The Prayers for the Church in Ephesians – 1
THAT WE MAY HAVE THE LIGHT OF HOPE
1. It is reported that when newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst was one of the wealthiest men alive he invested a fortune collecting art treasures from around the world. One day he heard of a valuable work of art that he wanted badly to own, so he sent his agent abroad to find it and purchase it. After months of searching, the agent returned to report that he had at last located the treasure. It was in Mr. Hearst’s own warehouse! He had been consumed with desire for what he already possessed but was failing to enjoy.
2. The words of our text are aimed at preventing something even worse than that and at providing for a far better way of living.
a. The wonderful, long sentence that fills up verses 3-14 overflows with Paul’s list of the spiritual blessings we have been given in Christ.
b. Now that he has heard of the impact these blessings are having in the lives of the Ephesians, he is moved to thanksgiving that fills up another long sentence.
i. He is thankful for the Ephesians personally (v. 16). Notice the personal pronouns: “for you, remembering you.” In our impersonal world we would do well to take a thoughtful interest in people like this.
ii. Paul is thankful for their “faith in the Lord Jesus” (v. 15). Faith is obedient trust and devotion, and the object of their trust an devotion is Jesus as Lord. They are committed to his rule.
iii. The apostle is also thankful that their faith is being expressed through their “love toward all the saints” (v. 15). Genuine faith works through love (Gal. 5:6), and unselfish concern among saints is evidence that shows they belong to Christ (Jn. 13:34, 35).
3. His love for the Ephesians is what prompts his petition to the Father of glory in their behalf.
a. The central concern of the prayer is stated in verse 17 and the first part of 18, and the anticipated benefits of its being answered follow.
b. J. W. Shepherd made this observation: “His prayers for the saints are always remarkable. They are very short, but wonderfully deep and comprehensive; very rich and sublime in aspiration; powerful in their pleas, whether expressed or implied; and exhaustive in their range of blessings which they implore.”
c. This one is that way, too, but the point of it is plain: it is that the church may be illumined with a spirit of hope.
1. When this prayer is answered, we will see with the eyes of our hearts.
a. Paul’s request is that God might give the church “a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him” (v. 17).
i. He is referring to a disposition that enables a person to grasp the things of God, to appreciate divine truth, and to be spiritually minded.
ii. His expression “having the eyes of your heart enlightened” is a beautiful way of putting it.
(1) The “heart” is the part of us that makes us capable of thinking, loving, and obeying – it’s the seat of our emotions and intellect, the center of a person’s will and moral life.
(2) The “eyes” suggest vision or perception.
(3) So the apostle is praying that the church may have an ever-increasing perception of the spiritual and moral truths revealed by God and how they can affect life.
b. The need for – and value of – such a blessing is emphasized in other passages.
i. Paul had in mind the importance of a disposition that can appreciate things revealed when he contrasted “the natural person” and “the spiritual person” in 1 Cor. 2:14, 15.
(1) He says the things of God are folly to the natural person; he is not able to understand them. Such a person is “one whose outlook is essentially earthly; his outlook in no sense reaches beyond the human dimension; he lives totally oblivious to God; no divine horizon ever opens up to him” (Carl Holladay).
(2) The spiritual person, on the other hand, recognizes that he is a being with a spirit who hungers for the guidance of God. He has a place in his mind for truth that is divinely revealed.
ii. Our Lord emphasized the same point in the Beatitudes.
(1) The “poor in spirit” – those who recognize their deep spiritual need and know that only God can supply the kind of riches they need – are the ones who find that “theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3; cf. Rev. 3:18).
(2) The “pure in heart” – those who are open and honest in their desire to just please God – are the ones who “shall see God” (Matt. 5:8).
c. Paul’s prayer is that God’s children will recognize their spiritual needs, turn their hearts to what their Father has revealed, and be enlightened as their knowledge of Him grows.
2. When we see with the eyes of our hearts, we will know three spiritual realities.
a. The first is “what is the hope to which he has called” us (v. 18).
i. Remember that hope is a desire for some good plus a reason to expect the attainment of that desire.
ii. What God has done through Christ is a worthy ground of hope. The gospel is his call to hope (2 Thes. 2:14). Those who answer his call by obeying the gospel have hope.
iii. Lipscomb and Shepherd, in their commentary on Ephesians, point out that there are two ways of understanding the content of this hope.
(1) One possibility is obviously “the hope laid up for you in heaven,” as Colossians, written at about the same time, puts it (1:5).
(a) The promise of such a hope is part of the proclamation of “the word of the truth, the gospel.”
(b) Looking forward to “a living hope...kept in heaven for you” carries Christians through testing by fire (1 Pet. 1:3-7).
(c) Whatever else is attained in life, nothing is as important as “entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord...” (2 Pet. 1:11).
(2) Nothing, of course, except the Lord – and that brings us to the other possibility: being like him and being with him.
(a) This too is what it means to hope in Christ (1 Jn. 3:3, 3).
(b) Shepherd, remembering Paul’s words from Phil. 3:8-14, wrote, “Certainly Paul hoped for heaven; but he hoped for something else first, and most....To know Christ, to follow him, and be with him forever was the thing for which Paul lived...”
(c) Hope should include the expectation of what we can accomplish in this life with the help of God. Each person has the potential to be a useful servant in the kingdom now.
b. The second reality for us to see is “what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints” (v. 18).
i. We think of “our inheritance” (v. 14) and “the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness” that he will show “in the coming ages (2:7).
ii. But notice that this verse speaks of his inheritance among the saints – God’s inheritance.
iii. I am told that verse 11 may be literally translated, “In him we were made a heritage...”
(1) The “saints who are...faithful in Christ Jesus” (1:1) have an inheritance, but they also are a heritage.
(2) The Lord has bought the church with his own blood (Acts 20:28); its members are “a people for God’s own possession” (1 Pet. 2:9).
(3) The Father takes pleasure in his family!
iv. We may lose sight of it, and outsiders may not recognize it, but the church has value and dignity because of whose it is!
v. Our vision isn’t what it should be if we can’t see that God’s people are precious to him.
c. The third great truth for us to see is “what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working his great might” (v. 19).
i. Paul stacks one great word on top of another to try to emphasize how immeasurably great it is: “power...working...great (lit. strength)...might...”
ii. Then he illustrates it by pointing out that his power has already been demonstrated. It is the power that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead (v. 20)....when he seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, above every name (v. 20, 21)....when he put all things under his feet (v. 22)....when he gave him as head over all things to the church (v. 22).
iii. We know that, but here is what Paul is praying for us to be able to see: that this is the same power that works “toward us who believe!”
iv. It’s the same power that cleanses us (1 Cor. 1:8; 1 Jn. 1:7), keeps us from being tempted above what we can bear (1 Cor. 10:13), guards our hearts and lives (Phil. 4:6, 7), gives us strength to do and to serve (Phil. 4:13; 1 Pet. 4:11), and works all things together for good (Rom. 8:28).
v. What do we see with the eyes of our hearts? The hope of our calling, the glory of his inheritance, and the greatness of his power toward us.
3. When we know these realities, we will be prepared for life.
a. Spiritual senses can be – and often are – dulled by the world.
i. A Christian has to live in the world – a spiritual environment which is hostile to his highest ideals and his best intentions (1 Jn. 2:15-17).
ii. Constant bombardment with unspiritual thinking and behavior can desensitize a heart so that its eyes can’t see so clearly anymore, and sap the spiritual energy of a person so that faith and love wane.
iii. What Paul was praying for is that the Ephesians would vigorously nourish their spiritual lives and strongly resist the pressures to conform.
b. Almost as dangerous is the fact that there is a tendency to neglect the familiar.
i. A person can live next to a natural wonder for a lifetime and not appreciate its beauty or grandeur like one who sees it for the first time.
ii. We who hear the message of God often may be like that: we may forget its very real beauty and power.
iii. That’s why we need to be constantly reminded. I think that must be one reason for the Lord’s Supper on the first day of the week.
c. Knowledge of truths Paul mentions here makes a positive difference in the Christian’s life.
i. When we become discouraged, the hope of a better day helps raise our spirits (2 Cor. 4:16-18).
ii. When we are tempted to think that we are useless failures, it helps to realize that we are among the inheritance of God. No person is more valuable than a child of God!
iii. When the tasks before us seem impossible, it helps for us to realize that we are not alone on our own power. We can do all things through him who strengthens us (Phil. 4:13).
1. One of the church’s greatest needs is to be lighted up by a spirit of hope.
2. The problem is that it isn’t easy to see with the eyes of your heart: it is the way of our age to think that the material world is all there is.
3. Paul’s first prayer for the church reminds us that there are other realities – spiritual ones.
a. By the grace of God, they become ours in Christ.
b. Our task is to nurture the ability to see them with our hearts!