Because I Have Heard - Ephesians 1:15-23 part 2
15 For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 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, 18 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, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 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. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
Last week we spent most of our time focused upon the first three words of Ephesians 1:15. This is where Paul says, ‘For this reason’. We considered three reasons that Paul was compelled to pray for these believers.
Paul prayed for them because he heard of their faith in Christ and their love for all of the saints.
Paul was compelled to pray for them because of all the doctrine that he spoke of in Ephesians 1:3-14.
Paul was compelled to pray for them because they needed to have the eyes of their hearts enlightened (Ephesians 1:18)
This morning I would like to begin by looking at the rest of Ephesians 1:15. Paul says, “For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints...”. Although we will begin with this verse we will be brought forward to other things in this text.
When you read through Paul’s letters you get the impression that he had made it a priority to hear about others. He begins by saying, ‘because I have heard’. These words may not seem to contain much but they really are quite fun to consider.
Do you know anyone who listens really well?
Someone who seems to constantly have their attention focused upon the conversations that they are having and then they act upon them in some way?
Whenever I talk with Jim Swanson I am always impressed by the way he will remember the littlest things that I said to him. He will remember little details and then he will pray for me and ask me about them later. Or he will talk to my wife and then weeks later he will ask about that particular situation.
I see this same quality in the apostle Paul when I read his letters. Paul made it a priority to hear about others and then he would respond in an appropriate way. He worked hard to make sure that he was well aware of these churches and those who attended them.
Let me give you just a few examples that might demonstrate that this was a priority for Paul.
Paul knew the maturity level of each of the churches. “But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk and not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready...” (1 Cor 3:1-2)
Paul knew of specific problems that each church, and of the individuals individuals in the churches, were facing. To the Galatians Paul wrote, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel...” (Galatians 1:6)
Romans 16 is an entire chapter where Paul greets the individuals in the church by name even though he had never been there. In all, he greets twenty-six people in that chapter.
Paul’s philosophy of ministry was about creating opportunities for the churches to get to know him and for him to get to know the churches. “Therefore when we could bear it no longer, we were willing to be left behind at Athens alone, and we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith, that no one be moved by theses afflictions.” (1 Thessalonians 3:1-3a)
None of these things happen if someone has not decided to make hearing and responding to others a priority. As pastors, evangelists, and teachers, we need to cultivate a ministry that is similar to Paul’s. Ministers should heed the instruction that James gives when he says that we should be quick to listen and slow to speak. We would all do well to remember I Corinthians 13:1-2 which says, “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.”
There is not a person today who would not want to know that they have been heard.
A baby cries out to be heard and responded too.
A child wants to be heard by their parents even if they don’t get what they desire.
Every wife wants to be heard by their husband.
Every church member and every church leader wants and needs to be heard.
Here, Paul shows the Ephesians what a comfort it is that he has heard of them and is moved to thank God for them in their prayers.
This small phrase, ‘I have heard’, can bring great comfort to someone in so many different situations.
The other night Mindy and I watched a documentary about submarines. One of the stories that they told was about a Russian nuclear submarine that had an explosion on board while they were out at sea. They sealed the compartments off so that the submarine would not sink too quickly but they had to send someone back in to shut down the nuclear reactor before it over heated. A young man volunteered for the job. He went down to the reactor and successfully shut it down which adverted a catastrophe. However, when he tried to return he was unable to re-open the hatch to get to safety. The sailors on the other side of the hatch could not get it open. They could only listened to the young boy in his final moments as he cried and talked to them. No doubt this young boy did not want to die but I am sure that he was grateful to have his companions there with him at the end.
Paul, was not always a good listener. Especially when it came to listening to those who displayed the very same qualities that he now commends the Ephesians for.
He disdained those who had faith in the Lord Jesus.
He hated those individuals who loved the saints and identified with them.
Consider the story recorded in Acts 7:54-58. This is the story about the stoning of Stephen. It says,
“Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. 55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” 57 But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. 58 Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul.”
The man named ‘Saul’ at the end of that story is ‘Paul’ who wrote Ephesians. He is the man at whose feet the others garments were laid. In Acts 9: 57 we read that these men cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears from hearing the last words of Stephen. They were not like the Russian submariners who listened to the cries of their dying comrade.
These people did not want to hear about the glorious hope Stephen had,
or the inheritance that was being opened up before him in that moment,
they want to hear about the Son of Man that he saw who was standing at the right hand of God.
After his conversion Paul often spoke of these very things. For example,
Just as Stephen was full of the Holy Spirit;
Paul now prays that these believers would be given the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in their knowledge of God.
As Stephen was dying he looked up and saw the heavens open up and Christ standing at the Father’s right hand. Paul prays for the Ephesians...
that they will know the hope to which they have been called
that they will know what the riches of their inheritance is in Christ,
that they would know the immeasurable greatness of His power towards those who believe.
And all of this is all according to the great might that was worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead, seated Christ at His right hand of the Father.
Before Paul’s conversion he did not love of the saints. In Acts 9:13-14 Ananias describes Paul in this way, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call upon your name.”
When Paul encountered the resurrected Christ in Acts 9 he was transformed. Let us consider Acts 9:1-9. We read,
“But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3 Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. 4 And falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” 5 And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6 But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” 7 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. 8 Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9 And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.”
When Jesus appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus, his natural eyes were blinded and he was unable to see for days. We read in Acts 9:8, “Saul rose from the ground and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing.” Yet, it was in that moment when he found himself physically blind that the eyes of his heart was opened to begin to see the Lord for the first time.
The Lord then sent a man named Ananias to Paul saying, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” (9:17)
Many of us may read about this story and wish that they we could have a Damascus road experience. But isn’t Paul showing us in Ephesians 1:15-23 that something similar will happen to every believer.
Consider what happens to Paul immediately after Paul’s conversion. In Acts 9:22 we read, “But Saul increased all the more in strength and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ.”
This is what Paul wants these Ephesians to experience. Paul’s great desire and prayer was that they would grow deeper in their knowledge and understanding of God. Again, we read this in Ephesians 1:17, Paul prays “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened...”
Let us take a moment to consider these three words more closely: wisdom, revelation and knowledge.
Knowledge is gained by putting the Word of God into our life. It is every believers responsibility to do this. Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good, acceptable and perfect.”
Are you putting the Word of God into your mind and heart? Can you say with the psalmist, “I have stored up your Word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. Blessed are you, O LORD; teach me your statutes!” (Ps.119:11-12)”
In our culture we have a tendency to place so much emphasis on knowing other things. If you look in bookstores you will find books on psychology, sociology, economics, philosophy etc. But Paul prayed that every believer would grow in their knowledge of God.
We must come to the scriptures and not to all the other things that are out there. This is what the Lord spoke to the people in Ezekiel’s day, “Son of man, prophecy against the prophets of Israel, who are prophesying, and say to those who prophesy from their own hearts...who follow their own spirit and have seen nothing.” (13:2-3)
Once our hearts and minds are filled with the Word of God we need the Spirit to give us wisdom and revelation. These two things refer to how the Word of God is applied in our lives.
Knowledge is the input of the Word of God; wisdom and revelation are the output of it in our lives.
The Spirit reveals the Word to us in ways that we would not otherwise see. Then the Holy Spirit gives to us the wisdom to apply it in our daily life.
A believer is not simply to study the Word to get smarter but never apply it.
They are to study the Word of God.
Then they pray for the Spirit to help the scriptures be revealed to them accurately.
And then they are to display wisdom by how the Word is lived out towards others.
I bet that Paul never forgot what he saw on the day when Stephen died. It seems to me that Paul desired that all believers show the same qualities as Stephen did.
In Acts 6:3 and10 Stephen is described as being full of the Spirit and wisdom.
In Acts 6:8 Stephen is said to have been full of grace and power.
Here is a man who was full of the knowledge of God. He had that Word revealed to him by the Spirit of God and he displayed the Word with great wisdom. And on the day of his death he looked at the heavens being opened and Jesus was sitting at the right hand of the Father.
Paul prays that every Christian would grow in knowledge, revelation and wisdom.
So that they could know the hope to which they have been called,
so they could perceive their glorious inheritance,
and so that they could begin to grasp the immeasurable power towards them who believe.
Paul had already commended these believers for their faith in God and their love for others; but it would only increase if they would mature in knowledge, wisdom and revelation. They would be a people full of hope even in death.
But there are some who do not have that hope. They will find themselves on the day of their death crying and alone like that sailor in the submarine who did not have an understanding of these things. If that describes you I would pray that today would be your Damascus Road experience. May the eyes of your heart be opened so that you can see Jesus for the first time today.