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Prayer that God enlighten the Ephesians to see his gracious power
Ephesians Chapter 1, verses 15-23
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. 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. 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. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, 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 and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 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.
Three times in the doxology just completed (verses 3-14) Paul urged the Ephesians to praise God for the great spiritual blessings they had received in the Father’s electing them, the Son’s redeeming them, and the Spirit’s bringing them to faith and sealing their salvation. Recall that God did all this “to the praise of his glory.”
In the spirit of praise and thanksgiving, Paul now prays, “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.”
From the book of Acts we know that Paul served in Ephesus for three years. Because Paul here says “I heard about your faith,” some have concluded that the letter could not have been intended for the Ephesians, because Paul would not speak that way to people whom he had served for three years. Note, however, that Paul had been in captivity in Rome for almost three years by the time he wrote this letter. Hence, it is entirely likely that Paul’s best and most recent source of information about the readers was what he had heard via the reports that had come to him.
Be that as it may, it doesn’t change Paul’s model prayer of praise to God for the faith and love of his readers, for whom he prays constantly. Faith and love are not essentially different. Love is simply faith in action, and both are produced by the gospel, which alone can win hearts and lives for the Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul’s prayer, however, is not restricted to praise. He adds a petition, or request, for the Ephesians. “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.”
Only in and through Christ may sinful people approach God in prayer. Hence Paul addresses God as “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father.” He is not only Christ’s Father, but by our faith in Christ, he is also our Father. Hence we may come to him boldly and confidently, as “dear children coming to their dear Father.” This is what Paul does when he asks the Father to give the Ephesians a gift, that is, “the Spirit of wisdom and revelation.”
“Spirit” with a capital S would suggest that Paul is praying for the Holy Spirit to impart wisdom to the Ephesians. Such an understanding is certainly possible. But because Paul in the next verse prays that “the eyes of your heart may be enlightened,” it is perhaps likelier that Paul is here asking God to give the Ephesians enlightened hearts and minds, which come from learning God’s truths as they are revealed in his Holy Word. Paul’s prayer is that the Ephesians grow in their understanding of these truths so they may know God ever more fully.
For that increase in knowledge to happen, God must intervene. So Paul prays to God “that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened.” Such enlightenment from the Word will help the Ephesians to recognize and appreciate three great blessings from the Father: (1) the hope to which he has called them, (2) the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and (3) his incomparably great power for those who believe.
In speaking of the hope to which God has called the Ephesians, Paul is not using the word as when we say, “I hope to finish this job today” or “I hope it won’t rain.” The hope of which Paul speaks is not a fond wish, but a sure and certain confidence. It can be so because it rests on God’s call. Recall that Paul reminded the Ephesians that from eternity God chose them, in time he redeemed them, and now he has sealed them by giving them his Holy Spirit.
While all this is sure and certain, it is, however, a promise for which full realization lies in the future. Hence Paul’s further petition that the eyes of their hearts might be enlightened to see and comprehend “the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.” An inheritance is not something earned or deserved. It’s a gift; it’s grace. And that’s how God deals with his saints, that is, with the believers whom he has called, redeemed, and sealed with the Spirit.
But this hope and this inheritance both rest on a promise, and both lie in the future. Where, then, is the assurance that God can and will keep his promise? Paul prays that the eyes of their hearts may be enlightened so they might see God’s “incomparably great power for us who believe.” Knowing about God’s power is the basis for trusting that God can and will keep his word.
But where’s the proof of his power? Paul calls the Ephesians’ attention to what God did in and through Christ. The apostle asserts, “That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms.” For the believer an incomparably great power is at work, which is like the power God demonstrated in connection with the resurrection of his Son. Although Jesus always remained true God, even when he took on human flesh and became true man, he humbled himself and laid aside his divine power. He became obedient to his Father’s will, even to death. There was no life in the corpse that Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea took down from the cross late on Good Friday afternoon. But God used his incomparably great power to restore his Son to life and give back what had originally been his. In addition to this, God greatly exalted him.
At the Ascension the Father welcomed his Son back to heaven and set the God-man at his right hand, giving him a position of power. In fact, he exalted him “far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given.” Paul uses four terms to describe positions of great power. He could no doubt have listed more than four, or he might have settled for fewer. The number of positions is not significant. The point is that absolutely no authority figure can successfully oppose the risen and ascended Christ. He is Lord over them all. And this is true not only for the present but also for the future. Jesus is far above all opposition, “not only in the present age but also in the one to come.”
To take Christ’s exalted state one step further, Paul states that he is not only above all authority figures, but he is in charge of everything that happens. The apostle states, “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.” Where is the assurance that God can and will keep his promise? Paul’s answer is, The power that God has vested in his Son makes that absolutely certain, particularly when we see the favored relationship we have to this all-powerful Lord. God placed him over all persons of authority and put him in charge of absolutely everything “for the church, which is his body.”
Christ’s rule is absolute, and all his power is now used for one grand purpose, the good of his church, which consists of the sum total of all believers. The relationship between Christ and the rulers and authority figures is simply that of a lord and master dealing with subordinates. Christ’s relationship with his church, however, is entirely different. It is an organic relationship, a connection as close as the one the head shares with the members of the body.
Paul is going to use this picture of head and body in yet another setting. Later in this letter he urges husbands to “love their wives as their own bodies. . . . After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church” (5:28,29). In the present chapter Paul’s point is that with the all-powerful Christ feeding and caring for us, we, the members of his church, can rest in complete security.
But Paul says yet another thing regarding Christ’s relationship to the church. He calls the church “the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” That statement is actually something of a paradox, an apparent contradiction in terms. Christ fills everything in every way. He is completely self-sufficient. Yet he chooses to be empty and unfulfilled without his church. How can that be? Simply because God is true to his eternal plan. From eternity he selected and predestined the members of his church—and he will not rest until he has accomplished their salvation. Only then will he be truly fulfilled. Paul prays that the Ephesians and we may see this truth with enlightened eyes.
God’s eternal plan of salvation was devised already in eternity, but it was carried out in time. To that aspect of the triune God’s gracious dealing with us, Paul turns next.
God’s eternal plan of salvation was carried out in time
Both Jews and Gentiles are saved by grace
It is important to keep in mind that the congregation in Ephesus was a mixed congregation made up of both Jews and Gentiles. How that came about becomes more apparent when we understand mission methodology. In the book of Acts, Luke tells us that whenever Paul came to a new area, he went first to the Jewish synagogue. There he proclaimed Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ, the fulfillment of God’s Old Testament prophecies that promised the Jews a Savior.
Invariably this proclamation of Jesus of Nazareth as the promised Messiah drew a mixed reaction. A of Jews believed Paul’s message and accepted Jesus as their Savior. The majority, however, refused Paul’s message and forced Paul and his Christian converts to find a different place of worship. Thus a new Christian congregation formed with a nucleus of Jewish believers well versed in God’s Word (that is, the Old Testament).
Numerical growth in the new congregations, however, came primarily from the gentile neighbors and townspeople with whom the Jewish Christians shared their newfound Savior. These congregations soon became predominantly smaller group of Jews who were well versed in Old Testament Scripture. This leadership proved to be particularly valuable when Paul moved on—often quite soon—to other areas of mission endeavor and left the new congregations on their own.
The point to be noted is that while the larger segment of the Ephesian congregation was probably of gentile background, it also had a significant Jewish element. Paul addresses both Jews and Gentiles in his letter.
Ephesians Chapter 2, verses 1-2
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.
When Paul says, “As for you,” he is talking to the Ephesians of gentile background. Their Jewish counterparts will be addressed later. For now Paul is speaking to Gentiles, and he has some very damaging things to say.
Although physically they were very much alive and active, Paul tells the Ephesians that spiritually they had been dead. Corpses can’t move. Dead people can’t do anything; they are totally unable to help themselves. Such was the spiritual plight in which the gentile Ephesians had found themselves. If any were inclined to question Paul’s diagnosis regarding their spiritual bankruptcy, he urged them to take a look at their lives and actions. That they had been dead in transgressions and sins is evident from the kind of lives they used to live when they “followed the ways of this world.”
Like their friends and neighbors, the Ephesians had shown the common weaknesses and shortcomings of gentile society. They had been godless and immoral, loveless, lazy, and disobedient. Society is that way, according to Paul, because it follows “the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.” That “ruler,” of course, is Satan (John 12:31; 14:30). He is a powerful and dangerous foe. Like a roaring lion, he stalks about, seeking victims to devour (1 Peter 5:8). And the Ephesian Gentiles had been easy prey.
Paul’s analysis did not apply only to them, though. Despite the Jews’ considerable advantages in being God’s chosen people, in their natural condition they were no better off than the Gentiles.
Ephesians Chapter 2, verse 3
All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.
When Paul says, “We also lived among them,” he includes himself and his fellow Jews with the disobedient Gentiles. True, Paul and the Jews may have disobeyed in a little different way, but in the final analysis they were just as guilty as the Gentiles. Paul had charged the Ephesian Gentiles with coarse and sinful actions. For himself and his fellow Jews, Paul now admits to sinful thoughts and desires.
God’s law, given to Israel on Mount Sinai, guided and regulated nearly every phase of Jewish life. As such, the law held in check among the Jews many of the coarse outbreaks of sin that were scandalously common among the Gentiles. But even this outward Jewish decency wasn’t the full and complete obedience that a holy God rightly expects and deserves. The Jews’ very nature—hearts, minds, and attitudes—was tainted to the core. That showed itself in their “gratifying the cravings of [their] sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts.” Like the Gentiles, Paul and his fellow Jews were by nature spiritually dead.
Whether they are open or secret, blatant or subtle, sinful actions and thoughts infect every man, woman, and child since the fall into sin. Sin is an inherited condition. We bring it with us from birth. And it rightly earns us the anger of a holy and just God. With Paul we too need to say, “Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.” Paul paints a grim picture. All people are by nature
spiritually dead, totally unable to change their condition. Not only are they unable to improve their lot, but they are the objects of an offended God’s wrath. They can expect nothing but the harshest of punishment—and that for all eternity.
This would be a terrifying chapter if not for the fact that Paul can continue with a “but.” That three-letter conjunction is the pivotal point of this chapter, yes, of the whole letter—in fact, of all Scripture. Mankind as a group has made a terrible mess of things. In their wickedness and perversity, all people are at odds with God. All are spiritually dead and enemies of God. All deserve the severest punishment,
Ephesians Chapter 2, verses 4-5
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.
These verses contain three enormously important words that give us a look into the heart and mind of our God. Paul can speak of a momentous change in our situation. Why? “Because of his [God’s] great love for us.” The Greek term for love used here is not the word that speaks of friendship between two people—people who see endearing qualities in each other and on that basis like each other. Instead, it speaks of a love and affection that is totally one way. It all comes from God. Nothing in man the sinner, the God-hater, the spiritual corpse, drew God to him. Love resided only in the heart of God.
The second great term describing our Savior-God is “mercy.” Paul speaks of him as “God, who is rich in mercy.” Mercy is a positive quality that certainly has much in common with love. But it is also somewhat different. Mercy is the attitude in the mind and heart of God that moves him to take pity on us when he sees our lost and wretched state. Mercy prompts him to action.
And what did God’s love and mercy prompt him to do? We were rightly the objects of divine wrath, “but because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions.”
Paul has already told us about the incomparably great power God used to raise Christ from the dead. But that use of God’s power in raising Christ has far-reaching implications also for the whole human race. Raising Christ from physical death signaled the completion of Christ’s saving work and sealed our redemption. It made possible our resurrection from spiritual death.
When Paul says, “God . . . made us alive with Christ,” he is referring to the miracle of conversion. When we could not lift a finger to help ourselves, God through Word and sacrament worked faith in our hearts, creating life where formerly there had been none. In this way he “made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions.”
God’s love and mercy in action, converting and making spiritually dead people alive, is such a marvelous and amazing thing that Paul spontaneously exclaims, “It is by grace you have been saved.” Together with love and mercy, “grace” is the third term that requires our attention. But actually, Paul is getting a little ahead of himself. He’ll treat the concept of grace more fully beginning at verse 8. First he continues to explain what God’s love and mercy have done for us.
Ephesians Chapter, verses 6-7
And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.
Paul sketches the whole cycle of the Christian’s life: past, present, and future. In the past the Ephesians—and Paul too—were spiritually dead, as shown by the Ephesians’ evil deeds and Paul’s evil thoughts and desires. But now, having been brought to faith in Christ, they are spiritually alive. That opens up grand new possibilities. In a manner of speaking, Christians already have everything. Even now, in their lives of faith, they are as good as in heaven with Christ. Recall Paul’s bold statement at the close of the first chapter: “God placed all things under his [Christ’s] feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body.” Christ has all power on earth and in heaven, and he uses it all for the benefit of his believers. This is why Paul can say that even while living here on earth, they have been raised with Christ and are actually seated with him in heaven.
The full realization of the bliss of heaven is, of course, still in the future. But God did not make us alive just to give us a small foretaste of heaven. He did so “in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” As great and glorious as God’s present blessings to us are, they don’t begin to compare with what God will do for his believers in heaven. Scripture tries to help us form some concept of heaven. For example, it refers to life in heaven as a gala wedding banquet, or it compares heaven to a glorious city paved with gold and set with precious gemstones. All those pictures, however, fall short of the real thing—as they must, of course—because what God has in store for us is “incomparable,” by Paul’s definition. There simply is nothing in our present range of experience that can compare with heaven, so great is the love and mercy of our God, “expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.”
After holding before the Ephesians’ eyes the present good fortune they already enjoy and the even greater riches they by faith may confidently anticipate in heaven, Paul returns once more to the source and cause of all this blessedness.