We continue in our two week series through Ephesians 1–3, with guest writer Dr. David Starling.
In order that you may know | Eph. 1:15–23
How should we pray for one another (and for ourselves) in the light of the things Paul has been writing about in verses 3–14? If God is the one who is in control of the universe; if he is the one who works out everything in accordance with his will; if he is the God who has blessed us already with every spiritual blessing in Christ, then how does that affect the way we pray for one another when we come to him in prayer? How do you pray for person who already has everything?
The question presupposes, of course, that you do pray for your fellow-Christians. It presupposes that you’ve learnt the lesson that God is the one who controls the world and not you; it presupposes that you really believe that—that you’re not just a theoretical believer in the sovereignty of God, but that you put it into practice by praying.
So what do you ask God for when you pray for someone who already has every spiritual blessing in Christ? If the question has never occurred to us, that may be because we’re more interested in material blessings than spiritual ones: our default setting is to use prayer as a kind of magic to get God to fulfil all our plans and ambitions. So we pray for each other that life will go smoothly, and that our friends will get into that Uni course, and get that job and find that new house to buy, and pass their exams and get well quickly whenever they get sick, . . . much like the Ephesians with their magic spells. It’s not wrong to ask God for these things; if we’re worried about them, then it’s better to give them to God in prayer than just to keep worrying. God cares about all the bits and pieces of our lives, our material needs as well as our spiritual ones.
But the focus of Paul’s prayer here in Ephesians is still strikingly different. How do you pray for the person who already has every spiritual blessing in Christ?
* With thanks (vv. 15-16)
In the first place—verses 15 and 16—you pray with thanks. You keep saying thank-you to God for them and for their conversion and for the work of the Spirit in their lives. It seems kind of obvious but we do it so little. It ought to be instinctive for us. We open our mouths to pray for each other and the first words that come out should be “thank you”.
* For knowledge of all that they have (vv. 17-23)
And then in verse 17 Paul moves from thanking to asking. And the main thing that Paul asks God for when he prays for the Ephesians, is that God will enable them to know what they have in Jesus, and who they are in him.1:17-23 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 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, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, 20 which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 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. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.
Four things Paul prays that the Ephesians will know:
First, that God will enable them to know him him better (v.17). When God adopted them and made them his children, he adopted them not only into an inheritance but also into a relationship. And so the very heart of the Christian life is knowing God. That is more precious than anything else in this world. And that is the first thing Paul prays for for the Ephesians.
Second, verse 18, he prays that they will know the hope that God has called them to. He prays that they will know with real confidence and certainty that their home is in heaven and their eternal future is secure, because God has a plan to gather all things together in Christ and he has included them in that plan.
What happens when you don’t have that knowledge? When you don’t have that knowledge—when you live as if you had no hope, as if it was only for this world that we had hope in Christ—you live aimlessly and selfishly and fearfully. You live just to maximise your pleasure and your comfort and you safety in the here-and-now. You live for your career and your house and your car and your pleasure.
What happens when you do have that knowledge—when you know the hope that he has called you to? You live purposefully and you live sacrificially; you live as someone who is quite happy to make all kinds of sacrifices in this world because you are living for the next. The hope of the new creation—the sure and certain hope of the resurrection and the life of the age to come—is the one key ingredient that makes the difference between worldly, half-hearted, materialistic Christianity and the real Christianity that gives up everything for Jesus. Pray that your friends and fellow-believers will know that hope.
The third thing that Paul prays for for the Ephesians is that they may know the riches of God’s inheritance in the saints. Inheritance language works two ways in Ephesians. On the one hand—e.g. in verse 14—Paul can use it to talk about our inheritance: the inheritance of the new creation, the promises of God that we inherit as his sons in Jesus. But it can also be a way that Paul talks about God’s inheritance, and that’s the meaning that it has here in verse 18. In the Old Testament and in the new, the Bible speaks about God’s people as his inheritance – as his treasured possession. And Paul prays for his fellow Christians that they will know how precious they are to God: that they will know the value that he places on them as his cherished possession; that they will know the riches that they are worth to him.
And finally (vv. 19-23) he prays that they will know his incomparably great power for us who believe: that they will live as people who are absolutely confident of the power of God—the power that he showed when he raised Jesus from the dead; the power that shows he is able to bring the dead to life; the power that marks out the Lord Jesus as the one who is supreme over every other power and authority in the universe; the power that makes him head over all things for us, his people, and includes us in his triumph.
To think about:
What sort of things do you typically ask God for when you pray for your family and friends, and for the people in your church? Do your prayers include the kind of things Paul prays for here? Is there room for you to expand and deepen the range of the desires that you brin to God when you pray for your fellow believers?