Let’s go once more to Ephesians 1. Ephesian 1:15-23:
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 the 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. (Ephesians 1:15-23)
Heavenly Father, make this passage of Scripture plain to us. Grant me the ability to teach it with clarity. Never allow us to get so bogged down by details in our attempts to create a systematic theology that we lose sight of the message itself. Lord, I pray for myself and for fellow believers just as Paul did. Help us to know the riches of Christ. Show us how to draw from the spiritual wealth that your grace has provided. In Christ’s name. Amen.
That They May Have Life and Have It Abundantly
God blessed me to marry a woman who is my polar opposite in many ways. For example, I’m a spender while she’s a saver. She has every penny of our income accounted for and earmarked for a specific purpose. I, on the other hand, am prone to ballpark the budget and spend accordingly, often more than I should.
When it comes to finances, frugality can be a godly virtue. God has called us to be good stewards. Our spiritual riches, however, are another matter altogether. We don’t need to skimp and save. Frankly, it would be a mistake to leave our spiritual bank accounts untouched as though we could somehow deplete them. We have “immeasurable riches … in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:7). Draining the account isn’t possible.
In the latter part of this chapter, Paul prays for the believers in Ephesus. Specifically, he wants them to embrace these riches we have as members of God’s redeemed family. We have an eternal inheritance. We’re not saving for retirement; a retirement with full benefits is guaranteed. What are you waiting for? You won the lottery. Enjoy it.
Please don’t take my analogy the wrong way. The Bible does not promote prodigal living. I’m talking about making use of the heavenly blessings which God has given us by his grace. Just as there is a difference between hearing the gospel and knowing the gospel, knowing the gospel is not the same as knowing the fullness of the gospel.
Let me explain.
Imagine a man who has spent years of his life in prison. His parole date finally arrives, and he goes free. While we might expect this man to embrace his freedom and make the most of it, he doesn’t. It’s not that he returns to his life of crime, but he also makes no effort to improve his circumstances.
He finds a hole-in-the-wall apartment that’s hardly bigger than his former prison cell. He works just enough hours to buy food. Again, he hasn’t returned to his life of crime, but he’s not taking advantage of his freedom either. His standard of living is hardly better than it was while he was still incarcerated.
I fear that many Christians live the same way. They’ve known the power of the gospel. They’ve put their trust in Jesus. After their conversions, perhaps they were even zealous to serve God and others. Maybe they committed themselves to continual prayer and reading the Bible. But as the years passed, they’ve settled into a state of apathy. Their spiritual treasures seem to have lost their luster. Sure, they’re Christians freed from the bondage of sin, but their spiritual lives are mediocre at best.
Mediocrity is not what Jesus intended for us. He said, “I came that [the sheep] may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (Jn 10:10-11). Christ has not died so that we could start over at zero. He raised us from the pit of hell to the “heavenly places … so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace” (Eph 2:6-7).
Paul prays for believers here. “I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus,” he says (Eph 1:15). What is his prayer? He wanted to see their “hearts enlightened” to “the riches of [God’s] glorious inheritance in the saints, and … the immeasurable greatness of his power” (Eph 1:18-19). Their faith was real, but their understanding was yet lacking.
Faith In the Lord Jesus
Paul had left Ephesus probably four years ago. Sitting in prison, he continued to receive letters and reports about the church in Ephesus. For the most part, it would seem that the news was good. He says, “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” (Eph 1:15-16). Every report indicated that the believers in Ephesus were both genuine and spiritually well. So Paul commends them for that fact.
First of all, he praises them for their faith in Jesus.
Notice that Paul refers to Jesus as Lord. The word is Kyriō in Greek, which has an interesting history. The name of God in the Old Testament is Yahweh, typically translated “the LORD” in all capital letters.
Eventually, the Jews felt that the name of God should be used sparingly to express reverence for it. For instance, when praying, they’d use the name Yahweh only once. Every other time they’d refer to him using the title Aḏōnāy (or “Lord” in lowercase letters). They were essentially replacing the proper name of God with its definition.
Paul uses the word Kyriō which is the Greek translation of Aḏōnāy. Following the long-standing tradition of the Jews, he is using the most common designation for Yahweh when talking about Jesus. In fact, the New Testament writers never use the name Yahweh. So when Paul refers to Jesus as Lord, he’s making a significant theological statement. He’s saying that Jesus is not only the Son of God but also God himself. He’s not just a lord but the Lord.
If you ever find yourself discussing the true identity of Jesus with a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, this brief introduction into the biblical names of God will be relevant. They do not believe Jesus is God. Their website says, “We do not worship Jesus, as we do not believe that he is Almighty God.” One of the arguments they make is that Jesus is never called Yahweh in the New Testament. That’s true, but neither is Yahweh himself.
Jesus is Yahweh, and one cannot believe in the Christ of the Bible without also believing that he is the Lord. “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Ro 10:9). “To this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living” (Ro 14:9). Paul is never hesitant to declare that Jesus, the man from Nazareth, is Lord.
More to the point, the Ephesians believed his claim. “I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus” (Eph 1:15). The extent of their trust in Jesus went further than simply believing he was their Savior. They trusted in his deity. They believed in his sovereignty. If anyone was still confused about his lordship, Paul offers a subtle reminder that Jesus is, in fact, Lord.
Your Love Toward All the Saints
Second, Paul praises the Ephesian church for their “love toward all the saints” (Eph 1:15). Faith and love are two tightly-woven characteristics of genuine disciples of Christ. Faith is a given, but let’s not overlook the Bible’s emphasis on love.
On the last night Jesus spent with his apostles before his crucifixion, he told them, “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:34-35).
Apparently, John, in particular, was profoundly impacted by what Jesus said that night. His first epistle is basically an exposition of what Jesus said over the course of the meal. In 1 John 2, he wrote:
Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. (1 John 2:9-11)
Faith should not only draw us closer to Christ, but also to those who are in Christ. As one believer moves closer to Christ while another believer moves closer to Christ, those believers are simultaneously moving closer to one another.
Just the other day, someone asked me whether the truth of God’s Word is more important than loving other people. My answer was no. The thing is, truth and love are not mutually exclusive. There is no choice between the two. We can either obey the truth and love one another or do neither. We cannot choose one or the other.
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40)
Every commandment of God is wrapped up in the commands to love the Lord and love one another. In a very real sense, truth is love and love is truth. If we think that we should sacrifice love for truth or vice versa, then we don’t understand either of them.
Sadly, the Ephesian believers lost their love along the way. In Revelation 2, Jesus had this to say to the church at Ephesus: “I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first” (Rev 2:4). Eventually, we’ll talk about what that means in detail. But simply stated, the indictment against them was a lack of love.
Whether they failed to love Christ or one another, it was a deadly serious charge. Jesus said to them, “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent” (Rev 2:5). In other words, God would remove his light. The church would cease to exist.
There can be no church without love. Paul said:
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)
What does this love look like? Paul continues:
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)
A suspicious, critical spirit among the members will kill a church faster than false doctrine. Pride and bitterness will destroy us from the inside out. People fighting over trivial matters will light a fuse that’s hard to extinguish. When Christians fail to love as the Bible defines love, never mind the enemies attacking from outside of the church. We’ll implode without them.
I Do Not Cease To Give Thanks
Having heard glowing reports about the Ephesians’ faith and love, Paul can’t help but be thankful. “I do not cease to give thanks for you,” he says, “remembering you in my prayers” (Eph 1:16). Why shouldn’t he be thankful? God raised these people up out of a city full of demonic activity. Against all the odds, Paul’s ministry was successful. People were praising Jesus Christ in a place known historically for its rampant idolatry. Of course, Paul was thankful.
Even so, he wanted them to experience more. He wanted them to know the fulness of God’s grace. There’s a reason that the church has pastors and teachers in addition to evangelists. A Christian’s life isn’t complete just because he has heard the gospel and believed. Sanctification lasts a lifetime. We’ll never stop learning about God and what he has done. We’ll never exhaust the precious information given to us through Scripture.
So Paul prays for believers. Specifically, he prays to “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory” (Eph 1:17). Do you see the link here between God and Jesus? Once again, Paul refers to Christ as Lord, but he also acknowledges that he is the Son of God. He shares God’s divine nature.
The essence of Paul’s prayer is this: “Lord, I don’t want your people continually searching for what they already possess. I don’t want them to be confused about your promises. I want them to see what you have already made available, reach out, and take hold of it.”
Have you ever lost your keys? You search high and low for them. After awhile, you become so desperate to find them that you begin looking in some of the strangest places. You find yourself shuffling meat in the back of the freezer as though it were even a possibility that you dropped your keys in there. About thirty minutes later, you glance down only to realize that they were in your hand the entire time.
The Spirit of Wisdom and of Revelation
Paul prays “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ … may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him” (Eph 1:17). In other words, he wants them to understand more. More of what? Frankly, more of what they already know. He wants them to have a deeper sense of it, a fuller understanding.
Strangely enough, some Christians seem to grow dissatisfied with Christ. They claim to believe in what he’s accomplished. They know the blessings we have in him. But they get bored (I guess) and pursue some weird philosophy or teaching.
It happened to the Colossians who were not far from Ephesus. Paul told them, “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ” (Col 2:8).
Oh, you want to know the fulness of God, do you? You can imagine the supposedly intellectual philosophers speaking to the Christians in Asia Minor. If you want to expand your spiritual mind, I can teach you. I’ll guide through mystical experiences that you’ve never known before. You’ll see visions and discover incredible powers within yourselves.
No, you won’t. If you follow those guys, they’ll lead you right off a cliff. It’s nonsense. Listen to what Paul said to them:
Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism [or false humility] and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head [that is, Christ], from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. (Colossians 2:18-19)
I’ll leave you to ponder the strange teachings which the Colossians were exposed to, but I doubt they were much different than those we hear today.
Today’s philosophers claim that God isn’t an infinite person; he’s a universal force. Man wasn’t created in the image of God; he’s one with God. Jesus isn’t the incarnation of God; he’s one of many manifestations of wisdom and enlightenment. We don’t need to be saved from our sin; salvation takes place in the mind.
Listen carefully when you hear someone teach. Just because a man quotes a couple of Bible verses does not mean he is teaching the Bible. I was talking with someone the other day about Joel Osteen. He said, “I love Joel Osteen’s positive messages. My favorite thing about him is how he makes his teachings so practical.”
“I suppose so,” I said, “but is he actually teaching the Bible?”
As I was thinking about our conversation later, I did a search for Joel Osteen on YouTube. Ironically enough, the first sermon was titled, “It’s Already Yours.” He spoke on the abundant blessings that we already have in Christ. Here’s what he said at the opening of his sermon:
The Scripture tells us how God has already blessed us, already forgiven us, already favored us, already approved and accepted each one of us. He’s not waiting to do it; he’s already done it. There are blessings with your name on them, healing with your name on them, promotions, good breaks, businesses, houses, contracts. As far as God is concerned, they already belong to you.
A few minutes later, he quoted his first Bible verse of the sermon: Psalm—I’m not really sure. He said, “The Psalms say, ‘God has crowned you with favor.'”
Psalm 5:12 says, “For you bless the righteous, O LORD; you cover him with favor as with a shield.” Psalm 8:5 says, “You have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.” Neither of those verses supports Osteen’s ungodly claims that God has promised us material wealth. In fact, Psalm 8 teaches the exact opposite. It tells us that Jesus received his crown through humble submission (i.e. his crucifixion).
Not only do men like Joel Osteen quote the Bible, but they’ll also mix a fair amount of truth in with their lies. The unsuspecting Christian might think, I like this guy. What he says sounds right. I would love a promotion or bigger house. God is almighty. It makes perfect sense that he would give his people these things. After all, he loves us. He saved us. Plus, I always thought there was more to Christianity than what I was told.
Be careful. Paul reminded the Colossians, “For in [Christ] the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority” (Col 2:9-10). Don’t be tempted by false promises that neither Christ nor his Word gives us.
Having said that, Christ does offer us immense blessings. Osteen was right when he said, “There are blessings with your name on it.” But these blessings run much deeper than materialism. According to both Isaiah and Paul, “No eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1Co 2:9). We have everything we need and more, though sometimes we need God’s help to see it.
The Eyes of Your Hearts Enlightened
Paul uses a well-balanced phrase in verse 18: “Having the eyes of your hearts enlightened” (Eph 1:18). Occasionally, I’ll hear a preacher rail against emotions as though emotions were inherently evil. If the gospel didn’t trigger an emotional response in us, I’d be concerned. Our emotions, however, should be tempered by understanding.
In Western culture, the heart is often associated with feelings. To the Jews and the early Christians, the heart represented the center of knowledge. Emotions were associated with the intestines, believe it or not. Regardless, the Bible addresses both feelings and knowledge, but our emotions should always be kept in check by our knowledge of the truth.
The question is, what does Paul want us to see? What did he want the Ephesians to understand? What are these blessings to which we have access?
There are three.
1) We are blessed with God’s plan.
Paul says, “Having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you” (Eph 1:18).
As a believer, you know that the entirety of human history is the story of God redeeming his people. Every event throughout the course of this world was designed to glorify God by saving us. It was a plan that began even before the foundation of the world. How does that make you feel? How does that impact you from day to day?
Near the end of Luke’s gospel, following the death and resurrection of Christ, Jesus appeared to a couple of his disciples. Luke says, “Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Lk 24:27). Then, we’re told:
Their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” (Luke 24:31-32)
Jesus opened the eyes of their hearts. He made them see the plan of God more clearly, more fully than they had ever seen before, and it caused their hearts to burn within them.
I can just imagine the conversation. Did you hear what Jesus said? Adam, Abraham, Joseph, Moses—all of these great historical figures were part of the plan. The bronze serpent, the unleavened bread, the design of the tabernacle—all part of the plan. The law, the Psalms, the books of the prophets—every word of them was part of the plan. The rise and fall of the Assyrian and Babylonian Empires—part of the plan. God has been at work in everything so that, in the end, we might be saved for all eternity.
The “hope to which [God] has called [us]” should make our hearts burn (Eph 1:18). We possess “the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.” I can’t promise you a job promotion or a new house. But I can promise with absolute certainty that God’s redeemed children have an eternal inheritance.
2) We are blessed with God’s power.
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. (Eph 1:19-20)
The entire plan of God, the plan of redemption is carried out by God’s power and his working. The same power that raised Christ from the dead will raise us. The same power that created the world has recreated us. Not only do we have access to that power, but it also resides in us.
In Ephesians 3, Paul says:
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21)
3) We are blessed with God’s person.
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. (Ephesians 1:21-23)
Lastly, Paul prays that believers will really comprehend the majesty of Christ.
There was a time when Timothy was overwhelmed by the criticism he received from fellow Christians. I’m afraid that I can relate. Listen to what Paul said to him:
Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. (2 Timothy 2:8-10)
What was Paul’s point? Jesus himself knows all too well what it means to suffer. Paul knew it too. But nothing and no one can hinder the plan and power of God. Paul says, “The word of God is not bound! Press on, Timothy. Press on.”
The fact is, Christ will be victorious. Keep in mind that we are “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Ro 8:17).
Read the last three verses again:
[Christ is] 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. (Ephesians 1:21-23)
So how do these truths help us? “Give it to me straight,” you say. “Make it as practical as a Joel Osteen sermon.” I’m not sure that I can. Even Paul seemed incapable of it which is why he prayed for the Ephesians to have divine wisdom and insight.
My prayer is that God would open the eyes of our hearts. I don’t want us to have a superficial, inch-deep understanding of the things that Paul teaches here in Ephesians. I want these realities to sink much deeper into our souls. I want us to live by them, hope by them. I want our ever-changing circumstances to be seen through them. I want us to care about nothing more in this world.
Perhaps a few of these verses deserve a better explanation, but we’ll save them for next time. Let’s pray.
Dear Gracious, Heavenly Father, we know that we have access to the greatest privileges anyone could ever have, but we don’t always take advantage. We often live like that man who doesn’t know what to do with himself after leaving prison. We haven’t returned to the sin from which you saved us, but we don’t necessarily live the abundant life that you’ve provided either.
Forgive us for neglecting our spiritual gifts. Forgive us for allowing meaningless things to distract or frustrate us. Forgive us for those times when we merely go through the motions of discipleship. We long to learn more and more by your grace. In Christ’s name. Amen.
Preached at Joy Christian Church (Benson, NC) on June 4, 2017.