Praying for a Hope-Awakening and Wealth-Appreciating Knowledge of God
In Ephesians 1:15-19 and the context, Paul recorded one of the greatest of his prayers. My mentor, Herb Hodges said, “I personally believe it is the most important prayer one human being can pray for another. It is a prayer for "illumination"; the one subjective essential for understanding the things of God after the New Birth. "Except a man be born again, he cannot see." The two indispensables for spiritual understanding are regeneration and illumination.”
Warren Wiersbe titled this pericope of scripture (Eph. 1:15-23) “Read the Bankbook”! He goes on and says, “We discovered that we were “born rich” when we trusted Christ. But this is not enough, for we must grow in our understanding of our riches if we are ever going to use them to the glory of God. Too many Christians have never “read the bank book” to find out the vast spiritual wealth that God has put to their account through Jesus Christ.”
What Paul does in Ephesians 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. If we keep together praise and prayer, benediction and petition, we will continue balanced growth in the grace and knowledge of our Lord.
I. Thanking Father God for Evidence Affirming the Work of Grace in His People – 1:15-16
“For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers,” When we inquire as to what “for this reason” means, we discover that it connects us to verses 3-14, the greatest single sentence ever written. Paul has been straining at the leash of language, piling up gigantic, load bearing, wealth-laden words on top of words to tell us that all that God is, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is “all in” to provide what the writer of the book of Hebrews calls, “our such a great salvation” (Hebs. 2:3).
In our text today, Paul gives us a God-inspired way of praying for ourselves and other believers. So, what is a summation of the evidence that a work of grace has been initiated in the heart of a believer?
Faith in the Savior is Evidenced by Fellowship with the Saints – 1:15a – “…because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints…”Gal 5:6, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.” The real evidence of God’s work in us is not the love we claim to have for Him, but our love for His people that others can see (1Jn 4:20, Jn 13:14 and Jn 13:34-35).
II. Asking Father God for Enlightenment Concerning the Wealth of Grace Available to His People – 1:17-23
What does Paul ask for? What is the deep need of every Christian? First, Paul makes a single, general request in verse 17, and then he breaks it down into three specific requests, all relating to hope.
The General Request – 1:17 - “. . . that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him.” The deepest need of every person is to know God. Not just to know about him, but to know him personally, with an ever-increasing desire to know Him more intimately. Jesus said in his high-priestly prayer in John 17:3, “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”
Since salvation isn’t just about missing hell and making heaven, but knowing God, Paul’s first request is “that God . . . may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him.” Do you know God? If so, are you growing in your knowledge of God? Are we going deeper in how well we know God? Paul shows us that this happens by praying for it. And this is not a one-time prayer for Paul. It is continual. “I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers . . . that you might know God.” Be constant in this prayer! Pray this for yourself continually. Pray this for your family. Pray this for the church and especially her leaders.
More specifically in verse 17 he prays that we would have a “spirit of wisdom and revelation” so that we can know God. The truth of the matter is that we cannot know God without the help of the Holy Spirit. And what the Holy Spirit does is to awaken and transform our spirit so that we can see and savor the wisdom and revelation that God gave to his apostles and prophets. He is a Spirit of wisdom and revelation, and he creates a spirit of wisdom and revelation.
John Piper asks, “When you read the Bible or listen to a Bible-saturated sermon you are hearing the wisdom and revelation of God. But what happens? Do you see it? Does it have an effect on you? Does it move you? Does it make you hungry for more of God? Does the wisdom and revelation appear beautiful to you? Do they taste sweet? Can you say with the psalmist, “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Psalm 119:103)?
Three Specific Requests – 1:18-19
In verses 18-19, Paul prays in different words what he has just prayed for generally. The focus of all our knowing, seeing, and savoring - all God’s wisdom and all God’s revelation - is God himself. That is why the first petition in verse 17 is that we might know him. But now he breaks this down into three requests.
The phrase a “spirit of wisdom and revelation” is basically the same as the “eyes of the heart being enlightened to know.” So that’s what Paul prays in verse 18. He tells the Ephesians that he asks God that “having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know . . .” Then he asks that they may come to know three things with the eyes of the heart.
In the Bible, the word "heart" doesn’t mean just the emotions, but every area and function of the personality, i.e., “the totality of our personality.” But note that Paul uses a remarkable phrase in Ephs. 1:18: "the eyes of your heart." So every believer has two pairs of eyes. One pair is in his head, and the other pair is in his heart. He received the eyes in his head at physical birth, and he received the eyes of his heart at spiritual birth. But just as the eyes of his head must be trained and developed after birth for proper use, the eyes of the heart must be trained and developed after the new birth. Our hearts have eyes by which we are to see (all things) from the depths of our personality. But this "seeing" requires spiritual illumination.
The glory of God in his wisdom and revelation is not seen by the physical eye. You can read and hear God’s revelation till you are blue in the face, and if the eyes of your heart are not enlightened, you will not see and savor the beauty and sweetness of God’s wisdom and revelation. You will not know God.
Verse 18 says that the purpose of this illumination, or "heart seeing," is "that you may know." The word "know" is "oida," which is not the word for knowing that results from the use of your mind, your brain, your reason, your intelligence. The word "oida" means "to know intuitively.” This intuitive spiritual seeing of the heart requires that the eyes of the heart be opened and flooded with Divine light, which only the Holy Spirit can do.
Verses 18 and 19 have been called "the prayer of the three “whats." When the eyes of my heart are opened by a miracle of the Spirit of God, I discover that:
- I don't have to protect myself ‑ because God has provided perfect security for me. This is found in the word hope.
- I don't have to prove myself ‑ because God has provided perfect significance for me. This is found in the idea of inheritance.
- I don't have to provide for myself ‑ because God has supplied perfect sufficiency for me. This is found in the words for power.
Let’s unpack these three "what" clauses in this prayer for illumination. The answer to this prayer will solve the three greatest problems in a believer's life – insecurity, insignificance, and insufficiency.
B1. What is the Hope of His Calling – 18a, “… what is the hope to which he has called you…”
There are two words which require attention, definition, and interpretation. One is the word "hope," the other is the word "calling." In both cases, these words do not mean in the New Testament what we mean when we use them in everyday conversation today. For example, consider the word, "calling." Today, a "calling" is an invitation, or a vocation. But in the New Testament, the word "calling" is the all‑inclusive word for Divine salvation. So we see immediately that this first "what" is infinitely bigger than it first appeared to be. Then consider the word, "hope." Again, the word is vastly bigger and more meaningful than even our big word "hope." To us, hope is wish‑projection, or wishful thinking. It is the desire for something projected into the future. But in the New Testament, the word "hope" has another dimension to it.
In our ordinary conversation hope is something less than faith, but in the Bible, it is something more. It is faith developed into a full assurance. The Greek word is "elpis." It is used 145 times in the Bible, 26 times in the NT. The word means anticipation and expectation combined with desire; confident expectation of promised blessings not now present or seen. It is God's guarantee that what He has promised will be fulfilled.
It is identified in the New Testament as "a sure and certain hope." So there is no degree of uncertainty in the New Testament use of the word, "hope." But uncertainty is a very significant part of our modern word "hope." So the New Testament word would be accurately translated, "guarantee," or "assurance."
With certainty in mind, Paul’s prayer is that the eyes of the believer's heart will be opened up and flooded with light, in order that we may "know” intuitively by the work of the Holy Spirit how absolutely guaranteed our salvation is. It is God's intention that every believer have absolute, unconditional, perfect assurance of His salvation. For this reason, the believer no longer must prove himself, because God has provided perfect, inviolable (unbreakable), invulnerable, invincible security for him! The reason for this is so important. Why? Because only secure people will ever serve God. Insecure people cannot serve God; they must serve themselves, seeking the security that eludes them outside of Christ. Every person outside of Christ is a nobody seeking to make of himself a somebody, but every person in Christ (though many don't know it) is everything to the most important Person in the universe; thus, he can easily volunteer to be nothing, because he cannot lose what he has in Christ. Once he is truly in Christ, he is perfectly secure! So this prayer is a petition that each Christian will realize His perfect security in Christ. Yet, most Christians act regularly out of insecurity instead of security. Why? Because the first "what" has never been deeply and richly illuminated to the eyes of their hearts. Can you begin to see how important this prayer is?
B2. What are the Riches of His Glorious Inheritance in the Saints – v 18b, “…what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints;”
Notice the second "what" in this prayer. Paul prays that the eyes of your heart may be flooded with light, that ye may "know” what are the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints. " So what "inheritance" is being considered here? Our first tendency would be to answer: The believer's inheritance in Christ, or what I received when I became a Christian. But that is not what the verse says! In fact, the believer's inheritance in Christ has already been discussed in Ephesians 1:11. The inheritance here is God's inheritance in the saints! You see, Christ and His estate are the believer's inheritance, but the Christian is God's inheritance. A study of the Old Testament will reveal numerous times how God’s people are identified as His "portion," God's "lot," God's "treasure," God's "inheritance." This is the idea here. Christians are God's inheritance, God's treasure. From God's viewpoint, He came into possession of something extremely valuable when He saved you.
So what did God get when He got you? Can you believe it? He says that He got rich! Paul speaks of the "riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints." You, dear Christian, are God's precious treasure. Now, the Christian who looks at himself and thinks only with his own mind will say, "Get real! I am the most worthless creature in the universe. If God becomes rich by getting me, He must not have much of an inventory!" But again, we must put on the glasses of faith and begin to think with the mind of God and see with the eyes of Christ.
Just how much is a Christian really worth, anyway? Are you ready to get blown away? Every Christian on earth is exactly equivalent in value to Jesus Christ Himself ‑ in God's eyes! How do we know that? Because that is exactly what God paid for me ‑ Jesus Christ Himself! Now, none of us could make the claim that we are inherently as valuable as Jesus is. And if we made such a claim, nobody would believe us. But this is the whole point. The value referred to here is conferred value, not mere inherent value.
By the transaction of purchase, God confers on you the value of Jesus. But God is certainly not stupid. He knows that you are not inherently as valuable as Jesus. So He confers on you the value of Jesus by the purchase of Calvary ‑ and then, in order to justify His investment, He sets out immediately after you come into His possession to make you like Jesus! What a Gospel this is!
Being in Christ, I don't have to prove myself any longer, because God has provided me with perfect significance. I am His cherished treasure! So this prayer is a petition that each Christian will realize his personal significance in Christ.
B3. What is the Immeasurable Greatness of His Power Toward Us Who Believe – v 19b
The third "what" of this prayer has to do with personal sufficiency. It has to do with "God's power" in our lives. Paul shows that this power is defined power (verse 19) and demonstrated power (verses 20‑23). In defining God's power that is to be operable in our daily lives, Paul uses four words in verse nineteen. He speaks of "the immeasurable greatness (the word means to "throw immeasurably beyond," a picture of great magnitude) of God's power toward us who believe, according to the working of God's great might." One word for power in this verse is the Greek word, “dunamis”, from which we get our English word "dynamic." This word essentially means capability or potential. A second is the word "energeia," which gives us our words "energy" and "energize." This word means effective or operational power. A third word is "kratos," which refers to power that is exercised in resistance or control. And the final word is "ischuos," which indicates inherent, vital power. So again, Paul strains at the leash of vocabulary to show us how great is the character dynamic that is available to the believer in Christ.
But Paul doesn't stop with mere words which define God's power. He also points to certain events which demonstrate God's power. You see, when the Bible wants to impress us with the love of God, it points us to the Cross of Christ. When it wants to impress us with the power of God, it points us to the Resurrection and Exaltation of Christ. So Paul says that God's power was "worked in Christ" when God raised him from the dead and exalted Him in glory. In his words, this power worked in Christ "when God raised Him from the dead, and set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come, and has put all things under His feet, and made Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His Body, the fullness of Him that fills all in all." So He declares that the same power which elevated Jesus to a position of glory is available to elevate us to a life of Divine sufficiency. I emphasize again that this power is available to us for the sake of building our own character and exerting character impact upon others.
Because of this third “what”, I don't have to provide for myself because God has supplied perfect sufficiency for me? So this prayer is a petition that each Christian will realize his powerful sufficiency in Christ. However, again we must sadly admit that these expressions of power are foreign to the experience of most Christians. And we must again guess that one of the primary causes for the dearth of power is a lack of illumination. Most Christians are sadly blind to the great character power that is available to them.
By means of the miracle of illumination, the problems of insecurity, insignificance, and insufficiency are solved for the believer.
The Psalmist said to God, "In Thy light shall we see light." "The entrance of Thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding to the simple" (Psalm 119:30). As God gives us grace to see, His story becomes ours, His vision becomes ours, His concerns become ours, and His vocation becomes ours. So illumination is a continual necessity in disciple‑making. Lord, you have given sufficient light; now, give us sufficient sight.
Open the eyes of my heart, Lord! Open the eyes of my heart. I want to see you high and lifted up, shining in the light of your glory. And to see myself as You see me in Christ and love me as Christ.
Father, let me know from experience the 3 “whats” of your saving grace: What is the Hope of Your Calling; What are the Riches of Your Glorious Inheritance in the Saints; What is the Immeasurable Greatness of Your Power Toward Us Who Believe!
other sermons in this series