Paul’s Prayer for Enlightenment - Part 1: To Know Christ Deeply
Ephesians - Live Like You Really Are
June 2, 2012
A PowerPoint presentation of this sermon is available by mailing a request to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
TEXT: Ephesians 1:15-1:23 – Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints, 16 Cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers; 17 That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: 18 The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, 19 And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, 20 Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, 21 Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: 22 And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, 23 Which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.
In his book, An Anthropologist on Mars, neurologist Oliver Sacks tells about Virgil, a man who had been blind from early childhood. When he was 50, Virgil underwent surgery and was given the gift of sight.
But as he and Dr. Sacks found out, having the physical capacity for sight is not the same as seeing. Virgil’s first experiences with sight were confusing. He was able to make out colors and movements, but arranging them into a coherent picture was more difficult. Over time he learned to identify various objects, but his habits—his behaviors—were still those of a blind man.
Dr. Sacks says, “One must die as a blind person to be born again as a seeing person. It is the interim, the limbo…that is so terrible.”
I believe this story illustrates perfectly the prayer Paul prayed for the Ephesians in today’s text. Starting in verse 3, Paul explained to the Ephesians their wonderful POSITION in Christ: Chosen in Christ; predestined to all the rights of a son of God by adoption; redeemed; forgiven; incredibly spiritually RICH; secure by their sealing with the Holy Spirit.
When you trust in Christ as Savior, the Bible says you have all these precious gifts, and many, many more from the very first day of your salvation. And yet…we still don’t fully grasp all we are and have in Christ. We’re like the blind man newly given sight in the story I just told. We once were lost, but now are found, were blind, but now we see…yet, like the blind man who received his sight in the story I told, we only dimly grasp the wonder of knowing Christ and all God has in store for us. Our perception of God is fuzzy, unclear, unformed, and even deceived in many ways, and we thus we live by our old habits and behaviors in many ways.
Paul knew this, so he prayed that God would deepen their understanding of God and His plan and His riches. Glimpse Basically, he prayed for four things, but today we’ll only look at one of them:
I. FIRST, HE PRAYED THAT THEY WOULD KNOW GOD MORE DEEPLY – Verse 17 – “That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him.”
Paul’s prayer that the Ephesians would know God more deeply is evident in the choice of the word Paul used for “knowledge.” The normal Greek word for “knowledge” was gnosis, but Paul uses the word EPIgnosis, which refers to a deeper, more personal knowledge. Vines Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words gives a rather long definition of epignosis which I’ll summarize as simply “exact or full knowledge,… a strengthened form of [gnosis], expressing a fuller or a full knowledge.”
In other words, Paul prays that the Ephesians—having come to know Christ in salvation—would go deeper and deeper in their knowledge of Christ. I find it wonderful and liberating that He doesn’t pray that they would know more about Christianity, or even the Bible itself, but to know CHRIST in this deeper way. I’m afraid that we often put too much emphasis on mastering biblical knowledge as an end in itself instead of focusing on the PERSON the Bible is about! Yes, know the Word of God; but more importantly, know the God of the Word.
Peter didn’t say in 2 Peter 3:18, “…grow in grace and Bible knowledge”; he said, “… grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” The Bible’s focus concerning knowledge is not that we become Bible trivia experts, but in knowing CHRIST.
Some of my commentaries pointed out that Paul’s use of epignosis here harkens back to the Old Testament concept of knowing. Knowledge in Greek culture was mostly objective knowledge ABOUT something or someone, whereas to the Hebrews, knowledge referred to experiential knowing; that is, knowing something or someone by EXPERIENCE.
This is reflected in the in Old Testament’s usage of “knowing” in reference to the physical act in marriage. For instance, in one of scores of such instances, Genesis 4:1 says, “And Adam KNEW Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bore Cain…” To “know” someone in this way is to “know” that person in a personal, intimate way, not just simply to objectively know ABOUT them.
This is similar to the kind of knowledge Paul is praying for the Ephesians: not in the sexual sense, but in the sense of personally, intimately, experientially knowing Christ.
Remember, we’re the Bride of Christ, and God wants us not simply to have a superficial knowledge of Christ as our sin-bearer, but to have a better, deeper, fuller, more intimate knowledge of Christ as we grow in Him.
I’ve found that so often when a person first comes to the Lord, the first thing they do is ask questions about spiritual things: Is this right or wrong? What does the Bible say about this or that issue? What am I supposed to believe about this or that doctrine?
I realize that this is part of learning to please the Lord and becoming an obedient disciple, but if we’re not careful, these things can become what the Christian life is all about for some people: knowing the rules, issues, doctrines—when in fact, these can become substitutes for knowing CHRIST HIMSELF.
Thus, Christianity ceases to be a RELATIONSHIP and becomes RELIGION. The focus becomes more about our POSITIONS on things than about a PERSON.
I love how Paul expresses his journey to Christ in Philippians 3 (if you’ll turn there now):
He tells of his focus on rules, issues, and doctrines of RELIGION in verses 5-6:
• He describes in verse 5 how he had been “circumcised the eighth day of the stock of Israel…” – That is, he had the right religious pedigree.
• He continues verse 5 by pointing out that he was a “Hebrew of the Hebrews as touching the law, a Pharisee” – That is, he had the right religious affiliation. – Today, that’s like saying, “I wasn’t just a Christian…dude, I WAS BAPTIST!”
• He says in verse 6, “Concerning zeal, persecuting the church…” – You see, focusing on issues will cause people to do ungodly things in the name of God; things that defy the very essence of what God is really about.
• Paul continues in verse 6: “…touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.” – He followed the rules, the commandments of God.
Paul had religion, the right background, the right affiliation, zeal and righteousness…[PAUSE] but he didn’t know God! He knew ABOUT God; he served God; he persecuted for God; he obeyed God’s commands…but He didn’t KNOW God. Well, he met God on the Road to Damascus where he was gloriously saved!
Look what he says in verse 7-8: “But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. 8 Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ,” Paul said, “My focus was on the wrong things. I had the answers, but I didn’t KNOW the Answer-giver; I followed the rules, but I didn’t have a RELATIONSHIP with the Rule-giver. I gave all that up for the excellency of knowing CHRIST.”
Here, perhaps Paul is talking about knowing Christ in salvation; but he goes on to tell how he longed for this deeper type of knowledge that he prayed the Ephesians would experience, for he says in verse 10: “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death.”
Paul doesn’t say, “That I may know all the truths of Christianity,” as important as that is. He doesn’t say, “That I may know all the facts of the Bible,” as helpful as that would be. He doesn’t say “That I may know the right answers on the big issues and controversies of the day,” as well we should.
No, he says, “That I may know HIM—Christ! And not just know Him CASUALLY, but I want to know the power of his resurrection. And I just don’t want to know Him in power, but also in the fellowship of His sufferings—to know what it is like to suffer like Jesus suffered.” In other words, Paul wanted to know Christ inside and out. He wanted to know Him personally, powerfully and painfully. He wanted to know Him intimately, deeply, experientially.
Illus. – How do we do that? I think an analogy will help us here: I entered Tennessee Temple College (now it’s a university) in Chattanooga, Tennessee in the summer of 1973 as sophomore. I was in the work-scholarship program that paid about half of my school bill, and that summer I was working as a roofer for the college.
One day, we were reroofing the flat tar roof of the library when I looked down on the benches below and saw the most beautiful girl I had ever laid eyes on. Well, I kind of got distracted for awhile until the supervisor yelled, “Hey Sligh, are you with us here? You know, we’ve got work to do?” “Oh yeah, sorry” I said. A little later I peeked over the roof’s edge again, but she was gone.
That evening I went to the library to study, and lo-and-behold there she was! She too was on work-scholarship and worked in the library. I smiled at her and she smiled back and I went and sat down to study. But I just couldn’t study as I watched her as she went about her work. That summer I was one of the most studious students you ever saw, going to the library to study EVERY night—to study HER, that is!
As I watched her every day, I hungered to get to know her. So I asked her out for a date…and I got to know her personally. That initial knowledge was shallow at best, but what I learned about her at that point was intriguing, and I wanted to know her better.
So I asked her out again, and got to know her a little better. Then we started hanging out, and I got to know her more and more each day, and each time, I was more and more enchanted by her. I just couldn’t get enough of her; I wanted to know everything about her.
Finally, we became boyfriend and girlfriend, and with each day, I was getting to know her more and more and our relationship grew deeper and deeper. She began to share with me her deepest dreams and goals and fears and hurts and struggles, and I did likewise.
Each step of the way our knowledge of one another grew a little bit deeper. Whereas on our first dates I was just getting to know ABOUT her, now I was getting to know HER—personally and experientially.
One day I decided that I wanted to spend the rest of my life getting to know this girl, so I proposed to her…and she accepted. (WHAT WAS SHE THINKING?!) As we planned the wedding, we started really getting to know each in ever more insightful ways, both good and bad as pressure brought out things we had not known about the other before.
But our love still grew, and finally our wedding day came, and that night was the first time either of us had “known” anyone in the way the Bible talks about. Now our knowledge was of the most intimate nature. But even then, I did not know her in the deepest ways possible.
The rest of our lives are committed to knowing each other and discovering what each others’ likes and dislikes are and knowing what pleases or displeases the other and trying to love and serve one another with this knowledge.
The way we get to KNOW CHRIST in the way Paul is talking about back in Ephesians 1:17 is the similar to how Susan and I got to know one another. First we discover something of the loveliness of Jesus, and so we look into Him a little bit to get a little more knowledge about Him. As we learn about them, we see in Him all His perfection and love and mercy and grace…and we become enchanted by Him an how He can bless our lives! So we seek to learn even more about Him, until one day we accept His proposal to commit our lives to Him and we’re saved by His grace. But even then, we’re only scratching the surface of what it means to “know” Christ.
This is where our analogy breaks down a little, because in verse 17 of our text, Paul prayed that GOD would give the Ephesians the spirit of wisdom and revelation in this deeper knowledge of Him. In other words, getting to know Christ in this deeper way involves understanding and revelation that comes from God, not from our own powers intellect. God’s revelation of Christ is found in the Bible, and the wisdom Paul talks about comes from the Holy Spirit, and the theological term for this understanding is “illumination.” We don’t just learn to know Christ in this deeper way on our own. We know Him intimately by delving into His Word where He’s revealed to us in all His glory, but even then we can only KNOW Him fullyu by the illumination of the Holy Spirit.
So the key to Christianity is getting to know CHRIST first and foremost through His Word, and getting to know facts about rules, issues and doctrines only secondarily. So get into God’s Word, but as you do, pray that God the Holy Spirit would help you to know Jesus, to understand His heart and His longings for us and His desires for us. Make JESUS the focus of your life; make HIM the center of your Bible study; seek to know HIM, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings.
Well, how do we bring this home to our hearts in a practical way? That is, what does God want you to DO with this sermon and this passage of scripture?
• First, I think he wants you to know Him in salvation. If you haven’t come to know Jesus, you haven’t discovered life, or joy in its fullness, or peace that passes all understanding, or freedom from the guilt of sins. The Bible says that Jesus died on the cross to be your Savior. Turn to Him and trust Him as your Savior today!
• Second, if you’re already a believer, have you been focused more on knowing facts about Christianity and issues and not focused enough on God and His living revelation of Himself, the Lord Jesus Christ?
> Are you in God’s Word daily, humbly seeking the illumination of the Holy Spirit?
> If so, may I challenge you to focus your Bible reading first and foremost in searching for God and Jesus on every page, learning what He is like, what His likes and dislikes are and what pleases and displeases Him, and conforming your life to His will for you.