Are my prayers tiny? Too temporal? Next to Paul’s, they seem almost trifling.
After greeting the Ephesians and west Asia churches, Paul bursts into unparalleled praise to God for giving in Christ every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies (1:1-14).
Even imprisoned in Rome, he’s received good reports about the churches, so he tells them how he thanks God for them . . .
“Therefore I also, knowing the faith in the Lord Jesus and the love to all the saints that is among you, do not cease giving thanks on behalf of you, making mention in my prayers . . . “ (Ephesians 1:15,16).
Let’s not miss the implication here. While Paul is grateful for his readers’ faith and love, he knows that ultimately that faith and love are given by the God whom he thanks.
Calvin comments . . .
“Now, with all this, he shows that faith and love are the very gifts of God and do not come from ourselves, as men always imagine through a devilish pride. . . If every man was able to believe and have faith of his own accord or could get it by some power of his own, the praise for it ought not to be given to God. For it would be but mockery to acknowledge ourselves indebted to him for what we have obtained, not from him, but from elsewhere. But here St. Paul blesses God’s name for enlightening the Ephesians in the faith and for framing their hearts to make them loving. It is to be concluded, therefore that everything comes from God.”
“ . . . in order that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in a full knowledge of him . . . (Ephesians 1:17).
Many versions (NIV, NRS, NKJV, ESV) translate pneuma with a small “s”. They suggest Paul is asking God to give the Ephesians a quality or disposition of wisdom and revelation.
But I think Dr. Gordon Fee’s reasoning prevails. He says, first, Paul’s words seem to derive from Isaiah 11:2 where the prophet declares: “ . . . the Spirit of the LORD will rest on [Messiah]– the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding . . . “. Paul is praying for that same Spirit for the Ephesians. Second, Paul here emphasizes “revelation”. That’s the Spirit’s work. Third, one might have a “wise spirit” or “wise disposition”; but how can one have a “revelation spirit” or a “revelation disposition”?
Two additional points should be made. First, Paul’s readers already know God. Paul prays that they might enjoy a fuller knowledge of him. Two, Paul’s readers already have the Spirit. As believers, they are his “temple”. But the Spirit’s work goes on, often in ways we don’t perceive. So Paul prays that the Spirit might do a deeper work, or a “fresh” work, or an increasing work in them.
I grew up in a Pentecostal church that preached “the baptism in the Spirit” as an experience subsequent to salvation. Once one “had it”, there was little more to “have”. But the Spirit’s work should be ongoing, like a wind that may change direction and decrease or increase, but never dies out.
“ . . . having the eyes of your heart enlightened, that you should know what is the hope of his calling, what are the riches of his inheritance in the saints, and what is the excelling greatness of his power toward us who believe” (Ephesians 1:17-19a).
The Spirit enlightens the “eyes” of the heart. Sam Storms (pastor, Bridgeway Church, Oklahoma City) says the heart is “the core of both the spiritual and mental life of a person, including emotions and will.”
Specifically Paul prays for the Spirit to give understanding and insight regarding their future. That they should know “what is the hope of his calling”. “Hope” doesn’t mean “when I wish upon a star”. It means “the expectation of a God-provided future to which he has called us”.
Paul wants the church to know “what are the riches of his inheritance in the saints”. If this means what I think, it’s staggering. We are God’s inheritance—redeemed, sanctified, glorified. (For the concept of our being God’s inheritance, see Deut. 4:20; 9:26,29; 2 Sam. 21:3; 1 Kings 8:51,53; Ps. 28:9; 33:12; 78:62,71; 106:5,40; Isa. 19:25; 47:6; 63:17; Jer. 10:16; 51:19).
Finally, Paul wants the church to know “what is the excelling greatness of his power toward us who believe”. Hostile powers oppose them, but even now God’s power is theirs—now and on into eternity.
“ . . . according to the working of his mighty strength, which he has worked in Christ, raising him from the dead and seating him at his right hand in the heavenlies far above all rule and authority and power and lordship and every name being named not only in this age but also in the coming one; and all things are subjected under his feet, and he was given to be head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him which is filling all things” (Ephesians 1:19b-23).
This “excelling greatness of his power” proclaims “the working of his mighty strength” with which he raised Christ from the dead and exalted him with power and authority to reign over the entire universe forever.
Paul declares that the exalted Christ is both the church’s head and the Father’s gift to the church.
By the “fullness” of Christ, Paul is probably referring to the glorious revelation of Christ’s presence and power. The church embodies Christ’s presence to the world.
Christ’s sovereign reign (his “fullness”) pervades all humanity, the angelic realm and the evil powers, bringing all to their God-appointed end.
So Paul’s prayer-report to his readers trails off into his ecstasy over God’s power revealed in Christ–a power that is for us who believe.
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O God, our Father and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, how small my prayers seem compared to Paul’s! Yet my small prayers reveal my heart’s concerns–for me, for Lois and for my family. When I pray for their salvation and my healing, I know I’m asking for big things, things I think are in line with your will. Still, I want to pray like Paul.
Since retiring, I’ve seldomly thanked you for the church. But today I give you thanks for your church all over the world–for their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and their love for one another. I thank you how together they embody Christ in the world, however imperfectly.
I intercede for them. Give them (and me), O God, the Spirit of wisdom and revelation so we will know you fully. Enlighten the eyes of our hearts so we may know the certainty and glory of the hope you’ve called us to. So we may know the wonder of how you are making us your inheritance. And so we may know the excellent greatness of your power toward us who believe. May we not only know Christ’s resurrection as a glorious historical event; may we know the same power that raised and exalted Christ to reign, is for us now and fully forever.
This prayer glorifies you because it centers in what only you could have done and will yet do. But this prayer is also good for me. It lifts my heart’s eyes from temporal trivialities to the eternal significant acts of your grace. It reminds me I have a future that you’ve called me to. It reminds me I’m part of a group of justified sinners who will one day be glorified and become (how can this be?) your inheritance. And it reminds me in my abject weakness of your power toward us, the power of the Spirit in me that will explode and raise my body from the dead to live in eternal wholeness!
I pray this in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, risen and exalted. Amen.”