Paul's 2nd Letter to the Corinthians and Paul's Letter to the Ephesians

Commentary on the Book of Ephesians

By: Tom Lowe                                                        Date: 1/23/17

 

 

                                                                           

         Lesson 5: The Content of the Prayer (1:15-19)

 

 

Ephesians 1:15-19 (NIV)

 

15 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. 

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. 

18 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, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 

19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength

 

 

Introduction

Paul has been singing the praises of the God of all grace. The Christian’s life is anchored in Jesus Christ. From our election in Him before time began, to the final salvation of which the indwelling Spirit is the guarantee, everything we need to live “to the praise of His glory” (1:12, 14) is found in Christ. His grace makes us rich with the blessings of redemption, forgiveness, adoption, and spiritual illumination. These are, in Paul’s beautiful expression, “the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us” (1:7-8).

The resulting fruit in our lives is diverse: humility in the face of God’s eternal election; sanctity in our lifestyle because He has chosen us to be holy, stability because we know we are anchored into the eternal heart of God; doxology (a hymn, verse, or form of words in Christian liturgy glorifying God) because we have been so richly and fully blessed.

When Saul of Tarsus first experienced this grace it turned him into a man of prayer: “The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying” (Acts 9:11). Even now, perhaps two decades or so later, we find him still on his knees: “For this reason I kneel before the Father” (Ephesians 3:14). The adoration of the Lord in His grace always led him to intersession for his brothers and sisters.

 

Commentary

15 For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, 

Notice verse 15 begins with “For this reason,” thus connecting the phrase with what preceded it.

Paul prays with thanksgiving for the Ephesians (and presumably others in the same region who received his letter). He has been told about their transformed lives. Two features dominated the report he received about them: their “faith in the Lord Jesus” (trust in Christ as the Divine Son of God)and “their love for all God’s people” (the saints). The kind of love he is referring to is not sentimentality or emotionalism of any kind, but “caring”—caring for other people because God has cared for us by giving us Christ. These make up the two features Paul always seemed to look for as marks of genuine conversion (as his frequent reference to them in other passages indicates: see 1 Corinthians 13:13; Galatians 5:6; Ephesians 6:23; 1 Thessalonians 1:3; 3:6; 1 Timothy 1:14; 2 Timothy 1:13; 3:10; Titus 2:2; Philemon 5). Authentic Christianity always transforms both the Godward and manward dimensions of life. Otherwise, our professions of faith are hollow.

But, in addition to this, it is also clear that Paul’s prayer life was fueled by news about his fellow Christians. A glance at the number of names mentioned in his other letters indicates how much he seemed to know even about churches he had not personally visited. The closing greetings of his letter to the Romans are a remarkable illustration of this. Paul well illustrated the lifestyle he wanted to see in others: he prayed for them because he shared their love for all the saints.

In passing here we might note Paul’s knowledge of his reader’s spiritual growth, but the absence of personal greetings, tends to confirm that this was indeed a ‘circular’ letter and not one written specifically to Ephesus.

16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. 

In verse 16, Paul reminds these believers that he gives thanks for them in his prayers. This is another feature that marked his prayer life: his thankfulness: “I have not stopped giving thanks for you.” First of all Paul gives thanks to God for the Ephesians.  They were on his prayer list, and I guess all the churches were. These are the words of a man who is marked by God’s grace. Gratitude is always the result.  According to Dr. Luke, Paul wept with the believers at Ephesus when he took leave of them.  He loved them, and they love him.

Three things may be said about the thanksgiving of Paul as expressed in the present passage.  First, that for which he is especially grateful is the good news of the faith and love of the readers.  Second, his gratitude is constant and continual (“I have not stopped”).  Third, it is addressed to God.  Thus does the apostle recognize that God is the true fountain of all that is good in His people.

Man is by nature ungrateful: “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Romans 1:21). We live in ungrateful times: “For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy” (2 Timothy 3:2). Many Christians’ lives have been marred by this spirit of the age. We fail to give thanks because we do not lift our eyes to the throne from which all blessings flow. Such ingratitude, Paul teaches us by implication, cannot breathe in an atmosphere of true prayer.

In the King James Version, “Remembering you in my prayers” has been translated“making mention of you in my prayers.” That means he called them all by name.

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. 

In all of his letters Paul is very careful to make clear the fact that his message came by revelation—not by man, not through man, but from God by direct revelation.  The Word of God consists, for the most part, of knowledge which man cannot know nor receive except by revelation.  If we understand the things of the past, or, if we look into the future, we must rely upon God to unveil deep spiritual truths to us as we yield to the Holy Spirit, the Teacher of the Word of God (1 John 2:27).  The Holy Spirit gives to us wisdom, knowledge and understanding—but only through revelation.  What a wonderful, glorious thing it is to have the Spirit of God be the One to teach us.  “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.” How will that take place?  It will take place by the Spirit of God—the only One who can open our eyes—teaching us God’s Word.

One phase of the ministry of the Holy Spirit in this Dispensation of Grace is to reveal the deep things of God to spiritually minded believers.  Study carefully John 16:12-15.  There are many Christians who read the Bible—but there are few Christians who study the Bible.  Almost anyone can read a chapter a day, and from that chapter learn things about Jesus, God, heaven, hell . . .  but to dig into the diamond mines and the gold mines, to find the unsearchable riches of the Word of God, we must be led by the Holy Ghost, enlightened by the Holy Ghost—and if we ever understand the deep things of God it must be through the revelation of the Holy Ghost as we study.

When we go to God in prayer there ought to be a profound reverence, a sense of deep and inexpressible wonder.  Furthermore, the apostle reveals something of the encouragement he had to pray.  It was not to a far-off and unknown deity that he unburdened his heart; it was to “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ.” To think of God in this way is to be reminded that in approaching God in prayer we in truth draw near to a “throne of grace.”

To speak of God as “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ” in no sense detracts from the uniqueness of Christ.  God is the God of Christ in the sense that He is the God whose work Christ came to perform and by whom Christ was sent into the world.  To speak of God as the glorious Father is to declare He is the Father who possesses glory, the Father of whom glory is a characteristic feature.

For what, then, does Paul pray? First, that the Ephesians may be given “the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that they may know him better.” The believer must grow in his knowledge of God. To know God personally is salvation (John 17:3). To know him increasingly is sanctification (Philippians 3:10). To know Him perfectly is glorification (1 Corinthians 13:9-12). Since we are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-28), the better we know God, the better we know ourselves and each other. It is not enough to know God only as Savior. We must get to know Him as Father, Friend, Guide, and the better we know Him, the more satisfying our spiritual lives will be.

Perhaps most of the Ephesians felt diminished and out of favor in the city they had once called home. Their needs were great. But what was the answer? Paul believed it was to know God. This is our greatest privilege, and it is the only thing worth boasting about (Jeremiah 9:23-24). That is why in his various “prison letters” Paul prays that his readers knowledge of God will increase (Philippians 1:9; Colossians 1:9-10; Philemon 6), for to know God is to know Him as “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father.” Paul’s burden was, in essence, the burden the Lord Jesus poured out to His Father in His great intercessory prayer for the church—“After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you” (John 17:1)—before His arrest. Thus to know God through Christ is to experience eternal life (John 17:4).

But how can we get to “know him better?” We need to receive “the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that we may know him better.”  The phrase “spirit of wisdom” echoes the expression used for the Holy Spirit in Paul’s Greek Old Testament (called the Septuagint).  He may well have used it here in that sense.   The “spirit of wisdom” is often interpreted as an attitude of mind, like when we speak of a spirit of meekness or of courage.  Understood in this fashion the words express a desire of the apostle that his readers may have an attitude of mind, a spiritual disposition, by which they will be able to comprehend divine truth. If this is the meaning here, then the verse is seen as a prayer for the readers to experience to the fullest degree the blessed ministry of the Spirit—particularly in His capacity as “Spirit of wisdom and revelation.” This is the Spirit who anointed Jesus so that he grew in wisdom and knowledge (Isaiah 11:2; Luke 2:52).  Christ now sends Him to us to share with us “wisdom and revelation.”

Here “revelation” means essentially the same as “illumination.” That is, to have the “Spirit of wisdom and revelation” is to have the eyes of one’s understanding (“heart”) enlightened. In Paul’s writings “heart” stands for the whole inner man. Paul is not suggesting that Christians receive their own revelation.  Rather, the Spirit brings us to know, understand, and live in the light of the revelation God has made of himself in Christ and through the Spirit.

When spiritual sight is restored, we become like Elisha’s servant.  He was terrified by the sight of the enemy occupation of the hills surrounding Dothan—just as the Ephesians might well have felt terrorized by Satan’s powers (and terrorism, whether from outside or inside the church, is one of the tactics he often uses).  In answer to prayer the servant’s eyes were opened.  He saw beyond the visible to the invisible and was able to walk by faith and not by sight—“so we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:18; see also 2 Kings 6:17).  He received a “spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him” [God].

18 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, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 

 “That you may know” introduces the three specific elements of knowledge which Paul desires his readers to possess: “the hope to which he has called you” (1:18), “the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people” (1:18), and “his incomparably great power for us who believe”(1:19).  Note that it is God’s calling, God’s inheritance, and God’s power.  But more specifically, it is the “hope” of his calling, the “glory” of His inheritance, and the “greatness” of His power which Paul wants the readers to grasp and appreciate.  And he also wants believers to know how precious they are to God and what God expects of and from them.

Paul prays that the Ephesians will know “the hope to which he has called you.”  In his view “those which He has called,” are those who have obeyed God’s summons and have been made believers in Christ. Should the apostle have prayed for something more practical than this?  Paul did not pray in this way because of a lack of knowledge of the actual practical difficulties the Ephesians faced.  Nor did he pray in these lofty terms simply because this was a circular letter.  Since he had lived in Ephesus for an extended period of time (Acts 20:31), he could easily have prayed for specific people.  But, like the Lord Jesus as he prayed for His disciples in their hour of greatest crisis, he saw to the heart of their need: that they might have the eyes of their hearts* (the inner man) enlightened to know God (John 17:1-26).  Until the Holy Spirit has wrought His regenerating work in us, the eyes of the heart* are blind.  The person who has never been born again cannot know the things of God: “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:14).  And the average believer is totally ignorant and unappreciative concerning his present spiritual possession. But when the eyes of the inner man are opened through the power of the Holy Spirit, we grow in knowledge and understanding of spiritual truths.  Dear reader, if you are born again, you are somebody, whether you have realized it or not!  You are now a son of God.  You now possess the divine nature of God. In your bosom dwells the Holy Spirit.

* In the Bible the heart is the seat not so much of the emotions as of the understanding, so that this is a prayer that Paul’s readers may have their spiritual wits sharpened to understand three things: “the hope to which He has called you”—the blessed hope of  everlasting life; “the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints”—the glory and wonder of that life among the heavenly beings; and “the immeasurable greatness of His power in us who believe”—that is, the presence in us even now of God’s power to help us realize this life (1:18-19).

When we ask such a question—“Should the apostle have prayed for something more practical than this?”—we reveal much about our priorities.  We think we can see what is really important; but we are short-sighted.  Yes, sad but so, most Christians are totally ignorant concerning our position and our possession in the Lord Jesus. We need spiritual eye surgery from the Spirit in order to be able to see clearly.

Later he underlines that by nature the Ephesians—as Gentiles—had “no hope” (2:12).  They were not the recipients of the special covenant promises God had given to Abraham and his posterity.  For them life was, at the end of the day, a hopeless business—the future a closed door beyond which nothing could be seen.  At their funeral services there could be little more than a clinging to the past, some small consolation in gratitude for good memories—but no light dawned on them from the future.

The “hope,” of which Paul speaks here, is not to be confused with wishful thinking.  It is an assurance of the reality of what we have not yet fully experienced.  It will not disappoint us.  Why?  How can we be so sure?  Because the love of God has already been poured into our hearts through the Spirit—“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).  The world of heavenly love, which is the future destiny of believers, is already ours!  The Spirit who has poured it into us also indwells us as the guarantee of the final inheritance: “who (the Holy Spirit) is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory” (1:14). Having Him we have a confident expectation for the future.

Why does “the hope to which he has called you” hold such a priority in Paul’s prayers for his friends?  Because how we live the Christian life is in large measure determined by how we think about the future.  Putting it another way, the purpose behind God’s revelation about the future is to transform the way we live in the present.

This was certainly true of our Lord’s teaching: knowing that He will come again should lead us to live each day in the light of His return and to treat others in the light of His final assessment of our lives (see, for example, Matthew 25:31-46).

We find the same emphasis in Paul’s letters: even his prayer life is enlightened by knowledge of the future.  Because he knows that the Lord will return in glory and judgment, he prays that believers may live in a way that is “worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power” (2 Thessalonians 1:11).

What does Paul mean when he now prays that the Ephesians will realize “the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people?”  Does this refer to (a) the inheritance which God has in us, or (b) the inheritance we have in Him?

In the Old Testament, the people were regarded as the Lord’s inheritance (Psalm 28:9; 33:12; 78:62, 71; most beautifully expressed in Malachi 3:16-17).  In turn, the Promised Land was the inheritance he gave to them (Numbers 18:26). However, Old Testament believers saw beyond the land to the Landlord—ultimately God himself was their inheritance.  The land was a physical expression of the spiritual riches they possessed in Him.  This was true not only of Aaron and his descendants who had no land inheritance (Numbers 18:20; Ezekiel 44:28), but ultimately also of all the people: the Lord was their “portion” (Psalm 73:26; 119:57; 142:5)

Paul’s reference could be either to the riches we have in God, or to the remarkable Biblical revelation that God regards His people as His “treasured possession” (Malachi 3:17).  Since God’s inheritance in us and our inheritance in Him are really two sides of the same coin, either interpretation implies the other.

But in either case why is it important that our eyes are opened to see this?  Because seeing this brings us a deep sense of dignity and securityDignity is ours because of the knowledge that we are treasured by the great God in whom our lasting treasure is to be found.  Security is guaranteed by the knowledge that He guards those He treasures as well as the treasures which are theirs—”Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:3-5).

Think how much this would mean to the group in the church at Ephesus whose background lay in the dark arts.  They once had been among the wealthy book-owners of the city, so much so that in their radical commitment to Christ they had burned their occult literature (Acts 19:19).  Why did they not sell it and use the proceeds for evangelism?  Because evil must be rooted out and destroyed.

Christians—then and now—must live without regrets, “forgetting what lies behind” (Philippians 3:13).  There is no greater incentive to do that than to realize that lasting wealth lies in the priceless treasure we have received from God.  He has given His Son for us.

19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength

Many early Christians suffered financial ruin because of their faith in Christ: “You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions” (Hebrew 10:34).  Doubtless the slogan “money is power” was as true of first century Ephesus as it is of the great cities of the world today.  But the Ephesian Christians were financially challenged and socially weakened.  In Christ however, great power is available to the weak.

In this verse, Paul wants us to understand “what is the exceeding greatness of His power” (KJV) toward us who believe.  Every born again child of God has within his bosom the power of Almighty God.  We are kept by the power of God.  Jesus does not redeem a soul—and then leave that soul alone to fight the warfare of faith. Promises such as this encouraged Christians to move on in the spiritual life: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35-39, KJV).  When the believer discovers this promise and thousands of others just as precious, he will march on to victory in Christ Jesus, through the power of God.  God’s power is not only great—His power is “EXCEEDING GREAT” . . .  “the exceeding greatness of His power” (KJV).

The power of God is seen in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In the Old Testament, people measured God’s power by His creation (Isaiah 40:12-27) or by His miracle at the Exodus of Israel from  Egypt (Jeremiah 16:14).But today we measure God’s power by the miracle of Christ’s resurrection. Much more was required than merely raising Him from the dead, for Christ also ascended to heaven and set down in the place of authority at the right hand of God. He is not only Savior; He is also Sovereign (Acts 2:25-36). No authority or power, human or in the spirit world, is greater than that of Jesus Christ, the exalted Son of God. He is “far above all,” and no future enemy can overcome Him, because He has been exalted “far above all” powers.

Paul himself experience spiritual strength being given to him in times of weakness.  Indeed he taught that such strength can be discovered only in the context of weakness.  So he learned to be content in privation and even to “boast” in his weaknesses—not in and of themselves but because the Lord taught him that his “power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

So too, these young Christians, surrounded by occult powers, and perhaps especially conscious of the socio-political power of the Diana cult in Ephesus (Acts 19:19, 34) needed to know that the One who was in them was stronger than the one who is in the world: “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).

Some think that the measure of God’s power is brought out by the remarkable accumulation of terms, which is best illustrated by the King James Version—“And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power” (1:18)—“exceeding greatness,” “power,” “working,” “strength,” “might”.  The heaping up of words suggests the idea of power, the very telling of which exhausts the resources of language and finally defies description.

 

 

 

 

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