We have a glorious hope that changes everything about us. Dr. Derek Thomas preaches a chapel message on Ephesians 1 at RTS Jackson.
It is a Christ-centered prayer. It is a Spirit-appreciative prayer. It’s based on the sovereignty of God and exalts the cross. And at the heart of it is doxology and praise. Before we read the passage together let’s look to God in prayer.
Our Father, we bow in your presence, and we bow before your Word. This is not just any word, this is your Word. This is the product of your out-breathing. We thank you that it is able to make us wise unto salvation, that it can grow us and teach us and mold us and shape us and rebuke us. We are a people who need you every moment of our lives or else we turn astray. Our minds are a perpetual factory of idols, and without you and without the constraints of your Spirit and without the instruction of your Word, we are fools. Make us wise, grow us in the faith, help us, Lord, to be a bright and shining light for Christ.
Draw near now to those of your children, our brothers and sisters, who perhaps this morning are passing through great trial and difficulty. Open their eyes to behold wondrous things in your law. Give us understanding, and then we will keep your law. Write it upon our hearts that we might not sin against you. Deliver us from the evil one, and do us good. Come Holy Spirit and illuminate our minds and give us understanding now as we read your Word, for Jesus’s sake, Amen.
Now hear the Word of God in Ephesians 1 and beginning at verse 15. I’m reading from the ESV text.
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, 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, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
Amen. May God bless to us the reading of his holy and inerrant Word.
One of Donald Bloesch’s books on prayer is called, aptly, The Struggle of Prayer. It reflects my own experience with prayer. I’ve been a believer for 35 or so years; I still struggle with prayer. If you want to humble me in an instant, just ask me about my prayer life. I make some strides and then I discover I retreat. We all of us probably confess something similar. I venture to say if I took a straw poll this morning, it would be your confession, too. We all need help with prayer.
If you want to humble me in an instant, just ask me about my prayer life.And here we have just that: a model prayer, a prayer of Paul. How did Paul pray? It’s a template. It’s an example. Just as the disciples asked Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray,” and he gave the template of the Lord’s Prayer (Luke 11:1), so Paul scatters throughout his epistles models of prayer for us to pick up and utilize, examine, meditate, understand, and in a sense, copy. This is the way to pray.
It is often said of a Bruckner Symphony that it’s like building a cathedral in sound. And this prayer is something like that as it builds one stone or brick upon another. What you have is a glorious edifice. I want to pray like this. I really do want to pray like this.
Paul begins by giving thanks. He’s always thankful. There’s a lesson in itself. When he thinks about these Christians in Ephesus, his heart just fills up and brims over with gratitude, gratitude to God, gratitude for their faith in Jesus Christ and for their love for one another, two marks, indispensable marks of true conversion. It’s a Eucharist, in a sense, displaying to us this morning how this apostolic heart is so full of gratitude to God.
He prays that God would give them the spirit, well, perhaps, capital “S”. Translations notwithstanding, 14 out of the 16 references to spirit in Ephesians are probably allusions to the Holy Spirit. That God would give them the Spirit, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, revelation in the sense of illumination. As he goes on, I think, to explain in verse 17—the syntax is a little awkward—but I understand verse 18, “having the eyes of your heart enlightened” to explain what he means by the Spirit of wisdom and revelation.
It’s language, actually, that’s reminiscent of something that Luke says about Jesus. As Luke describes the young Jesus, the boy Jesus, and picking up language from Isaiah 11, that’s when the servant comes, when Messiah comes, he will be given the Spirit of wisdom and revelation. And do you remember how Luke says that he grew in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and with men (Luke 2:25)? How did Jesus grow in the knowledge of his Father? As that passage in Luke reminds us, he grew in wisdom because he spent his days meditating on the Word of God. He spent his days reflecting on the Scriptures, the Scriptures of the Old Testament as they spoke about him and his office.
Paul perhaps here is alluding to something similar. The way we grow in our knowledge of God is to understand and reflect and meditate on what God has done for us. That’s what he does here. He tells us what God has done for us along three trajectories, three lines of thought.
Paul Wants Christians to Better See the Hope of Their Calling
Firstly, that we might see things better. He wants us to understand the hope of our calling in the second half of verse 18. The hope of our calling. Yes, although it looks as though it’s looking forward to our hope it begins with calling. He’s taking us back to that time when God in his sovereignty and power reached down and called us, brought us into a relationship with himself through faith in Jesus Christ.
Remember, one of the things that Paul says about the Ephesians, largely a Gentile audience, that they were in time past without hope. Before they were called, before they were called into the fellowship of his Son, they were without hope. But now something decisive, definitive has taken place. They have been called. That’s what we are if we are Christians this morning. If we have faith in Jesus Christ demonstrated by love for one another that’s how we can call ourselves.
A sovereign voice, an irresistible voice has brought us into a union and communion with Jesus Christ. And as a consequence, we have a hope.It’s interesting, Paul, elsewhere in his opening lines to his letter to the Corinthians, he describes them as “called to be saints,” called to be holy ones. And he could very well be taken to mean one of two things: “called to be holy ones” or perhaps “the holy called ones.” Because that’s what we are. We are not just saints, the holy ones, we are the called ones. We are by definition, those whom God has called. He has reached down. A sovereign voice, an irresistible voice has brought us into a union and communion with Jesus Christ. And as a consequence, we have a hope. As C. F. D. Moule says, “Hope is like faith standing on tiptoe and beholding something of the destiny that is ours.”
As a result of that call, everything has changed. We have a glorious hope, a certain hope, an assured hope. We know where we’re going. It changes everything about us. When sickness knocks at our door, when trouble comes, when the evil one prowls about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour, we know where we’re going.
We have a glorious hope, a certain hope, an assured hope. We know where we’re going. It changes everything about us.I love that story—Brian needs to use it someday in his admissions office—of Thomas Goodwin, the 17th-century Puritan, president of Morton College in Oxford. A prospective student comes into his somewhat darkened office and his first question to the student: “Are you ready to die?” The student fled. It’s a good question, though, isn’t it? Are you ready to die this morning?
In the sovereign providence of God, who knows how long we’ve got? Are you ready to die? Because Paul was ready to die because he had a hope based on a call of God, and I want you to know it. It’s why we love Tolkien and that marvelous moment when Galadriel gives that vial of light from the Silmaril to Frodo and says of that vial, that here is a light when all other lights go out. When the lights go out we have a certain hope, and it’s based upon what God has already done. He has already called us into the fellowship of his Son. I want you to see that. That’s Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians. I want you to see that. I want you to see—so typical of New Testament theology—what is already yours: a kind of realized eschatology on the basis of your call. We have a sure and certain hope.
Paul Prays That Christians Would Better Prize Their Glorious Inheritance
But secondly, he prays that they might prize things better. Looking now, not so much on the past as it reflects the future but looking on the future as it perhaps reflects the present. I want you to prize things better. Now, the grammar here is awkward, and it’s for another day.
You may ask Dr. Irelands or our esteemed academic dean, by saying the wealth of God’s glorious inheritance in the saints, does he mean the inheritance God has in us, that we are his inheritance, which would be true, which would be what Malachi chapter 3 is saying when it refers to the people of God as God’s treasured possession, as the wonderful commentary by Harold Hoehner of Dallas Seminary seems to suggest and as Don Carson seems to suggest and as a host of other names seem to suggest? Is Paul intending us to see here that we are God’s possession and held by him? It’s of enormous psychological importance, don’t you think? Because it says to us, above everything else, that we are loved, that we are greatly loved, as though Paul is saying, “I want you to see and I want you to prize this, that you are held as an inheritance in the very bosom and clutches of our Father in heaven, and he holds you to himself.”
Or does Paul mean something else, as I rather think that he might. Because in the parallel passage in Colossians, he said something very similar: “the inheritance of the saints in light” (Col. 1:12). And there it seems clear that it’s not we are God’s possession, but it’s our inheritance. It’s the inheritance that we have in God. That would be astonishingly relevant for the Ephesians. When the Ephesians had come to Christ, do you remember what they did? They burnt their books. They had been involved in the world of black art and magic. Their livelihood was gone, perhaps. Many of them were relatively poor now. And Paul might be saying to them, “I want you to see this. I want you to understand this. I want you to prize this better because you, dear brothers and sisters, have in God a glorious inheritance that should take your breath away.”
That’s your inheritance. You’re going to be where Jesus is and to see the same glorious vision that he sees in all its breathtaking beauty.Stop and think for a minute. What is true of you and me? “I’m the child of a king. I’m the child of a king. With Jesus, my savior, I’m the child of a king” (Buell). Or Charles Wesley’s wonderful words, “Thou, O Christ, art all I want. More than all in thee I find. Solid joys and lasting treasures none but Zion’s children know.” Or Bernard of Clairvaux, so important to John Calvin, Bernard of Clairvaux’s wonderful hymn: “Jesus thou joy of loving hearts, thou fount of life, thou light of men, from the best bliss which earth imparts, we turn unfilled to thee again.”
We have an inheritance, a glorious inheritance. And “eye has not seen nor ear heard, neither has it entered into the heart of man what God has prepared for them that love him” (1 Cor. 2:9). I’m a treasured possession to be sure. And what will that inheritance be for me? You remember Jesus’s high priestly prayer in John 17:24, “That they may be with me where I am, to behold my glory.” That’s your inheritance. You’re going to be where Jesus is and to see the same glorious vision that he sees in all its breathtaking beauty.
Christians Can Rest in the Assurance of Their Salvation
And then thirdly, not only to see things better and to prize things better, but to rest in assurance better. As he puts it in verse 19: “What is the surpassing greatness of his power towards us who believe?” The surpassing greatness of his power? All this may be true. All this stuff about realized eschatology may well be true. All this about my relationship with Jesus, that I’ve been called, and having an inheritance, all of this may be true. But have I been given the grace of perseverance? Now, there’s a question for the moment. And you see what Paul is doing? He says, “Absolutely. Because it doesn’t depend on you, my friend. It depends on the power of God.”
Every now and then I think the apostle Paul swallowed a thesaurus. He and Roget were bosom pals. In the text you’ll see that here he uses four different words for power: dunamis, energia, kratus, and ischus, as well as the exceeding greatness, the huperballon. You know, one word was enough. We got the point. But four words? The power of the power of the power of the power. Do you get it? Because we are so prone to forget it, to trust in our own strength and in our own abilities, our own cleverness, our own giftedness, Paul is saying to these Ephesian Christians, “I want you to understand this. There’s power behind all of this, exceeding great power”. So that when God begins something, as Charles Haddon Spurgeon once called one of his sermons, there’s no stopping this God. There’s no stopping him.
Matthew 16 is undoubtedly the key text of the New Testament: “I will build my church and the gates of Hades or hell will not prevail against it.”Isn’t it reminiscent of what Jesus says in Caesarea Philippi in Matthew 16? Just as Genesis 3:15 may well be the key text of the Old Testament, Matthew 16 is undoubtedly the key text of the New Testament: “I will build my church and the gates of Hades or hell will not prevail against it.” It sets the agenda: that Jesus builds his church within sight of the gates of Hades. He builds it in enemy occupied territory, where Satan prowls about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour (1 Pet. 5:8). Don’t you think these Ephesian Christians, even though they had come to Christ, were still scared of the dark and of noises and of the wind blowing in the leaves, involved as they had been in the magic arts?
That’s why Paul says Ephesians 6 that they are not to be afraid of principalities and powers and the rulers of the darkness of this world. Because God is on our side, and he will build his church, and nothing and no one will prevail against that. Because “whom he did foreknow, he also did predestine, and whom he did predestine, them he also called, and whom he called, them he also justified, and whom he justified, them he also glorified. What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not his own Son, but freely delivered him up for us all, how shall he not also along with him freely give us all things? Nothing can separate us from the love of God, which is in Jesus Christ, our Lord” (Rom. 8:29–32, 39).
Because God is on our side, and he will build his church, and nothing and no one will prevail against that.“I want you to know that. That’s my prayer for you,” Paul says. “I want you to know that. I want you to know the power that lies inside of you by the fullness of the Holy Spirit. I want you to know the power that was at work in Jesus Christ.” And do you notice how he takes us through the life of Christ and the death of Christ and the resurrection of Christ and the exaltation and session and intercession of Christ at the right hand of God? That same power, the kind of power that it takes to raise Jesus from the dead, that same power is at work in you. That same power.
We have been brought into union and communion with Jesus Christ. “Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing, were not the right man on our side, the man of God’s own choosing. Doth ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is he. Lord Sabaoth his name, from age to age, the same. And he must win the battle. And though this world with devils filled should threaten to undo us, we will not fear for God hath willed his truth to triumph through us. The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him. His rage we can endure, for lo his doom is sure. One little word will fell him” (Luther). One little word.
What is the point of this prayer? I mean, really? If those are the trajectories of thought, what is the point of this prayer? It is as he tells us in verse 17: that you might know him better. He wants you to know God better.
I’ve known God for all my life, according to the Apostle Paul, but for 18 years, I held that knowledge in unrighteousness, but I’ve known God in a saving way for 35 years. But O I long to know him more. I long to know him better. I long to know what we read in the book of Daniel, that the people that know their God shall be strong and do exploits. I want to know God more.
Father, we thank you for your Word, and we ask that you would write it upon our hearts and fill us with a vision of yourself, for Jesus’s sake, Amen. Let’s sing together hymn number 642. “Be Thou My Vision.”