Tenth Sunday after Trinity – August 16, 2020
Our scripture reading this afternoon is from the book of Ephesians, chapter 1, verses 15-23. Hear the word of the Lord:
”For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the holy ones, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking 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. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power SLIDE 2 for us who believe.”
“That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.”
May the Lord add his blessing to His holy Word. SLIDE 3 -title slide
- Pull out your sermon outlines and open bibles/apps to Eph 1.15-17.
- If I were to ask you: what do you want more than anything else in the world? How would you answer? What is more valuable to you than anything else or everything else combined? What is worthy of your focused attention, your most strenuous efforts, and your concentrated intellectual pursuit?
- I want to humbly suggest that the best answer to that question is found in the text were going to look at today. It is mentioned by Paul at the outset of this beautiful prayer that he offers on behalf of the Ephesians, just read by Lynne.
- The most desirable, valuable thing in the universe is summarized in the simple phrase: “the knowledge of God”: a deep, personal, first-hand experiential knowledge of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Now, we’ll unpack that during the course of this message, but I want you to begin letting that sink in.
- Before we get to the specifics of vv.15-17, let’s do a real quick overview of the first chapter of this letter so we can consider it in its literary context. SLIDE 4
Overview of the chapter
- Chapter one of Ephesians consists of three parts:
- 1-2. Opening remarks: salutation-addressor, addressee, benediction
- 3-14. Extended blessing, doxology or (Heb.) berekah
- 15-23. Thanksgiving and prayer (actually a prayer report)
- The prayer, like the berekah, is a single run-on sentence. It is also, again like the berekah, thoroughly Trinitarian and patrocentric (centered on God the Father).
- The intent of the prayer is simple: that the Ephesian believers (and we) would personally experience the astonishing range of benefits mentioned in the doxology; that they would receive God’s revelation so they would know, deep in their souls, all that they have in Christ: their chosenness, adoption, redemption, forgiveness, sealing, all the things Paul emphasized in vv.3-14.
- Okay, that’s the big picture. SLIDE 5 Today, we’re going to drill down into just the first three verses of the prayer and draw the lessons from the text the Lord wants to teach us. Before we do that, though, let’s pray:
15 For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the holy ones, 16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. 17 I keep asking 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. SLIDE 6
- Paul begins his prayer/prayer report:
Exposition of 1:15-17
5 For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the holy ones,
- “For this reason” – Which reason? Paul is referring back to entire berekah. He’s saying, “because you guys have been caught up into the saving embrace of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in all the ways we’ve just talked about—chosen, adopted, redeemed, forgiven, sealed, assured—for this reason, I can’t get you guys out of my head: I just keep praying for you.”
- It’s been 5-7 years since Paul spend almost three years living with them. Lot’s of new people have come to Christ and been enfolded into the church during his absence and, apparently, Paul had just received a good report about how well they were doing as a church. So, he’s writing to them to encourage them in their faith.
- Specifically, there were two things mentioned the report that made Paul glad: their “faith in the Lord Jesus” and their “love for all the holy ones.”
- “faith” is pisteou, “relational trust, confidence”. Their trust is now in Jesus. It used to be in Artemis, goddess of the Ephesians, and pantheon of other gods, spirits, spells, incantations, and various superstitions. It used to be in the astrological movements of the Sun, moon and stars. There are millions of fallen spiritual beings populating the world, and some of these would harass, afflict, maipulate them, jerk them around, all in an effort to distract them from the true God and lure them into worshipping these inferior spiritual beings.
- But then Paul comes along, preaching the great news that they didn’t have to be enslaved any longer to these corrupt, fallen beings. The One who made the these creatures lived, died and came to life again for the Ephesians, so they could be entirely free to worship God with joy and delight without fear.
- In response to Paul’s preaching, the Ephesians transferred their allegiance from these evil spiritual beings and all these various ritual practices solely to Jesus. They banked their entire future in this life and the afterlife on this One that Paul proclaimed, putting all of their chips in on this Jesus. This was a monumental leap of faith, and Paul rejoices in it! And he rejoices in something else: their
- “love for all the holy ones.” “Holy ones” is hagioi (kedoshim in Heb.). As we discovered in v.2, “holy ones” refers to those who have been made ritually clean to dwell in God’s presence; spiritually qualified to be God’s children and members of the divine household. Hagioi thus can refer to both spiritual beings living in the invisible realm and human beings here on earth.
- Here in v.15, the reference clearly is to human beings. Paul is saying the Ephesians have a reputation for loving others who self-identify as followers of Jesus, and that’s a source of real joy for Paul.
- Let me ask as an aside: Do you think of yourself as one of God’s “holy ones”? If not, why not? You should. Do you think it might change our self-perception (and thus our choices and behavior) if we agreed with the bible’s assessment of us: that we are holy ones?
- SLIDE 7 In v. 16, Paul now gets to his main point:
“I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers”
- You might find it interesting that the verb “giving thanks” is the present participle of the verb eucharisteo (Eucharist, Lord’s supper or holy communion).
- “I have not stopped… remembering you in my prayers”, lit. “I do not cease…” is hyperbolic: a literary exaggeration, which was the style in ancient letters. It doesn’t mean Paul was literally on his knees 24/7 praying for the Ephesians. It means that, during his regular times of prayer, he made it a point to intercede specifically for them. We use this same hyperbolic language today. We do that today when we say things like: “Man, I can’t believe I spent the whole day online trying to fix an insurance problem.” That’s what Paul is doing here.
- This is a great place for me to make a personal comment. I can really identify with what Paul is saying here more than at any other time in my life. Since we formed Holy Trinity in late March, I think about you guys throughout each day and pray for you continually. As we exchange texts and emails and phone calls, or meet in person, and you guys let me in on your world and share what’s going on in your lives, that gets onto my heart. Wasn’t always the case. For the last 31 years of my pastoral ministry I pastored large churches with big budgets, staffs to manage, buildings to maintain, and there wasn’t a lot of time for pastoral care. It’s a huge reason we decided at the outset that Holy Trinity needed to be different. So I want you to know I am honored to be your pastor. Pray for me as I pray continually that God will help me to be the best shepherd I can be.
- Back to our text. We’ve established that Paul is praying regularly for the Ephesian believers. What, exactly, was Paul praying for? SLIDE 8 Well, he answers that question in v.17:
17 “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him.”
- This is where we will camp out for the remainder of our time, because this is the heart of the text.
- First, notice how Paul describes the God to whom he is praying. Paul uses two descriptive phrases, set side-by-side in apposition; neither idea subordinate to the other: they are known as coordinate phrases, each capturing a different dimension of their subject, the divine nature. Both dimensions are critically important if we are to properly understand the God of the Bible. First, Paul describes God as the:
- “God of our Lord Jesus Christ.” He is the God of the historical figure, Jesus of Nazareth, who himself was know by the titles “Lord” (kurios in Grk., which was the go-to word for translating the divine Name, Yahweh in Heb.) and “Christ”, christos, “Anointed One. So, Paul is here making the claim that this One to whom he prayed is the God proclaimed by Jesus, modeled by Jesus, adored and worshiped by Jesus. He is the God with whom Jesus shared the deepest possible intimacy. So much so that Jesus was able to make statements like: “The Father loves the Son and shows Him everything He does”, “The Son does nothing on His own”, “I only speak the words that the Father has given me”, the Son is “in” the Father and the Father is “in” the Son. So, this is an intensely personal God, One who chooses to live in the closest proximity to His children and share life with them. Next, Paul uses a phrase that captures a very different aspect of the divine nature:
- “the Father of glory.” Doxa in Grk., in Hebrew, kavod: “the splendor of the divine presence and power”; Harold Hoener: “the reflection of the essence of God’s being, the summation of all of God’s attributes”. Think of the brilliance of our Sun; it’s like that. Here, Paul is describing God as an utterly transcendent being, full of majesty and light and energy and intelligence that supercede all that can be imagined.
- These two phrases set the parameters for a proper understanding of the God portrayed in Scripture. As you and I get to know God personally, must stay within these two parameters. SLIDE 9 Think of them as curbs on a street. Often, Christians will drift too far to one side or another.
- Ex: In college, SLIDE 10 Mary, Lynn and I were part of a Christian college group that came out of the Reformed tradition, which emphasizes God’s sovereignty and transcendence, sometimes at the expense of his more personable qualities. The high liturgical traditions—Catholicism and Orthodoxy—can have a tendency to place such stress on God’s otherness that they can inadvertently deemphasize God’s intimate nearness. Interesting, these are the same traditions that, early on (third century) began to incorporate Marian devotion into their worship: an accent on the Virgin Mary (means of approaching Christ).
- On the other hand, SLIDE 11 contemporary evangelicalism tends to drift off the road on the other side with an overemphasis on God’s intimacy and personableness. We become overly familiar with God. You’ve heard the adage “Familiarity breeds contempt”. It’s no where more true than in our relationship with God. If we’re not careful, the high and holy One becomes nothing more than our good bud Jesus in a sentimentalized Ex: 1 Chron 13:7, Uzzah: “God struck him down for his irreverence; and he died there by the ark of God.” (irreverence is in Heb. shal; Aramaic=”negligence”; in Akkadian=”disdain”). David and his guys has gotten overly familiar with God, treating Him like one of the boys, instead of the wonderfully personal God who is yet the exalted Lord of glory.
- So, the lesson for us it to maintain both these aspects of God in tension; to not jump the curb to an overly transcendent model of God or, on the one hand, or to an inordinately immanent understanding of God, on the other.
- Paul then prays SLIDE 12 that this infinite, intimate God would:
- “give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him”
- Now, let’s be clear: the Ephesian believers already had the Spirit living in them, sealing them in their relationship with Christ (saw that last week in v.13). So, Paul is not praying they would be given the Holy Spirit as an initial gift. Paul is praying that this Spirit, already in them, would increase the spiritual wisdom and revelation that He was imparting to them. Paul is praying that their experience of, and attachment to the Holy Spirit would grow and be evidenced by the two things that he enumerates:
- “wisdom”: sophia, which is a kind of penetrating insight into the nature of reality, especially spiritual reality, and:
- “revelation”: (apo-CALL-upsis) apokálypsis, meaning an “unveiling, disclosure” of things previously hidden by God, now made known in the appropriate time to God’s people and through them, the world. These attributes were part of an ensemble of actions commonly associated with the Holy Spirit.
- For example, in Isaiah 11:1-3a, the prophet predicted the coming of Messiah, Jesus, through Jesse (the father of King David).
A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
2 The Spirit of Yahweh will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of might,
the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of Yahweh—
3 and he will delight in the fear of Yahweh.”
- Paul then spells out the reason he is praying that the Spirit will impart to the Ephesians wisdom and revelation. You need these things, he writes:
- “in the knowledge of Him” (i.e., God the Father). This is the heart of Paul’s prayer. He wants these guys to know the Father personally, intimately, deeply. This is what God wanted for the Ephesians more than anything, and it is what He wants for us. I would suggest that this is the answer to the question I posed at the beginning of the message. What is more valuable than everything else in the universe? “The knowledge of God”.
- Let’s look more closely at what we are talking about. Three things need to be said about this knowledge: SLIDE 13
- This knowledge of God is suprarational. It includes cognitive content but is not limited to that. It is more comprehensive than mere rational apprehension (knowing certain facts).
- Here’s what I mean. The word for “knowledge” is EPIG-nosis, epignosis, (epi “upon” + gnosis “knowledge”), can be an intensive form of knowledge; it is to know something/someone deeply and by firsthand experience, to know intimately.
- In the OT, the knowledge of God, da’at elohim, was profoundly and pervasively personal. This really becomes clear in the use of the Heb. verb to “know”, yada. It was the typical Heb. word for sex. SLIDE 14
“Adam knew (yada, he experienced sexually) his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain.”
- This helps explain the NT emphasis on knowing God through personal experience. For example, Jesus’ statement in John 17:3.
“Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”
- See? Eternal life is not a thing. It is a relationship with the Father and the Son, who are mutually in relationship with one another. It is communion with God; relational attachment to God.
- So, “knowledge of God” is not a body of information to be mastered. It is a relationship of ongoing love, joy and communication that we are invited into and that we then experience continually. See the difference? SLIDE 16
- This knowledge of God comes through the Holy Spirit directly, through first hand experience.
- The NT is clear that, left to our own devices, we cannot know or love God. We are so twisted by self-centeredness that we perceive any kind of moral authority like God as a threat to our autonomy and freedom.
- So, at conversion, the Holy Spirit enables us to believe in the merits of Christ, and He takes up residence inside us. And there He begins His ministry of revelation, teaching us little by littlewho the Father and Son are, and just how much they love us.
- SLIDE 17 Jesus alluded to this revelational role of the Holy Spirit in places like John 14:26.
“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”
- SLIDE 18 Paul was even more descriptive about the Holy Spirit’s role in teaching us the knowledge of God in 1 Cor 2:9-11:
1 Corinthians 2:9-11
“However, as it is written: ‘What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived’— the things God has prepared for those who love him—these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.”
- You see what Paul is saying? The Holy Spirit is us is continuously disclosing to us what is in the heart of God. We can therefore know God accurately, personally, and intimately because His very own spirit speaks directly to our spirit within us, informing us what God is like and assuring us of God’s love for us. On the flip side, the Holy Spirit, according to Paul in Romans 8:26 reveals to the Father continually what is on our hearts, interceding for us with communication that is too deep for words. The Holy Spirit is like the ultimate broadband internet service provider, giving us and God immediate and direct connection.
- The third thing SLIDE 19 to note about the knowledge of God is that:
- This knowledge of God comes when we set our hearts to seek God’s face and not His hand.
- What does that mean?
- When you seek God’s hand you seek what God can do for you. When you seek God’s face, you seek Him for who he is, no other reason. When you seek His hand, you get His gifts. When you seek His face, you get the Giver along with His gifts. SLIDE 20 David prayed in Ps 27:8:
“When You said, ‘Seek My face,’ my heart said to You, ‘Your face, O Yahweh, I shall seek’.”
- As I look at certain elements in the broader church, I see a lot of hand seeking. People who buy into a “name it and claim it” theology in which God becomes a glorified vending machine whose job it is to make us happy, healthy and wealthy. So if you want a certain car or home or level of income, you just need to believe God’s promises and declare his provision for you.
- Well, God is unspeakably good and kind and generous. And He may choose to give us some or all of those things, or He may not. Whether He does or not does not change the fact that He is always good. Yes, He wants us to be happy but not at the expense of our growth in character. And sometimes he allows us to go through trials to refine us, making us more like Jesus.
- So, God is saying to each one of us: “Seek my face. I’ll always be available to give you what you need and want, but don’t make that your main focus. Make me your focus. Set your heart on knowing me in all my wonder and you will experience a delight and joy and lasting contentment in your soul that you cannot now imagine.” SLIDE 21
As we close, let’s do a really quick check-up on our spiritual health. This is not intended to induce guilt but to honestly assess where each of us is today. Three simple questions:
- Are you spending time alone with God daily in His Word and prayer? If you’re not, what might it look like for you to begin doing this daily, beginning tonight or tmorrow? Where, when and how can you make that happen?
- Do you feel loved by Him? Note: I’m not asking whether you think you’re loved by Him. I assure you all know the bible well enough to be convinced in your mind that He loves you. But do you know in your heart, in your gut, in your emotional center, that He loves you? Put another way, is His Spirit bearing witness with your spirit that you are His dearly loved child? The reason this is so important is that you will not want to spend time with him or to love him, obey Him or love others unselfishly unless you first feel loved by Him. If you don’t feel His love, ask Him to make you feel it and keep asking Him until you feel it.
- Are you looking more like Jesus now than a year ago? More patient… kind…joyful… compassionate… truthful… courageous… holy? Have you grown in the last twelve months in your love for others, your knowledge of God and love for Him, and your resolve to live a life devoted to Him?
- Again, there is no guilt intended. Just an honest appraisal of where we currently stand. We are all in process. The Father doesn’t want us to live in guilt and shame, but to rely on His Holy Spirit to grow in those areas where we find ourselves deficient.
- Let’s pray.