Monday, January 7, 2008

Open the Eyes of Our Hearts (Ephesians 1:18-23)

January 6, 2008
Sermon by: Kathy Larson
[audio not available]

The message of this text is fairly simple and yet it is something that is so difficult to do. It’s not really anything new or anything you haven’t heard before, but I think it’s something we all need to hear again. Every day if necessary. Raise your hand if you think you completely understand God, everything about Him – His power, His majesty, His strength, how He made the world, why He does everything that He does. AND if you live every moment of every day as if Christ is your King. If you didn’t raise your hand, the message from this morning’s passage is for you.

If you don’t already have them open, let’s open our Bibles to Ephesians 1:18 so we can follow along with the text.

Verse 18 – I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened…

Paul is praying for the Ephesians and indirectly also for us. It is the responsibility of our pastor to pray for us. It is the responsibility of our Sunday School teachers, our youth advisors, our Bible Study leaders, our parents, anyone in spiritual authority over us to pray for us. If you think that gets you off the hook because you are not any of those things, this passage also shows us that any of us who are “enlightened” – meaning any of us who know the Lord – it is also our responsibility to pray for those who are not yet enlightened – those who don’t know the Lord.

What is Paul praying for for his people?

…that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened

In Acts 26:15, Jesus tells Paul that his mission is to open the eyes of the Gentiles, to turn from darkness to light, from the dominion of Satan to the dominion of God. Without God, our hearts are hardened (2 Corinthians 3:14), our understanding is darkened. Scripture says that before we know God, it is like we are stumbling around in the dark and coming to know God is like turning on the light. We can suddenly see. We can TRULY understand the world around us and see things the way God sees them.

How are our hearts enlightened? In 2 Corinthians 4:4 Scripture says that the unbelieving are blind – they have been blinded by Satan – and only God can open the eyes of their hearts to see the Truth. In Reformed Theology, which is the Presbyterian way, this concept is called Total Depravity. In Romans 3, it says that there is no one righteous, not even one, there is no one who seeks after God. Left to our ourselves, we are sinners who want to do our own thing, we don’t want to come to the Lord. It takes God changing our hearts to bring us to Him. Ephesians 2:8-10 says that even our faith is a gift from God, not something we were able to do for ourselves.

When our hearts are enlightened by God, when we become believers, we are filled with the Holy Spirit, and it is only through the Holy Spirit that we can see the world the way God see it. It is only through the Holy Spirit that we can interpret Scripture properly. It is only through the Holy Spirit that we can even believe that Scripture is true. It’s all about God, it’s not about us. And those who don’t know God don’t understand these things. 1 Corinthians 2:12-14 says that because we have received the Spirit, we are able to know the things of God, having not human wisdom, but spiritual wisdom. But a natural man, one who does not know the Lord, does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him and he cannot understand them.

You all know people whose hearts are hardened towards God. Who think that the things of the Lord are foolishness. People who don’t understand why you give 10% of what you make to the church, who think you’re insane for using a week of your vacation time to go on a mission trip to New Orleans, or can’t believe you won’t tell a few little white lies to get ahead at work, or even simply think you’re stupid or ignorant for believing that there is a God.

So, what it takes then to become a Christian or live the Christian life is being enlightened by the Holy Spirit. Without the Spirit, we are blind and our hearts are hardened to think only about what we want, what will make us happy. And what’s the only way we can tap into the Holy Spirit? Prayer! So, just as we said above, just as Paul is doing, if you know someone whose heart is hardened, start praying!!!

What does Paul want our hearts to be enlightened to know?

First, the hope of His calling

This is another tenet of Reformed Theology – that there are those who have been chosen and called to be Christians. Romans 11:7 says that those who were chosen were enlightened to the things of God and obtained the inheritance, but the rest were hardened. We have hope in knowing that we are His called, His chosen, those whose hearts have been enlightened and this means not only will we be given eternal life, we have been given eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to understand THIS life. Those who know the Lord have been given a wisdom that is beyond what the world can ever understand – what man can ever know on his own. Again, this is something that we have been GIVEN, not something we have earned or come to know ourselves. It’s all about God. Our hope is hope in God and in His power, not hope in ourselves. And we know we can have hope in His calling because of what the rest of this passage says about God and about Christ.

Secondly, the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints

What is God’s inheritance? Think about the richest man in the world and what kind of inheritance his only son has to look forward to. Then multiply it times infinity. That is the greatness of our inheritance in Christ. I once heard a story about a man who was dying and coming to heaven and he asked God if he could bring just one bag with him to heaven. Humoring him, God said sure. So he fills his suitcase as full as he can of gold bars and goes on up to heaven. When he’s passing through the pearly gates, they of course check his bags and he promises that God said he could bring something in and they check it out and God backs him up, so they open the suitcase to search it, like a good security guard would do and seeing the gold bars, the security guard says, “are you planning on building a new road?” the man responds, “What?” and the security guard holds up the gold bars and says, “Why else would you bring pavement?” The most valuable things we have here on earth are like asphalt in heaven.

What is God’s inheritance? It is not earthly riches that most men strive after their whole lives. It is so much more. It is salvation, eternal life, peace, joy, love, hope, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self-control – the ability to have a relationship with God and to allow Him to rule your life. Things that are beyond what money can buy. Just as the Bible says in Matthew 6:20: “Do not store up for yourself treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven” which will never rot or decay or could ever be taken away from you. Paul wants us to understand just how worth it it is to give up a self-centered life to live a Christ-centered life. How rich a Christ-centered life really is. And he shows us this by what he says next.

Thirdly, the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe

What is God’s power towards those who believe? It is said right here in the passage:

a. The strength of his might which he brought about in Christ:

God raised Christ from the dead – through which he saved us from our sin and gave us eternal life and His Spirit to enable us to live rich Christ-centered lives here on earth. Also, when God raised Christ, he gave Him ultimate power and authority over everything in the world and also made him head of the Church – His body, the fullness of Him, who fills all in all. Though Christ fills everything and is sovereign over everything, it is the church which is the fullness of Him. It is the church which is His body. It is those of us who have the Holy Spirit and let His Spirit shine through us which reflect His nature to the world.

So what does all this mean for me?

First of all:

If you are not one of the enlightened, if your heart is hardened towards God OR if you’re not sure where you stand or what you believe, if you have questions about the Bible, if you need illumination, pray about it. Ask God for His Holy Spirit. Ask God for Him to reveal Himself to you. Ask for Him to open the eyes of your heart. And don’t wait, do it today! The longer you wait, not only will you not be certain of where you will go when you die, but you will have a more difficult, painful, sad and lonely time on this earth. People whose don’t know the Lord may seem happy at times. Maybe they have more money or a nicer house or more friends or more of the transient things, but the peace and the joy and the love which come from knowing God are those irreplaceable treasures in heaven that make your life extraordinary. It is the treasure of peace that makes a woman who is dying of cancer not worry about herself, but spend her time comforting her family in her last days. Is it the treasure of joy that makes an impoverished man in the third world’s smile more beautiful than any supermodel’s, even though he is missing most of his teeth. It is the treasure of love that makes a child who has been abused by her earthly father and her earthly family feel comforted by her Heavenly Father and her church family in a way that defies understanding. These are the treasures that are worth having, not better clothes or a nicer house or a fancier car. Ask for the Holy Spirit to open the eyes of your heart. And do it today, don’t waste another minute on the treasures of earth that moth and rust can destroy and that thieves can break in and steal.

But I warn you, if you ask the Holy Spirit to come to you, you have to be ready to have Him change your life. To reign in your life. For this is what the last section – verses 20-23 are all about. Galatians 5:25 says that if we have been saved by the Spirit, then we owe the Spirit our lives – if we can let God save us and give us all these wonderful treasures, then we also need to let Him reign in us. Not only because it is what we owe Him for His great lovingkindness in our salvation, but because it is the best way for us to live – the best thing for us. Which we finally understand when the eyes of our hearts are opened and we are enlightened to the TRUTH.

Now I’m going to speak to the enlightened, those whose hearts have been softened and their eyes have been opened to see the truth. There are three things in this passage for you:

First of all:

If you are one of the enlightened, it is your job to pray for those who are not enlightened. Pray that their hearts will be softened, that the Holy Spirit will intercede for them. You know the old adage, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink”. There is a verse that has a similar bent to it in Scripture – 1 Corinthians 3:1-9. It says that we can plant a seed in someone’s heart, we can even water a seed that has been planted by someone else in their heart, but ONLY GOD can make that seed grow into a plant which bears fruit. Verse 7 says, “so then, neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth” – it is all about God. God is the one who causes growth and change in people’s hearts. Only God can save. Only God can soften hearts. So therefore, spend just as much time, no spend MORE time, praying for your friends as you do arguing with them about religion. Spend more time praying for those who don’t know the Lord than you spend judging them for their actions. And that goes for people you know and people you don’t. Don’t just write letters to the network about Jamie Lynn Spears being taken off the air, pray for her. Don’t just boycott “The Golden Compass”, pray for Phillip Pullman. Don’t just not let your kids go over to that “bad kid”’s house to play, pray for that kid and his family. Pray fervently, knowing that your prayers are the way you communicate with the Holy Spirit, the source of this power. Prayer is how you can join with God, who, it says 1 Timothy 2:4, “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the Truth”.

Secondly:

If you are one of the enlightened, pray for YOURSELF. Paul is praying here for the Ephesians, who are believers – they have been enlightened to know God and yet he prays for them to be enlightened even more. To grow even more to know God and Christ and to recognize His power and dominion and majesty. Pray and ask God for His Spirit to continue to open the eyes of your heart to see Him for who He is, that you may grow more in your understanding of the God whom you love. There is not one person here, myself included, who fully comprehends the awesome power and majesty of Christ. I could study the Scriptures for the rest of my life and never come to a full, complete understanding of God, of His awesome divine nature. If I completely understood God, He would cease to be God for me – part of the reason that He is worthy of our worship is because He is divine, He is other, He is unfathomable, His infinity is more than our finite minds could ever truly understand. For those whose hearts are hardened this is a truth that they cannot accept, do not want to accept. This is something that makes them hate God. For those whose hearts have been softened, we understand that it is because of this very fact that we worship God, that we stand in awe of Him and that we want to know Him more. I urge you, no matter how much you think you know about God, no matter how well you think you know God, continue to seek to know more. Read, study, scour the Scriptures daily. This book is the insider’s guide to understanding God. And when you read it, PRAY. Pray for the Holy Spirit to interpret Scripture for you, pray for Him to reveal to you true wisdom about these words. There are many scholars who study this book for their entire lives and are never able to see or understand what it says about God. Because their hearts are hardened. Because they read it and study it in unbelief. They use it as a weapon against God, they use it to try to disprove God’s existence, or to show that God is a sadistic monster, because that is what they want to believe. Because if they can say that God doesn’t exist or even worse, that God is evil, then they don’t have to do what He commands.

In my 9 years of ministry I can tell you that every single person that I have known who has denied faith in God or tried to disprove the existence of God, when we got down to the real root of the problem, when they were being truly honest with themselves, the reason they wanted to not believe is because there was something they wanted to do that they knew God commanded against – whether it was sexual sin or some sort of addiction or simply because they wanted to live their lives for themselves and not for God. I would even venture to say that the root of atheism really is just plain old selfishness – self worship, the original sin of Adam and Eve in the garden – you can be your own god. And that my friends, is the definition of those whose hearts have been hardened, who are not enlightened to understand the truth. The truth is that I don’t want to be my own god. I shouldn’t want to be my own god. Being my own god would not be good for me.

Imagine your four year old who all he wants to eat is candy, he never wants to eat his vegetables or meat or real food. Do you let him do that? Of course not. Because it’s not good for him. You know better that he does what is good for him. Well, compared to God, we are all four year olds who just want to eat our candy. We only want good things to happen to us – or things that we think are good in the moment. We are an instant gratification culture, an instant gratification race. We want the quick and easy way out. We want get rich quick schemes. We want fast food and then fast diets or even fast surgery to get rid of the consequences of the fast food. We never want to have to go through anything painful. We never want to have to deal with death or pain or suffering, because we don’t truly understand that it is suffering that makes us grow.

Those of us whose hearts have been enlightened KNOW that what God commands is what is best for us. We understand with a spiritual wisdom which comes not from human logic, but from the Spirit of God, that healthy food is better than candy, that exercise is a better energy high than caffeine, that suffering makes you stronger, and that God’s way is not only the right way, but the best way for us. This is what leads us to the final message of the passage.

Lastly, for those of us who are enlightened:

This is what I think the passage is really all about. The supremacy and authority and dominion of Christ. If your hearts have been enlightened, if you really know and understand who Christ is, you will not only recognize that He is King and ruler of the universe, but you will want Him to be King and Ruler of your life. It is not enough for Christ to simply be your Savior. If He is your Savior, He is also your Lord. I want Christ to be my lord. I don’t want to be my own god. When I’ve done what I wanted with my life, I’ve just messed things up. It’s when I’ve listened to God that things have turned out well.

Let’s look at what this passage says about Christ –

God seated Christ far above all rule and authority and power and dominion and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet.
Christ is ruler over all. The whole world, everyone. Philippians 2 says that one day, at the end of time, all men will have to face this fact. One day, every knee will bow on heaven and earth and under the earth and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Whether they want to confess it or not, they will. That is a fact, that is an absolute truth. Christ is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.

And then secondly, the passage says that God gave Christ the church and made him head of the church.

So, we who are enlightened have Christ as our head, our authority, our Ruler. He should reign supreme in our lives. I think it is difficult for us to really understand in 21st century America what it really means to be subject to a King. We fought very hard to get our freedom and still fight today for democracy – to maintain our personal freedoms as independent citizens. Our immediate thoughts about a monarchy are that it is oppressive, that it’s unfair to have one person in charge and everyone else serve that person. That power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

But think for a minute with me if our King were not a human being, who could be corrupted or selfish or tyrannical, but a LOVING, merciful God who as King would rule with absolute power, but with absolute love and grace. If you were subjects of a good king, a perfect king, a servant king, who wasn’t trying to use you to make his Kingdom bigger or to gain more land or more power, because He already had everything He ever wanted. A King whose only concern was loving you. A King like that would provide for His people. You wouldn’t have to worry about food or shelter. You would be protected from your enemies. If there were ever a disagreement among His subjects, this king would judge fairly and rightly – justice would always be done. It would be better for you than a democracy. Living as a servant of a good king would be better than freedom.

Now imagine that you are not just a servant of that good king, but you are a son or a daughter. You are a prince or a princess. You receive an inheritance in this Kingdom and you rule and reign with your Father. If you are one that has been enlightened, you are a prince or a princess of the great king of Kings.

Those whose hearts are hardened to the Lord will one day have to admit that He is King of Kings and will bow down to Him. But those whose hearts have been enlightened bow down to Him now and enjoy a better life on earth and will reign with Him forever in the age to come.

I join Paul in prayer for each one of us, that the eyes of our hearts may be enlightened, so that we will know what is the hope of His calling, the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints and what is the surpassing greatness of His power towards us who believe. May the Holy Spirit guide us. May Christ reign in our hearts and in our lives. Amen.

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