SUNDAY 18 APRIL 2021
EPHESIANS: A CHRISTIAN MANIFESTO
AN ENLIGHTENED PEOPLE
When we were on holiday in Lindisfarne last year we went to a shingle beach and lazed about for a while and then walked the couple of miles back to our cottage. When I got home I realized that my favourite watch was missing. I thought that on the beach the strap must have become detached and the watch had fallen from my wrist without my noticing it. There was nothing for it. I went back the couple of miles to the beach and started searching everywhere for my favourite watch, trying to identify the location where I had been sitting – not an easy task on a shingle beach! Despite much searching I didn’t find the watch and went home dejected. I thought I would have to go online to order another one if I could find the same kind. Later in the day I happened to turn over one of the pillows in the bedroom and there was the watch lying on the mattress! Don’t ask how it ended up there. I had been looking frantically for something I already had! The reason it wasn’t on my wrist when we came back from the beach is that it hadn’t been on when we went to the beach – it had been in the bed! Turning over the pillow was enlightenment to me – it revealed to me what I already had, in this case my watch. When Paul prayed for the Christians at Ephesus in Ephesians 1:15-23 it was like asking God to turn over their pillow – they didn’t need anything new; they just needed to discover what they already possessed!
This is the second message in our series from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians and I want to look at this passage under the heading of “An Enlightened People.” I’ll be working from the NIV today. Let’s read the passage now…
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 20 he exerted when he raised Christ 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 name that is invoked, 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 (Ephesians 1:15:23, NIV).
Why Paul prayed
Paul in prison had heard two things about the Christians at Ephesus which convinced him that they were the real deal, genuine believes who had received all the things wrapped up in God’s amazing salvation. They demonstrated two marks of genuine Christianity: faith in the Lord Jesus and love for all God’s people. Firstly, Christian faith is less about the quality – strength, intensity, size, if you like – of the faith, and more about the object of the faith. So the Ephesians’ faith is in the Lord Jesus. Notice however that their faith isn’t just in Jesus, which reduces him to the status of only being a Saviour, important as that is. No, the Ephesian Christians had faith in a whole Christ, not just Saviour, but also Lord. We cannot separate these two and to have faith in the Lord Jesus is to receive him as both our sin bearer and our Master, the one to whom we owe allegiance, serve and obey as best we can. Secondly, the Ephesians’ love was of that highest kind, the agape self-giving love of the type that characterises God’s love for us. Their love was therefore an active, giving love, not just a warm feeling, and it went far beyond their own little group. Paul commends their love for all of God’s people, all true Christians everywhere; not just the ones who are like us or who we naturally gel with. May the same be true of us here at ACF and PCF.
How Paul prayed
Paul is a model of how to pray for other Christians. I’m not talking about the content of his prayer, but the way he did it. He says “I have not stopped.” in other words, he continued to pray for them over the long haul. I don’t think I could hand on heart say to many people, “I have not stopped praying for you.” I suspect many of you are like me. A prayer request comes in on your phone and depending on what you’re doing, you may pause for a few minutes to pray for the person for whom prayer is requested; then you carry on with your business; you may pray for that person a few more times and then it all peters out. Am I right? Well, Paul is an example to us. He didn’t stop praying for the Ephesians. But then he says what the bent of his prayer was – “giving thanks for you.” Now I don’t think it was the case that the Christians at Ephesus had no problems or issues. I don’t believe they weren’t persecuted or that no one in the church was ill, but this is not the main focus of Paul’s prayer. He gives thanks for them. Why? Because their faith and love showed they were genuinely God’s people, that God had chosen them, saved them and given them the Spirit as a down payment of their final salvation. And so in giving thanks Paul isn’t so much thinking “they are such amazing people” but “they are the people of an amazing God.” And that is always a cause of thanksgiving. Do we look at fellow Christians and think “these are God’s people; he has done and is doing something amazing in their lives.” Perhaps if we did, it might revolutionize our relationships in the church! He then uses a tender expression which struck a chord with me coming from a tradition of a rather reserved Highland Christianity. “Remembering you in my prayers.” People up north have sometimes said to us when we’re facing difficulty or, perhaps, parting and they don’t know when or if they’ll see us again, “We’ll be remembering you.” I don’t think it means that these people, when they come to pray, will think, “Oh – do you remember Florence and James? I wonder how they’re getting on. I must drop them a Whatsapp one of these days.” No, it means when they come to pray they will lift us up before God and plead for his mercy, his guidance, his protection, his blessing, his strength and will do it day after day, week after week. Paul is like this. When he comes to pray, he has the Ephesians on his list and he regularly lifts them up to God for God to give them all they need.
What Paul prayed
Paul shows his commitment to prayer by telling them what his request actually is. We should first note to whom Paul addresses his prayers. It is to “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father.” Isn’t that an incredible description of our Heavenly Father? It reminds us that the one to whom we pray, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is the only true God and that our God is immeasurably glorious. So what is Paul’s request? It is that God would give them “the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that (they) may know him better.” The Holy Spirit gives wisdom and gives knowledge, and in this case He gives knowledge of God and of the amazing blessings he has already bestowed upon them in Christ. Hence Paul asks that the Holy Spirit will give the Ephesians – and us too as we stand on the shoulders of these giants – what is necessary to have a better knowledge of what God has done and is doing in their lives.
He prayed that “the eyes of their hearts may be enlightened”. He uses two very obvious anatomical structures to tell us something about our inner selves. The eyes are the structures we use for sight and the heart is the structure that keeps us alive. In the same way, there is a kind of inner sight that enables us to appreciate spiritual realities – what I mean is understand those things which relate to the unseen but very real realm of existence inhabited by God. There is also that intangible inner part of us, “the heart” if you like, where we experience these unseen realities. So Paul wants the Holy Spirit to reveal inwardly to the Ephesians the two main things which THEY ALREADY POSSESS – hope of inheritance; and power. To “turn over the pillow” if you like.
HOPE OF INHERITANCE. In modern English the word hope has been completely hollowed out to mean little more than vague wishful thinking. “I hope I’ll be able to go on holiday to Tenerife later in the year. I hope I won’t have to cancel my birthday party.” That sort of thing. But that’s definitely not what Paul means when he talks of “the hope to which He has called you.” When he talks of hope, he’s referring to the hope, or certainty, of receiving an inheritance. So what’s the inheritance?
Listen to what Paul says in verse 18… “the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people.” I think Paul is probably at the limit of human vocabulary here in trying to explain what this all might mean. I think the reality is vaster and more magnificent than we can ever imagine. When I worked in Liverpool people there used to say to me that I had to visit the cathedrals because they were amazing. Well one day I found myself in the centre of Liverpool near the Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King. I had a little time to spare so I thought I would go and see the cathedral everyone was saying was magnificent. So I climbed up the steps from Hope Street and walked through the door across the vestibule and into the cathedral proper. Well the experience of being in there far surpassed what I had been led to expect. The vastness, the quietness, the ethereal violet light that bathed the interior of the sanctuary from the stained glass lantern high above and focused on the altar in the centre – the whole place was breathtaking. This is what I mean. I think the inheritance we can look forward to will far surpass what Paul is capable of expressing by the phrase “the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people.” Notice the word “his.” This refers to God and I think the idea we have to wrap our limited minds around is that our future inheritance is actually being part of God’s inheritance. His redeemed people, the church, are his inheritance. He is the one who planned our salvation, saved us, and sealed us and what we look forward to is our final redemption when WE are God’s inheritance, we as his redeemed people displaying and sharing in the incomparable riches of his glory so that God may be forever praised. Amazing! But that’s not all…
POWER. As well as hope of inheritance, Paul talks about power… “…his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted.” Paul piles up words here to indicate the incomparable greatness of God’s power: great power; power; mighty strength; exerted. The amazing thing is that this power is available to the whole church and to you and me individually. But remember, we don’t need anything new; we just need the pillow turned over to discover what we already possess. And it is necessary that we have our spiritual eyes opened to see the power we already possess so that, by faith, we can tap into it. Paul gives us the supreme example of the exercise of divine power so that we might see what this power is like. “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.” The power that is available to us is the SAME POWER THAT ACHIEVED THE RESURRECTION AND ASCENSION OF CHRIST. This isn’t power in the abstract sense of sheer energy – megavolts or that – but power with purpose. You may be thinking “I don’t experience much power in my life.” But wait a minute! What do you think are the evidences of God’s power at work? Spectacular miracles? Well perhaps. God can do spectacular miracles if he chooses, but I think we need to ponder a little more what Paul says to get the general drift of how God’s power actually works.
1. God’s power defies the natural order of things. Dead people stay dead. Dead bodies decompose. But in the resurrection of Christ God defied the natural order. Christ did not stay dead. Christ’s body did not decompose. And at the end of history God will defy the natural order by raising all the dead, bringing back bone to bone, cell to cell, molecule to molecule, atom to atom, spirit to lifeless body. But now God’s power still defies the natural order of things. People who have lived lost, broken, sinful lives, under the influence of God’s power, repent of their sins and turn to Christ and so begins the slow Holy Spirit-driven process of transformation by God’s power at work in their lives, in defiance of the natural order of things. And for the church as a whole, the natural order of things is defied. In an age of science and reason, faith should have died out long ago but in many areas the church has never been stronger and more relevant. In countries where Christians are tortured, imprisoned and murdered for their faith in Christ, the church should have been wiped out, but is growing so fast that in many countries the Bible societies cannot meet the demand for Bibles or for paper to print more. This is in defiance of the natural order of things and clear evidence of God’s supernatural power at work.
2. God’s power frustrates the expectation of enemies. The attitude of the religious leaders to Jesus is telling. They thought they could get rid of Jesus by persuading the Romans to crucify him. They thought they could thwart the resurrection by sealing the tomb and posting guards. They thought they could debunk the resurrection by bribing the guards to lie about what really happened. They thought they could smother Christianity in its cot by threatening the apostles with beating, imprisonment, death…but the church continued to grow. The Roman Empire thought it could stamp it out by wave after wave of persecution but the church continued to grow until the Emperor Constantine eventually became a Christian and Christianity became tolerated throughout the Roman Empire. And on it goes up to our present day when the enemies of the church think they can stamp out Christianity by legislating against the expression of beliefs they regard as offensive, but the church just keeps on growing. Why? Because God’s power defies the expectation of enemies.
3. God’s power exalts Christ. Perhaps one of the reasons that we don’t see God’s power at work in our life is that what we want to achieve does not have the primary aim of exalting Christ. If we want to see God’s power at work then I think the key is that our lives, our worship, our service, our ministries, the use of our resources, everything should ultimately have the aim of, directly or indirectly, exalting Christ. When I preach, am I exalting myself or Christ? I hope it’s the latter. When I join in worship am I exalting Christ or indulging myself by singing worship songs I like? When I go to a Christian festival or conference is my primary aim to exalt Christ or meet my friends and enjoy the “festival experience?” It really is a challenge but I do think that the main way of tapping into the power of God that’s available to us is to ask God to empower us in whatever we do to exalt Christ.
What Paul did next…
Don’t you just love Paul? He cannot contemplate any aspect of the person or work of Christ without launching into an exalted song of praise! Having prayed that God’s Spirit would open the inner eyes of the Ephesian Christians to the hope of the inheritance and power they already possess and having been gripped again by the reality of the resurrection and ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ, he launches into a paean of praise. Just listen to this – verses 20-23:
“He raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms.” Okay Paul, Christ is raised and reigning on a throne somewhere on earth. No, no… The apostles witnessed the ascension. Jesus is alive but he’s not here on earth. He’s at the Father’s right hand in heaven.
“Far above all rule and authority, power and dominion and every name that is invoked”
Okay Paul, Christ is higher than church leaders is that it? No, no. Okay Paul, Christ is higher than kings, emperors, presidents, prime ministers – is that it? No, no. Okay Paul, Christ is higher than angels and demons is that it? No, no, no – Christ is far above ALL rule and authority power and dominion and every name that is invoked.
“Not only in the present age but in the one to come”
Okay Paul, Christ is higher than anyone at the moment, but what if someone greater than Christ arises in the future? No, no he is higher than all now and FOREVER.
“And God placed all things under his feet”
Okay Paul, Christ will rule over all things at some time in the future but now the Devil rules the word? No, no. All things are NOW under his feet. The Devil is not in charge. His power was completely broken at the cross and Christ in his death and ascension has been exalted by God the Father to the place of highest honour, power, might and authority. Jesus reigns – NOW!
“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.”
Okay Paul, you say Christ is ruling and reigning now but the world is in a mess. He’s not making a great job of it is he? No, no the world’s not in a mess, the world is working out God’s plan for it unfolding through human history. And what is that plan? THE CHURCH. We need to wrap our little minds around this part of the Godosphere – THE thing God is doing in human history, and the purpose of Christ’s death, resurrection, ascension and exaltation is the perfection of the church. What does this mean? It means that God is at work in the world calling to Him all those he has predestined to salvation. And he is at work shaping these men and women, boys and girls into the image of Christ. He does this primarily through the work of spiritually gifted apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers as we’ll see when we get to chapter four. And the time will come when the number of God’s people will be complete, the image of Christ will be perfected in each of us individually, and collectively as the church, the body of Christ will be in perfect unity with him who is the church’s head, Christ. At the moment we are still the body of Christ, but incomplete, but I think soon, perhaps very soon, the work will be complete.
To sum up…
Paul prays that the Christians at Ephesus and all true Christians everywhere would have their inner eyes opened by the Holy Spirit to grasp what we already have – HOPE of an INHERITANCE in Christ’s eternal kingdom, so that we may experience now the death-defying, enemy-confounding, Christ-exalting POWER of God in the building up of the church, his BODY, bringing it to completion in perfect unity with Christ the HEAD. May God turn over all our pillows so that we will see what we already have as His people – may we be an ENLIGHTENED people to the praise of His glory!