Our text for today is Ephesians 1:15-23. It states,
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.
On Friday, our district president sent out an email with some thoughts on how Converge churches in our district can respond appropriately as our country, and the world, is dealing with the coronvirus. Here is just a small portion of what Ken wrote, “Whatever decisions you make about how to lead your ministry make sure that love is the driving force and not fear...Make sure that love for the vulnerable is paramount in your thinking. Do not dismiss people’s concerns flippantly. Don’t only think about the people who normally come to your worship service. Rather, also think about your community which is gripped with fear.”
Ken was a pastor for over two decades and I found his words to be very wise and pastoral in nature. Especially when he said to “make sure that love is the driving force and not fear.”
In many ways, the message that Ken sent to all the churches reflected what we see in Paul in our text this morning. Paul was well aware of the hardships that the churches faced and it caused him great anxiety Consider 2 Corinthians 11:28 - “...there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all of the churches.” Every church, operating in their own culture, had their own challenges. Yet, despite this anxiety, Paul’s greatest motivation to pray for the churches was not based upon fear but from his love for them.
Today we will consider three motivations for Paul to pray continually for the churches...
Paul has a reason to pray...
What Paul said in Ephesians 1:3-14 compelled him to pray for the churches
What Paul says in Ephesians 1:15-23 compelled Paul to pray for the churches
#1 Consider Ephesians 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...”.
Let us consider the opening three words, ‘For this reason’ in three different ways.
What reason motivated Paul to pray for the church in Ephesus and all the others?
It could have been the rampant idolatry that they lived around.
It could have been the sorcery that was practiced all around them.
Paul could have been motivated by the fear of false teachers who taught twisted things.
All these things caused Paul to pray but there is still a more fundamental reason that made Paul pray. And this reason caused Paul to pray unceasingly for them. It motivated him to pray all the time. Paul says, “I do not cease to give thanks for you”.
In Paul’s letters he prays for himself and for others for many reasons. For example,
In 2 Corinthians 12:8 Paul prays three times for himself because of a thorn in his flesh.
In Romans 10:1 Paul prayed continually for his Jewish brothers who were rejecting the gospel
In 1 Timothy 2:1-2 Paul continually prays for all people, for kings, and all those in positions of authority
In 1 Thessalonians 3:11 Paul prays that he would be able to return to the church to minister to them once again
There are many things that can cause us to pray...
We may pray that our family and friends will come to know Christ.
We pray for financial issues that arise from time to time.
We pray for those who have an illness, a sickness, or who have experienced some tragedy.
We are now called to pray for the coronavirus that is effecting the entire planet. In this regard, Ken Nabi again made the urgency of this quite clear when he said, “Some of you will be conducting funerals weeks from now.”
Our prayers can play out in many different ways. For example,
They may be answered by the Lord.
We may be told that His grace is sufficient while the thorn remains.
We may fail over time to continue to pray.
We may simply neglect prayer altogether. James 4:2 - You do not have, because you do not ask.
It could never be said that the apostle Paul neglected prayer. Something drove Paul to constantly, frequently and regularly pray. We see countless examples of this in the Scriptures.
Paul’s prayers not fundamentally grounded in fear. His prayers were not simply motivated by a trial, or persecution, or a difficulty or a hardship. Rather, it was something positive that motivated him to pray day after day, night after night, in chains or when free.
Paul was motivated to pray for the saints because of something that would never become obsolete, superfluous, or nonessential. This reason motivated Paul to pray for every church, every believer, in every city, at all times without exception. For example,
To the Philippians Paul wrote, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all...” Philippians 1:3-4
To the Colossians Paul wrote, “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you...” Col. 1:3
To the Thessalonians Paul wrote, “We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering you before our God and Father…” 1 Thess 1:2-3
To the Romans Paul wrote, “...without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers.” Romans 1:8-10
The reason Paul was motivated to pray was because he had heard of their faith in Jesus Christ and because of their love for all of the saints.
Paul saw that God had begun a good work in the Philippians so he wanted to see them progress to completion (Philippians 1:6 – And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ).
He prayed for the Colossians because of the hope that they had in heaven and Paul desired to see them continually looking ahead to that promise. (Colossians 1:5 )
He prayed for the Thessalonias because their faith was growing abundantly and their love was increasing more and more; and Paul desired to see it continue. (2 Thess. 1:3)
It is right to pray for people and their specific needs; but how much more ought we pray for them as Paul does here. We see him continually praying so that they will grow in wisdom, increase in knowledge and continue in understanding.
It is sad, but I often neglect to pray for those among us who are strong in their faith, passionate in their love, and resting in the hope they have in Christ. This happens because I think that they don’t need it?
Paul never stopped praying for any saint. A believer needs more understanding, more wisdom, and more faith. Because of this growth they would be better equipped to experience any trial without fear. And to experience any ordeal without succumbing to debilitating anxiety.
We are told in Luke 2:40 that Jesus “grew and became strong, filled with wisdom.” If this occurred while Jesus was here in His humanity how much more do we need to pray that this work would be happening in each and every one of us.
It is right for us to pray when the world experiences the fear and uncertainty of a pandemic. But we ought to always be praying that the saints would grow and mature; so that no matter what threat, or persecution, or illness or trial may come; they will remain hopeful, joyful, faithful and full of love as a witness to the grace of God in this dark and chaotic world.
#2 There is another reason that motivated Paul to pray. Paul is motivated to pray because of what he has spoken of in Ephesians 1:3-14. Paul spoke of the ‘spiritual blessings’ that were theirs in Christ. Paul had spoken of such things as: the eternal counsel of God, foreknowledge, election, adoption, redemption, the Trinities work in salvation, etc. Because of this, Paul has a strong reason to pray unceasingly for these believers who were struggling to process all of this.
All of these doctrines are spiritually discerned; therefore, Paul prays that the Spirit will reveal these things to believers. Paul says, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Corinthians 2:14)
There are many times when in my studies I come to the end of my ability to understand what I am reading. In that moment I say to myself, “I am just going to be content with the little I know. I won’t worry about trying to understand these complicated things.”
If Paul were there listening to me, I am sure that he would bow his head in prayer and ask the Spirit to help me. Then he would rebuke me for not praying. He would correct me for so quickly becoming content with my worldly wisdom and fleshly limitations.
#3 Paul prays because of the things he writes in Ephesians 1:15-23. Paul prays for this church because they need to have the eyes of the heart opened by the Holy Spirit.
Paul prays in verses 18-19 these words, “...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...”
What is Paul referring to when he says, “Having the eyes of your hearts enlightened”?
Jeremiah Burroughs, in his book entitled, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, tells a story that will help us as we seek to answer the question.
In the story, Burroughs tells of a meeting between two godly men: Anthony and Didymus.1 Didymus was a blind man who was full of godliness. Anthony asked him if he was troubled because he could not see. Didymus confessed he was troubled by it, but responded by saying, ‘Should you be troubled at the want of what flies and dogs have, and not rather rejoice and be thankful that you have what angels have?’
Didymus appears to be a man who was aware of two things. First, he was aware the things of this world that are fading away. Consider 1 John 2:16-17, “For all that is in the world – the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life – is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.”
Secondly, he was aware of the reality of the spiritual blessings that the apostle Paul has been speaking of in Ephesians 1:3-14 that we cannot see with these eyes. We can only see them once God opens up the eyes of our hearts. Didymus said that we ought to rejoice and be thankful that we have what angels have.
Jeremiah Burroughs builds upon this story by saying to his readers, “God has given you those good things that make angels glorious; is not that enough for you, though you lack what a fly has? And so a Christian should reason the case with himself: what am I discontented for? I am discontented for want of what a dog may have, what a devil may have, what a reprobate may have; shall I be discontented for not having that, when God has given me what makes angels glorious? ‘Blessed be God,’ says the Apostle in Ephesians 1:3, ‘who has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places.’ It may be you have not such great blessings in earthly places as some others have, but if the Lord has blessed you in heavenly places, that should content you.”
Over the past month great fear has overcome many. They are anxious because of the stock markets volatility, contagious viruses spreading around the world, and divisive politics; perhaps our text encourages us to find our peace and contentment in heavenly things and not in the things of this world. It reminds us to go to God in prayer. To pray not because of fear or to be taken out of this world altogether; but to pray that our eyes might be opened to see more of God.
Mr. Burroughs encourages everyone to be spiritually minded saying, “Be often in meditation of the things that are above. ‘If we be risen with Christ let us seek the things that are above, where Christ is, who sits at the right hand of God.’ Be much in spiritual thoughts, in conversing with things above.” He continues, “The reason that we are so troubled...is because we converse so little with God, so little with spiritual things; conversing with spiritual things would lift us above the things of the world. Those who are bitten or struck by a snake, it is because they tread on the ground; if they could be lifted up above the earth they need never fear being stung by the snakes which are crawling underneath.”2
Therefore, let me close today by challenging us to pray continually and to consider these words from our text, “May 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.”
1Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment p. 208
2The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment p..220