Hope, glory and power
These verses are a prayer.
It is a prayer which begins with thanksgiving. Paul thanks God for the Ephesian Christians – for their faith in Jesus and their love for all the saints: (vv15-16).
It moves into what we call intercession, Paul’s request for them. He prays that they will know more of the hope to which they have been called, the glory of their inheritance and the power of God that is at work in them: (vv17-19).
It concludes with a hymn of praise to the God of power (vv20-23).
In the Greek it is all one single sentence. There is only one full stop, and that is at the end of v23! I really pity the poor person who had to write this down as Paul dictated: Paul must have started the sentence and then got carried away.
So what are we to draw from these verses? How do they apply to us?
Paul prays that God will reveal to the Ephesian Christians, and to us, the bigger picture.
There is the story of three stonemasons who were chipping away at their rocks. Someone asked them what they were doing. The first said, ‘I’m breaking up rocks’. The second said, ‘I’m earning a living for my family’. The third stopped, puffed out his chest, and said, ‘I’m building a cathedral’.
Paul prays, and here I am quoting from the ESV (I don’t think the NIV is particularly helpful here), that ‘the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 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, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power towards us who believe ..’
In other words Paul is praying that God will open the eyes of our heart so that we will see the bigger picture: that we will know the hope to which we are called, the glory of the Church and the power available for us.
We need light in order to see physical things with our physical eye.
In the same way, we need an inner light to see inner realities. We need God to give us this inner light, to open the ‘eye of our heart’, the eye of our soul or consciousness, so that you and I can see reality as it really is.
And that is really important. We can study these verses with our intellect, but it is only when God gives light to the heart that we will begin to really understand: not just here in our mind, but also here in our heart.
And I long for God to open eyes so that people who are blind to spiritual realities will open their eyes and see:
· that they will see this world not just as a space rock subject to blind forces of nature, but as the beautiful creation of a wonderful God. They will see it as a creation and not as a chanc-ation. There are moments when God seems so obvious to me that I cannot understand why other people cannot see Him.
· that they will see that God is not irrelevant, a spoil sport who wants to stop them from having fun, but that he is the author of life and love and laughter, that he loves them, has died for them and has an astonishing destiny for them and this creation – if only they will see and receive.
· that they will see themselves and others in the light of this love of God
· that in spite of the seeming impersonal random swings of fate and fortune there is one who is bigger and who is ultimately in control
And so Paul prays a prayer for us: that we will see the bigger picture of reality.
He prays that we will know
1. The hope to which we have been called.
Paul has spoken about this hope in the previous verses:
It is about you and me, about you and me in relationship to others, and about the whole of creation. It is the hope that we will be holy and blameless before him (v4), that we will together be his sons and daughters (v5), and that one day the new heaven and the new earth will operate in wonderful harmony as each created thing works in harmony under the authority of Jesus (v10).
This is the hope that is central to authentic Christian living.
· It is the hope that one day we will see the immensity of the love of God, and that we will be filled with the love of God (Ephesians 3:17ff).
· It is the hope that this broken creation, currently subject to the law of death (entropy) and sin (that bitter fight to the death for survival, which we understand as evolution) will one day be set free from sin and death (Romans 8:22-25).
· It is the hope that death is not the end, that as Christ has been raised from the dead, so shall we (1 Corinthians 15:19ff; 1 Peter 1:3), and that one day we shall see him as he is and be transformed into his likeness (1 John 3:2-3);
· It is the hope of righteousness (Galatians 5:5), that we shall partake of his nature (2 Peter 1:4).
· It is the hope of salvation (1 Thessalonians 5:8), of the appearing again of Jesus Christ (Titus 2:13), of the coming new age (Ephesians 1:21), of the coming kingdom of God [we pray for that every time we pray the Lord’s prayer], of heaven (Colossians 1:5; Titus 1:2;3:7), and of the glory of God (Romans 5:2; 2 Cor 3:12; Colossian 1:27).
Paul prays that we will not just know this hope in our head; he prays that we will know it here. This is real stuff. When this hope gets a grip on us, it transforms our lives. How we live will change.
Peter tells us that it is a living hope (1 Peter 1:3).
He tells us that when people look at how it changes how we live, they will ask, ‘What is it that makes you different?’ (1 Peter 3:15). And the writer to the Hebrews tells how the saints of old were prepared to be mutilated, murdered and endured all things for the sake of the hope that they had (Hebrews 11:1).
It is that hope which drives our persecuted brothers and sisters in Iraq or Syria.
It is that hope which makes people give up all things here and now, for the sake of then and there.
It is that hope which gives us perseverance in trouble and joy in sufferings.
2. The riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.
I really struggled with this!
At one level it is talking about Christ’s inheritance.
What do you give the person who quite literally has everything? What do you give the person who can create anything with a word?
I guess, you give him people who will to choose to share it with him, to delight in it and each other with him.
So the inheritance of Christ is the saints: you and me; it is people who follow Jesus – whether they lived long ago, now, or sometime the future. God the Father has given us, you and me, to Christ. You and I are, quite literally, God’s gift to Jesus. And when you put us together, as one body, it is an astonishingly rich gift.
But if we look at this at a deeper level we see something quite remarkable. Christ has been given all things by the Father (John 1:3; 13:3). He has been given this creation, the future, the saints and glory. But when a person becomes a believer, they do not just become a servant of Christ or a follower of Christ. They become a member of Christ. They are, to use the language of Ephesians, ‘in Christ’. They become part of Christ. In other words, Christ’s inheritance is now their inheritance.
Let me illustrate this. I have here a book. I am this filing card. I am God’s gift to Christ. The Father gives me to Christ. So I am put ‘in Christ’. Now this filing card represents you. You are God’s gift to Christ. The Father gives you to Christ. So you too are put in this book. But when you were put into this book, you were not just given to Christ, you were also given to me – and when I was put into the book, I was not just given to Christ, but to you.
In other words, Paul is praying not only that the Ephesian Christians will know the hope to which they are called, but they will also see the glory of the Church, the people of God.
The richness of the Church is the richness of the diversity of all people in Christ – from all places and all times. It includes each one of us, the unique people that we are, and the unique gifts that we have.
For the Ephesian church it meant that Paul was praying that the eyes of Jewish Christians would be opened so that they could see Gentile Christians as heirs together with them in Christ. It meant he was praying that the eyes of Gentile Christians would be opened so that they would see Jewish Christians as their brothers and sisters in Christ. Only then would Jews open their lives to Gentiles, and Gentiles open their lives to Jews. Only then could they come together, eat together, and worship God. Only then could the richness of the Church be seen.
He was praying that these early believers would see that they needed each other, that their glory depended on the other’s glory.
That does not happen naturally. Naturally we seek our own glory; we put up the barricades, close the doors and shutters of our lives, stay in our ghettoes, and stick with the people who are like us.
It is only when the Holy Spirit opens our eyes that we will see those who worship with us as our brothers and sisters in Christ; it is only then that we will start to see those who worship in very different ways, or in different times and places as our fellow believers. It is only then that we will realise that we need them. We need the saints of the past – don’t automatically dismiss tradition; we need the saints, men and women, who are different to us: socially, culturally, racially.
Without this revelation churches will remain clubs for like-minded people.
I remember as a curate in Ipswich being so troubled when a couple told me they were leaving St John’s because they felt that they were from a different class to most people and didn’t fit in. It seemed to be a denial of everything that we were about.
It is very easy for churches to become collections of different groups of like-minded people: our mums get together; our men get together; our singles get together; our retired people get together; our social activists get together; the business people get together, the people interested in mission get together; our youth get together. And that is right: we need to be able to support each other in our individual Christian lives. But it is not church in the fullest sense.
The glory, the richness of the Church is when Christ opens our eyes so that we see each other as members together of the body of Christ. It is that which releases us to love one another, to be in communion with each other: like with like, like with unlike. The richness, the glory of the church is seen when we die to ourselves and come alive to Christ and other people; when we humble ourselves and look to the interests of others, when we seek their help, when we forgive each other and treat the other as more significant than ourselves.
The richness of the inheritance of Christ, the saints, the Church, is when we weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice.
3. Paul prays that we will know the immeasurable greatness of the power of God at work in them.
This is the same power that brought Jesus Christ back from the dead, that seated him above all authority and power, and that has placed all things under his feet.
This is the power which will make spiritually dead people live
This is the power which will, one day, bring our bodies back from the dead
This is the power which puts us in Christ and keeps us in Christ
This is the power which enables us to persevere, to know joy in tribulation.
This is the power which means that we will bear fruit.
This is the power which works in us to change us, and will ultimately make us like Christ.
This power, we are told, is directed toward us.
I enjoy sailing – it is real messing about in boat stuff. You can sail with the wind behind you, pushing you in the direction you want to go. It is, however, impossible to sail directly against the wind. You go head to wind and you can’t do anything. When I sail with the wind, the power is for me.
When I try to sail against the wind, the power is against me.
Paul prays that we will see that this power of God is not against us, but for us.
It is when we glimpse the power of God for us that we will not lose confidence. Even though everything seems to go against us, when we fail, grow tired or disillusioned, when it seems the forces of darkness are overwhelming, we do not give in: we know that there is a power at work for us which can overcome everything. We know that we have been blessed in Christ with every spiritual blessing.
And when we glimpse the power of God for us, we will pray.
We will pray because we want to touch the edge of this power.
We will pray because we want to keep our lives in line with this power.
And the more we see the immeasurable power of God, the bigger prayers we will pray.
More on this when we look at Ephesians 3:20, but if we have a God who can do the most astonishing things, why pray for temporary physical healing when we could be praying that someone will live for ever?
So today, with Paul, I pray that God will open my eyes and your eyes and that we will begin to see the cathedral, the bigger picture.
And that we will see with our inner-most being:
· The hope to which we have been called;
· The astonishing glory of the people of God in Christ;
· The immeasurable power of God toward us.