If you live in the typical American community, out of a 100 neighbors 7 struggle with depression, even contemplating suicide; 7 abuse drugs or alcohol; 8 are struggling with unemployment; and 60 don't profess to know Jesus Christ as their Savior. Here in the Bay Area about 5 in 100 attend an evangelical church on Sunday.
It would be easy to feel like the church is irrelevant and insignificant. The challenges in Paul’s culture were not all that different than ours. Ephesus was a city with a population very close to Fremont. The state was secular, religion was pagan and the culture was immoral. A small minority were Jewish. The emerging church of Jesus Christ was even smaller.
Paul’s ministry there was challenging. He had many adversaries. He battled religious, political and economic resistance. At one point he escaped a mob as he preached in the coliseum that held over 24,000
In a letter to the Corinthians Paul describes the vicious spiritual battles he fought. If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus for merely human reasons, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die”. 1 Cor. 15:32 (NIV)
This was probably an allusion to the gladiators, lions and tigers. He makes it clear that mere human efforts in this environment were of little significance. Resurrection power turned his opposition to opportunity.
He says, “I will stay on at Ephesus…because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me.” 1 Cor. 16.7 (NIV)
I mentioned last week the bible says, all of Asia was impacted by the gospel preached by Paul from this challenging yet strategic location.
Last week we began this letter with all the blessings, the lavish grace Paul says we receive in Christ. Now as he writes under Roman custody to the church he launched and loved dearly he is moved to pray for them.
This paragraph another one of his long sentences in Ephesians 1:15-23 is an expression of thanksgiving, an expression of intercession and then an expression of power. I have titled it “Eye Opening Prayer”. It is a further revelation of our identity in Christ.
As Paul writes he remembers and reflects. He can’t help but feel incredible gratitude for them and their response to the Lord and his ministry there.
“For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.” Ephesians 1.15-16 (NIV)
His expression “for this reason” is a reference to what he has just written.
He summarized all the spiritual blessings we receive in the heavens in Christ with this. “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.” Eph. 1.13-14 (NIV)
He is so gratified by reason of the fact that so many in Ephesus heard believed and benefited from the gospel. The greatest reward in ministry is to see spiritual results. Not just head counts of salvations but the spiritual growth that God’s people experience. I get so much joy from seeing people mature in Christ and find a place of ministry in His body!
Two things he specifically expresses his thanksgiving for are evidence of growth. He apparently had received a report about their “faith in the Lord” and “love for all the saints”. These two things always go together.
A lot of people put their faith in Jesus, they just struggle loving people. In Ephesus there were both Jews and Gentiles in the church. They had a lot of cultural differences. Here’s what Paul wrote to the Galatians. For in Christ, neither our most conscientious religion (circumcision) nor disregard of religion amounts to anything. What matters is something far more interior: faith expressed in love. Galatians 5.6 (NIV)
It so easy to get so wrapped up in our brand of faith and who agrees with us and who doesn’t, that we fail to love. Later the Ephesians had to be reminded. In the first message to the seven churches in the second chapter of Revelation God sends this message.
I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Rev. 2.2-3 (NIV)
We are not called to love our religion and its culture we are called to have faith in Jesus and love people! It was love for people that motivated Paul to express thanksgiving. We remember people all the time but do we take time to express our thanksgiving to God and them?
Here’s a take away. Think of somebody you know and love. Maybe someone you no longer have a lot of contact with. Jot-down their name. Thank God for them. Be specific. Now connect with them and express your gratitude. You can call, write a note, send and email or do facebook!
Paul’s pattern for prayer always began with thanksgiving. Now he moves to petitions or intercessions on their behalf. He asks for divine revelation.
An expression of intercession: 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. Eph. 1.17 (NIV)
Notice Paul does not ask for anything physical or material. He keeps asking for greater spiritual insight and experience. He also asks for things that reflect God’s character. He petitions “the glorious Father”.
We reduce God when we only give him our shopping list. Do you want gold or glory. Glory is a reference to his magnificent character and his resurrection power. “We need to seek his face not just his hand”.
One of the most glorious gifts we can ask for is God’s Holy Spirit. Paul prays that the “glorious Father” may give them the Spirit of wisdom and revelation so they may know him or experience him more fully.
Isaiah prophesied that this same manifestation of the Holy Spirit would mark the Messiah. “The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him-the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD” Isa. 11.2 (NIV)
Jesus introduced the Holy Spirit this way also. “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. John 16.13 (NIV)
Ask our Father to increase your awareness and experience of the Holy Spirit. Ask him to help you know and experience our glorious Father and His son the Lord Jesus much better.
Paul continues this intercession with an image that helps us understand where and how we receive the Holy Spirit’s insight and discernment.
I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. Eph.1.17-19 (NIV)
The ancient Greeks thought they were enlightened with their mythical deities, secret mysteries and pseudo philosophies but it was all an external façade. It was Greek theater!
By using the figurative term “eyes of your heart” Paul is suggesting that spiritual enlightenment is something that happens in the core of our being. It is an inner awareness of spiritual reality. We think of the heart as being the emotional part of man. But in the bible the heart is the inner person and includes the emotions, the intellect, and the will of man.
The inner-man guided by the Spirit can actually see. Psalms 119.18 says, “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your word.” A very smart religious theologian named Nicodemus was asking Jesus questions. Jesus told him, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” John 3.3 (NIV)
The bible says “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” 1 Cor. 2.14 (NIV)
Paul wants us to have an “eye opening” encounter with the Holy Spirit and continue to live by the Spirit’s insight and guidance. There are three things he prays we will perceive.
He wants us to know the “hope of our calling”. We saw last week in the fourth verse that we were chosen in him before the creation of the world.
The word “calling” is very critical to our understanding as followers of Jesus. The word for church actually means the “called out ones”. Paul frequently mentions that God called him by His grace.
He reminds Timothy that we all have a holy calling. He saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace. 2 Tim. 1:9 (NIV)
Not all callings or vocations offer hope. This is not a dead end job. We are not talking about “hope so” we are taking about, “done deal”. Jer 29.11 says, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
This is the antidote for any feelings of temporary insignificance. We have an eternal hope. Paul said, “We wait for the blessed hope, the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. Titus 2.13 (NIV)
Paul also prayed our eyes would be opened to fully realize God riches. His glorious inheritance in the saints! He not talking about what we inherit but what God gets. He gets us! We are His saints.
This is the third reference to saints in this first chapter. As his holy ones, made that way by His Son, we are high priced saints. We are valuable to God. Our Father is “glorious” and we are His “glorious inheritance”!
That’s why all heaven rejoices when one sinner repents. The reason we share the good news of Jesus Christ around the word is because we are giving God his due inheritance. In Psalm 2 God makes His son a prophetic promise. “Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance,
the ends of the earth your possession.” Psa. 2.8
Paul also prays that we will have an eye opening experience of “his incomparably great power.” This power that is available to us who believe!
This final piece of the prayer is an incredible expression of power. Paul uses several different expressions for power to make this final point.
That power (force or dynamic) is like the working (energy or effects) of his mighty (immense ability) strength, (vigor or potency) which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power (influence) and dominion,(control) and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.
There are really two primary expressions of power here. One is “might” the other is “right”. God demonstrated in incomparable might when he resurrected Jesus from the dead. There is no feat like that ever in history.
God demonstrated his right when he seated him at his right hand in heavenly realms. He is the resurrected, ascended and exalted Lord!
Again Paul makes it clear that this exercise of incomparable power is all to be realized for the church and through His Church the body of Christ!
And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. Eph.1:23 22 (NIV)
Jesus is large and in charge. He is the final word on everything. At center focus of all this power is His church. He is the head of the true church.
Anything else is a just religious intuition that will come down like rolling stone from an ancient temple. There may be only five out of a hundred people here today. But the true church is not some marginal fringe struggling for survival in a godless word. It is not insignificant.
This temporal world is incidental to His cosmic eternal Church. We Christ’s body! We are the federation of the glorious Father. He fills us with Himself. He fills us with His Spirit. He fills us with His gifts. We fill this earth with His presence and power. Now that’s some eye opening e-mail!