The Godward Outpouring of a Thankful Heart
November 26, 2006
I wonder this morning how many of us think that praying is important? How many of us spend time each day communing with our creator and caretaker about those things that are important not only to us personally, but also to His church, both local and global? For our government? For world cultures? For those dying in genocides around the world? How many of us are gathering together, whether formally or informally, to raise up concerns to our Lord, asking Him for that which we and others need and praising Him for what He has supplied? Is prayer really important to you? Do you see a need to pray?
Especially for us who hold to the complete sovereignty of God in all things; why do we need to pray? If God is sovereign and all-powerful, why do we need to worry ourselves with selfishly directing Him in our own designs? Isn’t it much more spiritual to simply trust in God and let Him make decisions on His own? Isn’t that relying on Him and His wisdom and knowledge? Do we really need to pray to God? Should we?
In our text this week, Ephesians 1:15-19, we will see that Paul has taken into account God’s sovereignty in all things, and still finds room, if not priority, for prayer in the Christian life. In fact, Paul’s prayers are the focus of this passage, both in his thanking God for His work, and in his interceding on behalf of believers. And among these two kinds of prayers in this passage we will see two main emphases that are helpful in understanding the Godward outpouring of Paul’s Thankful Heart: 1) The Causes of Paul’s Thankful Heart (vss. 15-16), and 2) The Object of Paul’s Intercession (vss. 17-19).
I. The Causes of Paul’s Thankful Heart – 1:15-16
You recognize the eulogy that we finished looking at in the last sermon, where Paul praises God for the spiritual blessings with which He has blessed us in Christ. God has chosen from before the foundations of the world a people to be holy and blameless before Him, He predestined them for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, He freely bestowed grace on them in the Beloved, He redeemed them through Jesus’ blood, He made known to them the mystery of His will, that Christ summed up all things in Himself, They have been made God’s portion, a people for His possession, and they were sealed with the Holy Spirit, who is a down payment of our future inheritance. This is Paul holding up the character and work of God and saying, “You are blessed! Praise You!” We see all three persons of the trinity, Father, Son, and Spirit, being portrayed as praise-worthy in this eulogy. They are all working together to provide these spiritual blessings.
A. The Previous Eulogy
Well, now we come to this new section, and Paul jumps right in to his normal thanksgiving prayer that he usually includes just after his introductory salutation. He starts giving thanks by vs. 4 in 1 Corinthians and Philemon; by vs. 3 in Philippians, Colossians, 2 Thessalonians, and 2 Timothy; and even by vs. 2 in 1 Thessalonians. But here in Ephesians, it is all the way in vs. 15. The inclusion of the opening eulogy to God was important to Paul, and plays a role in the understanding of the rest of the letter, even in this thanksgiving. And it is in this thanksgiving that Paul will point to the fruits that he sees in the lives of the believers to whom he is writing as also to the work of God among them.
But what are the causes of Paul’s thanksgiving? It will be easy to see two causes, but there is one more that will be easy to overlook, but important to recognize. It stems from the word “therefore” or “for this reason” in vs. 15. When you see a therefore, you must always ask, “what is it there for?” Here it plays an important role of joining two sections, the eulogy section and the thanksgiving section, showing an important truth that must be understood in living the Christian life: that theology and prayer must not be separated. You cannot take one, and leave the other. On the one hand, if you really understand the theological truths of the Bible as a whole, or a passage in particular, those truths will lead you to pray, either confessing your sinfulness, or praising our magnificent Creator. On the other hand, if you really seek to pray to God, you cannot be without right theology. These two go hand in hand.
Why is the therefore important here? The main sentence for vss. 15-19 is, “I do not cease giving thanks for you.” Why does Paul not cease to give thanks for them? What is the cause of his ceaseless thankfulness to God? We must answer, first, what the therefore is there for. And it is there for this reason: Because God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ as is seen in vss. 3-14, Paul has reason to be thankful in vs. 15. Because God has chosen a people as His possession; because He has secured their redemption through pouring out His wrath for their sins on Christ in His death; because He has sealed them, marked them out as His own, through the Holy Spirit, Paul has every reason to be thankful that God has worked to fulfill His word and uphold His decree.
But what does that have to do with the recipients of this letter? Great; God has chosen a people to be holy and blameless before Him and He has done all of this other stuff for them, but how do we know that any of God’s work applies to the Ephesian church? A more personal question is how do you know it applies to you? Have you ever asked yourself that question? Or have you simply assumed that because you have grown up in a Christian home, or walked an aisle at the end of a service, or been dipped under water that you are of this group who have spiritual blessings?
Paul does not assume that these spiritual blessings have been given to the believers in Ephesus. He looks at the proof, the fruit, that these blessings have wrought in the lives of the people. He lists two of these fruits here which are further causes for Paul’s thankful heart: faith and love. And since this letter was likely a circular letter, to be sent around to many different churches in the area of Ephesus, it would not be a stretch to look upon these two fruits as two marks of a healthy church.
The first fruit of which he hears is their faith in the Lord Jesus. Paul, being in prison as he is writing this, can have confidence to pray to God on the behalf of these Christians who he sees as being the recipients of the previous spiritual blessings firstly because he has heard of their faith in the Lord Jesus. He has not seen it because he is in prison, but word has reached him of their faith. These believers have been trusting, putting their faith in the Lord Jesus. But why was their faith worthy of being heard? Think of their predicament. They are being persecuted by the broader culture. They faced ridicule and possibly physical violence daily. Why? Because they would not bow the knee to the lord, Caesar, something that many others would have been doing without hesitation. But they, as did Paul, recognized that earthly powers may be temporal lords, but they could never be the Lord. The believers to whom Paul was writing knew that it was the Lord Jesus that ruled over life and death, and it was Him who casts out fear and gives strength in times of need. It is this might that Paul will focus on at the end of this chapter. And because these believers are trusting in Christ as Lord, Paul can have confidence that the previous spiritual blessings apply to them and give thanks to God.
But there is a second fruit, a second mark if you will, that Paul sees as important in his assessment of them. He has heard of their love for all the saints. The work that God has done on behalf of believers is shown not only by their faith in Christ as Lord, but also by their love for all the saints. And in this context, “all” the saints refers to believers regardless of ethnicity, both Jews and Gentiles.
But how did Paul hear of their love? What was it about their love that caused it to be recognizable? It was that they were acting out of love. Their actions towards others showed that they loved them. I don’t doubt that my son Adon loves me, but when he comes up out of nowhere and throws his arms up and hugs me around the neck, then I recognize that there is love in his heart for me. In the same way, the Ephesian believers could have simply moved through life without showing care or concern for others, but they chose, out of the love that was in their newly created heart, to outwardly love other believers.
A question should then be asked of us: Would the love that we show others be considered worthy of being heard by Paul? Would he write in the Epistle to South Woods a thanksgiving section that speaks of our love towards all the saints? Are there ways that you, individually, and we, corporately, could be showing love towards all the saints?
I think we could begin in our own congregation, gathering together to provide for the needs of others. We have recently begun having benevolence offerings when we partake of the Lord’s Supper. It is a time that we can give money so that we as the body of Christ can show our love for others in our congregation and outside of it. Think of the early church in Acts 2:44-45, when it was said that “all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.” Luke goes on to comment that they were “praising God and having favor with all the people.” Our love is shown by how we treat each other, and here it was by how they provided for one another financially. So please, plan to set aside money to give to others for when they have need.
I also think of how we could show love for one another through the emphasis we put on praying for one another. Why do I say that? Well first, to pray for someone, you must remember that they exist. With our busy lives that we lead, it is often the case that we don’t have others on our mind. We pass through our week like random ions bouncing around the atmosphere, reacting to the next thing that bumps against us. But when we begin to consider others through the eyes of love, we begin to think about their needs and desires. We begin to consider them as worthy of our time in prayer. We begin to pray not only for their physical needs, but for their spiritual ones as well. Do you spend time praying for the saints? If not, I challenge you to make supplications for others a daily part of your prayer life. Keep an ongoing list, and rotate people if you must, but do show your love for one another by praying for them daily.
I also think of how we could show love for the saints through the time that we spend with the saints. How much time do you spend with other believers outside of the weekly meetings of the church? Look, I know that we here in the metropolis of Memphis have a busy schedule, but do we consider other believers a priority when scheduling our time? You truly do show love for other saints when you spend time with them, whether in person or on the phone, encouraging one another and keeping them accountable in their walks with the Lord. Take this as an encouragement to meet regularly with fellow church members to do this. Show your love for the saints through the time you spend with them.
Looking again at our text, then, we see that faith in the Lord Jesus and love for all the saints were two important marks for Paul in recognizing the spiritual blessings in the lives of believers, and because of the presence of them in their lives, Paul declares thanks to God, “making mention in [his] prayers.” But Paul does not end with thanksgiving. He moves from being thankful for what God had already provided them to asking Him to provide even more. John Stott rightly notes, “What Paul does in Eph. 1, and therefore encourages us to copy, is both to keep praising God that in Christ all spiritual blessings are ours and to keep praying that we may know the fullness of what He has given us.” Here we see Paul interceding for these believers, and we see the second emphasis of our text, The Object of Paul’s Intercession, and that is that believers would have a right knowledge of God.
II. The Object of Paul’s Intercession – 1:17-19
We see Paul revealing in vss. 17-19 the things that he prays for believers. Remember, this letter was likely a circular letter, to be passed from church to church, so these things are those that Paul was praying for all of the local congregations, not just the one in Ephesus.
He begins by speaking of the One to whom He is praying and asking to intercede on behalf of the churches. He prays to “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory.” This God to whom he prayed was the same as the one who raised Jesus from the dead. In the passage following this one, we see that this God not only raised Jesus from the dead, but He seated Him at His right hand in the heavenlies. He put all things in subjection under Jesus feet. The same God, who showed His great power in all of these things, is the One to whom Paul now prays for these believers.
A. The Spirit’s Work
And what does Paul pray? That God “might give to you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in knowledge of Him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened.” This is similar to the corresponding intercession in Colossians 1:9, “And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding…” There is an importance in the Christian life placed on knowledge. I’m not talking about theological muscle flexing. Paul is talking about those things that must be firm in our minds before we can live well our lives as Christians. These truths must grow their roots deep in our minds, wrapping their roots around every sensory lobe in our mind, as well as reaching down far into our hearts so that there is nothing in our inner lives that is left untouched by them. Paul will give us three of these truths in a moment, but first let us look at the work of the Spirit in bringing this work of knowledge about.
Paul considered it very important that these Christians “be given the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in knowledge of Him,” the “Him” being God. We are not talking about a second “Spirit” here, one besides the Holy Spirit through whom they have already been sealed in vs. 13. No, this is, as Gordon Fee says, “for the indwelling Spirit whom they have already received to give them further wisdom and revelation.” It is to have the eyes of their hearts enlightened.
Consider from where Paul was writing this. Like the letter to the Colossians that we have been studying in Sunday School, where Paul also places strong emphasis on right knowledge, Paul is in prison. He cannot be around the churches. He cannot guard them from false teachers. He told the Elders of the Ephesian church in Acts 20:28ff.: “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.” This is the state of the church that Paul was facing, and unable to be there himself, He knew that his only recourse would be to pray that God would fulfill the work that He had already accomplished in Christ through the administration of the Holy Spirit. Thus Paul prays that the Spirit would provide them with “wisdom and revelation in knowledge of Him.”
Consider also that these believers did not have the NT. They had the OT. They possibly had heard of new documents having been written, and here they obviously possessed a letter written from the apostle Paul, but they were otherwise without written guidance. So Paul prays that they would have guidance from God Himself through His Spirit, that they would be able to read the spiritual letters written to them by having the eyes of their hearts enlightened.
Of course we, who have possession of the sacred Scriptures, have further resources than did the churches of Asia Minor, but we too need the work of the Spirit in understanding them. We too need to have given to us the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in knowledge of God and to have the eyes of our hearts enlightened.
B. The Purposes of the Spirit’s Work of Knowledge
But what does this enlightenment and knowledge bring? What are the purposes of the Spirit’s work in bringing wisdom, revelation, knowledge, and enlightenment to the believer? Paul lists three things that he prays for the believer to know as a result of the Spirit’s work:
1. What is the hope of His calling
Note this is not the hope of your calling. This is not a personal, subjective thing that you can manipulate around how you feel at a particular moment. No, this is the hope of His calling, that is the hope that lays ahead of the one who is called by God. Hope is what is unseen in the future, spoken of in other places to be salvation in general (1 Thess. 5:8), righteousness (Gal. 5:5), perfected resurrection bodies (1 Cor. 15:52-55), eternal life (Titus 1:2, 3:7), and God’s glory (Rom. 5:2). This hope is what Gentile believers did not have before they believed. Paul in Ephesians 2:12 speaks to the Gentile believers and says, “You were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.” God is our hope. He is the goal of salvation. He is the goal of righteousness. He is the goal of the resurrection. God is our hope. For more on understanding God as the goal of all things, I would highly recommend John Piper’s book God is the Gospel. In it, Piper brings out the repeated theme of Scripture, that God is the one to whom all things are directed. He is the good news found in the gospel.
And we too, as Gentiles, have hope in His calling of us. The fact that He has condescended to allow grace and mercy to be extended to us is remarkable. That we, who were “without hope in the world,” now have a steadfast hope is a praise-worthy thing. We should constantly join Paul in thanksgiving that we have been given a hope. You need constant knowledge of the hope of His calling.
2. What is the wealth of His glorious inheritance among the saints
This hope is further examined by this next phrase, “What is the wealth of His glorious inheritance among the saints.” This is an appositional phrase, one that explains the previous phrase, “What is the hope of His calling.” Paul tells us here that our hope in His calling us is found in the riches of His glorious inheritance among the saints. But this clarification may be unclear to you. Don’t confuse our hope with a future mansion, vaults of gold and jewels, and beautiful things. It says, “What is the wealth of His glorious inheritance.” Paul is referring here to that which he has already spoken of in vs. 11. “In whom also we were chosen as God’s portion (inheritance), being predestined according to the purpose of the one working all things according to the counsel of His will.” Those whom God saved are God’s inheritance, His portion. This phrase in vs. 18 does not speak of “our inheritance” but “His inheritance.”
And this wealth of His inheritance is spoken of as glorious. Those who trust in Christ are the glorious inheritance of God! Can you believe that! F. F. Bruce rightly notes, “That God should set such a high value on a community of sinners, rescued from perdition and still bearing too many traces of their former state, might well seem incredible were it not made clear that he sees them in Christ, as from the beginning he chose them in Christ.” The only reason that believers are seen as anything other than children of wrath (2:3), is that God has done a work; a work that Paul has spoken of in whole in the eulogy of vss. 3-14, as well as bringing it out again in 2:1-10.
But here in vs. 18, Paul prays that believers might know what is the wealth of His glorious inheritance among the saints. Do you know what is the wealth of His glorious inheritance among the saints? Do you ever think about what was accomplished so that you would be part of God’s portion? As part of a people that He has marked out as His own? Do you think of the perfection of Christ being punished on your behalf? Of the constant wrath that is not laid upon your head because of the work of Christ? I dare say you have not thought about it enough. And it is this knowledge that Paul prays that you will have.
3. What is the immeasurable greatness of His power for us who believe
Paul adds a final purpose of the Spirit’s work that he prays will be given to believers, and that is that we will know what is the surpassing (or immeasurable) greatness of His power for us who believe.
Do you see the progression of thought in these three pieces of knowledge that Paul prays for believers to know? First, that we would know that we have hope, and secondly, that it is a great task to be accomplished in bringing sinners to glory. But what if God is not able to overcome this task? What if He has given us hope in His calling us, and He has set out to bring us in as His inheritance, but what if the gulf between Him and us is too great? What if He cannot bridge the divide between sinners and a holy God? Paul here wants us to know a third piece of knowledge, and that is that God is great in power. So much so, that Paul stacks synonyms on top of each other to show us His great power, and then gives examples in the following verses that we will look at in the next sermon. But here, Paul prays that we would know “what is the immeasurable greatness of His power for us who believe,” and then goes on to tell us the source of that immeasurably great power, “according to the workings of His powerful might.”
All believers must trust the might of God. It is only His power that can give us the right to have hope. It is only His power that can place us in His inheritance. It is only His power that can cause us not to fear. And Paul, writing to these believers whom he cannot protect, wants them to know that God is powerful, and it is “for us” that His power works.
Is God’s power a comfort to you? Do you look on the immeasurable greatness of God’s power, that power that cannot be matched or even compared, and find it to be a solace. Do note the context in which Paul was writing this. He was writing to believers, those who he had heard of their faith in the Lord Jesus and their love for all the saints. These believers showed fruit of the Godward life. And it is only on the basis of their relationship with God in Spirit and truth that Paul was able to pray that they would know His hope, His possession of them, and His immeasurably great power for them. His power was comforting to them, as it is to all who believe. But is it to you? Or is it a thing of dread? Do you look at this God, who spoke all things into existence without exerting anything more than a word, who has created and named every star in the sky, who once destroyed the world with the flood, and who promises to destroy it once more, and who has said that no sin will go unpunished, and look happily on His might?
I encourage you all to take account of yourself in light of this great strength that is God’s. Measure yourself against it and find just how small you are, and how unable you are to stop His power from coming against you in wrath for the great many sins that you have committed. If you do not find comfort in the knowledge of His calling you and His glorious inheritance of you into a people for Himself, then you must run to Christ immediately. You must seek Him while He may be found. You must throw yourself before Him and beg forgiveness, for it is only through forgiveness that He might look kindly upon you. And then that great might which you once dreaded is a comfort to you. That power, which had the ability and intention of punishing you, now has the ability and intention of saving you with all of the exuberance that it can muster.
Have you trusted Christ for salvation? Do you find His power to be a comfort to you?
In conclusion, do remember that this knowledge is what Paul was praying for believers. We have need of it. We cannot assume it. We cannot look over it. We need the knowledge of God to be revealed to us. We need His hope, salvation, and power for us. And we must not overlook one of the means by which these are given to us: through prayer. Do pray for each other. Do pray that each believer will show the fruit of faith and love, that they will have a Spiritual knowledge of God, and of the hope, salvation, and power that come from the Gospel. Take Paul as your example, and have Godward outpourings of a thankful heart for God’s work among all the saints.
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be explicitly approved by South Woods Baptist Church.
Please include the following statement on any distributed copy:
Copyright 2011, South Woods Baptist Church, All Rights Reserved