Summary: Paul's prayer for the saints in Ephesians 1:15-19 shows us how to praise and petition God for believers.
We are currently in a series of sermons on Ephesians 1 that I am calling, “God’s Supreme Purpose.”
In Ephesians 1:3-14, which is one, long, complex, glorious sentence in the original Greek, the Apostle Paul praised God for salvation. Paul praised the Father for planning our salvation, the Son for purchasing our salvation, and the Holy Spirit for applying that salvation to us.
In Ephesians 1:15-23, which is also one, long, complex, glorious sentence in the original Greek, the Apostle Paul prayed for the saints to grow in their understanding of, and appreciation for, the blessings of salvation.
Let’s read Paul’s prayer for the saints in Ephesians 1:15-19a:
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. (Ephesians 1:15-19a)
Dr. James Montgomery Boice writes,
If God is in charge of everything and has “foreordained whatsoever comes to pass” – in the words of the Westminster Shorter Catechism – what is the point of praying? In fact, what is the point of doing anything? Why witness? Why study the Bible? Why do good works? If what is going to happen is going to happen anyway, none of these things count. We might as well do as we please and let God do what he wants.
The answer to these questions is that although God is sovereign and has indeed “foreordained whatsoever comes to pass,” he nevertheless uses means to accomplish his purposes. That is, God uses the means of Scripture reading, prayer, witnessing, serving, and so on to accomplish his purposes. The astonishing thing is that God uses fallen human beings to accomplish his purposes!
This truth is taught most clearly in Ephesians 1. The Apostle Paul clearly taught the sovereignty of God in our salvation in the first half of the chapter. He could not have been clearer about God the Father planning our salvation by electing a vast number to salvation, the Son purchasing our salvation by his life, death, burial, and resurrection, and the Holy Spirit applying the blessings of salvation to the elect.
In the second half of the chapter the Apostle Paul stressed the importance of prayer so that believers would fully understand and appreciate the blessings of salvation.
Paul’s prayer for the saints in Ephesians 1:15-19 shows us how to praise and petition God for believers.
Let’s use the following outline:
1. Praise God for Believers (1:15-16)
2. Petition God for Believers (1:17-19a)
I. Praise God for Believers (1:15-16)
First, Paul’s prayer for the saints shows us how to praise God for believers.
In Ephesians 1:3-14 Paul had just outlined one of the most magnificent statements regarding God’s plan of salvation. It is a magnificent statement of praise to God. Now, in the second half of chapter 1 Paul turned to prayer. He said to the Ephesians in verses 15-16, “For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.”
Paul had ministered in Ephesus years earlier, and the congregation had changed some in his absence. Nevertheless, he praised God for the believers there and did not cease to give thanks for them, remembering them in his prayers.
Paul’s praise to God for believers included two noteworthy features.
A. Paul Praise God for Their Faith (1:15a)
First, Paul praised God for their faith.
Paul said in verse 15a, “For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus.” Paul thanked God for their saving faith. They had been saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. It was a marvelous work of God in which each Person of the Trinity played a significant and essential role.
But it seems that the Apostle Paul had heard more than just about their saving faith. He had heard about their practical faith. That is, the believers in Ephesus lived out their faith in their everyday lives. They did not merely profess faith in Christ with their lips; they expressed their faith in Christ by their lives. Theirs was a robust, working, living faith. As Kent Hughes said,
The Ephesians believed Christ would take care of them through thick and thin. Their faith was not like the man who was attempting to cross the frozen St. Lawrence River in Canada. Not sure whether the ice would hold, the man first tested it by laying one hand on it. Then he got down on his knees and gingerly began making his way across. When he got to the middle of the frozen river trembling with fear, he heard a noise behind him. Looking back, to his horror he saw a team of horses pulling a carriage down the road toward the river. And upon reaching the river they didn’t stop, but bolted right onto the ice and past him, while he crouched there on all fours, turning a deep crimson. If only he had known how firm the ice really was that day … The Ephesians knew Christ had saved them and could hold them up, and as a result they were charging straight ahead. For this, Paul thanked God.