A Thanksgiving Prayer (Ephesians 1:15-23)
A Thanksgiving Prayer
The word “saint” is used 61 times in the New Testament. It is clearly the favorite term God’s writers used for Christians (which is only used 3 times!). The word “disciple” is used 269 times but exclusively in Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Acts (30 times).
Thursday is our national Thanksgiving holiday. It has been celebrated since before our country was established. Personally, this is my forty-ninth Thanksgiving celebration. It is my favorite holiday. For what are you thankful?
If you’ll permit me to be personal for just a few minutes, I am thankful for Rachel, for Jewell and Ana. I have a few preacher-friends I am close to and I am thankful for them. I have friends who are not preachers and I’m thankful for them. I am thankful that God has given me the ability to teach HIs word and I am thankful that Rachel and I have, largely, had very pleasant experiences in full-time ministry. We have always been part of congregations of Christians who have been strong and faithful and have supported us personally and professionally.
I am thankful to be working here at Swartz Creek. I am thankful that Swartz Creek has a strong history of both dedication to the word of God and commitment to sharing that message with others. I am thankful for Joe Greene and Doug Maguffee who were elders when I was offered the work here; they were part of that decision. I am thankful for Bill Maguffee and Bob Braden who served as elders for the last few years that I’ve been here - their example is instructive and their love for the church is inspirational.
I am thankful for Clarence Floyd and Phil Turner who have continued as elders and have made me feel equal with them as an elder. I am thankful that you chose me to be an elder - not because I have always wanted to be an elder but because it shows you have confidence in me and you want me around for a while. I am thankful for spiritually strong men here at Swartz Creek who will serve as elders one day. I am thankful for our deacons who take care of so many things around the church and the building and take a lot of things off the elders’ shoulders and the preacher’s shoulders.
I am thankful Jared and Michelle are moving back. I am thankful for Jared’s commitment to Scripture and his commitment to helping our young people grow in their faith. I am thankful for all our Bible class teachers (our regular teachers and our VBS teachers) who love our children and teach them to love Jesus. I am thankful for all of you who are involved in different works of the church - our men’s tool exchange and men’s retreat in the UP, our Ladies Day and Ladies retreat in the fall. I can’t mention all the things you all are doing because then I would not have time to share God’s word…
“Thanksgiving” is a theme that runs throughout the Bible. In the NASV, some form of the word “thanks” is found 139 times. Being unthankful is a sin. Paul encourages the Christians in his letter to Ephesus to be thankful (Eph. 5:4). In 5:20, Paul says our song service should express our thanksgiving to God and Jesus Christ. Paul also begins his letter of Ephesians with a prayer of thanksgiving for the Christians in Ephesus, which is what I want us to study together this morning.
The focus of Paul’s thoughts in 1:3-14 is clearly God’s plan for saving man through Jesus Christ and how the Ephesians were incorporated into the family of God. This prayer shifts Paul’s attention to his desire to see the Ephesians grow in their wisdom and knowledge of God so that they can continue to grow in their faith and Christ-like-ness.
In the original language, this section is one long sentence, even though it tends to be broken up into several sentences in our modern translations. But, the heart of the passage is Paul’s prayer of thanksgiving for those Christians in Ephesus.
PAUL’S MOTIVATION FOR PRAYER - 1:15:
“For this reason…” - For what reason? Paul has identified the Christians in Ephesus as “saints” in verse 1, where he says they are “faithful in Christ.” They have been chosen “in Christ” (vs 3). They were offered forgiveness of sins through Christ (1:7) and, after listening to the gospel message (1:13), they obediently believed it. Then, they were given the Holy Spirit as a pledge of their inheritance (1:14). It is because they have been forgiven of their sins and been added to the church of Jesus Christ that Paul gives God thanks for them.
“having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you…” Paul was pleased to hear of their faith that was staying strong in Jesus Christ (vs 1). It has been a few years since Paul visited the church in Ephesus. It was one that was dear to him and he is pleased to hear that their faith is being sustained by their focus on Christ and His message. Paul refers to “faith” ten times in the letter.
But, Paul refers to “love” twenty times in the letter. Here, he is thankful for their love: “and your love for all the saints.” - Faith in Christ without love for fellow Christians is dead or incomplete; love for the saints without faith in Christ turns the church into just a social club. In 4:2, Paul tells Christians to walk with “all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love.” We need to “walk in love, just as Christ loved us” (5:2).
PAUL’S PRAYER OF THANKS - 1:16-19:
“I do not cease giving thanks for you…” In a similar prayer in Colossians 1:9, Paul says that he had not stopped praying for them since he heard of their conversion.
“making mention of you in my prayers,” Paul was a praying man. He mentions prayers in the majority of his letters. In 1 Timothy 2:1, he tells Christians (in fact, 1 Timothy was written also to the church of Christ in Ephesus because that’s where Timothy was serving as preacher) to pray for all people. Paul had a very long prayer list.
The substance of the prayer:
“that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you:” - We observe here that Paul is expressing the idea of the Godhead or, as later Christians would term it, the Trinity. When Paul calls Jesus “Lord,” He is using the term that is often translated in the OT as “Jehovah.” He is identifying Christ with the God of Israel. The Holy Spirit is certainly identified with the God of Israel as well.
Calling God the “Father of glory” (the only place God is so called) tells us that it is God who gives glory. God’s glory in the OT was often seen in miracles which He performed. For you and me, that glory is seen in what He does for us, beginning with saving us through the blood of Christ but culminating in taking us to heaven, even when we have not earned that opportunity. Let’s read together 5:25-27.
Here’s what Paul prays that the Father of glory will give to the Christians in Ephesus:
“a spirit of wisdom” - Our NASV uses a lowercase “s” on spirit; you know that the original language did not have capital letters and lowercase letters. The earliest manuscripts actually only had capital letters. My point is that we are not quite sure if Paul means a generic “spirit of wisdom” here or if he means wisdom that comes from the Holy Spirit. Paul has just mentioned the “Holy Spirit of promise” in verse 13 whom God gave to Christians as a “pledge of our inheritance,” once Christians have heard the gospel and obediently believed it.
It is likely here that Paul also means the “Holy Spirit” who gives us God’s wisdom from heaven in the inspired words of the apostles and prophets. The next phrase will mention “revelation in the knowledge of Him.” Let’s read together 3:3-6.
“and of revelation in the knowledge of Him” - It is through the revelation of God’s knowledge and wisdom that we can obey Jesus Christ and have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our sins (1:7-8). This knowledge that we have from God, through His Spirit, does not come just one time. Paul’s desire here is that the Ephesian Christians will continue to grow and desire to know more about God. Let’s read together 4:15-16.
Paul continues the substance of his prayer in verse 18: “[that] the eyes of your heart may be enlightened (perf. pert.),” The “Renaissance” in Italy, that began in Italy, was an “awakening,” a “new birth” to knowledge which gave birth to humanism - the idea that man can direct his own path, that he does not have to follow the path the church (The Catholic Church) laid out before him. Here, Paul says that true “enlightenment,” or the “new birth” comes through the Holy Spirit and knowledge of Christ that the Spirit gives us.
The tense of the verb “enlightened” tells us that this enlightenment happened at a specific time in our growth of knowledge. It occurs, of course, when it finally dawns in our minds and hearts that Jesus really is the Son of God and that we ought to put our souls into His hands. At one time, Paul tells them, they walked in darkness; but through the knowledge of Christ, brought by the Holy Spirit, they can walk in the light. Let’s read 4:17-20.
In the next three phrases, Paul will add some focus or precision to this prayer, and specifically, to the desire for the Ephesians to increase in their knowledge…
“[for] you to know what is the hope of His calling,” God has called us to Jesus Christ His Son and, when we are immersed into Christ, we become part of God’s chosen ones, His “elect.” Yet, we will not see God or experience the glories of God fully until we do so in His presence, when we see Him face to face, in heaven. It is that experience for which we hope; we wait with confident expectation. We only have one hope, Paul writes in Ephesians 4:4: eternal life in heaven. Our hope is a conviction that is rooted in God’s faithfulness to His own promises.
“…what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance among the saints,” Israel was often referred to as God’s “inheritance” in the OT. Here, Paul applies that designation to the church. The “inheritance” from God is one of riches and glory. That beautiful relationship could have existed between God and Israel through OT times. Here, that promised inheritance is opened up to both Jews and non-Jews alike.
Look at these phrases in Ephesians which use the word “riches:”
“riches of His grace” - 1:7
“riches of the glory of His inheritance” - 1:18
“riches of His grace” - 2:7
“riches of Christ” - 3:8
“riches of His glory” - 3:16
“…what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe [pres. part.]” We notice in this phrase, the very next one, and the last several verses (20-23), that there is a piling up of words to express that there is no power like God’s power. God is omni-potent; He is El-Shaddai, the word “Almighty” in Hebrew. There is no power in the world, above it or below it, that equals or surpasses the power of God Almighty and that power is available to you and me. That power is at work to separate us from sin and to keep us separate from sin if we will allow it to work in our lives. God’s power is at work to answer our prayers as long as we pray that God will work that power for us consistent with what is best for us. Let us not pray for selfish purposes but for the glory of God and our own spiritual health.
“in accordance with the working of the strength of His might”
PAUL’S BASIS FOR PRAYER - 1:20-23:
“which He brought about in Christ,” The basis for Paul’s prayer, the hope behind Paul’s prayer is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. If the death of Christ illustrated the love of God, then the resurrection of Christ illustrates the power of God…
“when He raised Him from the dead” - There is no example of the power of God that is greater than the Father raising the Son from the dead. This event is the cornerstone of our faith; the foundation of our entire belief system. The resurrection of Jesus Christ distinguishes Christianity from every other claim to our highest beliefs, aspirations, and allegiances. In 2:5-6, Paul says this resurrected power will work in the lives of believers. He has already said back in Romans 6:3-4 that the resurrection of Christ is what gives baptism the power to remove our sins. Let’s read 2:1-7.
“and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places” - This is not a direct quotation of Psalm 110:1 but that passage is the background for this one. Back in 1:3, Paul had said that all spiritual blessings are in the heavenly places. We live in a physical world but God rules from the spiritual world. That means that God is not limited as we are. He can provide for us in ways that we cannot see. He works in ways that we cannot know. That’s why we trust Him. And, because God is all-powerful, we do not fear the powers in this world, on this planet, which are antagonistic to our faith.
“above all rule and authority and power and dominion and every name that is named,” - There is really no difference in all these terms. They are simply synonyms Paul uses to emphasize the superior power that Jesus Christ has. Pagans believed there were powers, the powers of the gods, behind their nations, their rulers. But there is no power that exceeds the power of Jesus Christ.
There is simply no reason to have an allegiance to any other entity besides Jesus Christ. There is no power that compels our devotion that is higher or stronger than Jesus Christ.
“not only in this age but also in the one to come” - Paul simply wants to be as comprehensive as possible. No one and nothing is more powerful than Jesus Christ!
“and He put all things in subjection under His feet” - This is a quotation of Psalm 8, where David says that God put all things under man’s feet but here, the application is to Jesus Christ. To quote Jesus Himself, “all authority” had been given to Him post-resurrection, “in heaven and on earth” (Matt. 28:18).
“and Him (emphatic) He gave as head over all things to the church,” - To say that Christ is the head of the church is to say that Christ has authority in and over the church but it also says that Christ provides the growth for the church and Christ is the One who holds the entire church together (we’ve already read 4:15-16).
“which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” God, through Christ, fills us Christians, the church, with everything we need. The church is Christ in the world - His mouth, His hands, His feet. We wear His name and carry His message. We show Christ to the world. That is how important the church is in God’s plans. Paul began this prayer by saying in 1:15 that his motivation was hearing about the Christians’ faith and love. It is that faith and love that compels Christians to live like Christ, which illustrates the church is the fulness of Christ, so Paul has come complete circle back around to praising the church for being the church of Christ.
Take home message: Let us be thankful for Christ’s church and pray for her (each other) on a regular basis.