Ephesians 1:15-19 Praying for the church

It is a great privilege to be able to listen to an experienced and godly brother or sister pray.  We can learn many lessons to apply to our own praying, not least from the concerns that fuel their prayers.  We often think of Paul as an outstanding preacher and theologian, but he was also a man of prayer from whom we can learn much as he intercedes for the church.  Consider Ephesians 1:15-19 Praying for the church.

1. Paul’s concern for the church

We have a precious insight into Paul’s pastoral heart in v16 ‘I have not stopped giving thanks for you’.  His prayers for the Ephesians are a regular concerted effort on his part.  That concern is not confined to the Ephesians, but extend to other churches, both established by him (Corinth) and those not known personally to him (Colossae).  He expresses that concern in 2 Corinthians 11:28-29 ‘my concern for all the churches’.  He longed for their growth – ‘I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you’ (Galatians 4:19).  This challenges us as to our concern for fellow Christians.  How much do we wrestle in prayer?

2. Paul’s thanksgiving for the church

The ground of Paul’s thanksgiving is expressed in v15 ‘your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints’.  Here are Paul’s priorities for them – their spiritual state: note:

            (i).  Faith.  Their progress in the strength and depth of their faith.  Faith that is growing ought to characterise a congregation.  He thanks God ‘because your faith is growing’ (2 Thessalonians 1:3).  That should be our concern too.

            (ii).  Love.  Love is the outworking of faith, a love that will show itself in action.  This is the outstanding mark of our faith before a watching world – ‘All men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another’ (John 13:35).

3. Paul’s request for the church

The substance of his intercession is in v17-18.  He addresses ‘the Father of glory’ (v17), befitting a prayer for enlightenment.  He asks that the father ‘may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation’ – the ministry of the Holy Spirit who seals believers (v13).  The Spirit guides God’s people into truth (John 16:132).  The focus is on a knowledge of God that shapes and changes believers.  It is a living experiential knowledge (John 17:3).

4. Paul’s vision for the church

Paul highlights specific areas on which he wants the light of the Spirit to be shed (v18-19):

            (i).  the hope of his calling.  We are helped in our battle with sin when we consider the life to which the Lord has called us.  Our hope is of full salvation, a sure hope.

            (ii).  the riches of his glory.  This is bound up with what Christ has secured for us.  It magnifies his grace when we consider the fulness of God’s provision for us in Christ.

            (iii).  the greatness of his power.  By his power in us sin, Satan and death are defeated.  Nothing can rob us of our inheritance in Christ, and so we are confident in service.

Ephesians 1:11-14 An inheritance guaranteed

To hear that you are going to receive an inheritance is exciting, especially if you know that it will mean a substantial payment.  For some people receiving an inheritance has been life-changing.  Paul tells his readers that, as God’s people, they are going to receive the greatest possible inheritance.  Consider Ephesians 1:11-14 An inheritance guaranteed.

1. The inheritance secured

The present spiritual blessings that we enjoy in Christ are not all that the Lord has for us.  Paul now writes about the future aspect of salvation, which we will receive at the consummation.  Note v11 ‘In him also we have received an inheritance’ (ESV).  The focus is still on the work of Christ – by his death and resurrection the inheritance is secured.  Not only has the death of Christ secured cleansing from sin – it has secured eternal glory for the redeemed.  The Father ‘has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light’ (Colossians 1:12).  The reception of our inheritance will mark the completion of salvation.

2. The heirs provided

The two sides of salvation are spelled out:

            (i).  God’s predestination.  There is a strong stress in v11 on the sovereignty of God in providing those who will receive salvation.

            (ii).  The sinner’s response.  This maintains the biblical balance.  Our response results from the sovereign work of God, but is essential.  It is our duty when we hear the gospel.  Paul uses two terms in v12-13 – ‘hope…believed’.  This is a wholehearted commitment to the Christ proclaimed in ‘the word of truth’.  The biblical concept of ‘hope’ (v12) is one of certainty because of the trustworthiness of its object, Christ himself.  It looks to the future, to the reception of the inheritance.

3. The seal applied

This is an element in the vital ministry of the Holy Spirit: ‘Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit’ (v13).  Every believer is sealed at conversion.  The significance of the seal includes:

            (i).  A mark of ownership.  The Spirit’s presence shows we belong to Christ (Romans 8:9).  He sets us apart as a holy people.  He marks us as heirs.

            (ii).  A mark of genuineness.  The Spirit’s presence is proof that the grace of God is at work in us.  He produces Christ-like character.  He enables us to have assurance of salvation and he is the ‘deposit’ (v14, ‘the down payment’) ‘guaranteeing what is to come’.

4. The purchase redeemed

All of this points to the consummation of God’s plan, when we will receive our full inheritance, ‘until the redemption of the purchased possession’ (v14).  The inheritance entails the enjoyment of the new creation in fellowship with God (Revelation 21:3).  The inheritance secured by Christ is indestructible (1 Peter 1:4-5), the work of a sovereign God (v11).

Ephesians 1:7-10 Redemption accomplished

The plans of an infinite, eternal God are big plans, embracing the entire creation.  It is good for his people to think often about the greatness of this work, to deepen our appreciation of the grace of God and the scope of the salvation which has been provided for sinners in Christ.  We need to see that our personal salvation fits into the ‘big picture’ of the redeeming work of the Lord.  Consider Ephesians 1:7-10 Redemption accomplished.

1. The sacrifice Christ offered

Note v7 ‘In him we have redemption through his blood’.  God’s plan to provide a people for himself necessitates the death of Christ.  Sin has to be dealt with, not trivialised or ignored.  Sinners stand under the righteous wrath and just condemnation of a holy God (Romans 1:18).  The demands of his law must be satisfied if there is to be peace between God and sinners.  Hebrews 9:22 states the spiritual law that is based in God’s holy character: ‘without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness’.  The OT sacrifices were temporary until the coming of the Son of God ‘to give his life as a ransom for many’ (Mark 10:45).  That sacrifice deals with the wrath of God, providing ‘a propitiation in his blood’ (Romans 3:25).  All of this flows from the grace of God – ‘in accordance with the riches of God’s grace’ (v7).

2. The salvation we receive

What results from the death of Christ for sinners?  We have ‘redemption’ (v7).  The root meaning is a ‘buying back’ – from imprisonment or slavery.  Sin is like a slave owner who holds sinners fast in a bondage we cannot break.  The blood of Christ secures our release and we are set free: ‘[Jesus Christ] who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness’ (Titus 2:14).  This is explained further as ‘the forgiveness of sins’ – our debt is cancelled, the penalty due to our sins has been taken by Christ.  Pardon has been secured for every Christian and there is ‘no condemnation’ (Romans 8:1).  Full provision is also made for our life in Christ – ‘all wisdom and understanding’.  We have insight into God’s truth and the ability to apply and live out the truth.  Salvation involves a whole life to be lived for the Lord’s glory.

3. The supremacy God decrees

All is ultimately for God’s glory (v6).  Graciously he has revealed to us ‘the mystery of his will’ (v9), showing us the sweep of his eternal purpose.  Formerly hidden, it has now been revealed in Christ – ‘his good pleasure which he purposed in Christ’.  It is a great privilege to have such an insight into the mind of God.  The awe-inspiring, over-arching purpose of God is described in v10.  This shapes all that he does in his creation.  Note ‘the fulness of times’ (v10, lit).  With the death and resurrection of Christ, that fulness has arrived.  Step by step God has worked towards this point.  Satan’s best efforts have failed to thwart him.  God’s plan is for cosmic restitution under Christ – ‘to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ’.  All things will be placed under him, either in joyful union or by unwilling subjugation.  This is already under way – v22 – Christ is over all, but God’s purpose involves the redemption of citizens for the kingdom.  When Christ returns, all enemies will be subdued, and the saints will rejoice in the King’s presence eternally.

Ephesians 1:3-6 God’s sovereign choice

Mention of ‘predestination’ evokes different responses.  Some want to avoid discussion of what they think is a difficult and divisive subject.  Others are ready for battle, to combat what they consider to be a thoroughly unbiblical idea.  Still others relish a debate about a doctrine they believe is the heart of biblical theology.  What we need to do is examine carefully and humbly what the Bible actually says.  Consider Ephesians 1:3-6 God’s sovereign choice.

1. The nature of God’s choice

Paul begins with resounding praise to the Triune God for ‘every spiritual blessing’ (v3).  He comes to a focus on God’s sovereign choice of unworthy sinners for the glory of redemption: ‘he chose us in him [Christ] before the creation of the world’ (v4).  Salvation originates in eternity, when God made provision for the salvation of a people for himself.  The key is ‘in him’.  This is covenant language – in the Covenant of Redemption Christ acts as the representative of those the Father has given him, undertaking to do all that is necessary for their salvation.  Thus in 1 Corinthians 15:22 we read ‘in Christ all will be made alive’.

2. The motive for God’s choice

There is nothing in sinners to attract God’s choice.  As with his choice of Israel, ‘it was because the Lord loved you’ (Deuteronomy 7:8).  So here, ‘In love he predestined us’ (v4-5).  We must trace salvation to the undeserved love of God (see 1 John 3:1).  This love led to action – the sending of the Son (John 3:16).  It is all about ‘the glory of his grace’ (v6, lit).  Thus the Father ‘did not spare his own Son’ (Romans 8:22).  No deeper explanation is possible than ‘the good pleasure of his will’ (v5).  Salvation is a gift of grace (2:8).

3. The effects of God’s choice

  1. Holiness.  The outworking of grace in our lives is to enable us to be ‘holy and blameless in his sight’, joyfully keeping God’s law.  God calls us to Spirit-enabled holiness.
  2. Adoption.  We are brought into God’s family, adopted as his sons’ (v5).  We have ‘the Spirit of sonship’ (Romans 8:15).  We share the father’s love for his beloved Son (v6).

4. The goal of God’s choice

The final goal of election is ‘the praise of his glorious grace’ (v6).  Every aspect of salvation manifests God’s glory.  Redeemed sinners will eternally demonstrate the grace of God that has transformed them (2:7).  They will be living testimonies to his work in and for us.

5. The response to God’s choice

The ‘praise of his glorious grace’ is not confined to the world to come – our present response should be one of praise to God’s name.  Paul is filled with rejoicing as he contemplates what God has done for his people (v1).  The doctrine of election does not feed our pride, but leads to humility and praise, filling us with a desire for greater holiness and faithful service.