Sunday 15 January 2012

Knowing God (Ephesians 1:15-23)

The purpose of Paul’s prayer

For this reason since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in all my prayers.
Ephesians 1:15

I am not a fan of golf. I had a teacher once who called golf the Game Of Lazy Fellows – G-O-L-F. You spend all day running around chasing a little ball. But if there’s one thing that’s worse than watching a game of golf, it’s listening to someone go on and on talking about golf. Zzzzzzzzzzz!

Today, I’m going to be talking about prayer. Not the most interesting topic for some of you, if you’re honest. Cage fighting? That’s cool! Dr Who? Awesome! Prayer? Meh.

And that’s because prayer for you is boring; prayer for you is confusing. You’ve been to prayer meetings where there’s little praying and lots of gossiping. You’ve had someone say to you, “Let’s pray about it,” when what they mean is, “Let’s not do anything about it.” Or you’ve come to a church like this and a guy like me stands up front, closes his eyes, raises his hands and says, “We beseech thee, O Lord!” Understandably, you think that prayer is all about speaking big words that no one understands to someone that no one sees.

The passage we are looking at today is one long prayer but – get this – it’s not talking about the importance of prayer. The apostle Paul is not saying to Christians, “You need to pray.” What he is saying is “You need know God”. If you do not know God, you cannot pray. If you do not know God, it would be impossible for you to pray.

Meaning: the reason why many people do not pray or why many people find it hard to pray, is simply because they don’t know who they’re praying to. They do not know God.

Paul prays for one thing – and just one – in verse 17: that God would enable us to know him.

I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you a Spirit of wisdom and revelation so that you may know him better.
Ephesians 1:17

A prayer for believers

Now most people think that this is a prayer for non-believers – “God please reveal yourself to my non-Christian neighbour and speak to him during the sermon today.” The truth is: this is a prayer for Christians. “Ever since I heard about your faith in Jesus,” Paul says in verse 15, “and your love for all the saints.” Meaning: here are Christians – probably new Christians – who love Jesus and love their church. That’s who Paul is praying for. “I have not stopped thanking God for you,” he says. Every time he thinks about them, he says, “Thank you, Jesus for saving them.”

But then he says, “If there is one thing that I ask God for on your behalf,” – the most important thing for you to have as a new Christian or a young Christian – is that you really know God as your Dad. “I keep asking,” he says, “that the glorious Father may give you a Spirit of wisdom and revelation.” That’s what the Holy Spirit does in our lives as Christians. He reminds us, “You belong to God. God looks at you and he sees his son; he sees his daughter. What he sees is Jesus.”

Do you know this? The real question is not “Do you pray?” but “Do you know God?”

Knowing God

And what Paul does next is expand on this one idea of knowing God. He says:

I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.
Ephesians 1:18-19

He lists three things we need to know about God. All three place an emphasis not on us, but on God.
Firstly, God calls you. “The hope to which he has called you,” Paul says. Earlier on in verse 12, Paul describes the first believers as those who put their hope in Christ. But here he says, really, it’s God who called you to that hope in that first place. Anytime you have doubts about your faith. Anytime you start wonder if you are really a Christian. Remember this: it was God who called you as a Christian. He chose you from the foundation of the earth. He put his Spirit in you. Paul says, I pray that you guys have this certainty; that you know this truth.

Secondly, God loves you. “The riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.” It’s easy to misread this and think it’s about our treasure in heaven, since Paul is talking about riches and inheritance. But it’s not our inheritance Paul is talking about, but God’s: The riches of his inheritance, verse 18 says. And what he’s saying is you are his treasure. You are his investment, paid with the blood of Jesus Christ on the cross. God loves you that much!

Thirdly and finally, God empowers you. “His incomparably great power for us who believe,” Paul says. It’s almost like Paul is saying, “There’s just no way to measure this – it’s incomparably great!” “But,” he says, “if I had to describe this power, then I’d describe it like this:” Look at verse 19:

That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms.
Ephesians 1:19-20

It is power to raise Jesus from the dead. It is power for Jesus to rule at God’s right hand with all of his authority; with all of his majesty. “That’s the power I’m talking about,” Paul seems to be saying. That’s the power “for us who believe.”

Do you know this? The fact is that many Christians probably don’t – They do not know about God’s call, God’s love and God’s power working in their lives. They don’t get it. Otherwise, Paul wouldn’t have had to pray this prayer. The question for us today is: Do we know this?

Paul says, “I have not stopped thanking God for you” (verse 16). “I keep asking God” for this (verse 17). It’s not the kind of prayer you say once and then forget about. We pray for all kinds of things – our exams, our health, the weather. I wonder if the most common prayer we say is over food, “Thank you for this char siu pao.” Now Paul does say at the end of Ephesians Chapter 6 to “pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayer and requests,” so it is OK to pray for your exams, it is good to pray for next week’s Chinese New Year event. But the question is: what is the one thing to pray about?  What is the most important thing ask God for?

It is to know God.

That God would reveal himself to us by his Spirit, through Jesus Christ, so that we might know him better. “God, help me to understand.” That’s not hard, it’s being honest. In Mark 9:24 a man comes to Jesus saying, “I believe, help my unbelief.” There’s an honest guy. That’s an honest prayer. I trust you, Jesus. Please help me to trust in you fully.

As Christians, we enter into a relationship with God. Being a Christian doesn’t mean that we have all the answers, but it does means that God helps us to grow in our trust and love of him, the way a kid learns to love and trust his dad – in a relationship with him in his home. In the same way, God helps us by giving us his Spirit, by guiding us in his Word, by changing us to be more like Jesus. What’s encouraging about this is how it is God who works in us to help us grow in knowing him. It’s not something we do by our own strength because we can’t. Paul prays for God to reveal himself; for God to open our eyes by his Spirit.

Open the eyes of my heart, Lord

I keep asking that God… may give you the Spirit of wisdom and understanding
Ephesians 1:17
I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened
Ephesians 1:18

Two aspects of knowing God: We need to understand; we need to see. But Paul says we need the Spirit in order to understand. And we need God to open the eyes of our hearts in order for us to see. The question is: How do we see with our hearts? What are we meant to see… with our hearts?

Last week, we read of another physical sense back in verse 13: “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation.” That’s something I hope we’re doing now. We are hearing with our ears; we are hearing the word of truth – that is, the gospel. But Paul is saying that something else needs to happen in addition to hearing this message. We need to see with our hearts. Paul explains this further in 2 Corinthians 4:

The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

For God, who said, Let light shine out of darkness, made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
2 Corinthians 4:4,6

What Paul is describing is the gospel. We hear the gospel preached – plainly and clearly from the bible. And we hear it with our ears. But God opens our hearts so that through the gospel we can see the glory of Christ. Both need to happen: the preaching of the word of the gospel and the breaking in of the light of the gospel into our hearts.

Meaning: if any of what you’ve heard so far makes sense; if even one thing in today’s message makes you goes, “Wow, I never know that before!” – that is the evidence of God’s Spirit working in you; revealing himself to you. That’s what Paul is praying for the Christians in Ephesus. That the eyes of your hearts be enlightened – which is funny word – it means, that light will come into your heart, otherwise you’re blind. Otherwise, everything’s just a blur. It means that without God’s help, you’re sitting there listening to the exact same words, looking at the exact same text in the bible and you’re thinking, “This is boring. Why would anyone believe any of this?” But if God’s spirit is working in you, you hear the gospel and you read the bible and your heart goes, “Jesus is awesome!”

My job is to show you what’s right here – in the bible. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:2, we set forth the truth “plainly”. I’m just the guy who delivers the pizza to the door. I’m not supposed to add any special ingredients. I did not come up with the recipe. I serve you best by just getting the gospel to you plainly and clearly.

Maybe that’s something we should keep in mind next week during our Chinese New Year celebration. There are going to be lots of people are coming. There are going to be lots of expectations. And there’s going to be a lot of pressure: to put on a good show, to make a good impression, to make sure everyone has a good time. We need to be careful of the pressure that says the gospel is not enough. That say people are not going to understand the gospel. That says we need to something more interesting, more attractive to draw people to Jesus than what the gospel can offer.

Paul says what we need is for God to shine the gospel into our hearts to see “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ”. It is not something we could ever do. Only the Holy Spirit does this. Only God can do this. And if there is one thing we need to pray to happen next week – it’s not that the food gets ready on time, it’s not that the music is compelling – all these are important, but what is the one thing that needs to happen next week? It’s for God to open their hearts and our hearts to see Jesus as amazing. Glorious. To hear this message of God taking our sin and wickedness and filth and dumping it all on Jesus and taking all his righteousness and glory and transferring it to our account, and for us to hear this truth and respond by saying, “That’s unbelievable! That’s cool!” That’s what we need God to do.

Paul never stopped praying for this. He really loved these Christians and what he wanted most for them above all else was for this church to know God better. If you know Jesus and love someone – a family member, your best friend, someone you care about, someone you are concerned about – there is no greater prayer you could pray than this: that they know the God who made them and the God who died for them on the cross. There is no greater prayer you could pray.

I began by saying that this passage is not Paul telling us, “You need to pray,” but him urging us by saying, “You really need to know God”. But the flipside is this: If you do know God, you will pray. You will pray for others to come to a saving knowledge of God by his Spirit through Jesus Christ. You will pray out of love for people. You pray out of the knowledge of God’s love. You will pray this prayer, if you know how precious and awesome it is to know God as your Father and Jesus as your Saviour. You will pray.

But finally, Paul ends his prayer by talking about God’s plan. That is, knowing God’s plan will stir you to prayer for God's people.

God’s plan and Christ’s fullness

He raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the age to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.
Ephesians 1:20-23

God’s plan is for all things to be under one headship: Christ Jesus as Lord. That’s the direction everything is heading towards – even those in opposition to Jesus as King. That is what Paul means by “rulers, authorities, powers and dominions” – these are spiritual forces that continue to rebel against God. All things will be under Christ’s feet, and Christ will be head over everything. That’s the plan.

But then the prayer ends on an unexpected note: “for the church” (the end of verse 22). He goes on further to elaborate that the church is “his body” and “his fullness”. What does this mean?

Some of you know that many of our brothers and sisters from the English Congregation are away next week. These include many of our mature Christian brothers. These include many of our leaders, musicians and bible study leaders. So, I received an email last week from a concerned member asking me, “Are we going to have a meeting next week? It’s Chinese New Year, everyone is away and only a few people will come.” In truth, I get asked this question every year and I do honestly struggle with the answer every single year. I wrote back to say, “This is one of those things we do in service not to the many but for the few.”

In other words, it’s an opportunity to serve the way Jesus did: Leaving the ninety-nine sheep in search of the one lost sheep. It is an opportunity to show our Christian brothers and sisters that they really do matter to Jesus, individually and corporately.

God places all things under Jesus’ feet – he is the King, he is the Christ, but he does so “for the church”. It is meant to be an encouragement that God is in control. The few who turn up next week at the English Service, they are his body. They are no less the people of God. And verse 23 says, “his fullness” is with them. When we gather in Jesus’ name, we do not lack a single thing. His fullness fills everything in every way. Often, we learn the preciousness of that truth not in times of plenty but in want.

Paul prays. He prays for God to fill these young Christians with the knowledge of himself. But he also prays that these Christians would be filled with the fullness of Christ. Do you know this? If not, why not come clean. Why not say to God, “I believe, help my unbelief. I just want to know you better.”


All I once held dear, built my life upon,
All this world reveres and wars to own;
All I once thought gain I have counted loss,
Spent and worthless now compared to this.

Knowing You, Jesus, knowing You
There is no greater thing.
You're my all, You're the best,
You're my joy, my righteousness,
And I love You Lord.
(“Knowing You, Jesus”, Graham Kendrick)

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