New Community: Praying for the Spirit

Sermon by David Strain on May 10, 2015

Ephesians 1:15-23

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Now if you have your Bibles with you, let me ask that you turn to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, chapter 1. If you’re following in one of our church Bibles, turn to page 976. Ephesians chapter 1. We’ll be thinking about the words of verses 15 through 20 this morning though we’ll read from 15 to the end of the chapter. Before we do that, let me ask that you bow your heads with me as we pray together. Let’s pray.


O Lord, please, would You give to us the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of You that we may know and be assured of our destiny, we may understand anew our value and identity, and we may revel and be enabled to serve You in the power Your Spirit supplies, the same power that raised Jesus from the dead? For we ask this in our Savior’s name, amen.


Ephesians chapter 1 from verse 15. This is the Word of Almighty God:

“For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”

Amen, and we praise God that He has spoken to us in His holy, inerrant, and sufficient Word.


The Church’s Greatest Threat

What, I wonder what you would say, what is the greatest threat facing the church today? The greatest threat facing the church. Is it the threat of radical Islam perhaps, or the threat posed by the forthcoming Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage, a threat to religious liberty? Is it the threat of philosophical pluralism? Is it the failure of Christians to engage in the political process? What is the biggest threat to the welfare and the health of the church of Jesus Christ in these days? Well I want to suggest to you that the biggest threat, whatever other threats there may be, the biggest threat is an inadequate, anemic, impoverished knowledge of God in the church of Jesus Christ. To the degree that God is merely a presupposition, a background assumption, an article of faith and nothing more, to the degree that God is taken for granted while we get one with other more pressing concerns to that same degree, will the church lose its power and its message lose its effectiveness. The great need of the hour, I believe, is for churches that are captured by and throbbing white-hot with the awareness of the presence of the God of infinite majesty and glory and grace, for Christians who are bowed under the weight of glory whose hearts are captivated with the grandeur of His sovereignty and melted by the beauty and wonder of His love. I think the church, at large, is a bit like a mountain climber who has ascended to altitude and is now suffering the dire effects of oxygen deprivation. He has made his preparations carefully, all his equipment is in good order, he has made the ascent with skill, his technique has been excellent – he’s thought of everything but of course the most basic thing. He’s forgotten about breathing. Who thinks about breathing, right? He’s made an assumption that the air will be fully breathable and now he’s at giddy heights. That is not at all the case. And now he’s in real danger.


The Church’s Greatest Need

As our culture has drifted into moral and spiritual chaos, perhaps the church is focused on technique, on cultural engagement, on style, on honing its message, on reaching out and assimilating new members – all sorts of equipment as it were have been there. But the most basic and fundamental thing, that without which the church cannot serve or function at this altitude, the very air that we breathe, our communion with God, our intimate acquaintance with the triune God of Scripture, I fear, has been assumed and taken for granted and neglected and overlooked. The greatest need of the church is the knowledge of God, is an intimate acquaintance with the God of glory and grace, an awareness of His presence and His sovereignty and His power and His mercy and His love. As we turn our attention to Ephesians 1:15-20 we are considering a prayer of the apostle Paul that focuses directly on that vital necessity. We are thinking about our need and Paul is praying about our need to know God. I want us to look at this prayer under two headings. We’ll think about the pattern of prayer that we see here and then we’ll think about the priorities of Paul’s prayer. The pattern; and then, the priorities of Paul’s prayer.


The Pattern of Paul’s Prayer


God’s Electing Love – the Motivation for Prayer

Look at the pattern of Paul’s prayer first. Look at the things he’s modeling for us. First of all look at how he begins, verse 15, “For this reason, because I have heard of your faith,” and so on. What reason? What is it that has moved and prompted Paul to pray not just what he can see in the Ephesians, actually, but everything he has been meditating on from verses 3 through verse 14, these opening twelve verses? God’s infinite sovereignty and electing love, choosing to redeem sinners out of the mass of fallen humanity, His purpose to do so by means of the cross of His Son, Jesus Christ, and the way in which He brings redemption purposed and accomplished into reality in the experience of sinners when they’re converted in the mighty working of the Holy Spirit. He’s been dwelling on a soaring doctrine of divine sovereignty to whom we owe our salvation from first to last, from eternity to glory. And then he says, “As I survey that extraordinary panorama, I am compelled, I am moved to pray.”


Sometimes we will hear it said that if God is sovereign like this, doesn’t that render prayer redundant? If God does all things according to the counsel of His own will, to the praise of His own glory, if all things that come to pass happen according to His divine and eternal decree, why pray? I don’t think that’s the question the apostle Paul would ask; at least it’s not the question He would ask of us. I think Paul would say, “If God is so sovereign, why do you pray so little and so poorly? After all, the one we address is the sovereign God who does all things for His good pleasure and glory, whose purpose can never fail. Pled His promises. Pray boldly knowing you pray to the King of the ages.” There ought to be boldness and confidence in our prayers and it comes from a clear knowledge of the sovereignty of God. “For this reason,” he says, “because of who God is, I am moved to pray. My knees buckle. I can’t do anything else but come to Him in dependence and in adoration and in petition.” He prays because of who God is.


A Trinitarian Prayer

Notice also that he prays mindful of who God is, not simply in His sovereignty but in the Trinity of His persons, the three persons of the one eternal, glorious being. Here is practical Trinitarianism. Last time we surveyed the way in which all three persons of the Godhead are at work in securing our salvation in verses 3 to 14. The Father in electing love, the Son in self-giving love, the Holy Spirit loving us and applying all that Christ has purchased for us and the Father purposed for us. And now here we see all three persons of the Godhead shaping our devotion as well as securing our salvation. Paul, notice, prays in verse 17 that the “God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation.” Here is the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Here is the Trinity shaping prayerfulness.


You see the same thing in chapter 2 verse 18, “For through him,” that is through Christ, “we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.” The Trinity is the most practical, most devotional doctrine of them all. Not the least but the most. It shapes not just Paul’s theology but Paul’s spirituality, Paul’s prayerfulness, Paul’s devotion. We need to beware, I think, of sub-Christian prayer and sub-Christian praise that does not acknowledge that the God with whom we have to do is essentially, irreducibly Triune. He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit eternally. Children, if today you came to your mother and you knew she hated certain things and you gave her precisely those things for Mother’s Day she would not be pleased. She would say, “Don’t you know me at all?” Our God is a Triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He would have us know Him and so relate to Him and adore Him and honor Him in the tri-unity of His being and the fellowship of His persons and bring Him worship that acknowledges who He is and what He’s like that He may be pleased.


A Theological Prayer

And do also notice just how profoundly theological Paul’s prayer is. We’ve talked about God’s sovereignty; we’ve talked about the Trinity. For some of us, theology is such a dreadful downer, isn’t it? I can see you and when I say, “doctrine” and “theology” you switch off and tune out; wait for me to tell a story or something. But for Paul, theology fuels prayer. Prayer, for Paul, is theology on fire. Prayer, for Paul, is the necessary fruit of good theology. Thinking correctly about God drives him to adore God and cling to God and cry passionately to God. Prayer is theology come to life. Prayer is the main use of good theology. If theology douses the flames of zeal, extinguishes the fires of joy and devotion in your heart, you’re not doing it right. God, as Paul meditates upon Him, kindles within him zeal for His glory and moves him to pray.


A Prayer of Thanksgiving

Then also notice that Paul doesn’t move directly from theological reflection to petition and intercession on behalf of the Ephesians. He first lingers on thanksgiving. You see that in verse 15? “For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you.” Back in verse 3 he worships God as he thinks about that extraordinary vista of God’s saving plan and now he comes back to worship because he says, “I can see all that God purposed in eternity and accomplished in history at the cross and brings into our experience by the Holy Spirit, I can see all of that being realized in your lives, Ephesian believers. I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints. God has done a mighty work in your heart. This is not abstract doctrine floating at thirty-thousand feet, far removed from the real lives of people on the ground. No, this is reality changing you inside out and it causes me to bring praise and glory to God.”


As you look around, there are monuments and trophies of grace on every pew. Think about what God has done in the lives of your brothers and sisters – how He has brought them out of darkness into His marvelous light, caused them to be born again by the power of the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the Word of God, raised them and united them to Christ. If there’s faith in the Lord Jesus and love for all the saints in your heart you will find yourself doing almost naturally what you see Paul doing here. He overflows with thanksgiving to God. It helps him rejoice in God; it strengthens his confidence that the truths he proclaims are mighty to save as he sees how it’s really doing it in the lives of the people around him.


A Persistent Prayer

And then also notice his persistence. “I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.” Unceasing thankfulness; persistent prayerfulness. We all need to be exhorted to stay at it, don’t we, as we pray on, as we plead with God for those whom we love and who are in our lives as we intercede perhaps for a family member who does not know Christ or a beloved one who is laboring under chronic illness. We need to persevere in prayer and Paul models that for us here. Do notice, however, that it is his doctrine of God that helps him persevere. It is not the strength of his own resolve merely, nor is it necessarily the fruitfulness of his prayers that all his prayers are answered immediately. He’s able to persevere in praying for the Ephesians not because of anything in them nor because of anything in himself, but because of who he knows God to be. The sovereignty of God helps Paul stay at it, to keep on praying knowing that the timing of God is perfect, the power of God is infinite, and the promises of God are true and altogether dependable. And so he’s enabled to stay on his knees. Here is a test. Here is a mark of whether your doctrine of God is true and real and Scriptural. Ask yourself this, “Does it keep me on my knees? Does it keep me on my knees?” The pattern of Paul’s prayer.


The Priorities of Paul’s Prayer


A Prayer that We May Know God Better

Then notice the priorities of his prayer. These are the things he models for us. What is it that he’s praying about? What ought to burden our own petitions? Look at the text. Verse 17. He’s praying that “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give us the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him.” He’s praying to the Father for a fresh endowment of the Holy Spirit in the Ephesian church that they may know Him better. He wants them to know God. That’s the great burden of his prayer. You see the synonyms. He piles up one on top of the other – for knowledge, verses 17 and 18, wisdom, revelation, knowledge, the eyes of the heart enlightened to know. The great preoccupation of Paul as he thinks about the greatest needs of the Ephesian church is that they would know God. They already know Him. He’s just given thanks for this. They have faith in the Lord Jesus. They know God in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, yet there is more for them. There are depths of glory and grace still to be explored and fathomed by them. And so Paul prays, “O God, give them the Holy Spirit that they may know You better.”


Of course he’s not praying that all the Ephesians would go to seminary. He’s not praying for head knowledge, merely. He doesn’t want them to become bookish theologues who use jargon and impress no one but themselves. He is praying that God would give them the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him. “Pour out Your Spirit upon us. Open our eyes to know You better. Lead us into wisdom and revelation.” Which by the way, is simply another way to say, “Lead us into the Bible. Lead us into the Scriptures.” This is the only repository of saving, sanctifying, preserving wisdom and revelation available to us. “Take us into the Scriptures, Lord. Send us the Spirit to wield, the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, to slay and subdue our sin, to defend us from Satan and from temptations, to make us cling to Christ with new dependence.” Neither is he praying, therefore, that the church would become a madhouse of mysticism with everyone driven along by merely subjective experience. He wants us to be Bible people. Here’s the great mark of an outpouring of the Spirit of Christ upon the church. There will be an appetite, a hunger for the exposition for the Word of God. That’s what we call revival.


A Prayer for Revival

On the way to presbytery last week I passed a church with a sign outside. The lights were all out, the doors were all closed, the parking lot was empty and the sign said, “Revival here! Today!” You can’t hold a revival. You can’t plan a revival. You can’t advertise a revival. A revival is what happens when God answers Paul’s prayer and pours out the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him upon His church and in the church there begins to grow a hunger for the Word of God and the things of God and there’s a new sense that Almighty God Himself is dealing with us and speaking to our hearts in the preaching of His Word. How we need to begin to pray Paul’s prayer. Don’t you agree? The greatest need of the church is that the Lord would rend the heavens and come down and pour out His Spirit upon us that the place where we are gathered might be shaken and we might begin to speak the Word of God boldly.



The Effects of Revival

But what happens when the Holy Spirit comes like this? What are the effects? What are the marks of it in the life of a church? Paul tells us. Look at verses 18 to 20. Three effects of a fresh endowment of the Holy Spirit – it will result in a renewed and deeper grasp of our future, our destiny, our value, that is our identity, and our resources. Our future, our value, and our resources.


A Grasp of Our Future

First we will know our future better. Look at verse 18. We will know what is the hope to which He has called us. The hope, in Paul’s theology, is not wishful thinking – “I hope tomorrow it doesn’t rain but I don’t know.” That’s not how Paul uses the word here at all. For Paul, the hope is theological shorthand for the certain and assured and guaranteed destiny we will, every one of us, possess if we are Christians today. He’s talked about it already in verse 11 and again in verse 14. The inheritance of which the Holy Spirit is Himself the guarantee till we obtain full possession of it. He’s talking about heaven. That’s where we are bound and a new sense of assurance of our destiny, of our security, of the place that waits for us into which our Savior will infallibly bring us begins to grow and swell in our hearts when the Holy Spirit wields His Word with power.


The story is told of Philip Henry, Matthew Henry’s father, Matthew Henry the great Puritan commentator. Philip Henry was a commoner. He was lowborn at a day and age when social standing mattered a very great deal and he was engaged to be married to a young Christian woman of a significantly higher social standing than he. And her parents were concerned and thought this gulf in social status almost to be an insurmountable barrier and so they asked her, “This man, Philip Henry, where has he come from?” to which she replied, “I do not know where he has come from but I know where he is going.” And that’s Paul’s point. When God, by His Spirit, is at work by His Word in the lives of His people they begin to grow in assurance of their destiny, of their security. That’s why Paul describes the Holy Spirit as a guarantee and a seal, guaranteeing our possession of the inheritance that is to come. Our future.


A Knowledge of Our Identity

And then when the Spirit comes He also helps us know our value, our identity. Look at verse 18 again. Paul prays that we might have the Spirit “and so know what is the hope to which He has called us and the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints.” That’s a fascinating phrase. Paul has talked about our inheritance in verse 11 and in verse 14 as we’ve just said. Our inheritance – heaven. Here he talks about God’s inheritance. God has an inheritance too. What is God’s inheritance? It is the church. Redeemed sinners from every nation under heaven. You are God’s inheritance. You are His treasure in whom He delights if today you are a Christian. He’s echoing the language of passages like Deuteronomy 32:9 and Psalm 33:12. Deuteronomy 32:9 – “The Lord’s portion is his people.” Psalm 33:12 – “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage, his inheritance.” That’s the church. God’s inheritance, God’s portion, His treasure, His delight.


Here’s the dignity of a Christian – at a day when to follow Jesus may mean you become the object of derision and scorn and contempt. At a day when to be faithful to the standards of Scripture may become increasingly costly in terms of society and its shifting values. When others around you may shun you for your faith in Jesus, here is help to stand firm. Here is your true value. When the world derides you and scorns you, God the Father Himself considers you His treasure, His portion, His inheritance, His delight.


A Knowledge of Our Resources

Our future, our value, and then lastly our resources. Verse 19 – Paul prays that we may know “what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead.” God is not simply in the business of making empty promises or calling us to live in a certain way without supplying the power to obey. He is saying when the Spirit comes and wields His Word and power in your heart and growing assurance of your destiny enables you to press on till you cross the finish line and take possession of it at last. And as you understand your value and your identity as the inheritance and treasured possession of the Father and are made bold to stand firm no matter what the world says, you should also know that God will give you power to persevere. You will cross the line not because you have the power, not because you have the stamina or the wisdom or the strength but because the same power that broken the grip of death and raised Jesus Christ to life and seated Him at the right-hand of glory in heaven, that power is at work to keep you and preserve you and bring you home.


These are the resources God has lavished upon you, child of God, and it is the ministry and office of the Holy Spirit by the preached Word to strengthen you and help you to know the rich resources that are yours and to help you live depending upon them. How we need to pray, brothers and sisters, not simply imitating the pattern of Paul’s prayer but reflecting his priorities that God would pour out His Spirit upon us and bring true revival into the hearts of His people, slaying our sin by His Word, honoring Christ by His Word, converting the lost by His Word, and dealing with us, enabling us to know our destiny and our identity and His limitless resources promised to us as we live for His glory and praise. May God make us a people who begin to pray Paul’s prayer and more, may He hear and answer to the praise of His great name. Let’s pray together.


O Lord our God, we praise You for Your Word and for the ministry of Your Spirit by it in our lives. O would You pour Him out upon us. Revive Your work, O Lord, in the midst of the years. Visit Your church in renewed power. Forgive our backsliding and our mediocrity and ignite within us the same passion for Your glory that we see in Paul as he pours out his petitions on behalf of the Ephesians. Make us people whose knowledge of You – who You are, what You’re like, what You do – drives us and fuels in us prayerfulness and devotion and adoration and dependence. Do this, we pray, by Your Spirit and for Your glory, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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