and believe—at least in some measure—what God has said, although such promises are viewed as “distant” or “remote.” Sure, these “blessings” may be experienced and enjoyed “some day,” but their immediate relevance is unclear. Such persons may have received the knowledge of God’s truth and been enlightened by it, but to them these “blessings” remain “abstract” and “academic.” Therefore, these “passive” members create a file in their minds storing such “lofty thoughts” away until a time when the application of them would make more sense. Sadly, for most of them, that day never comes.
But then there are the “active” church members...and mind you, I am not merely speaking of attendance, for some of the most “regular attendees” can be among the most “passive” members in this respect. Instead, I am referring to those who read and study Ephesians 1 and understand the “blessings” of God to have been already bestowed, even thought they are not yet fully possessed. They have already claimed their “blessings,” even though they cannot yet fully see them. These “active” persons have added faith to their knowledge, as well as thought and reflection to the enlightenment they have received. They regularly meditate upon God’s promises as present realities, and rather than filing them away for “some day,” they draw upon them each day.
Through the doxology of praise and prayer for understanding found earlier in this chapter, the apostle has listed a number of significant benefits that have accrued to the believer by virtue of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ: they having been “chosen” by God, “predestined” to be “adopted” as His children, having been “redeemed” by the blood of Christ, having been “forgiven” of sins, having become His “inheritance” and having received one as well, and having been “sealed” by the Holy Spirit who guarantees the full possession of all that God has promised. And that’s the truth!
Perhaps the single most important lesson to be taken from Ephesians 1 is the reminder that Jesus Christ remains the supreme Lord of His Church. That is why we are called to pay allegiance and pay attention to His Word...not to the latest fad dressed up in evangelical garb that comes down the pike. There seems to be a never-ending stream of contemporary “Christian” films, books, and radio broadcasts being indiscriminately being gobbled up by those who would be much better fed by doing the hard work of reading, studying, and meditating upon the Scriptures. I am not proposing that those forms of media be avoided altogether, but I am saying that they must never take the place of personal and corporate Bible study. It is still through the medium of His Word that we most clearly hear Him speak.
I believe in our day—now more than ever—the Lord wants us to understand who we are “in Christ” and the incomparable blessings that are ours by virtue of our relationship with Him. That remains God’s desire, just as it was Paul’s prayer. May it be our prayer for one another as well.
Almighty God, we stand amazed and astonished that You would have chosen unworthy ones like us to be recipients—as well as dispensers—of your sovereign grace. You have called us to “the truth” when so many others are caught up in “the lie” and so many versions of that lie. Truly, our knees bend before you in acknowledgment of your Lordship over all things, including Your Church. We bow in humility before you. May the words of Scripture that we have read and studied today impress upon us that we have been chosen in order to display the character of the one and only Sovereign God. Forgive us when we lose sight of our inheritance “in Christ,” as well as our role as Your heirs. Keep us faithful until Jesus returns for us. And, please O Lord, bless the work of our hands that they may be always done for your glory. It is in Christ’s name and upon the foundation of His authority we pray. Amen.