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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:A Praying Church is a Thriving Church
Text:Ephesians 1:15-23 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Church Building
 
Preached:2018
Added:2018-09-16
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 66:1,2                                                                            

Ps 86:2,4                                                                                            

Reading – Ephesians 1; Ephesians 3:14-21

Ps 110:1,2,3,5

Sermon – Ephesians 1:15-23

Hy 63:1,2,3,7,8

Hy 55:1,2,3

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in Christ, there’s always a lot of activity in this congregation. There are always members coming and going, there are various Bible study groups and Catechism classes each week, plus committees and office bearers doing their regular work. The church building needs attention, as does the church budget. All together, there are many different aspects of our life as church—there’s a lot of things that need attention.

What else does our congregation need? We need prayer, perhaps more than anything else. As a church of our Lord Jesus Christ, we should be busy praying: offering prayers for growth in faith and love, for a development of our knowledge, for an increase in the Spirit’s power among us. Prayer isn’t something that can be captured on a spreadsheet or summarized in a report. But only a praying church will be a thriving church.

Paul knew this very well. Now, Paul was a man who had accomplished remarkable things. He enjoyed great success in preaching the gospel; he organized many congregations; he wrote a fair portion of the New Testament; he was a leader at a critical time in the church’s history. Yet Paul’s work was nothing without prayer.

We see this in his letters, where Paul is frequently praying. He’ll be writing about some point of theology when he interrupts himself to bring thanksgiving to God, or to pray for some specific need of the believers. Near the beginning of Ephesians too, we find a prayer. This is the second major section of chapter 1, coming after the long doxology in verses 3-14. In the original Greek, that first section is a continuous sentence of 202 words. He writes this section too, as a single sentence, some 169 words of thanksgiving and supplication and praise.

This prayer is an essential lesson for our congregation. In all our activity, we need to know that growth and holiness and faithfulness are entirely dependent on God, who gives generously to his children when we ask. I preach God’s Word to you on this theme:

            Paul prays for Christ’s people in Ephesus:

                        1) he offers thanksgiving for faith and love

                        2) he asks for growth in wisdom and knowledge

                        3) he prays for a demonstration of God’s power

 

1) he offers thanksgiving for faith and love: See how our text begins with a “therefore” (v 15). That tells us there’s a tight connection with what comes just before this prayer, the doxology where Paul recounts God’s many spiritual blessings.

Now his thoughts turn quite naturally toward those who are reading his letter. For Paul is a pastor, always seeking the good of his congregation. He really wants the Ephesians to have a share in “every spiritual blessing in Christ”—he prays that all believers may experience the riches of God’s election, his adoption, his redemption and renewal.

And Paul is grateful, because he knows that God is in fact working among his people in this place, “Therefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, do not cease to give thanks for you” (v 15). Some time ago—perhaps five years or more—Paul had visited Ephesus and preached there. Jews and Gentiles alike had received the gospel of Christ.

Paul had moved on to other kingdom projects, but he’d recently heard a report about congregational life in Ephesus. He was in prison when he was writing this letter, probably in Rome, but there was a lot of communication between major cities of the empire. Someone had brought him an encouraging word about the Ephesians’ continued life of faith—and he thanks God for this.

For faith itself is one of God’s gracious gifts, worked by the Spirit among those who hear his Word. We should never assume faith or overlook what a miracle it is. When we see faith in ourselves, or when we see it in our children—or when we see a person leave a lifestyle of sin and begin to grow in love for God—don’t think that this is somehow predictable and ordinary. It’s an amazing wonder, and Paul’s example teaches us to say to one another in the church, “When I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, I gave thanks!”

And in the Bible, faith is never a standalone gift. Faith bears fruit! This is something else Paul is grateful for: he’s heard of the Ephesians’ faith and “your love for all the saints” (v 15). These two are as inseparable as bread and butter: love for God joined to love for others.

Notice how it says, “love for all the saints.” The congregation of Ephesus was a real mix: Jews and Gentiles, men and women, insiders and outsiders—but all blended together as a beautiful unity in Christ. And they showed it by loving “all the saints,” not just the familiar and comfortable, people of like-mind and similar background, but everyone. That’s another thing to pray for our congregation, that we would be marked by love—when all the saints are loved, and cared for, and built up together.

When Paul hears about the believers’ faith and love, he is moved to prayer: “I do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers” (v 16). Because God has done this work, it’s God who must be thanked: Give honour where honour is due!

We can see here that Paul practiced what he preached. For in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, he tells us to “pray without ceasing.” Prayer must be like the very breath of our life: constant and vital. And that’s exactly what he’s doing: “I do not cease to give thanks for you.” Whenever he receives news from the churches, he prays. Whenever the saints come to mind, he prays. We said already how this is a regular feature of his writing: prayer. Even if it breaks his train of thought and delays the lesson he wants to teach, he will do this: pray and give thanks.

That’s a lesson for us, isn’t it? When Paul prays for the church, he’s not just pouring out non-stop petitions and requests, but he’s offering up thanksgiving. It’s even the first thing that he does: he thanks the Lord for what he’s done. So in another exhortation to pray, this is how the Spirit puts it, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God” (Phil 4:6).

God teaches us that praise and thanksgiving should be the unfailing theme of prayer. Don’t always rush to mention all the things you need, but pray “with thanksgiving.” Even in anxieties and uncertainties, remember God’s good gifts toward you. For even in your trouble, He has surely shown you a Father’s love! So honour him for his goodness.

Paul’s prayer also teaches us to make our thanksgiving specific—we shouldn’t just say a blanket “thank you for everything,” but to be grateful particularly for God’s spiritual gifts. When we hear about a person’s faith and love, we should thank the Lord. When we see sinners transformed and unbelievers converted, we should thank the Lord. When there are young people in the congregation who profess the faith, when brothers and sisters are willing to serve each other, when there is a deepening of knowledge through the study of Scripture, we should thank the Lord.

This is a good reason for us to pay attention to reports about the progress of the gospel. Perhaps we read a story in the Mission News about a dozen people being baptized on the mission field, or about new house congregations sprouting up in a distant country, or perhaps someone tells us about the surprising work of the Lord closer to home. Then we should pray to God who is working in the lives of his people, and we should thank him. As church we must not cease to thank him, for his gifts do not cease!

 

2) he asks for growth in wisdom and knowledge: A Christian is never done growing, and never finished learning. This is clear from Paul’s prayer. He’s thankful for the Ephesians’ faith and love, but he also prays “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him” (v 17).

You’ve gone to church for years, and you’ve probably read the Bible from cover to cover (even more than once), so you definitely know something about God. And through the Spirit you have a measure of wisdom, but you need this more and more. This is what Paul prays for above all else—notice it’s his first request—that the church would know God better. It’s similar to what Paul prays in chapter 3, that we may “be able to comprehend [the love of Christ]… to know the love of Christ which passes all knowledge” (3:18).

Let’s pause at the address of this prayer. It’s important to address our prayers rightly, and to approach God in the right spirit. We see that here, for Paul offers his petition to “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory.”

Underline how God is called “the Father of glory.” This describes what kind of Father He is: majestic, eternal, and heavenly. Such an address gives our prayers a sense of humble awe, and it confirms that this God is perfectly qualified to answer. You’re not bringing requests to a mediocre god, but “the Father of glory.” When you pray in faith, you know that He’s got every resource behind him—and every ability to respond.

And here’s an immense privilege: He gives us “the knowledge of him.” In the Bible, the knowledge of God doesn’t consist in the accumulation of facts. True wisdom doesn’t arise by memorizing dozens of proof texts and reading long volumes of theology, though there can be benefit in such things. When the Spirit speaks about a knowledge of God, it means a thorough and personal awareness of who the LORD really is.

This is how we speak about knowing someone today. You can only say that you know another person when you’ve become deeply familiar with what he loves and hates, when you know what his strengths are, and you’ve seen the different sides of his character in all kinds of different situations. It’s the kind of knowledge that results from being married for ten years or twenty or fifty. It’s the kind of friendship built only through years and years of interacting.

So for God: to have a true knowledge of God is to have learned about his character—in different times of your life, good and bad, you’ve learned about his faithfulness, his goodness, his mercy, patience, power. You’ve experienced life in fellowship with him; you know him because you’ve been walking with him. Beloved, is that how you know the Lord?

To gain this kind of knowledge we need to receive the “spirit of wisdom” (v 17). You could capitalize “spirit” in this verse, because it’s God the Spirit who will teach us. He gives us wisdom as He changes our thinking and gives us a new perspective. Being in a wicked world, we have to give a lot of attention to discerning between truth and falsehood. What pleases God? What is spiritually safe? What is dangerous? Through the Holy Spirit, our Father equips us for living wisely.

We need to pray often for the Spirit of wisdom, and also for the Spirit of “revelation.” We refer to Scripture as God’s revelation, because it is God revealing himself to us in his glory. There isn’t any new revelation these days—nothing that should be added to the Bible—but still we must pray for God to show us his ways.

Maybe that’s your prayer when you’re making a big decision: “Lord, teach me what pleases you. Reveal your will to me.” But we should pray this not just at those critical intersections of life, but every day! Our highest need is to have a greater knowledge of God’s truth. It’s Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians, and it must be our prayer for ourselves as individuals, and for ourselves as congregation, that we want to grow in the knowledge of Jesus Christ and the Father of glory.

Can anyone say that they know God well enough? Can anyone say that they’ve come to the true depths of his character? His love “passes knowledge” it says in 3:19, yet we seek to learn more. Because the more we get to know God, the more we want to know him better. And again, growth in true knowledge begins with prayer. If we’re not praying this, then we won’t be receiving it. If we’re not praying for wisdom and revelation, and if we’re not in his Word often, then I fear that God will be a mysterious stranger to us, a distant and intimidating master. But He doesn’t need to be. We can know him, the Father of glory!

Paul continues his prayer for wisdom by asking that “the eyes of [our] understanding [be] enlightened” (v 18). Notice the powerful image in that verse, how the knowledge of God is described as enlightenment, like something being powerfully lit up with flood lights. Later in Ephesians, Paul will remind us that we were once darkened in our understanding; apart from Christ, we were in the black murkiness of sin and ignorance.

When you’re in the dark, it’s very hard to see. In our homes we all count on having light, but when the power company turns off the electricity, we just hope that our flashlight has batteries. Without light, we’re going to stumble and trip and even get hurt. That’s what sin and unbelief are like, because we cannot find our way to God. But Christ has come, a light shining in the darkness, and He has opened the eyes of the blind.

When Paul asks for the eyes of our understanding to be enlightened, he speaks literally about “the eyes of our heart.” That’s very different from the two eyeballs in our head. With the eyes in our head, we only see what’s external, what’s here and now. And a lot of times, these are the things that trouble us, the visible threats and dangers and fears.

But with the “eyes of our heart” we get a different vision of this life. Through the Spirit’s work and through the Word, we can see the great things that God has done. You start to grasp that you were chosen from eternity. You understand what it means to be adopted as God’s child. You begin cherish redemption in Christ—and these things change you. You don’t look at life the same way, but you realize that you have a security that is unfailing. Beloved, let us pray for this kind of vision, that with the eyes of our heart we may see what is truly real!

Paul then makes his prayer for knowledge even more specific: “that you may know what is the hope of his calling, [and] what are the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints” (v 18). First, your hope. It’s rooted in the goal that God has for everything, which is the renewal of all things in heaven and on earth. Eternal life isn’t wishful thinking, but something that is 100% assured. Just before this, the Holy Spirit is described as the unbreakable seal on our hearts, the non-refundable deposit on eternity (1:13-14). We can be absolutely sure of what is coming.

And this hope is something that we need to know in a deeper way. Would you say that you really live in hope? Do you hold a firm expectation for Christ’s return? I think that many of us reflect very little on this—our hope for the future is squeezed thin by all the busyness of the present. So we need the Spirit’s help to point us to eternity.

God wants us to know “the hope of his calling,” and second, “the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints.” The phrase to focus on here is “his inheritance.” We’re accustomed to speaking about our inheritance—the things that God is going to give to us in the future. An inheritance is something that you treasure. But Paul here speaks about God’s inheritance. And what is God’s inheritance? It’s the saints—it’s us! We belong to God in Christ, and we’ve become his prized possession.

This is something to know, to remember, to fix in our minds more and more. You are God’s inheritance. He places great value on you in Christ, and calls you his treasure. There are such riches and glory through belonging to him!

 

3) he prays for a demonstration of God’s power: One of the favourite texts for many Christians is Philippians 4, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” That text is a great comfort, and it’s true for this reason: Christ has more power and more strength than we can ever imagine.

This is one more thing that Paul prays for us to know: “what is the exceeding greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his mighty power” (v 19). Paul takes out his thesaurus and he heaps up in one verse four different Greek words for “power,” trying to describe the surpassing magnitude of God’s strength.

This power of God is not abstract, but it’s “working,” demonstrated and experienced in real life. When we’re united to Christ by faith, we have access to incredible resources—like being connected to a grid with a million megawatts of power. This is why Paul later speaks about how God “is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us” (3:20). God can do more than we imagine, more than we even dared to think or to pray.

But first, Paul wants to say more about the measure of God’s strength. What do you think of as the greatest example of God’s power? Many of us would probably point to the wonders of creation, like hurricanes and earthquakes and the stars in the sky. But Paul mentions something else that reveals God’s glory: his power in the life of Christ.

This is the power “which He worked in Christ when He raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places” (v 20). The most glorious display of God’s power was when he raised Christ from the dead; this was God’s mark of approval on him as a faithful Son. When Satan had done everything in his power to destroy Christ, Jesus’ resurrection showed that God’s power is stronger than man’s sin, that God’s purpose can never be stopped.

Christ was raised, He ascended, and now He shares the Father’s throne: “He seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places” (v 21). Now Christ has supreme authority over every other power in the universe. By ascending, Christ fulfilled the prophecy of Psalm 110, that the Lord would sit at the Father’s right hand.

There He rules, “far above all principality and power and might and dominion” (v 21). Those four terms don’t mean much to us, but in Paul’s time they referred to different classes of evil spirits. Later in this letter, Paul speaks about our battle against the “powers and principalities” of this dark age. These are the demons and devils that are moving about in this world, and which threaten us daily. But Christ is far above every evil power, Lord over every name that is named “not only in this age but also in that which is to come” (v 21). Satan and all his hosts have been vanquished by Christ and are subject to him.

And now for the difference that it makes for us. The power that is held by the risen and exalted Christ is the same power is available to us! When we fight against the forces of evil, we can do it through Christ’s mighty strength.

In the moment, our temptations can feel so powerful. The lure of sin can seem irresistible. Satan’s invitations are sometimes impossibly hard to turn down—but then remember the exceeding greatness of Christ’s power! He is greater than the devil, better than all his lies, tougher than the very worst attacks that get thrown at us. So pray that you will know this power. Don’t wait until you are tempted to pray it but pray often—pray daily—to know the power of Christ over evil.

Continuing to speak about Christ’s mighty strength, Paul says that God “put all things under his feet, and gave him to be head over all things to the church” (v 22). He is Head over all, and if He is Head, we are “his body” (v 23). The image of a body means that God has created a new unity in Christ, bringing all the different elements into one. We are joined under our Head, who is the inspiring, ruling, moving, guiding, and combining power of the body.

Then in the conclusion of the prayer, Christ’s body, the church, is described as “the fullness of him who fills all in all” (v 23). For Paul, the word “fullness” speaks of God’s divine essence, power and glory—so he’s saying that the church is the home of God’s fullness. Compare it to the Old Testament, when the tabernacle was filled with God’s glory. In like manner, the church is now filled with the glory of God. We’re his dwelling place, and Christ receives great glory through the service of his people.

If He is the Head, and we are the Body, then we are the hands and feet to do Christ’s work, and we are the mouth to speak his words. Through his great power God makes us the instrument through which Christ acts throughout the world.

As congregation, this is our purpose and calling. It means that as the dwelling-place of Christ, we need to receive his great power, and to be built up with his perfect wisdom, and to grow in faith and love. So let us pray for these things often, praying to the God who “is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us.”  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2018, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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