Sermon Notes

Ephesians 1:15-23 September 26, 1999
Praying for Riches

If you’ve raised kids the last 25 years you may know the wit and wisdom of Shel Silverstein and his book Where the Sidewalk Ends. His poem Smart epitomizes many of us in the way we live our lives.

My dad gave me one dollar bill

‘Cause I’m his smartest son,

And I swapped it for two shiny quarters

‘Cause two is more than one!

And then I took the quarters

And traded them to Lou

For three dimes - I guess he don’t know

That three is more than two!

Just then, along came old blind Bates

And just ‘cause he can’t see

He gave me four nickels for my three dimes,

And four is more than three!

And I took the nickels to Hiram Coombs

Down at the seed-feed store,

And the fool gave me five pennies for them,

And five is more than four!

And then I went and showed my dad,

And he got red in the cheeks

And closed his eyes and shook his head -

Too proud of me to speak!

Is your life summed up by that "smart" little boy? You barter and trade trying to get more, never realizing that what you had at first was valuable. More is better, right? But doesn’t it seem that the more we get, the less we really have. They say money talks. Money talks all right ... It says, "Goodbye." The trouble is, we don’t know the riches we have.

Paul, in Ephesians 1, having just explained the wonderful riches we have in Christ, then launches into a prayer for those wealthy believers. He prays that we would know how rich we really are, a prayer that would keep us from squandering the wealth we have as believers on the trinkets and toys we think will make us happy. Like the smart boy, we think that trading in the valuable truth of the Gospel for polished pennies of popular pabulum would make our Father proud. But in light of our wealth, Paul prays that we would know our true riches.

15. For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints,

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 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.

This prayer is offered in response to his doxology, to the effusion of praise for God the Father’s grace in making us His own. In light of the Father election, the Son’s redemption, the Spirit’s sealing, Paul asks God to continue His work of grace in their lives.

If you think a view of a sovereign God produces laziness in the Christian life, if God is in charge of everything and has "foreordained whatsoever comes to pass" (in the words of the Westminster Shorter Catechism) what is the purpose of praying? What is the point of doing anything? Why witness? Why study the Bible? If what is going to happen is going to happen anyway, none of these things count.

This chapter is a wonderful blend of God’s sovereignty and call to prayer. They are not mutually exclusive. The knowledge that God is working is an inducement to prayer, not an excuse for neglecting it. Because God is at work, we should pray with confidence. We pray not because God governs on a whim, but rather we pray because God is in control. "For this reason," Paul beings

Paul’s is also is a response to what he has heard about how they are living in light of God’s grace.

There is faith in Christ. Christ is their only hope in life and death. They’re not trusting in themselves to be good enough to garner God’s notice. Rather, they are trusting another one to save them.

And where there is biblical faith, there is true love. They have love for all the saints.

Their faith produces an uncommon love. At first we think it would be easy to love the saints, if we think saints are superspiritual godly ones who would never bug us one bit. But "saints" are any and all of God’s people, professing faith in Christ. Saints are those people who at times, perhaps all the time, rub us the wrong way. It is easy to slip into a concern for our own little circle while we ignore those outside it. There is a caricature of Christian praying that runs: "God bless me, my wife Jean / My son John, his wife Joan. / Us four, no more, Amen."

But as we all know, a man wrapped up in himself makes a very small package. So Paul sets out to pray for these believers. He prays that, in light of their wealth, they would know how rich they really are, so they would not squander their affluence on that which is trash. So how are we rich?

We are rich in knowing God - verses 15-18a

Martin Luther’s successor, Philip Melanchthon, once said: "To know Christ is to know his benefits." Paul says the same in reverse here. To know God’s benefits is to know God. In order to know the benefits God gives us, to know our riches, Paul prays for the gracious gift of the Spirit of wisdom and revelation.

The work which God began in eternity past, which was settled 2000 years ago on the Cross, which was sealed when you heard the word of truth and believed - Paul prays that this would continue as the Holy Spirit guides and teaches us. We need wisdom to know how to live as believers. Notice the content of Paul’s prayer for those in Ephesus. He doesn’t pray that they might be free from persecution; nor that they might possess the honors or pleasures of the world. He prays that God would give them the necessary insight in regard to their relationship with Him.

This is gift is the ability to see what God is doing. It is the disclosure of God’s work of grace in saving us, adopting us and protecting us. Here Paul puts his emphasis on the great need of the Church. The wisdom and focus of the world is summed up in two words: "know yourself," and the focus of many, perhaps most, Christians is very often the same. They are occupied with getting a knowledge of self, rather than knowing Christ! As a result they are stunted in their growth. As E.W. Bullinger said: "Instead of breathing this life giving air of heaven, their windows are closed, and their doors are shut, and they are asphyxiated with their own exhalation. They are breathing over again and again their own breath, from which all vitality is gone."

Notice the emphasis here on knowledge. Paul prays that the glorious Father would give us the Spirit of wisdom and revelation with the result that we would know Him better, enlightenment, so we may know the hope, the riches, the power God has for us. Knowledge is very important here.

This counters the anti-intellectualism of our age and which is prevalent in our churches. We must be a community of thinkers, of thinking which is not disconnected from action, but is the basis of all we do. Unfortunately, much of modern Christianity is guilty of a drippy sentimentality, or worse, of sensationalism. With the latter, preachers sound more like religious professional wrestlers hyping an audience. We seem more interested in trying to create emotional feeling than in providing an understanding of God and wisdom for living. As a result, many say to Christians, "Your thinking is too superficial for the complexity of the world in which we live."

Christians have reacted against the extremes of this world without thinking through the implications of their choices. This needs to change. A church should be a place for analysis, reflection and reasoned discussion about the significance of the Gospel. Christians should have a reputation as people who think. (Snodgrass, Ephesians pp. 88-89) Don’t be afraid to wrestle with the implications of what you believe.

But the knowledge spoken of here is not the mere acquaintance with information. Just as there is a difference between viewing sound waves on an audioscope and being enraptured by a symphony, just as you can give a medical explanation of the effects of lemon juice on the tongue and biting into a lemon itself, there is knowledge and there is knowledge.

The word here for knowledge takes the common term, gnosis, and adds a preposition, epi, which intensifies the word, referring to deep, intimate knowledge. Paul’s prayer is not that we could rattle off esoteric minutiae regarding eschatology, nor wax eloquent on the finer points of Leviticus, but that we would passionately relate to the one who saved us. Alfred North Whitehead once commented that "a merely well-informed man is the most useless bore on God's earth." Paul is not praying that we would be merely well informed, but that we know personally.

In parallel fashion Paul prays that the eyes of their heart may be enlightened.

This strikes us at the core of our need. We don’t imagine our hearts having eyes, but this is the place were we need the greatest illumination. Jeremiah 17 reminds us that the heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. If there is any part of us which needs illumination, it is our heart.

To a Buddhist, "enlightenment" is that moment in which one’s mind ceases resisting logic and opens up to so-called principles of the "All." In western civilization, the "Enlightenment" is also used to refer to a period in history in which human learning and science were supposed to have progressed by quantum leaps. The cause for this enlightenment, according to secular historians, is because western civilization cast off its Christian moorings. Once these barriers were removed, true enlightenment could take place.

Both of these instances of 'enlightenment' are false avenues toward God's enlightenment. Enlightenment will never be accomplished by these. Paul prays not that we cast off God's principles in order to be enlightened, but that we will become enlightened by God.

We are rich in knowing where we are going

We must know the hope to which He has called us.

Hope was as rare a commodity in the first century world Paul addressed as it is today. Fate, determinism, and despair dominated the ancient world. People had little hope of being able to better their situation. A common epitaph read: "I was not, I was, I am not, I don’t care." Life - for all its joy - has always been difficult and oppressive. People felt manipulated by unseen forces, and religion was only way to find protection from bad luck, sickness and evil powers.

The same is often true today. Hope evades so many of the people we know. For all its advantages, our society is frayed with problems so enormous we’ve given up on solving them. Crime, poverty, human stupidity, racism, terrorism, and various other "isms" threaten to undo us. Even our word hope is nothing more than a vague wish, a dream, a desire. It has no substance.

For Paul, hope represented the certainty of something not yet present. The certainty was based not on human optimism, but on the character of God. He could speak of hope because of the certainty that Christ brought salvation. God’s calling from before creation, made complete at the Cross, is a reason for hope. Do you know this hope?

For many of us, the struggles we face each and every day, the doubts that plague us, the fears that keep us awake at night, are answered by coming back to this basic truth. God’s work throughout all time securing our relationship with Him should give us hope. The answer to our problems is a more intimate knowledge of the Father’s love for each of us. God’s calling is not a longing, but it is a firm basis on which we can rest. It is based on His unchanging character.

Without that saving knowledge of God, hope has no substance. It is a mist evaporating into despondency. Hope is the opposite of despair. It breathes magnetic optimism. Optimism that says I know where I'm going. I know there's purpose for everything that happens in life. I know I'll be perfected by Him some day. I can have joy when things aren't right. I can have peace when things are crazy. Why? Because God has been at work in my life before I was born.

We are rich in knowing what we’ve received

We must know the riches of our inheritance

William Randolph Hearst once read of an extremely valuable piece of art, which he decided he must add to his extensive collection. He instructed his agent to scour the world, find, and buy it at any price. After several months the agent reported back that he had found the artwork - in one of Hearst's warehouses. In this prayer, Paul is trying to spare Christians the frantic search for something that we already possess. The second item you and I are to know is what we already possess.

One of the longest running game shows is the insipid The Price is Right. You’ve certainly seen how it's played. They call the name of a member of the studio audience who comes running down the aisle like a loon. The next thing they ask you to do is guess the price tag of something. What would your answer be if the item was being a Christian? What is the value of knowing Jesus Christ?

No matter how high you guess, no matter how great you think Christianity is, you will grossly underestimate its value. There is a wealth located "in the saints." There is a value beyond understanding not just awaiting us individually, but here and now among those who are His.

The value we possess is determined not by what we are, but by what God considers us to be.

I have two pieces of paper in my hands, both of equal size and weight. Both are produced from paper pulp, both have the same images on it. One is a real $20 bill, the other is an obvious copy. The $20 is worth something not because it is newer or better looking. It is worth $20 even if I crumple it, stomp on it, even rip it up. Its worth is not intrinsic to the paper, but due to what it is deemed to be worth by US government.

Your wealth, your riches are determined by the inheritance God has for you. As Christ’s righteousness is your covering, as the Father has placed the seal, the deposit of your inheritance in you, your worth, is determined by our loving Father. When you start going down that road of self doubt, of questioning whether you matter at all to God, you need to know what your real worth is. Your worth is determined not by what you are or what you do. Your worth is immeasurable simply because you are in Christ. His infinite worth is now yours.

Our riches are in knowing how we’re getting there

We must know his power.

What is means by which God gives us the hope we need, the riches we inherit?

The third thing we are to know which makes us rich is the incomparably great power for us who believe. In order to live lives revealing our inheritance, we must have power beyond our own. So we are not only told who we are in Christ, to whom we belong, and what riches we have, we are told whose power operates within us. Part of Paul's prayer is that we would see His power. We do not have to face life in our own strength. God has directed His power toward us who believe. And it is in this power that we find the strength to live.

Paul describes this power by piling power words one on top the other. It is incomparably (hyperballo), great (megathos) power (dynamis). Sounds like an ultimate soda at PDQ: "hyper-mega-dynamite."

Paul now explains how it is we can know God better, how we can have the eyes of our heart enlightened. It is by God’s power. Paul’s focus throughout this chapter has been on the Father’s power in our salvation. That same power which brings us to a saving knowledge of Christ is the same power which is available for us today to know God more.

Power was certainly an important aspect of the various religious groups in Ephesus at that time.

Artemis worship was still a rising influence, even though the other magical beliefs, mystery religions and a host of pagan deities all vied for the souls and sympathies of the people. The word Paul used for power here was often found in the ancient papyri from this region when discussions turned to magic. Thus the ensuing discussion of power, stressing how infinitely more powerful God is than all the other pagan deities, is presented using terms known and familiar to the common people. Verse 20 brings God's power down to earth and puts it into practice by now using the term for "effective" power: (energeia). God's power was made wholly manifest in the person of Christ and further demonstrated by raising Christ from the dead and seating him "at his right hand" (verse 20).

From time to time the battery in my wireless microphone runs down. Paul is always on top of things, checking to make sure that in the middle of a sermon the mike goes dead! These batteries have a limited life. A limited power. The Engergizer Bunny is wishful thinking.

But here we see a promise for those who believe: there is an energy which conquered death and hell, which will change your life forever. The power which raised Christ is the same power of regeneration with which God makes us alive.

Our great wealth in knowing God is in knowing God’s power. What kind of power is it that God gives us? It is the same power which raised Christ from the dead. Christ’s resurrection is both the type and the cause of the spiritual resurrection of His people.

Christ’s resurrection is not just a theological tidbit we confess and move on from. Christ’s resurrection is the vindication of Christ, that His death is sufficient for us, but what is more, it guarantees that we are now raised and we will be raised. Paul in Romans 6:5-8 makes this clear. His death is our death and His resurrection is ours as well. In Colossians 3:1 Paul understands that our resurrection is true today. That resurrection power is at work in us now, power which brings life from death. It is God's transforming power. It is the power that takes people who want nothing to do with God, who are selfish, and who have no interest in Christianity, and turns them into people who love God and want to serve other people.

Power of the resurrection means there is nothing that can prevent us from carrying out God's purpose. There is no power that can withstand Him. No enemy that can defeat Him. No influence that can match Him. No evil that can dissuade Him. No possible antagonist that can derail him. No foe can stand against Him. No other Name can oppose Him.

This power which brings the dead to life, is the power by which Christ even now rules and reigns.

Paul moves from the resurrection to the session of Christ, that is, His present state now seated at the right hand of God. In the call to worship we heard from Psalm 110 where the Father invites the Son to be seated at His right hand. Beings seated points to the completed work of Christ. He is at rest. There is nothing left for Him to do, nothing more to be added to secure our salvation. Not only that, Christ is at His right hand, the place of authority and rule.

Paul clarifies this rule as he lists all those subjugated under Christ.

Paul’s readers were familiar with various kinds of authority of greater or less magnitude. Paul wants them to be clear that the authority of the risen Christ is greater than that of any authority they know here and now. But he goes beyond that: Christ will have authority in the age to come. Nobody knew for sure what would happen in that age, but an age that is inaugurated by doing away of the whole of this present age clearly implies a sovereignty of a greater magnitude than any we can know here and now. Paul subordinates all authority, of whatever sort and from whatever time, to Christ. He is absolutely supreme.

In the ancient world it was considered dangerous to name other powers. To speak its name is to stir up trouble. Paul lists them, showing that he has no fear. Paul neither dismisses powers, nor quakes in terror. He just didn’t care about them. They were of no consequence to those in Christ. They are subjected, defeated, under Christ’s control.

Does the resurrection of Christ form the basis from which you live your Christian life?

Does the fact that He is now seated in heaven, on His throne, ruling the universe, make any difference in your life?

Do you consider your connection with Him as He is the head and we the body comfort you?

Or are you, like Silverstein’s smart little boy, exchanging the great riches of all the benefits of Christ for the pennies this world has to offer?

Sermon Notes