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Faith Bible Church, NY
June 23, 1996
Praying for the Saints, Pt.1
Please turn with me to Ephesians 1:15. This morning we will start in on another of Paul’s long sentences. The last one, from vs. 3-14 took us three weeks to get through, this one, from vs. 15-23, will take us two weeks to get through.
It’s not because Paul is just “wordy” that he writes in such a manner, but that he is so excited about what he is writing about. He is full and overflowing in what he wants to communicate to his readers about God and what He has done for them. He can hardly finish one thought before another tangent thought also fills his mind. Such is the nature of God that Paul is overwhelmed by it all. What other response can we finite creatures have toward our infinite creator?
In verses 15-23 Paul tells the Ephesians of his prayers for them: 5 For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which [exists] among you, and your love for all the saints, 16 do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention [of you] in my prayers; 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. 18 [I pray that] the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. [These are] in accordance with the working of the strength of His might 20 which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly [places], 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in the one to come. 22 And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.
REASONS TO PRAY & GIVE THANKS
Paul begins this section with phrase translated here as, “for this reason, I too.” Paul here states two reasons for giving thanks and praying for them: God’s blessings (as Paul has already explained in verses 3-14) and God’s people.
The first reason for giving thanks and praying is prompted by what God has done. The more we think about all that God has done for us the more we should be filled with the desire to give thanks to Him and pray by speaking with him about what is on our hearts.
Thanksgiving is not a natural response by man. Paul points out in Romans 1:21 natural man’s slide into moral decay starts out with not honoring God or giving thanks to Him. We have to work hard to teach our children to demonstrate gratitude and give thanks. We are naturally self-centered, and in thinking the world revolves around us we simply expect things to be given to us. How many toddlers have you ever met that automatically said, “Please, may I,” and “thank you very much”? They say, “give me,” and “I want,” very easily, but “please” and “thank you” take work. Why? Because they have to first learn that the world does not revolve around them and they cannot get what they want without proper manners. As they get older we try to work gratitude into the heart of our children. We want them to recognize and acknowledge the grace they have received from God and other people.
Thanksgiving looks back in time to what God has done, and Paul is prompted to thanksgiving because has just finished talking about what God has done. He chose us for salvation in Christ before the foundations of world that we might be holy and blameless before Him; He redeemed us through Jesus’ bloody sacrifice of Himself on the cross for our sins and so our sins are forgiven; and He has given us wonderful and magnificent promises for the future which have been guaranteed by the coming of the Holy Spirit into our lives. God’s grace to us should result in our thanksgiving to Him.
Paul is also prompted by this to prayer in bringing requests to God. Prayer looks toward the future. The God that gave him these wonderful blessings loves him. He is free to bring his requests before God without fear. As the writer of Hebrews put it, we may “draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need.”
The second reason for Paul to give thanks and to pray is God’s people. Paul states two reasons that prompt him in this manner. Their faith and their love.
Paul says, “having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you.” This is great cause for thanksgiving. It had been four or five years since Paul had been among them and now he was in a prison in Rome and could not visit them again. He was concerned about what may have occurred during his absence. Remember that when he left Ephesus he had charged the Elders in (Acts 20:28-30) to “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.” The report now given to him confirms that his labor among them has not been in vain. They were remaining firm in their profession of faith.
Paul always had a concern for the churches 2 Cor. 11:28 tells us about, and specifically he was concerned that people’s professions of faith would be false and they would fall away and become apostate. In 1 Cor. 15 we find the church troubled there by some that were denying the resurrection of Christ. Paul tells them point blank that if they were to believe such a lie then their faith in Christ would be in vain (vs. 2 & 14-19). In Galatians 4 Paul deals with those who were trying to add works of the Law to salvation by faith, and in verse 11 Paul tells them, “I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain.” Paul is concerned that they have in fact rejected the true gospel for a false one. In 1 Thess 3 we find that Paul had sent Timothy there to find out about their faith “for fear that the tempter might have tempted you, and our labor should be in vain.”
It is worth noting that Paul here denotes their faith as being “in the Lord Jesus.” Some, out of concern that there should be any taint of works righteousness involved in salvation have underplayed the lordship of Christ, some to the point of near denial. A false dichotomy has been erected that separates Jesus as savior from Jesus as lord. Some have even said that the usage here is simply a title, but even if that was the case, the term lord being used as just a title, then what a title and what significance to it! Certainly Lord refers to deity, but you cannot separate deity and sovereignty. If Jesus is Lord, then He is also sovereign, and therefore master. We have a duty to obey Him. We do not make Jesus Lord. He is Lord. We simply recognize it, and recognizing that Jesus is Lord is part of salvation.
Paul says in Romans 10:9,10, “that if you confess with your mouth Jesus [as] Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved; 10 for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.” This does not mean that a person has a full understanding of everything about Christ (otherwise Paul would not need to pray for the saints as we shall see he does in a few moments), but it does mean that there is a willingness to submit to what is understood. There is a desire on the part of the person to leave their old life and follow Christ in a new life. If this is not true there is a serious problem and the person may have placed their faith in a false gospel. They are trusting someone or something other than Christ.
I received a letter from a missionary that Diane and I know (not one our church supports) and we, were saddened. They had talked about quite a number of people “making decisions for Christ” and “being saved” through various evangelistic events. I added up 21 through ministry he is directly involved with, and then he added, “Now if only they would all regularly come to church!” I wish that meant that there were a few people out of that 21 that were sporadic, but knowing this ministry for many years I know it means that there are a few that come, a few others they see on occasion, but most they do not see. Like many others there are reports of many “decisions” for Christ, but few changed lives. Why?
A major reason is that many of these making “professions of faith” are never told the whole story. In the interest of getting people saved from hell they are left in their sins. Jesus is not presented as the sovereign creator whom they have offended by their sin for which they need to repent, but the consummate do-gooder who has a nice present for them if they will just repeat the words of this prayer. Ladies and gentlemen, let us always keep in mind that being a Christian is about being like Christ, salvation is about being made holy and blameless before Him, and the walk of faith is about bringing glory to Christ.
Paul gives thanks that he has heard that the faith of the Ephesians in the Lord Jesus has continued to exist. His preaching and their believing has not been in vain. Their professions of faith have endured and so have proved to be holding fast to the truth, not the lies of half-truths.
Paul gives thanks for another aspect of these believer’s lives. Their “love for all the saints.” A true profession of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ has practical results the greatest and most obvious of which is a love for God’s people. I am not talking about the disinterested “I love you in the Lord” idea (in other words, “I do it because I have too!”). Rather it means the Lord is loving you through me. I am personally involved and committed. It can, and should include warm emotional feelings toward one another. The love I am talking about here is what reflects the love of Jesus. We are to be personally committed, self-sacrificing and devoted to one another. We are to seek each other’s best interest, not just our own (Phil 2:3,4).
This is the love the apostle John mentions so often in his epistles. We are to be family for we are brothers and sisters in Christ and so loving each other warts and all. We are not going to be perfect in it, but we will be striving. It is demonstrated in our desire to be together and to care for one another. In practical terms we are not to love “with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.” When we see a brother with a need and we can meet that need, we do so (1 John 3:17-18). James describes truth faith in the same terms (James 2:15-17).
Paul joins together faith and love in this same way in other passages. In the 1 Thess. 3 passage I mentioned earlier where Paul expressed his concern for them and feared that he had labored in vain, he goes on to say that he was comforted about them when Timothy returned with good news of their faith and love (1 Thess. 3:6). Therefore, Paul was confident that they would continue to stand firm in the Lord. In Colossians Paul says almost the same thing as he does here in Ephesians: “We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, 4 since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have for all the saints.”
Christian love, Biblical love, godly love is the practical outworking of truth faith in the individuals life. 1 John 5:1 states it directly, “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God; and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him.” Those who love God love all the saints. 1 John 4:20 says that to do otherwise makes you a liar.
Paul says that he is moved to thanksgiving and prayer because of God’s blessings and God’s people. In verse 17 he plainly spells out who we are to pray to.
WHO WE PRAY TO
“…the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory.”
There seems to be some confusion as to whom we are to pray to. God the Father or Jesus? The charismatic movement has further confused the issue because they in particular also address the Holy Spirit with their petitions. While it is true that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us, no where in scripture are we directed to address our prayers to Him. He intercedes for us because he know both the mind of God and our mind (Rom 8:26).
Jesus also intercedes for us (Heb. 7:25) and we are told to pray in “His name” (John 14:13, etc.) and are also told we can ask Jesus directly (John 14:14). So you are not in sin if you pray to Jesus. However, we should understand more accurately that our prayers are to the Father through Jesus. Jesus is the one that gives us that access. Jesus describes this in John 15:16, saying we are to ask of the Father in His name that He may give it to us. Hebrews describes it as being able to come with confidence to the throne of grace because Jesus is our high priest and our our mediator with the Father (4:15,16). We can come into the holy place through Jesus’ blood sacrifice (10:19).
Paul is not saying anything new here about Jesus and the Father. Jesus said the same thing to Mary in John 20:17, “Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren, and say to them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.'” This does not take away from Jesus’ deity, it simply stresses that Jesus was also human and as such the Father was also His God.
The emphasis here is on the confidence when we pray. We pray to the God that sent Jesus into the flesh to be our redeemer. Paul put it this way in Rom 8:32, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things.” The God of Jesus is our God and He loves us and extends to us infinite grace. He is the “Father of glory.” This glory is the sum of all the divine attributes. His infinite greatness, excellence, perfection, majesty and holiness shining forth. As the Father of glory He will accomplish all the blessing given to us that Paul had just previously described in verses 3-14 because all of them are done for His glory.
When we pray we do not have to deal with other men. There are no human priests we must come to in order to approach God. The false religions can have them, we don’t need them. We do not have to deal with angels or any other created being, the fringe Charismatics and New Agers can waste their time with that. We bring our petitions directly to the glorious sovereign of the universe, the creator of all things. That is a powerful privilege granted to us because He has adopted us as His children. I hope you are beginning to grasp what is yours.
WHAT WE PRAY FOR
What are we to pray for? Paul mentions three specific things: a spirit of wisdom, revelation of God, and an enlightened heart. In essence, Paul prays simply that they would understand a appropri ate what they already had.
Warren Wiersbe tells the story in his commentary of William Randolph Hearst, the one that built Hearst Castle in San Simion, California. It turns out that Mr. Hearst, who was an avid art collector, once read a description of some valuable pieces that he decided he wanted for his collection regardless of cost. He sent his agent looking for the. After months abroad the agent returned and reported that he had found the items Mr. Hearst wanted. They were in Mr. Hearst’s warehouse. Hearst had spent months searching for something he already owned. If he had read the catalog of his treasures first he could have saved himself a lot of time and money.
It is the same way for Christians. So many spend valuable time and energy trying to get what is already theirs. That is the tragedy of experiential based Christianity. The quest for the next experience blinds them to what they already have. They want something special, something beyond what ordinary Christians has, they want “more of Jesus” or “more of the Holy Spirit” or “more power” or “more blessings” or a “higher life” or a “deeper life.” However you describe it, they want something different than what they are experiencing and rather than dig into the scripture to find out what is wrong in their lives they go out hunting for something else.
This quest undermines the truth of what Scripture itself says about the nature of salvation. In verses 3-14, Paul has already alluded to the fact that the true Christian already has all they need to live a godly life. Peter makes it even more plain in 2 Peter 1:2,3 Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; 3 seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.
God has already given you everything you need to live a wonderful, fulfilled, content and godly life. Your quest needs to be to understand what you have and to appropriate it. Whenever people have sought something in addition to what the Scriptures say they have ended up in trouble.
Theological liberalism in all its various forms came from people adding human philosophy to Christ. Paul is direct about the value of human philosophy in Col. 2:8: See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.
Others have tried to add religious traditions to Christ and have ended up with legalism. They think they have a higher spiritual standing because the various rituals they keep and man made rules they follow. Paul is direct about this heresy too in Col. 2:16,17 “Therefore let no one act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day 17 things which are a [mere] shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.”
Another error has been mysticism, the seeking of mysterious experiences and visions to supplement a relationship with Christ. In the seeking of something more, they actually get something less. Paul warns in Col. 2:18,19, Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on [visions] he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, 19 and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God.
And finally, asceticism, the belief that one can gain increased favor with God through self-denial of pleasures and comforts. It results in an extreme form of separation not wanting to have any associations with “sinful” people. Paul points out in Col 2:21-23 the foolishness of this supposed “spirituality” that teaches, “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!”… in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? Paul goes on to say, “These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, [but are] of no value against fleshly indulgence.”
What are we to pray for? Paul says in verse 17,18 a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. 18 [I pray that] the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.
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