Sermon Notes: Ephesians 1:15-23, part 1 – That You May Know
These are the notes of a sermon preached by Andy Evans on the morning of the 25 October 2009 at Firwood Church. Click here to stream or download the sermon audio.
15For 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 a 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, 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, 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. 22And 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.
a. Paul prays for believers
Paul ends one long glorious sentence (verses 3 through to 11) only to begin another; verse 15 through to verse 23 is one long continuous sentence in the original language.
Paul begins with describing and setting forth the grounding of our salvation; God chooses, God acts, God saves and God secures. Paul now prays for something incredibly specific, he prays that the readers of the letter, the ‘you’ in Ephesus and the ‘you’ gathered at Firwood Church this morning, ‘might know’ (v. 18).
If we consider this carefully, then Paul’s prayer is astonishing. Remember, Paul is writing to and with believers in mind. We see this in verse 15,
For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints (Ephesians 1:15)
Paul’s point here is that he is confident these believers are believers because of their faith in Christ. This faith extends beyond the saving faith described in verse 13 (‘In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, […] believed in him’). Paul now talks of their faith in the Lord Jesus.
Paul’s point is that these believers have a visible and continuing faith in the Lord Jesus. Formally, there faith was in Artemis or some other false god. Formally they lived to please, honour and serve this false deity, now, however, there faith is in the Lord Jesus and he is the centre of their service, faith and love.
This is a sound description of Christians everywhere. Consider your situation before you came to Christ; perhaps you lived to work or to serve the needs of your family. Perhaps you were struggling with some addiction and were enslaved to drugs, sex or alcohol. Or perhaps you struggled with anger, jealousy or pride and the wild, burning passions within you guided your every decision.
Now, however, your faith is in the Lord Jesus and this changes everything. Now you love him, now you serve him and now you live to please him. This is what it means to be a believer in Christ.
Paul continues, in addition to this active and continuing faith in Christ, Paul talks of their love ‘for all the saints’. Paul’s point is that their belief in Christ Jesus has radically changed everything and that this change is visible. Paul says that he has heard of their faith and love and the implication here is that people have seen the change in the believers in Ephesus and witnessed their love for Christ and each other and rumour of this has spread even as far as Paul.
There are points to be made here. The first is that genuine faith in Christ effects the way in which we treat others. It is true that this is a commandment, Jesus instructs the disciples (and, by extension, believers everywhere and at all times),
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35)
But Jesus is not advocating a mechanical, begrudging obedience. Rather, Jesus understands, and the Scriptures assume, that a deep love of God will result in a deep love for people, and particularly the saints,
If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. (1 John 4:20)
The second point is that such faith and love for others is clearly and necessarily visible. These believers in Ephesus are not the exception. We are seen for what we are. This is precisely Jesus’ point in Matthew 7,
Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits (Matthew 7:15-20)
This is a sobering thought. It may be that there are some among us this morning who are kidding themselves and are kidding others that their faith in Christ is genuine. Scripture clearly tells us that the truth will out. This is a sobering thought, but it is also evidence of amazing grace. This means that deception, even self-deception is never absolute and there is a great hope that, in so testing ourselves, we can discern if we are truly his.
The point of all of this is that Paul prays for these believers. We see this at verse 16,
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 (Ephesians 1:15-16)
There are two elements evident in Paul’s prayer: thanksgiving and petition. Firstly, he thanks God for all that he has done in and through this fledgling community of believers.
Paul’s instinct is so fundamental and yet, at the same time, so easily neglected.
Oftentimes we see God at work in the church, growing congregations, pushing back darkness and transforming lives and we become callused to the miraculous hand of God in all of this. Paul’s first instinct is to pray and to thank God who ‘works all things according to the counsel of his will’ (v. 11). It is imperative that the Church of Christ recaptures this. When we see God move, we respond in thanksgiving.
The second element of Paul’s prayer is that of petition; he prays for the church.
Our prayer lives begin to wane when we begin to believe, on the one hand, that prayer is ineffective and, on the other, that prayer is unnecessary.
Given Paul’s focus upon the sovereign reign of God in, over and through all of creation in the first half of this chapter, it might have been tempting for Paul to think that prayer is unnecessary. If our God is a God who ‘works all things according to the counsel of his will’ (v. 11) why bother praying at all, one might ask?
Paul’s response is apposite. Rather than becoming complacent, Paul is led to thank and petition God for these believers precisely because God is at work in and through all things. It is ‘For this reason’ that Paul is led to pray. Yes, he has heard of their faith in God and, yes, he has seen evidence of this in their love for one another, but still he prays.
We are called to be a church who prays ceaselessly. As we see God move and evidence of his splendour and majesty, we respond with thanksgiving and we respond with prayer.
Paul prays. He prays that they and we might know.
2. THAT YOU MAY KNOW
a. Knowing and the infinite glory of Christ
This prayer is surprising because he is praying for believers. He prays that these believers in Ephesus, of whom he has heard good report, would know more of God.
This should surprise and thrill us.
The promise in this message this morning is that however long we may have been a Christian (and the wonder of this should be felt at each end of this continuum), however well we might know our bible and whatever our background, there is infinitely more of Christ Jesus for us to know.
We can be confident of this because Paul offers no proviso and no conditions. His prayer is a prayer for the entire church in Ephesus and his prayer is a prayer which extends through time to this small church meeting in Oldham, Greater Manchester at the back end of 2009.
Paul prays that we would know.
The truth is that this prayer is always valid because the glory of God is inexhaustible. Christianity becomes a boring something else when we forget this. Consider then the following passages from elsewhere in Ephesians,
…by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:5b-7)
The grace lavished upon us in and through Christ Jesus is immeasurable. Consider now what this says about the character of God. The grace of our Lord and King is immeasurable. He is infinitely gracious.
Now place this truth alongside Paul’s prayer. Paul prays that believers might ‘know’ because we will never be able to exhaust the glory of God. His grace is infinite and so are his manifold virtues. We receive grace for today, are astonished and respond with thanksgiving. Even in the final days of our life, his grace towards those who are his remains extravagant, vital, astonishing and altogether praise worthy.
And, again, Paul writes of his calling,
To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ (Ephesians 3:8)
Consider the profound truth of this statement, ‘the unsearchable riches of Christ’. Paul’s point here is not that Christ Jesus’ glory is some how inscrutable. Rather Paul is declaring that his glory is without end. We can search and search and meditate upon his glory and still he will surprise and astonish us as we see even more of his greatness unfold. And this will remain true throughout eternity.
Paul knows this and this is why his prayer is so necessary.
You may have been a Christian for many decades. You may have spent serious hours and much effort in studying the Scriptures. You may have faithfully pursued him for the majority of your life. You may have seen the most startling evidences of his mighty hand at work. And yet there is still more to see and there is still more to know.
This should thrill us. This should make us dizzy with spiritual vertigo.
My prayer is Paul’s prayer, that, by the grace of God, this morning we would see and know more of him and that this knowing would thrill, delight and sustain us even in our darkest hours.
b. Knowing and revelation
Paul prays that we might know and Paul understands that this knowing is impossible apart from God,
I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know… (Ephesians 1:16-18)
The first thing to address is the means of knowing. Paul prays that they would receive ‘a spirit of wisdom and of revelation’ (v. 17). The word, here translated ‘wisdom’, is the same word used in verse 8, meaning to have insight into the true nature of things. The word, here translated ‘revelation’ (apokalypseos), usually means to unveil or to disclose something which had previously been hidden.
Paul’s point here is that the knowing is only possible by revelation; the thing he wishes us to know is outside us and the means of knowing is beyond us, which leads me to the next point.
Paul talks of ‘a spirit of wisdom and revelation’ and, while there is no definite article (i.e. the spirit) in the original languages, there is a case to be made that this is a reference to the Holy Spirit (indeed, the NIV translators thus translate this passage). I find this argument persuasive in that, elsewhere, Paul specifically describes the role of the Holy Spirit in bringing revelation,
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. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.
The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:9-16)
Here we must be clear. Paul is not suggesting that these believers have not yet received the Holy Spirit and have yet to receive spiritual insight. That would not make sense and would certainly contradict Paul’s earlier assertions regarding the extent of the ‘every spiritual blessings’ detailed above. Rather, Paul is praying that God would pour out more wisdom and revelation and that he would do this by his Spirit.
This is why Paul’s prayer is necessary. Spiritual things can only be seen and known through supernatural revelation and it is always the Spirit of God which brings such revelation.
Paul prays that God, by the Holy Spirit, would give us greater wisdom and revelation that we might see God more clearly and know God more deeply.
This is humbling.
Anything we might know of God is known because God revealed it to us. Alone, human wisdom, scientific enquiry, philosophical debate and human endeavour are unable to discern the deep hidden things of God. All this must be revealed by through the Holy Spirit illuminating, quickening and revealing.
This is humbling.
This is, however, also encouraging. Suddenly, our IQ, education and human knowledge becomes irrelevant; rather we rely and throw ourselves upon his grace. He reveals and we worship.
c. That we might know him
The object and end of this knowing is God.
I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him (Ephesians 1:16-17)
Paul writes that this wisdom and this revelation reveal God. This is the end of all insight and all knowing; that we might know him.
This is so important for believers to remember. It is good that we study and dwell upon the Scriptures. It is important that we think deeply about the deep things of God. It is important that we read widely and allow ourselves to be informed by others with greater insight than ourselves. We must be careful, however, to make sure that none of this ever becomes an end in and of itself. Rather, all of this is purposed that we might know him more deeply.
Christ is the end of Christianity. Christ is the end of all knowing. Christ is the object of our worship.
a. The necessity of knowing
Paul now seeks to expand and apply this knowing to the lives of the believers in Ephesus and to our lives today. Paul prays that, from our knowledge of God, we would know three specific things,
I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 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, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places (Ephesians 1:16-20)
He prays that we would know hope (v. 18a), the riches of his inheritance (v. 18b) and the greatness of his power (v. 19).
The application here helps us understand the danger of not knowing. Consider a Christian life bereft of hope, bereft of identity and without the power Christ provides. Paul prays for these things because we need these things. Paul prays for all of this that we might know God and live in the reality of this knowledge.
b. That we might know hope
that you might know what is the hope to which he has called you (Ephesians 1:18)
The significant element here is the word ‘called’. Paul’s reference point for this hope which he prays into the lives of the believers in Ephesus is all that he has described in Chapter 1. This hope is grounded upon the historic activity of God (this is not to say that we do not hope in the promises of God). We see this because the word ‘called’ refers back to God’s electing activity before the foundation of the world (v. 4).
This unpacks for us the practical outworking of the glorious opening sentence of this letter (v. 3-14) and reminds us that all right theology is practical theology.
As we considered last week, Paul intends us to grasp hold of all the astonishing truths unpacked in verses 3 through to 14 and to derive great comfort and confident from all of this. Moreover, Paul intends that this knowledge of God’s great activity in creation and for those who are his to produce hope. How can we be sure that he is faithful and capable of saving those who are his? Our security is grounded upon his might as evidenced in his mighty deeds and, most particularly, upon the cross of Christ. This does, of course, point us also to the future in him. The cross is the decisive action which will end with all things being united in Christ Jesus.
The encouragement for us, this morning, is that we are called to a great hope and this hope is an unshakable anchor because it is grounded upon the character and the saving activity of God.
c. That we would know the riches of his inheritance
that you may know […] what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints (Ephesians 1:18)
This refers back to all we considered last week. The question we need to ask before we proceed is what or who is this glorious inheritance and to whom does this inheritance belong?
I contend that we, those who are his, are the inheritance and he is the inheritor. Paul’s intention here is that believers would comprehend and understand who we are in Christ. We are valuable, not because of ourselves, but because he fixed his affections upon us and he bought us with a price. We are no longer our own.
This is important. Believers must be realistic about who we are. We are radically depraved sinners by nature and choice. We have rebelled again and grieved God through choice and because it is in our natures to do so. Apart from him we rightly deserve condemnation, destruction and wrath. This is why believers understand what it is to be humble and depend upon his grace.
But believers are called to be realistic about who he has made us to be. He has purchased us with his precious blood, he has chosen us to be his people, he has fixed his name upon us and he will return for those who are his.
When we see and comprehend all this, our confidence in him grows and our assurance is strengthened. More than this, we also grow in our love of people and our eagerness to proclaim the gospel. This is not pride, for all of this is grounded in the reality of who he is.
d. That we would know the greatness of his power
…that you may know […] what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places (Ephesians 1:18-20)
The hope described in verse 18 points to the past, the inheritance points to the future and the power described in verse 19 is for the present.
We will spend next week unpacking this, but there are two points to note here. The first is that this power originate with God but is worked towards believers. This power is at work in and for those who believe. The second point is that this power is evidenced and demonstrated in the resurrection and ascension of Christ.
This is crucial.
Christians are men and women of the cross. Through the cross we have life, redemption and the forgiveness of sins. But the cross also bids us to come and die.
Christians are men and women who crucify the flesh and crucify the world and all its God-opposing values and fake treasures.
The resurrection, however, bids us to come and live. Paul writes in Romans chapter 6 that we die with Christ that we might live with Christ.
This is the reality of the Christian life. We are transformed from the rebellious, God-hating, selfish idolaters we were and we are now children of the King, called to shine forth his Kingdom values.
Paul prays that we would know this power that we might shine forth his glory.
And so we pray that we might see and in so seeing be transformed ever more into the likeness of him, our King, our Saviour and our God.