Welcome to part 3 of our series through Ephesians, titled God, Identity, and Everything Between. We began with an overview of who this letter was written to (Christians from Jewish and Gentile backgrounds), who it was written by (Saul the persecutor of Christians, who after being confronted by the risen Christ, was powerfully changed into Paul the pursuer, going after any chance he got to tell people about Jesus who wants to save you & bring you into right relationship with God). We touched on the two main divisions of this letter—chapters 1-3 elevate our hearts and minds way above everyday conversations, and then chapters 4-6 apply these heavenly truths to everyday living. It’s a perfect blend of what God has already done, and what he calls us to now do in partnership with him.
In chapter one, Paul is like a Coke bottle that’s been shaken vigorously and then opened up. He bursts out in praise, gushing in worship of God for all he has done for us. And then in today’s passage, Ephesians 1:15-23, he shifts from praising God, to praying for fellow Christians.
God wants you to enjoy his many blessings, and he wants you to know him better. That’s what we’re getting into today—a prayer to know God more fully, deeper. Because the more you get to know God as he is rather than as you imagine him to be, the more you will love him.
I don’t know what picture of God you grew up with. I don’t know what comes to mind when you hear “God.” But I’m convinced, as Paul was, that the better you get to know God, the greater will rise the flames of love for God within you. Let’s pray that right now.
Our Father in heaven, as we come to your Word, we ask you to give us the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that we may know you better. We pray in the spirit of Psalm 119:18 and ask you to open our eyes, that we may see wonderful things in your Word. As we pray, we lean hard on the promise that you can do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to your power that is at work within us. Do it, Lord. Teach us. Change us. Do amazing things among us, that you may receive ever-more praise. Amen!
Oh, to Know You More!
Open your Bible to Ephesians 1:15. Immediately after praising God for the vastness of his blessings poured out on us, Paul shifts to a prayer that we may know God more and more. Verses 15-17:
“For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, 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.”
The Christian’s faith should be built on knowledge. A lot of religion is based on imagination, the old critique that God created man in his own image, and man returned the favor. In West Africa, I saw people imagining they can literally buy protection from evil spirits: the local shaman will sell you a key wrapped in rubber bands, a stone you wear on a necklace, a string bracelet put on an infant’s ankle to ward off evil spirits. Likewise they pay the shaman to cast spells on their enemies.
In Hong Kong, I watched as people burned what they call hell money—fake money that they imagine by burning, they are sending money to their dead relatives to spend in the afterlife. They have whole shops whose sole inventory is paper and thin wood items that you buy in order to burn and send the actual item to your dead relative: a paper Mercedes, a 3-storey paper house complete with a couple of women and an armed guard, all made of paper.
It looks different here in North America, but just as pervasive is the myth that just because you imagine something about God or yourself or spiritual realities, that makes it true. That’s nonsense. The Jewish faith and the Christian faith which flows from the Jewish foundation is built on knowledge of truth that God has revealed, not imagination. The Bible is the God-given record of what God has said and done to make himself known.
So the greatest way to get to know God is to listen to his Word, while praying for insight. Take in the knowledge of the Bible, while praying for what we call the illumination of the Holy Spirit. Every time you crack open your Bible to read it; every day you open the Read Scripture app for that day’s reading or even part of it, start by asking God to open your eyes, that you may get to know him better. Oh, to know God more: there is nothing greater than this, nothing more important!
Paul models three things to ask God for. In light of all God’s blessings poured out on us, what should we still ask for? Here are three.
God, we pray to know deep hope from your call upon us.
“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…”
God wants you to walk before him confident that he loves you, that he is with you, and that you have a purpose. What you say and do matters, because of whose you are: a child of God.
“The eyes of your heart” is a way of expressing the inner you, that you will experientially know confident hope flowing from the fact that God has called you to faith in his Son. All three of these prayers are asking the Holy Spirit to “turn the lights up” inside. Theologically, we speak of the Holy Spirit’s inspiration of the Bible, that he inspired the biblical writers so that what they wrote is what God wants us to hear. Building on that, we speak now of the illumination of the Holy Spirit—that he will take the Spirit-inspired Word of God, and open our understanding to it corporately and personally, both.
If that sounds too theoretical, consider the time after Jesus’ death when two of his disciples were out walking along a road when Jesus came and walked with them, but they didn’t recognize him. This is Luke chapter 24. But then when he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them, Luke says, “Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him…” Later it says, “They asked each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?’”
What God did for those unnamed disciples long ago, he longs to do for you today—open your eyes to know, feel, and experience the deep hope that should come from knowing God has called you to himself. It’s deep theology that has everything to do with how you see God, and how you see yourself. You have been called. And that calling is intended to bring you deep hope. God wants us to be marked by massive hope, hope that rises above cynicism even while staying rooted in reality.
Paul models a second prayer for knowing God better:
God, we pray to know the profound riches you have waiting for us.
“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know…the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people…”
There is debate over whether this is saying we are Christ’s inheritance (Christ’s people across history, his Church), or that this is praying to be gripped by what God has waiting for us who belong to him. Either meaning is awesome and worth praying to know, to be compelled by.
And what we can all see is that where God’s call looks back to the beginning of your following Jesus, his inheritance looks ahead to the completion of what God has begun in us. God wants you to experience the blessing of being his, with the reward he has waiting for you and the awesome blessing of belonging to Christ.
Skye Jethani filled my staff position in the Chicago suburbs when I moved here. In his book The Divine Commodity, Skye tells about a trip he took to India with his father. While walking the streets of New Delhi, a young boy approached them. He was desperately skinny, wearing only tattered shorts, and his legs were contorted such that he could only shuffle along on his calloused knees.
Seeing Skye and his Dad, the young boy cried out, “One rupee, please! One rupee!” One rupee is worth a penny.
In response to the boy’s persistent begging, Skye’s Dad asked, “What do you want?”
“One rupee, sir,” the boy said while motioning his hand to his mouth and bowing his head in deference. Skye’s father laughed and asked, “How about I give you five rupees?”
At which point the boy’s demeanor dramatically shifted—from asking, to protecting himself. He pulled back his hand. He looked defiant. He sneered at Skye’s Dad, thinking this was a cruel joke at his expense.
He began shuffling away, mumbling curses.
Skye’s father reached into his pocket. Hearing the coins jingle, the boy stopped and looked back. Skye’s Dad was holding out a five-rupee coin. He walked over and placed the coin into the young boy’s hand, then proceeded on his way.
A moment later they heard shouting of a different kind, as the boy yelled, “Thank you! Thank you, sir! Bless you!” He quickly shuffled up to them—not for more money, but to touch the feet of Skye’s father.
Five cents, prompting outrageous thanks. How much more reason do we have to give thanks to our Father in heaven for his stunning generosity toward us? I pray, Paul says, that the Holy Spirit will open your eyes to the riches of God put on display in his people, Christ’s Church.
Skye Jethani, The Divine Commodity (Zondervan, 2009), pp. 113-114
Pray to know deep hope. Pray to realize God’s riches toward you. And third, Paul prays…
God, we pray to know the greatness of your power toward us.
“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know…his incomparably great power for us who believe.”
God’s power can’t be compared to anything else. If you drive north on 65, you’ll see more than 300 windmills turning wind into electrical power. The current plan is to grow it into one of the largest wind farms in the world, generating enough electricity to power a quarter of a million homes. That’s powerful. God’s power for his children is infinitely greater: “his incomparably great power for us who believe.”
- Only by God’s power can you follow Jesus for the rest of your life, no less follow him faithfully today.
- Only by God’s power can we withstand the pull of consumerism, which is premised on “what have you done for me lately,” rather than being amazed at all that God has done for us already and continues to. That takes God’s power.
- Only by God’s power can you stand firm against the spiritual forces of evil spoken of in Ephesians chapter 6.
- Only by God’s power do we bring God’s presence into our relationships at home, on the job or in school.
- Only by God’s power can we have a Kingdom-of-God impact here where the Lord has placed us.
Novelist Andrew Klavan knows about God’s power for us who believe in Jesus. Klavan was raised in a non-practicing Jewish home. For his first 45 years, he lived as what he describes a “philosophical agnostic and a practical atheist.” But then the lights started to turn on. Here’s how he says it:
Jesus never appeared to me while I lay drunk in the gutter. And yet, looking back on my life, I see that Christ was beckoning to me at every turn. When I was a child, he was there in the kindness of a Christian babysitter and the magic of a Christmas Eve spent at her house. When I was a troubled young man contemplating suicide, he was in the voice of a Christian baseball player who gave a radio interview that inspired me to go on. And always, he was in the day-to-day miracle of my marriage, a lifelong romance that taught me the reality of love and slowly led me to contemplate the greater love that was its source and inspiration.
But perhaps most important for a novelist who insisted that ideas should make sense, Christ came to me in stories. Slowly, I came to understand that [Christ’s] life, words, sacrifice, and resurrection formed the hidden logic behind every novel, movie, or play that touched my deepest mind.
I was reading a story when that logic finally kicked in. I was in my forties, lying in bed with one of Patrick O’Brian’s great seafaring adventure novels. One of the characters, whom I admired, said a prayer before going to sleep, and I thought to myself, Well, if he can pray, so can I. I laid the book aside and whispered a three-word prayer in gratitude for the contentment I’d found, and for the work and people I loved: “Thank you, God.”
Now listen to what happened next. Andrew Klaven says, It was a small and even prideful prayer: a self-impressed intellectual’s hesitant experiment with faith. God’s response was an act of extravagant grace. I woke the next morning and everything had changed. There was a sudden clarity and brightness to familiar faces and objects; they were alive with meaning and with my own delight in them. I called this experience “the joy of my joy,” and it came to me again whenever I prayed. Naturally I began to pray every day.
Andrew eventually placed his faith in Jesus as Lord. He was baptized, and later wrote a book about his journey titled The Great Good Thing: A Secular Jew Comes to Faith in Christ.
Andrew Klavan, “How a Man of the Coasts and Cities Found Christ,” Christianity Today (8-22-16)
I remember going to a movie as a high school freshman. Sitting in the balcony, I realized and later told my parents that when there was a close-up on the lead actor’s face, where his eyes were all I could see were dark orbs. Turns out I needed glasses. Anyone who has gotten glasses for seeing at a distance tells a similar story. Wearing glasses for the first time, I suddenly realized how much I had been seeing, but not fully seeing. Leaves and twigs on trees were amazing. “I pray that for you,” Paul writes, “that the eyes of your heart will be opened, so that you can see God’s great power for us who believe in his Son.” Pray this—3 prayers to know God better.
Almost done. Immediately after praying that Christians would know, feel, and experience knowing God’s power more fully, Paul launches into another outburst of praise to God, this time praising God for his awesome power. Look at it with me, Ephesians 1:19-23
Praise God for his power!
“That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ 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 name that is invoked, 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.”
Here Paul breaks out in praise for three things God’s power accomplishes for us who believe.
Jesus has defeated our worst enemy—death.
We have members here who have recently lost a loved one to death. We have others who will be newly grieving in the coming weeks or months. For the believer in Jesus, here is hope: death is not the end. The fundamental reason Jesus came was to bring life, eternal life, to as many as will receive him, trust him, follow him. Eternal life is both a quality of life—knowing God now—and it is a life with God and with others that will never end.
Don’t miss this. Sheldon Vanauken was a student of C. S. Lewis a few decades back. When Vanauken was leaving Oxford to teach in the United States, he had one final lunch with his mentor Lewis. Over lunch, the subject turned to wondering aloud about the nature of life after death. When they finished eating, just before parting ways, Lewis said to Vanauken, “I shan’t say goodbye. We’ll meet again.”
Lewis then plunged into traffic to cross the street while Vanauken watched his friend walk away. When Lewis reached the other side of the street, he turned around, and with a grin on his face, he shouted over the roar of traffic, “Besides—Christians never say goodbye.”
The Holy Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead, will raise you if your trust is in Jesus. Jesus went first, showing what will take place for all who follow. Americans make heroes of the young, and pay anything to avoid death. That’s just off. If you have been born again, you don’t have to fear death. Jesus has defeated our worst enemy.
The second thing Paul breaks out into praise over is that…
Jesus is over all who are over us.
Verses 20-21, Jesus is now seated at the right hand of God the Father, “far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.”
Some would have you believe everything is led by chance and choice. You happen to exist for a blip of time, amidst a multiverse that is ruled by nothing. It’s all random and meaningless. Paul hits the eject button on that playlist and reminds us that over everyone and everything…is Jesus. He didn’t always believe that. But he became convinced of it the day a disembodied voice called him out, struck him blind, identified himself by name (“Jesus, whom you are persecuting”), sent him to a stranger to receive miraculous healing, and began illuminating the Scriptures to Saul-who-became-Paul. Saul who saw himself as over most of his peers and certainly thought of himself as superior to Christians, changed to seeing, knowing, understanding and experiencing that Jesus is Lord!
- So for the Christian who has a boss who opposes your faith, here’s hope: Jesus is over your boss. No need to get cocky about that, but there is comfort in knowing that. Paul prays this his readers will know, experience the benefits of God’s power for us who believe.
- For the college student whose faith is attacked by a professor who sees it as their mission to disabuse anyone’s faith in the Bible (as was my experience), here’s hope: they don’t know everything. Jesus stands over anyone who situationally is over you. Don’t sweat it.
- For the couple knotted up in anger and resentment, at your wit’s end, here’s hope: Jesus is over your marriage. Submit to his leadership. Cry out to him. See what he can do with what is presently cold and distant.
- And note the timeline here. Jesus is over all who are over you, forever. For the Christian, knowing this should bring calm stability. Now and forever Jesus is over all who are over you. He’s got you.
The third and final thing Paul breaks out into praise over is that…
Jesus is filling his church in every way needed.
Verses 22-23: “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.”
Here we find the first explicit mention of the church in this letter. Ephesians, more than any other book in the New Testament, shows what God thinks of the Church, and what we should aspire to be like as Christ’s Church.
The church, Paul says, is Christ’s body. We are the means by which Jesus speaks and acts in the world today—through the living Word of God, communicated and demonstrated by the living Church of God.
Just as the Holy Spirit restored life to Jesus’ cold and dead body, so today he fills us, his Church, to say and do what Jesus wants said and done today. In Fishers, as in heaven. In Indianapolis, as in heaven. Christ is the head, and we are his visible, audible, tangible expression today, both to one another, and to those who have yet to trust in Christ.