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Paul’s Prayer
January 13, 2019

Paul’s Prayer

Passage: Ephesians 1:15-23
Service Type:

We pick up Ephesians right where we left off. Last week, Paul began this letter with a soaring celebration of salvation. Paul poured out over a dozen varying descriptions of the redemption we have through Jesus Christ. Trying to describe the indescribable grace of God, Paul decides that—since no single human idea can fully explain what God has done for us in Jesus—quantity will have to trump quality. So we got a 360*, all-weather, surround-sound depiction of our salvation in the first 14 verses of Ephesians. Today's text picks up the thread...

I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and your love toward all the saints, and so I never cease giving thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.” First, if you recall last week, I listed some reasons why many believe this letter wasn't meant for only the Ephesians but for Christians all over the known world, and here's another one. Paul lived in Ephesus for years: he wouldn't have merely heard of their faith but seen it firsthand. But if Paul's receiving reports from all over about the spread of our faith, this opening bit makes more sense. More importantly, this marks a shift in Paul's thinking from praise of the Lord for salvation through faith in general... to specifically talking about the faith of his readers. God changes the world through Jesus Christ, and now we're gonna hear how Paul prays God might change them and us.

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you...”             First, notice how Trinitarian Paul is. Just as in the first 14 verses the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit worked together in our salvation... here in verse 17 Paul gives a Trinitarian prayer that the Fatherwhom we know via and so whom Paul identifies via Jesus—give us wisdom and revelation via the Holy Spirit. Just as all of God's Being was jointly involved in saving our souls, so too is all of God's Being involved in sustaining us, in building us up as disciples, in aiding our walk through this turbulent life. Second, notice what Paul prays that God gives us. Paul is not praying that God change his readers' circumstances. In its early days, Christianity was a bastard offshoot of a minor religion looked down upon by the rest of Roman society. Many early converts then were the lowest of the low: slaves, outcasts, foreigners, and women. Today we American Christians live in a society where—despite what the TV says sometimes—it's pretty easy and comfortable to be Christian. Paul's readers—as he calls them in 1 Corinthians—were the “scum of the Earth” in their day. But Paul does not pray that the world treats them better. Instead, Paul prays for his readers to gain “a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know God, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which God has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.

I'm going to talk to you about fairies now. Books like Spiderwick Chronicles, Magicians, or Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell... television shows like Grimm... and plays such as Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream... they all deal with fairies or fairy-like creatures. One common trope in all those “fairy-tales” that comes from old Celtic folklore is how people not in-the-know can't see fairies. The King of England seems insane to Jonathan Strange, because he and the British aristocrats can't see the invisible fairy tormenting the king. Or in Grimm and Spiderwick, the heroes have the unique gift of seeing fantastical beasts as they really are, breaking through the illusion that disguises the monsters. Whether pop culture or Irish folklore, there's a common trope of mortals living a world surrounded by magic... but ignorant to it, not having eyes to see. They need a magic spell... or Faustian fairy-bargain... or innate powers... to see reality as it really is and not the illusion the rest of us saps fall for.

Paul doesn't pray for a change of circumstances in his readers but rather—echoing the words of Jesus Christ himself—that they and we instead have eyes to truly see, ears to truly listen. The world is not as it seems, Paul says, so I pray that you receive a “spirit of wisdom and revelation” as you come to know Jesus. But rather than seeing fairies or things that go bump in the night, Paul seeks a spirit of insight... “that you, with the eyes of your heart thus enlightened, may know the hope to which God has called you, the riches of God's glorious inheritance among the saints, the immeasurable greatness of God's power for us who believe...” In the first 14 verses of Ephesians, Paul celebrates the changes salvation brings to our lives and world. Now Paul declares that salvation must likewise change our perception of the world, that there's something we're overlooking, something hidden to the unaided eye. Not fairies or monsters... but hope. To an audience mostly poor and desperate, to readers living on the fringes, to folks used to being called sinner or no-good, to us... Paul prays that the gift of salvation we receive through Christ, that the Holy Spirit the Father sends us... that all the gifts of heaven's grace might ignite a spirit of revelation... that we might have hope in God, that we might see our lives in light of God's great power, that we might recognize we have already been set aside as a special inheritance for God, beloved and adopted by God for all time. Paul prays his readers gain wisdom—not that they might philosophize well, not that they might invest wealth properly, not that they might earn fame among mortals—but rather desires wisdom and revelation for believers like them, you, and me... that we together might have hope in God.

Hope is a funny word in today's English. My hope is that bees stop dying off worldwide, so there's healthy farms left on the planet I give to my kids. The Dallas Cowboys hoped to go the Super Bowl. Coffee is my only hope of being alert before noon. Hope gets used in one of those three ways: a future thing we desire (bees not dying); the act of desiring a future thing (wanting to go to the Super Bowl); or the reason we have for thinking our desire might come true (having coffee answers my wish to stay awake). Those are the main ways English uses hope, and hope in the Bible's original languages works similarly. But... the difference is that we Americans today often morph hope into a passive, wishy-washy thing. Today, hope is usually used to express uncertainty, that we wish something happen but aren't sure whether it actually will, that there's a risk to our wishing and so we use “hope” instead of the more confident “expect” or “anticipate.” And often it seems like there's not even much room for hope. When paying bills must keep getting delayed, we may hope things improve on their own, but we don't hold our breath. My uncle gravely mistreated my mother and aunt when my grandmother was alive, and while I hope he realizes what he's done, apologizes, and changes his ways... I doubt he ever will.

But in the Biblical sense—while it may be similar grammaticallyhope as Biblical virtue is quite different than our English hope as want-but-aren't-sure. Biblical hope... can just as easily be translated as expectation. And expectation may acknowledge some uncertainty... but it's confident things will play out as desired. So in Ephesians, Paul prays we receive a spirit of wisdom and revelation... that “you may know the hope and expectation to which God has called you, the riches of God's inheritance in you, the immeasurable greatness of God's power” Paul is not telling us to be wishy-washy. Paul says, “I want God to help you see the world as it truly is, through the lens of that salvation I just spent 12 verses describing... I want God to give you wisdom and revelation... so that you can know hope.” Receiving wisdom and insight leads to hope! Biblical hope is not uncertain wishing but an expectation based on insights from God, a revelation into the hidden workings of the world as much as seeing a storybook wizard seeing those fairies for the first time. When God helps you see rightly, hope isn't half-hearted wishing... but confident trusting that indeed things will work to God's glory and our benefit.

But how? If we do receive this spirit Paul prays for, what would we see? Our final verses today: “God put this power to work 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 age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” Our hope—the thing that comes from the gift of wisdom from the Holy Spirit—is in Jesus Christ himself. Paul sums up our hope in four parts. “God put this power”—the source of our hope—“to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead...” So our hope—and again, that's not wishy-washy desire but confident expectation of things coming to pass—our hope rests in the power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead. With power like that behind God's promises, you have reason to count on them. Second, our hope rests in the fact that Jesus Christ is now seatedat the Father's right hand in the heavenly places...” That is to say, our hope is not only in the historic, past event of Christ's resurrection and the spiritual transformation it brings for us. Our hope also rests in Christ reigning in power and glory forevermore, that the one who died for us and rose again for us... now rules for us and intercedes with God on our behalf. Third, Paul says Jesus is now placed “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 age to come.” To an audience living under the boot of Rome's Caesars, this extends their hope in spiritual transformation of their souls and world... to a political, present hope. In ancient times kings could be gods and gods were embodied in cities and nations, and the lines between spirits and politics were thin. Here we see how despite the claims of Roman Emperors, Jesus is in controlnot Caesar—and Jesus will bring history's fulfillment, not an eternal empire of man but eternal paradise for God's own. Finally, Paul declares we can hold onto hope in Jesus because God our Father “has made Jesus the head over all things for the church, which is Christ's body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” We can hope with confidence as Christians because Christ not merely rules over all... but has special care for, a special bond with, the Church, such that believers united can be called his body.

Now... this kind of Biblical, confident hope doesn't mean the Dallas Cowboys will somehow win the Super Bowl this year. And it doesn't mean my uncle will play nice all of a sudden. Biblical hope of the kind Paul talks about here... is an expectation that God is sovereign, that just as God rose Jesus Christ from the dead so too will God shelter us from the storms of evil and death. It's not an excuse to be passive, hoping someone else fixes things, because Paul calls us “the church, Christ's body,” meaning we are agents of Jesus' heavenly reign, called to work in support of the mission of the Kingdom of Heaven to redeem the world. And it's not saying that things will be easy in life, because you don't talk about hope when things are good, only when you know things are bad and likely to stay that way awhile. Rather, Paul here looks back to the salvation he celebrated in those first 14 verses of Ephesians... and he links it to hope at every stage. 1) Jesus rose from the dead. 2) Jesus ascended into heaven. 3) Jesus reigns in power. 4) Jesus knits us—the Church—together as his body. Paul weaves our hope—a hope for eternal life and for life here today—weaves our hope into the saga of salvation, that salvation might be both the desire of our hope... and the reason why we hope in confidence, that salvation may both be the hope of life eternal on the other side of death… and that salvation be the reason why we confidently hold onto hope in this life, in a world so often gone mad. The prayer of Paul... is that we have that spirit of wisdom and revelation to truly see God's sovereignty... and so cling fast to a confident, expectant hope in Jesus who lived, died, rose, and now rules... all for our sakes and for God's glory. May we have such vision, and such hope. Amen.


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