Summary: Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians serves as a terrific model for praying for each other (and our churches, in general).
Just for fun, let’s start with a trick question today. How many letters to the Ephesians are there in the New Testament? Well, I said it was a trick question. There are at least two. There is one that we’ll be looking at this morning and there is one in Revelation 2.
You see, Ephesus was an important port in Asia Minor. It had the right of “first landing.” It was the first stop on the imperial postal route, the place where new governors were announced and made their first official visit and the place where new laws were first imposed. If you look at the locations of the seven churches in Revelation, you’ll note that the “postal route” forms sort of an oval so that one starts in Ephesus and returns to Ephesus.
And, since I don’t think it’s fair to simply pull passages out of context and preach to you about them, I think we should consider a couple of easy ways to see what happens in Ephesians at a glance. Most scholars make a simple division. The first three chapters talk about theological concerns and the last three chapters deal with ethical concerns, while both sections end with doxologies. I like the late Watchman Nee’s approach to the book: Sit, Walk, Stand. We sit because we are enthroned with our Lord; we walk worthy of what God has shown us in Jesus; and we stand against the enemies of God.
As for the immediate context, I like the way everything in verses 3-14 seem to sandwich the idea of redemption. I like the way that the passage begins with the idea of believers having every spiritual blessing (v. 3) and closes with the idea that we yet have an inheritance (vv. 13-14). Isn’t it cool that we get to eat our cake by experiencing God’s spiritual gifts of love, joy, and peace (among others) and still have the hope of MORE in the future. There is an inner connection between the early reference to being “called” (vv. 4-5) and the later reference to being predestined to God’s purpose (vv. 11-12). This is more like attending a game show where we’d like to compete and being called to “come on down” or being nominated for an award and anxiously awaiting our name to be announced as the “winner.” I like the reference to God’s intention for us at the end of verse 5 and the idea of the mystery of His will in verse 9. Then, notice what the central point is. We are redeemed—purchased by God, set free by God (vv. 7-8), and all the rest of it fits together as to why we were redeemed.
It helps to know all of this because it helps us to know our purpose in order to prepare to learn how to pray for each other. In fact, when Paul says in verse 15 that he’s praying this for the same reason, he’s building upon all that’s happened from verses 3-14. He is living his calling, God’s purpose, the mystery of his life on the basis of his redemption, his dependence upon Jesus Christ as Savior. So, the first thing we learn in our text (v. 15) is that Paul’s prayer—our primary focus today—is rooted in relationship. And any prayer we mouth that doesn’t desire a growing and healthy relationship with God and with God’s people is doomed to failure. Because Paul has heard that the Ephesians are living in faithfulness to God and because he recognizes that they love each other, he finds himself constantly in a state of gratitude for them. Have you ever thought about the fact that it’s nearly impossible to hold a grudge against someone while you’re being thankful concerning him or her? Do you want to have marvelous fellowship in the church? Constantly thank God for each other. In fact, there have been some times when I had something against a fellow pastor or a deacon and decided to thank God for each of them, in spite of the fact that I didn’t feel like it, and that helped me get over it. In fact, this idea of “remembering” in verse 16 [not obvious in every modern translation] has a tremendous background in the Old Testament and, presumably, in Jewish worship during New Testament times. To “remember” was to formally recount the events of the past in order to claim the present and look forward expectantly to the future.
So let’s look at the specific words of Paul’s prayer. “In order that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of Glory, give you the Spirit of wisdom and the unveiling of the experiential knowledge of Him.” [my translation] Hmm! Just as we saw in the sermon of a few weeks ago, the essential answer to prayer is the Holy Spirit—the Spirit Who gives “wisdom,” practical knowledge or applied knowledge, useful knowledge for the service of God. The Holy Spirit also gives us “revelation.” Revelation helps us decode the essential, experiential knowledge of God Himself.