Studying the Bible is one of the greatest gifts God has given His people, and within that, Paul’s letter to the church in and around the city of Ephesus is one of my favourite letters for how it has so often spoken to me. ‘Studies in Ephesians’ is my attempt to share, in written form, those lessons and promises that God has revealed to me in my studies through this magnificent book.
“This is why, since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I never stop giving thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, would give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him. I pray that the perception of your mind may be enlightened so you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the glorious riches of His inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of His power to us who believe, according to the working of His vast strength.” — Ephesians 1:15-19
Christians should be praying every day of their lives. If we were to be sunnily optimistic, then we could equally say that we should be praying every hour of our lives. Oswald Chambers said, “Prayer is not an exercise. It is the life of the saint.” He also said that “Prayer does not equip us for the greater work, Prayer is the greater work.” Prayer is vital.
We are not short on examples of how to pray, either, as the Bible is littered with them. One need spend only a little time in Psalms to see the variety of ways in which we are able to come to God in prayer. Jesus Himself showed His disciples how to pray as he gave them what we now call the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13). Jesus also showed how praying regularly was important, as He is seen to pray regularly, passionately, and sometimes all night.
More than many writers in the Bible to example and emphasise the importance of prayer was the Apostle Paul, who made prayers so much a part of his letters that it is a point of interest when a letter does not follow the typical Pauline format of starting with a prayer of thanksgiving for his readers. Specifically, in most of Paul’s letters he opens with a statement of how in prayer he continually thanks God for his readers (1 Corinthians 1:4; Philippians 1:4; Colossians 1:3; 1 Thessalonians 1:2; 2 Thessalonians 1:3; Philemon 4). This is such a regular feature of Paul’s letters that when we fail to see it immediate in Ephesians, we wonder what has happened.
However, Paul’s prayers of thanksgiving aren’t omitted from Ephesians, they are simply put on hold as the author emphasises the blessings we as Christians have been flooded. The twelve-verse eulogy that opens Ephesians also covers some of the typical points that Paul raises in his other opening encouragements, which leaves us with a smaller expression of thanksgiving for Paul’s readers. This doesn’t undermine the value of his readers, rather, the exposition that Paul often weaves into his promise of praying in thanksgiving for his readers has already been covered, leaving Paul to simply deal with the basics – I pray regularly for you, thanking God for your faith and love for all the saints.
In this way, Paul not only encourages the Ephesians by a) reminding them that he is regularly praying for them, and that b) they are living lives in line with Jesus’ teaching, but Paul is also here found to be exampling one aspect of a healthy prayer life.
As we will see as we proceed through the book of Ephesians, and particularly as we reach its climactic teaching on spiritual warfare, a Christian’s life is not one that is lived in isolation. We are part of a community, or as Paul will specify in 6:10-20, we are part of an army – God’s army, and just as with any army ever conceived, we cannot expect to win if we are only looking out for ourselves.
Paul also shows, in my opinion, the benefit of telling others that you are praying for them.
I think that we sometimes are afraid to tell another that we are praying for them – for fear that they may think we are being overly religious, or puffing ourselves up by ensuring everyone knows how ‘prayerful’ we are. To be fair, these are both valid concerns – humans live their entire lives walking a knife’s edge between pride and humility (and more often than not, tumbling head-first off the knife’s edge into full-blown pride). However, when done in the right heart and for the right motives, informing another that we are praying for them can be of immense value.
To bring forward the analogy of Christian warfare, it is invaluable to know where the man or woman fighting beside us is located. In battle, soldiers need to know where one another are in order to focus on the task that they have been given. A frightful soldier, hiding in a well-entrenched position, may fear for his life if he assumes he is the only man against the oncoming horde. However, once he knows that the positions to his left and right are similarly held by others in his battalion, his fear should ease. When pilots flying in World War I wanted to convey to their partner that they had their back, they would say “On your six” – referring to the six ‘o’clock position on an analogue clock. Maybe the lead pilot had complete confidence in his wing-mates, but the verbal acknowledgement wiped away any seed of doubt. The same can be said for Christians, for if we know that we are surrounded by people who are praying for us – one on our left, one on our right, and on our ‘six’ – then the tasks ahead of us are less daunting.
Verses 15 to 23 are, again, one whole sentence, and we can treat the whole as a single prayer. Therefore, following on from his prayers of thanksgiving, Paul turns to a prayer of intercession for his readers. Here, Paul prays to “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father”. This might seem inconsequential, for we all know who God and Jesus are, and we know their relationship, but it serves as a foundation for what follows. Paul is not just absentmindedly praying to God, but interweaves that which has come before – “Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1:3) – with his intercessory prayer for the Ephesians. This phrase is somewhat typical of Pauline prayers, but in adding “the glorious Father” Paul takes it a step further. Harold Hoehner writes that Paul is describing God as “not only a glorious Father but the Father to whom all glory belongs … or of whom glory is the characteristic feature” and it “is to this kind of God that Paul prays” – an important characteristic as we will soon see.
Though Paul has praised the Ephesians for their faith and “love for all the saints”, he does not give them any cause for complacency. In his commentary, Reformer John Calvin said: “Paul adds prayer to thanksgiving, which is his usual custom, because he wants to encourage the Ephesians to go on to greater things. They needed to know that they had begun well, but also that they had to continue. However strong we may be, we should always be aiming to make further progress.” So Paul prays that “the glorious Father, would give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him.”
Two points are necessary before proceeding. First, we need to look at the “spirit of wisdom”, for in the HCSB (quoted) it is spelt with a lower-case s – spirit. However, the more accurate translation of this passage (as in the ESV) is “Spirit of wisdom”, which is to say, the Holy Spirit. Klyne Snodgrass asks the pertinent question: “Does it refer to the Holy Spirit … who brings wisdom and revelation or to the human spirit enabled by God to see the wisdom and revelation he gives?” Hoehner prefaces his discussion on translating this word by saying that “Able students of the Scriptures have been on both sides of the issue.” However, Hoehner, along with Snodgrass, O’Brien, Klein, and others, all agree that Paul is more likely referring specifically to the work of the Holy Spirit, rather than anything man can muster. This is dramatically important, in my opinion, when we take into account passages such as 1 Corinthians 2:12-14:
“Now we have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who comes from God, so that we may understand what has been freely given to us by God. We also speak these things, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual things to spiritual people. But the unbeliever does not welcome what comes from God’s Spirit, because it is foolishness to him; he is not able to understand it since it is evaluated spiritually.”
The same idea is found in Proverbs: “For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding.” (Proverbs 2:6) Zophar, speaking in the book of Job, rightly says, “Can you fathom the depths of God or discover the limits of the Almighty?” (Job 11:7) It is human arrogance that makes us think we have within us the ability to conjure our own wisdom, but “the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God” (1 Corinthians 3:19), and “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom” (1 Corinthians 1:25). James directed our thinking correctly: “Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without criticising, and it will be given to him.” (James 1:5)
Another point to make is the appearance that Paul is here asking for some sort of secondary revelation of the Spirit – which we know is not possible, seeing as the Holy Spirit comes on us, as Paul has already confirmed in verse 13. This might make more sense if we were to lower the capitalisation on ‘Spirit’, but that is not what Paul is getting at. John Stott says that Paul is not asking “God to ‘give’ the Holy Spirit himself to those who have already received him and been ‘sealed’ with him … but rather that we may and should pray for his ministry of illumination.” Hoehner agrees, saying that Paul is here “praying for a specific manifestation of the Spirit so that the believers will have insight and know something of God’s mysteries as a result of the Holy Spirit’s revelation.
This is important, because it underlies the major intercessory request of Paul’s prayer – that God’s Spirit would make the mind of the Ephesians “enlightened” so that they may know “what is the hope of His calling, what are the glorious riches of His inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of His power to us who believe, according to the working of His vast strength.”
Three requests. Three great requests of God for the readers of this letter – both then, and now. This is what Paul was praying for, in short, that we all may know God better. It is a substantial simplification, but one that helps us start to better explore the specifics. The Holy Spirit is to give us wisdom and a revelation of in the knowledge of Him, and in particular, we may know of what God has done for us.
Knowing God is of vital importance for us. It was a repeated theme for Jesus as He taught His disciples, and for His disciples as they taught us. “If you know Me, you will also know My Father,” Jesus said. “From now on you do know Him and have seen Him” (John 14:7) because they had seen and known Jesus. We too, can see Jesus in the New Testament (and the Old, for those willing to look), and through His Word, and through the gift of the Holy Spirit, we too can know Jesus through prayer.
Knowing God is part and parcel of Christianity – and if we don’t know Him, then we are not actually Christians. John, in his letters to the church in and around Ephesus, also spoke of knowing God – specifically, that “the one who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:8) For John, knowing God was the same thing as loving one another, and loving one another as knowing God. Paul wants the Ephesians to see how important it is that they, and we, know God – not just of His existence or about His actions, but know Him as we would a loved one. Only the Holy Spirit can shape in us a way in which we can know God this way.
But this is not all Paul is talking about here. He is also asking God to send the Holy Spirit on a supernatural mission to impart knowledge to His children. This is a theme that Paul will expand throughout his letter, a theme in which he reveals how the Holy Spirit works as a conduit between us and God. Within a chapter, Paul will tell his readers that, through Jesus Christ, “we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.” (Ephesians 2:18) He will almost immediately expand on this, revealing that we “are being built together for God’s dwelling in the Spirit.” (2:22) Through the Holy Spirit, we are being reworked so we can dwell more intimately with God – and He with us! A conduit does not just run one way – it is not a one-way street, but a pathway that is traversed both ways.
Look back to Paul’s opening prayer – he is not only asking that we may have more knowledge about God, as if this prayer were an order for a God-themed dictionary. Paul is rather asking for a spiritual revelation of what God has done to make us His.
Paul prays that the Spirit will reveal to us what is the hope of God’s calling us – which we saw in verse 4, that God chose us “before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in His sight.” Paul prays that we may know the “glorious riches of His inheritance among the saints” – as we saw in verse 11, that we are God’s inheritance (and not our receiving an inheritance). Paul also prays that we will begin to not only understand the power that God has, and which was used to raise Jesus from the grave, but that we have access to that same power!
Having ‘the perception of our mind enlightened’ to these three things brings us into a closer relationship with God, for we see again what He has done for us. Paul is not here hoping we focus more on ourselves and what we have, but that we will focus more on what God has done to make us His. Having more knowledge of God and what He has done for us places us squarely in His courts, our knees bent, faces down, in thanksgiving and praise to God. As we continue reading, Paul will only heighten these feelings of awe in what God has done for us (Ephesians 2:1-3:13) before again coming to God in prayer, interceding again with God on our behalf, for more spiritual blessings.
Paul will then move into the second half of his letter where he will begin to instruct on how these spiritual blessings should impact how we live – for knowledge of God and what He has done cannot simply rest as knowledge, it must spring to life as action. This action, however, cannot be done in our own strength, and as we will see in our next study, Paul has also prayed that we will be aware of the power that God has allotted to us.
Our lives are to be dramatically impacted by the enlightenment Paul has prayed for. Knowledge of God cannot be a temporary change to our lives, but must radically change all that we are so that our lives reflect that knowledge of God. William Klein says that Paul’s word choice here means he is praying “not for a moment’s insight but that they live enlightened lives.” So to it is for us: that knowledge of God, of what He has done for us, what He continues to do for us, and what He has promised to do for us, must impact our lives so that we can go into today, and tomorrow, and the day after, confident in His promises, and reflecting our utter gratefulness for what He has done for us.
 Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary, Harold W. Hoehner, p. 255
 Commentary on Ephesians, John Calvin (Reformation Commentary on Scripture, New Testament X, Galatians, Ephesians, ed. Gerald L. Bray)
 Ephesians, Klyne Snodgrass, p. 72 (The NIV Application Commentary)
 Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary, Harold W. Hoehner, p. 256
 Hoehner, p. 256-7
 Snodgrass, p. 72
 The Letter to the Ephesians, Peter T. O’Brien, p. 131-2
 Ephesians, William W. Klein, p. 58 (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, eds Tremper Longman III & David E. Garland)
 The Message of Ephesians, John Stott, p. 54 (The Bible Speaks Today)
 Hoehner, p. 258
 Klein, p. 58