Ephesians 1:15 – 23
What would we learn from your prayers?
What would we learn, listening to you pray?
And what would you learn, listening to me pray?
If someone was to sit next to you at our next Hour of Prayer,
Or hear you pray in Bible Study Group,
Or eavesdrop, even, on your private prayers,
What would they learn?
What would they learn about you?
What would they learn about God?
What would they learn about what you think about God?
If you were to gather up, all my prayers from this past week, I wonder what you’d learn about my priorities,
About what I think is important,
About what I long for, for you and for others?
I remember once hearing a preacher say “If you want to know someone’s theology, what they believe, listen to them pray.”
Well, in this section of the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Christians in Ephesus, we certainly learn a lot about his theology, his understanding of God, don’t we?
In fact, these verses are so loaded with teaching about God, and about us, that we could easily forget that this is, after all, a prayer, and not a theology lecture!
In these verses, Paul retells his prayers.
He tells the Ephesians, The how,
The what, of his prayers for them.
And so today we get to eavesdrop as Paul prays, so that we can learn,
But not only to learn about prayer, but also to learn the things, know the things, that Paul prays that the Ephesians will know, that each one of us will grasp a little more strongly, God’s great plan, for the people of Christ.
Prayer point #1. To know God better
And we see straight away, that Paul’s prayer is nothing less than a response to what God has done for the Christians in Ephesus in Jesus Christ;, all those great blessings he’s mentioned in the first 14 verses.
See how it opens, For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, 16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.
Paul’s prayers in this situation, are not prompted by particular physical needs, as I think our prayers often are, but by the work of God. It’s because he knows what God is on about, that he’s on his knees, praying for the Ephesians.
So let’s look at his prayer points, starting at verse 17.
I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better
Paul prays that the Ephesians will know God better.
The Christian faith isn’t about knowing things,
It is about knowing God.
So when Paul prays about knowing God, he’s really just using shorthand for “being a Christian”. In John chapter 17 Jesus himself prays to God, and says Now this is eternal life, that they know you.
To know God is to be united with God,
To be reconciled to God, because Jesus has taken the punishment for our rebellion against God that we deserve.
But most of the people to whom Paul is writing are already Christians, which is why our NIV Bibles translate the phrase as know him better.
Paul wants these Christian men and women, and children too, to grow in their understanding of who God is.
Our Queen, Queen Elizabeth. Most of us know something about her, don’t we?
We know what her job is,
We know who’s in her family,
We know where she lives, and how she waves!
But I doubt that any of us actually know the Queen.
I’ve seen her, with my own eyes. And I think she waved directly at me.
And I have a friend who lived across the road from a building that she visited once, and the Queen’s motorcade turned around in his driveway!
But even those things don’t count as really knowing her, do they?
When we look at the way the Bible authors, and Paul in particular, use the word knowledge, we find the picture of a close personal relationship.
Think of the way the old English translations use the word, “Adam knew his wife Eve, and she became pregnant.” T
Take the physical aspect out, and that’s what Paul longs for, for the Ephesians; A close personal relationship with God.
And of course that relationship is only possible because God has revealed himself.
Much like us and the Queen. The only way for us to know her, is for her to make herself known to us.
So a knowledge of God comes to us because God has made himself known in Jesus Christ.
It’s in Jesus, we can really and truly know God.
We can understand God,
We can live in a way that pleases him,
We can make decisions, freely, because we understand how God would have us think and act,
We can choose to serve him,
We can act in accordance with his purposes,
We can approach him,
We can be confident in our relationship with him,
That’s what it is to know God, and all of those things are only possible because God has made himself known in Jesus.
Interestingly, that prayer of Jesus from John 17 that I mentioned, it continues, this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent
So Paul prays constantly, that the Christians in Ephesus will continually grow in their knowledge of God, as he’s made himself known in Jesus.
There are a number of occasions in the New Testament, where, like this, Paul tells people exactly what he’s praying for them, and often what we find is that the way Paul addresses God at the beginning of his prayer, seems to be shaped by what he’s actually praying for.
So here, in verse 17, Paul addresses God as the God of our Lord Jesus Christ.
And then what does he pray? that you may know him better
What is the way to know God better?
What is the sole means by which this prayer can be answered?
Through Jesus, that’s how we can know God better.
And even the second part of how Paul addresses God, the glorious Father, or literally, the Father of glory, well, this gives us a hint where to look for an answer to our prayer, also.
The Bible speaks of the cross of Christ as the place where God’s glory is most clearly displayed.
And if we want this prayer here to be answered, if we want to “know God better”, then we need God to reveal his glory to us.
We need God to impress upon us more and more deeply, everything that the cross of Christ speaks to us of who God is,
Of his character,
Of his purposes.
Friends, as we consider Jesus, dying for our rebellion against God.
As we grasp, little by little, more of his glory displayed there, this prayer will be answered, and we will know him better.
Which, raises the question.
Is that our goal, for ourselves?
Clearly Paul thinks the Christians in Ephesus needed to know God better.
But is it a need that we see, for ourselves, or for others?
When we gather here on a Sunday morning, is this our goal?
Have you ever, in fact, prayed, before coming to church, that God would give you a Spirit of wisdom and revelation, verse 17, so that you may know him better?
That’s just an acknowledgement that the ability to know God as he reveals himself in Jesus, is only possible through the work of the Holy Spirit.
What a great thing to pray before you turn up to church on Sunday!
“God of our Lord Jesus Christ, please give me a Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that I may know you better,
As we sing,
As we hear,
As we listen,
As we read.
When you’re preparing for Bible Study Group during the week,
When you’re reading the Bible 1:1 with someone, perhaps someone who’s not a Christian as some here are doing, is this your prayer and expectation, for yourself, that I may know you better,
And of course, when it comes to other people what we know,
Those we teach in Kids’ Church,
Maybe you lead at GiG Youth Group,
Whoever God has placed around you,
Do you, could you, pray this for them?
If you’re a parent, here’s a great prayer to pray for your kids this week, as you seek to grow them as disciples of Jesus, that they may know him better.
Or for us, together
What might be the impact, if all of us together, the body of Christ, verse 23, were to know God better?
If all of us who are Christians, were to deepen in our knowledge of God,
Our relationship with him in Jesus,
Our understanding of the glory of God seen at the cross.
And if those of us who aren’t Christians today, were to come to know this God who reveals himself in Jesus.
What might be the impact of that?
Among this part of the body of Christ here at TMB?,
In our local community?,
Across our region?,
A group of people who don’t just know about God, but by the Spirit of wisdom and revelation that he gives, are able to live out relationship with God amongst themselves, and in the everyday life of the community in which they live?
I’m going to pray that for us, every day this week.
Maybe you’d like to pray that as well.
Send me an email and let me know, and we can encourage each other in our praying.
Pray that we might know God better.
But Paul also prays that as well as knowing God, the Ephesians weill know how he has acted for them, through the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus.
And you will have noticed the 3 things that he prays they will know,
See them there in verse 18 with me, I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know,
First of all, the hope to which he has called you,
the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people,
and, verse 19, his incomparably great power for us who believe.
3 things to know, for the Ephesians and for us.
Let’s look at each one.
Know the hope to which you have been called (v 18)
First of all Paul wants his readers to know the hope of their salvation.
Verse 18 again, I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you
Sometimes Christians talk about God calling them into a particular career or something.
God called me to be a doctor,
God called me to be a pastor.
I’ve never heard anyone say that God called them to be a garbage collector, or anything unglamorous like that, which probably on its own ought to be enough to make us wary of that kind of language!
But when the Bible uses this language of God’s call, it never seems to be for something as, dare I say it, insignificant as our choice of career, or our choice of ministry.
The Bible assumes that once we know God,
When we know what pleases him, we should be able to make good and wise decisions about those kinds of things.
Nowhere in the Bible can I find suggestion that I should expect God to call me into a particular role, or career, or ministry.
No, when the Bible speaks of God’s call, there’s generally something much more spectacular on view; nothing less than God calling people to salvation.
We touched on it last week;, to be called by God, is to be saved, to know God.
And although we experience many of the benefits of salvation from sin and death now, there are still aspects of it that we look forward to, hence hope.
Paul prays that the Ephesians might see with the eyes of their hearts, the core of their very being, the hope that is theirs because God has called them into relationship with himself.
I think, it’s very easy for us to focus on the benefits of the Christian life now,
I am forgiven,
I am right with God,
I have purpose,
I have peace,
I can put sin to death in my life,
I am able to partner with God in his mission in the world.
But there are some blessings we don’t yet have, and Paul wants the Ephesians to know those blessings, just as much as they know the benefits of salvation that they enjoy in the present.
If you’re a Christian, what is the hope to which he has called you? What can you look forward to, because God has called you into relationship?
Well, the completion of your salvation,
Life in God’s presence forever,
Seeing the glory of God with your own eyes,
Sin and death, done away with forever,
Standing before Christ, pure and holy.
I wonder if those things make it onto your prayer list when you pray for yourself and others?
Again, if you’re a parent, these are great things to be praying for your children.
Great things to be praying for the members of your Bible Study Group. Imagine turning up to a group, every whatever, Wednesday night, and meeting with a group of people who, verse 18, know the hope to which God has called them?
To share life with a group of people whose knowledge of their future in Christ has seeped deep down into their lives, such that the spiritual blessings that will be fully theirs in Christ shape every part of their lives. Imagine being part of that?!
I can tell you, I’m going to be praying that for my Bible Study Group!
In my personal Bible reading at the moment I’m reading Revelation. That’s a great way to get your brain working in the morning!
But one day this week I read in Revelation 12 of the men and women who were suffering and being persecuted because of their faith in Jesus, and in John’s vision, a voice from heaven says of these men and women, who persevered in the face of death, they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death
This is something to pray not only for ourselves,
For those we love and care for,
For those in our church family,
This is something to pray for brothers and sisters in Christ around the world, who suffer and die for their faith in Jesus; Pray that they may know the hope to which he has called them.
Maybe you’re with us today, you’re new, trying to work out Christianity,
Trying to work out, “well, is it all about living life now?,
Or is it about something that comes in the future?”
Well it’s both!
It’s a bit like Paul’s giving us spiritual bi-focals, so we know what we have now, as well as what is guaranteed in the future, the hope to which God calls us in Christ.
Know the riches of being God’s inheritance (v18)
The second particular aspect of God’s work for us in Christ that Paul wants the Ephesians to know, is, the riches of being God’s inheritance. verse 18 again, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people
I got an inheritance once. Well, technically my wife, Kathy, did! But you know, what’s yours in mine, and all that!
One of Kathy’s relatives died, and we got a cheque, Kathy got a cheque, for a thousand dollars or something. And it had barely landed in our letterbox before we went out and bought a dishwasher!
So I know what an inheritance is! It’s good stuff that I get!
But Ephesians 1 isn’t talking about my inheritance is it?
This is, verse 18, his glorious inheritance, God’s inheritance.
This idea shouldn’t be altogether unfamiliar if we know our Bible.
In the Old Testament, God talks about his people as his inheritance.
It’s a way of speaking about a treasured possession, something of great value.
Do you see what Paul’s praying?
He wants his readers to understand the value that God places on them.
I was speaking in one of the local Christian schools recently, and all over one wall were posters that the kids had made, “I am special because, ” And then they’d written what they think makes them special.
I am special, because my mum and dad love me,
Because I can do cartwheels,
Because I like Spiderman, and so on!
Well Paul would say, you are special,
You are valued,
You are God’s inheritance,
Because you are in Christ. That’s the language of verse 11 of chapter 1.
We are God’s treasured possession.
We’re God’s inheritance.
We don’t get the dishwasher, we are the dishwasher! If I can butcher that metaphor!
And, look at yourself! What a way for God to describe you!
Of course, there’s nothing intrinsic to us that is deserving of this value.
But God values us because he called us.
He values us because he has united us to Christ.
The Internet tells me that there are something like 10 trillion fish in the world’s oceans and rivers.
Out of that 10 trillion, there are about half a dozen fish, that my kids are interested in, and care for. Why those ones out of all the trillions? Well because they chose 6 fish, picked them out, and put them in the fish tank in my office.
They value those ones, not because they’re intrinsically more valuable than all the other fish in the sea! but because they chose them and made them their own.
If you’re a Christian person, you are God’s inheritance.
You are God’s treasured possession.
Your value isn’t dependant on your performance, or your effort, but on your calling, your union with Christ.
Christ is valued by his Father,
So you are valued by the Father.
And if your value isn’t determined by your performance,
Or the quality of your life,
Or the level of your obedience,
Then your value doesn’t drop, when those things falter.
Who can you pray for, that they will know the value with which God sees them? the riches of God’s glorious inheritance
When you pray for people in your church,
In your family,
Do you pray that every day they will grow deeper and deeper in the knowledge of the supreme value that God has placed on them?
Who are the Christian people you can pray for, that they will know that God plans to accomplish his eternal purposes through them?
We are not the centre of God’s plans for eternity, that is Christ, that is the over-arching message of Ephesians, but Christian people are not insignificant in God’s plans and purposes.
Who can you pray for, someone who doesn’t know Jesus, that they will come to understand that God sees them like this?
Put their name on your Prayer Focus Card.
Who can you can pray for today, that they won’t seek value in other places, by other means, but come to know the high value that God places on them?
Our God possess all the heavens and all of the earth,
Every star that can be seen, and all those that cannot,
And yet, and yet, it is his people whom he values above all else, His people who are the riches of his glorious inheritance
Know God’s incomparable power (v 19)
The third aspect of God’s work for us in Christ that Paul longs that his readers will know, is God’s power, his incomparably great power, for us who believe
We actually have to wait until another one of Paul’s prayers in chapter 3, before he explains exactly what he expects God’s power to achieve among his people.
I remember when I was working with uni students these teams of Christian blokes with huge muscles would come onto campus, and they would say that God’s power enables them to do mighty feats of strength. And they’d bend metal bars and blow up hot water bottles until they burst.
That’s not the power that Paul wants the Ephesians to know, and we will see the detail when we get to chapter 3. But we see enough here to know that Paul expects the gospel message, is accompanied by the working of God’s power.
We don’t hear the gospel message, and then find ourselves unable, power-less to respond.
It’s God’s power that changes lives.
And this power, how does it measure up?
Well it’s the same as the mighty strength which he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead, and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms.
The very same power that God exerted when he raised Christ from the dead,
That’s the power that can be brought to bear on your life today.
That’s the power that can give you victory over the sin you continually struggle with,
That’s the power that has brought you from death to life,
That’s the power that will keep you until that last day, when the hope to which he has called us, becomes the reality which we enjoy,
That’s the power that brings people you know and love, out of a life of rebellion against God, and into relationship, through Jesus.
The battle against sin is not too hard.
It’s hard. But not too hard.
The perseverance of the Christian life in the face of opposition, or even persecution, can seem daunting, but we need not be overcome.
Humanly speaking it is a impossible for someone living in rebellion against God to come to him.
Humanly impossible, but not impossible.
Do you get a sense of the magnitude of the power of God that is available to us today?
Paul prays that we’ll know it.
His train of thought continues, with a great description of who Jesus is, and you’ll see on your outline, I’ve cast this also in the language of knowing, because clearly Paul wants the Ephesians to know Jesus like this, and I want the same for us.
Know Jesus as the head over everything
Know Jesus as the head over everything.
A guy I know in the US is a pastor and lecturer, and from time to time, when he’s going off to preach somewhere, he’ll ask people to pray for him, and the way that he asks his friends to pray, is to say: “Please pray that I’ll make much of Jesus.”
“Please pray, that I’ll make much of Jesus.”
He’s asking us to pray, that when he explains the Scriptures,
When he talks to people,
That those who hear, won’t be left with a small picture of Jesus,
That people won’t be content to think of Jesus as there on Sundays, but absent the rest of the week,
To “make much of Jesus”, is to see Jesus as this “appointed, head over everything”, and not merely as someone who can be useful to me in making my life more comfortable, and enjoyable, and more stress-free.
Occasionally, preachers play silly games with each other. Only young, immature preachers! You know, those in their 30s!
Sometimes, preachers give each other obscure words or phrases to insert into their sermons!
And so once, a long time ago, I was preaching in the Anglican Cathedral in Wollongong, and some of the staff insisted I insert the phrase “Grande enchilada”, the big enchilada, into my talk.
My dictionary defines the phrase as “a person or thing of supreme importance.” I’m not going to tell you whether I was so immature as to include it or not! You can come and ask me later, or just hazard a guess based on your assessment of my maturity!
But if I had been preaching on this passage, it would have been entirely appropriate to use that phrase. “the person or thing of supreme importance”, appointed, to be head over everything, for the church
We must not content ourselves with a small picture of Jesus.
I imagine the Ephesians needed to be reminded of this, because of the plethora of false gods clamouring for attention in their society.
Ephesus was famous for the enormous temple to the goddess Artemis. It’s considered one of the wonders of the ancient world.
The city had previously been home to a temple for the worship of Julius Ceasar.
To these people who were confronted every day with the competing claims of various gods, Paul says God raised Jesus far above all rule and authority, power and dominion
And of course, it’s not that we don’t need to be reminded that Jesus rules over all others who claim to be God,
The 21st century is a polytheistic, relativistic age, at least in the West. We’re told all gods and all religions are the same.
We still need to hear the message of Christ, raised far above all rule and authority, power and dominion.
And yet for those of us who are already Christians,
Who have already, at some point in the past become convinced of the uniqueness of Jesus,
I wonder for us, if the more pressing question is whether we have reduced our picture of Jesus down too small?
Jesus is the one who I pray to in a tough situation,
When I need something done that’s beyond my ability, he’s the one I call on,
We treat Jesus as our personal concierge.
We hand over our shopping list, and expect him to respond, and expect him to respond, like the genie out of the bottle, “Your wish is my command!”
seated at the right hand of God, verse 20,
far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name, verse 21,
With, verse 22, all things placed under his feet and appointed
The head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way
Does this sound like someone to whom you turn over your shopping list;,
“Here are the things I expect to be done!
Please smooth out the ripples in my life,
Please make my Christian life comfortable and enjoyable”,
Friends, please hear me say, there is nothing wrong with coming to Jesus with our prayers and requests, but do you think that as a family, we could commit together, today, to making much of Jesus.
Would we be willing to say, “Let’s work towards making our conversations over tea and coffee later, conversations in which we make much of Jesus”?
Could we even dare say to someone today, “Will you sit and pray with me now, that this week, in my class,
Or my family,
Or my workplace,
Or my sporting team,
I will make much of Jesus, among those who don’t know him”?
Would you ask someone to pray that with you today?
How can we shape our conversations, so that when someone who doesn’t know Jesus, wanders into this place, they hear us, in our natural conversations, making much of Jesus, in the hope, that they might come to know him, not as the useful friend who smooths out life, but the risen Lord, seated at God’s right hand, and appointed, to be head over everything
If you are with us today because you’re trying to find out who Jesus is, do please sign up for Simply Christianity, running in June, but as a taster as it were, this is what we believe.
This is the Jesus.
You know, of course, that a microscope, and a telescope, do, the same sort of thing. They make things bigger.
They help us see things.
They work in different ways though, don’t they?
A microscope makes something small, appear much bigger than it really is,
But a telescope, takes something that appears small, and makes it just a little bit closer to how it really is.
That’s what it is, to make much of Jesus.
But friends, can we, together, make much of Jesus,
That day by day,
Week by week,
Year by year,
We would know him, as he really is.