PRAYING FOR KNOWLEDGE
Robert B. Ives, Ph.D., Pastor
The Grantham Church © 2000
Ephesians 1:15 - 2:10
In one of those upside down books that G. K. Chesterton wrote, he says that Christianity is the answer to a riddle. And what exactly, we might ask him, is the riddle? And this is Chesterton's answer, Whatever I am, I am not myself. Who am I?
Chesterton was writing about what it's like to be a person in this world and his paradox - oh, he's full of them - is that the only Christian doctrine which makes sense of the world we live in is the doctrine of the Fall, in which we see that the ordinary condition of people, as we observe them around us, is not normal, but abnormal. Something is wrong not merely with people in prison and psychiatric hospitals, but something is wrong with all of us. We laugh at the wrong things. We don't get the right things and we see the universe wrongly.
Christian theology says, human beings are lost in the cosmos. They fail to see their true state since they have lived so long with abnormality that they have come to think it is normal. Until, until they become Christians.
will help us understand what Paul is saying in these two paragraphs
written long ago to people in the Roman city of Ephesus. First
of all in 1:15-23, Paul prays for them that they would know three
things. Secondly, in 2:1-10, Paul describes, in a non-Chestertonian
way, what their problem with the world was, and how the riddle
of their lives was solved. Thirdly, we want to ask whether the
same solutions will work in our lives.
I. So let us first look at 1:15-23 and see what Paul prays for people who have recently become Christians.
Paul says, I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and I have heard that you love God's people - which is one way to translate the word "saints." So, says Paul, I have not stopped praying for you and here is what I pray, that you might know God better, verse 17. Think about the Christian books being written today and the sermons many Christian leaders preach. A lot of them are about how to live the Christian life. Here are the things you need to do. Here is how you meet discouragement. Here is how you can enrich your Bible study. But Paul doesn't begin with us, he begins with God. Oh sure, Paul will talk about the Christian life and how to have joy and happiness in it, but he doesn't start there. He starts with people's need to know God. And in a specific way.
In Job 23:3, Job says, "If only I knew where to find Him." There's a deep longing in those words. In chapter 42, Job draws a comparison, "My ears have heard of you - so he knew about God - but now my eyes have seen you." That's personal and that's the way Paul wants people to know God, like Job, or like the Psalmist who says that his soul thirsted for God. It's not merely knowing things about God, but meeting him personally that Paul prays for. He wants people to know God. Who are you praying for to know God better? If the Bible has anything to show us it is that when one of God's people in the Bible does something good, we should copy him/her.
So what specific things is it helpful to know when we know God? Paul names three.
1. Verse 18, he wants us to know the hope there is when God calls us. What was on God's mind when He called us? If we go to other places in the New Testament we read that God had on His mind to liberate us from judgment and slavery to sin. God wants to bring us into a fellowship where we don't retaliate. God wants to bring us into His own kingdom. God want us to have a completely new life, since the old one was shot through and through with self- centeredness.
This call by God points back to the beginning of our Christian lives. God has something in mind for us. This is like a college basketball player who isn't a great player but who has a good season because the coach has confidence for him. So God had confidence that we were worth something.
2. Verse 18, God wants us to know the riches of His glorious inheritance. This is what God will give us. God's inheritance for us points to the end of our lives. According to verse 14, it is God's Spirit who guarantees for us that we will receive an inheritance. What will the inheritance be? Well, actually, it's beyond our power to imagine, but we won't go wrong if we hold on to what the New Testament reveals about our inheritance. The New Testament tells us we shall see God and Jesus. We shall worship him. We shall be transformed to be like him. We shall enjoy friendships such as we have never known here. Now there are some people who won't enjoy that sort of thing at all. And so they won't be part of this great heavenly fellowship. That's one of the clues we can look at that tells us who is saved and who isn't. We don't get to make heaven over into what we want it to be. But there are others who long with all their hearts to see God and his Son, Jesus and to be part of the fellowship of the kingdom of heaven. In which group are you?
3. Verse 19, God wants us to know his power. This is about our present experience. It is this power of God which enables us to win through to our final inheritance. How do we come to know God's power? We have a demonstration of it in Jesus' resurrection and ascension; that's why Paul in verse 20 goes from what he wants people to know to Jesus and what happened to Jesus. For our part, we are going to die. We can't change that. But God promises us a great inheritance, kept in heaven for us. We shall inherit it by God's power.
But notice how Paul argues here. He doesn't point to the lives of people God changed as examples of God's power at work. It is more real to Paul to point to what God did in Jesus himself in verses 20-22. So what does Paul mean as he finishes naming what God did for Jesus in verse 22, and he says that God did all this to Christ "for the church?"
Well, this is a really remarkable thing. Verse 22 begins, God placed all things under His, meaning Jesus' feet, and God appointed Him head over everything. So here is Jesus Lord of the universe - which is how I understand "everything." But He is Lord of everything "for the church." What does that mean?
When I first went into ministry in 1965 Nancy and I were at a large church in downtown Boston, Park Street Church. In the years we were there the senior pastor was a remarkable leader of the evangelical church named Harold John Ockenga. He had been at Park Street for many years. It was through him that I met many of the leaders of the evangelical world. Ockenga once organized a conference on the Scriptures to shape an evangelical view of the Scriptures and he invited some 40 evangelical scholars, and he included me. So I met J. I. Packer and John Gerstner and William Abrams. And Ockenga was a friend of Mark Hatfield, when Hatfield was the US senator from Oregon, and he held a dinner for Hatfield and he invited me. I was a nobody, but I was included in these things because of Ockenga. That's how God did these things for the church. Down in verses 5 and 6, Paul outlines three acts God did to Jesus, and we are included in all three. Verse 5, God made us alive with Christ. Verse 6 God raised us up with Christ. Verse 6, God seated us with Christ in the heavenly realms. By ourselves we would deserve none of this. But we are included in Christ because we are part of the church.
II. Now we come to the second paragraph and the second lesson Paul teaches us through this passage in the Bible. Ephesians 2:1-10. In these verses Paul defines the basic problem with people, they are dead. Dead in transgressions and sins. What Paul means by that he says in verse 2: you followed the ways of this world and you followed the ways of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, that is Satan. I am myself not a prophet of doom; yet this past week, I was reading through some of Ernie Boyer's speeches. He wrote about economic problems, the destruction of natural resources, the international inflation, the limited clean water and health care in the world, the alienation in societies and families. This is all doom stuff. We know about these problems in our world. We know that in spite of political promises, these problems are not being solved.
When Chesterton said, if you assume original sin, all this makes sense, that's exactly what Paul says here in Ephesians 2. Paul was an irrational optimist. He was hopeful about man, but for what seem like irrational reasons. In the first three verses Paul paints as bleak a picture of the human condition as Boyer did. Over the course of history things haven't improved much. If we today know more than people in Paul's day did, we have the same moral problems they did. We know what is right, but we keep falling into sin. What hope is there? How can anyone be an optimist?
In 1775, Augustus Toplady wrote an article titled, "Life A Journey." This was his point: If you do fall as a Christian, be humbled; but do not despair. Instead, pray afresh to God. And then Toplady added some verses of a hymn he had written, "Rock of Ages, cleft for me." Two lines of it go, "Nothing in my hands I bring, Simply to Thy cross I cling." Toplady compared human sin to the English national debt which, he believed, could never be repaid. So it is with our sin which can never be repaid. And then come the startling words of verses 5 and 8, "it is by grace you have been saved." Grace means when God gives us what we don't deserve . Here they were, these Ephesians, dead in transgressions and sin, owing a great debt which they could never repay, and God delivered them by giving them what they didn't deserve. He let them declare bankruptcy and he himself paid their debt. Amazing.
Jeff, our son, used to live in an apartment on Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia. There were two steps to the apartment building and often a number of men would lounge on the steps asking for money or food. One of the men was a young black man who didn't seem as hardened as some of the older men, and Jeff would often go up to his apartment to get this man something to eat; so when I stayed with him one week, as I came back from the coffee shop around the corner, this black man asked me for something to eat. Knowing Jeff's feeling about him, I went into the little food store next door and bought him a sandwich and a soda. When I gave it to him, one of the other scraggly older men asked me to give him something too and I said no. "But you gave him something," he complained. "Why should you give him something and not me?"
That is exactly what grace means. Neither man deserved this food, but to give someone what he did not deserve is what grace means.
And then we come to the wonderful words in verse 10 which show what change is possible for people. We are His, meaning God's, workmanship. In the original text, the first word of this sentence is "His". His workmanship. The word translated "workmanship" is the Greek word which is the etymological root of our word "poem." We are God's poem. Some poem! Often we seem a lot like some of this modern poetry, only God is re-shaping us, reworking the lines of the poem.
What prompts God to do this? Why, because of who He is. He is, verse 4, rich in mercy. Verse 4, great in love. Verses 5 and 8, rich in grace and verse 7, kind. So when people read the poem that is verse, they ought to ask, not who is that poem about? But rather, who made this kind of poem? What a wonderful poem!
III. Thirdly, this passage is not merely about Roman citizens in the first century; it is about us. There are some questions that it begs us to ask about ourselves. 1. Who are you praying for to know God better? 2. Do you realize what you have been given in Christ? That you are united with him and are given privileges in him that you don't deserve? You would never have those privileges on your own. 3. Since you are God's poem, God's workmanship, what good works are you doing?
Let me tell you a story.
Last weekend I was in North Carolina visiting my father. He is 86. He's ill with heart failure. It's a discouraging time for him, and one day when we were together, I began to recount something I have always appreciated about him. All four of us children were there and so others related a thing they had appreciated about him. What I remembered was how even when he wasn't a Christian and yet he went to church regularly, he always tithed, even when money was tight at home. And we were poor in those days. But dad tithed his salary. It was a remarkable thing and that one consistent deed has shaped how I see my father.
I thought, as we were talking, and what will my family remember about me? And what good works was I doing that people will remember me for?
When your family talk about
you, what do they say? Is your lifestyle biblical? Are you living
in light of what God has done for you? How would you answer Chesterton's
riddle, in this sinful world where people are not who they were
made to be, who are you?