Sunday, October 21, 2012

Joined Together in Prayer (Ephesians 1.18-23)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
October 21, 2012
Some Music Used
Prelude: "Crown Him with Many Crowns" (Burkhardt)
Hymn of Praise: "Crown Him with Many Crowns" (DIADEMATA)
The Word in Music: "The Church's One Foundation" (Hopson)
 Song of Response: "I Need You to Survive" (Hezekiah Walker)
Song of Sending: "Holy Spirit" (Townend/Getty)
Postlude: "Processional in G Major" (John Stanley)

"Joined Together in Prayer"
(Left-click to play; or right-click to save)

**Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

Today we pick up in Ephesians 1:18, with a prayer offered for those who would read or hear this letter. Really, all of Ephesians 1 is an extended prayer.  After the greetings of the first few verses, there are about 12 verses of praise to God-who-is-blessed.  That’s what we looked at last week.  After all the theology and blessings and human response, it all boiled down to one powerful point: God’s character, actions, and our participation all sound a glorious note of praise to God.  Then, a few verses that we have jumped over, vv. 15-17, are a prayer of thanks to God, a natural follow up to the praise.

Today, starting in verse 18, the prayer continues, now focused on those who might not know of God’s character and loving actions toward us.  The prayer reaches outward to those around us, that eyes would be opened to see and know God for who He is and what He has done.

I’ve mentioned that in September we focused on what it means for an individual to be a Christian or follower of Jesus Christ, and that in October we are focusing on what it means to be the community of Christ together.  Today’s text and prayer remind us that individual believers are connected to one another with Jesus Christ as our “head.”  In order to fully realize and experience that, we may need to have our eyes opened!

Open the Eyes of My Heart (v. 18)


This passage begins with the prayer that “the eyes of your heart may be enlightened.” (v. 18)  Then all the rest is what the one praying hopes that our enlightened hearts will see.  The language is a little strange: we don’t talk about our hearts having eyes.  But we do talk about having a hard heart or a broken heart or being tender-hearted, and none of those are literal descriptions of the muscle that pumps the blood through our bodies.  From ancient times until now, and perhaps because the heart does pump life-giving blood through our bodies, humanity has spoken of the heart as a very significant part of our inner person.  It is a term for describing our emotions, our will, or our deepest-seated passions.

And all that gets at what is in view here as this prayer is prayed.  To truly know and follow Jesus Christ is more than an external ritual or intellectual belief; it is an inward, life-changing, passion-stirring reality.  And what follows begins to describe in words what it is that our hearts might come to know.

To Know Three Things (vv. 18-19)


There are three things named that our hearts will come to know if we are truly to trust, love, and follow Jesus Christ.  You may realize that each of these echoes words and phrases in the passage we looked at last week, which was an extended description of praise to God.

1.    The Hope of His Calling (v. 18)

The first is the “hope of His calling.” In the earlier part of this chapter, the word “calling” was not used, but it was densely packed with descriptions of God’s plan, purpose, predestination, choosing, adoption, and more.  And yet God doesn’t force any of that on us, though his love toward us has existed since before the foundation of the world.  As we heard last week, we must listen and believe.  And so all that adds up to God “calling” us.  The hope is in the certainty of God’s faithfulness and response.  If we listen and respond, we can be sure of God’s love and purpose; our faith is well-placed and certain because God is true.  We can have hope in the character of God.  So you have that kind of hope in God?  That is the prayer – that you would.

2.    The Riches of His Glory (v. 18)

The second thing that our hearts will come to know is we are to see and know God is the “riches of His glory.”  This, too, recalls the praises in last week’s passage, which described us as adopted sons.  “Sons” did not signify gender, but that all who are adopted into God’s family in Christ are heirs or inheritors of God’s rich grace and blessing.  Do you even begin to grasp how lavish God’s grace and love toward you is?  That is the prayer – that you would.

3.    The Greatness of His Power (v. 19)

The third part of the prayer is that we would know the “greatness of God’s power toward us who believe.”  In fact, it’s not just great power, but is SURPASSING greatness, as in greater than any other greatness and more powerful than any other power.  Again, this all flows out of the praises in last week’s text, which spent some time highlighting God’s great power – over time, creation, and even sin and death.  Can you begin to imagine how great and powerful God is?  If not, your God is too small!  That is the prayer – that you would know hope in God’s character, the abundant riches of God’s grace, and the surpassing greatness of God’s power.

As Shown in Three Things (vv. 19-22)


In good Jewish fashion, the Apostle Paul circles around and repeats much of this in order to underline it and drive it home, even in the context of a prayer.  These three things that he prays for us to know have already repeated the praises he has offered to God.  Now, he notes that the three things are “in accordance with” three actions of God in Christ.  The three things we should know line up with or match three things God has done, specifically “brought about in Christ.”  Let’s look at those briefly and we’ll see that they give us even more reason to see, know, believe, and trust God.

1.    Christ raised (v. 20)

The first thing God brought about in Christ through His mighty strength was that He raised Christ from the dead.  Of course that is one of the core parts of the Christian story; it’s the Easter story.  It’s also the source of our HOPE, which was the first thing Paul prayed that we would know in our hearts… our deepest parts.  God raised Jesus from the dead as a demonstration of His love, power, and grace toward us.

2.    Christ seated (v. 20)

The second thing God brought about in Christ is right after that: He seated Christ at His right hand.  Though it’s right after “He raised Him,” the explanation runs a little longer.  That’s probably good, because I think we have a harder time understanding “Christ seated” as compared with “Christ raised.”  As you read on, you realize that being seated at God’s right hand must have something to do with authority and power, because Jesus is said to there be “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.”  That’s quite a statement about the authority that comes with that seat.  And I think it gives us some idea of the scale.  Jesus wasn’t just “King Jesus” like David was “King David”; God put him in the place of highest authority and power over all creation for all time.  That is a corresponding action to Paul’s prayer that we would know the “riches of the glory of His inheritance.”  We are not only in the family, but inheritors of the riches of this King!

3.    Christ Over All (v. 22)

In verse 22, we read that God “put all things in subjection under His feet and gave Him to the church as head over all things.”  This final description of God’s actions in Christ corresponds to Paul’s prayer that we would know the surpassing greatness of God’s power.  To know that, we must yield as subjects to our King and Head.  That not only we but ALL THINGS are subject to Christ again gives a sense of scale to God’s power.  Remember it is surpassingly great!

A Picture and a Prayer (vv. 23, 18)


On that final note of Christ as Head of the Church, Paul uses a word-picture that itself helpful to opening our eyes to the spiritual reality all around us.  It also makes the connection I want you to see between an individual’s faith and life and the community of believers to which God connects us.

God gave Jesus as “head over all things” to the Church, which is “His body.”  That means not only that each of us who believes and trusts Jesus must obey and follow his leading as our King and Head, but we are all part TOGETHER of His body.  Paul makes much of this image elsewhere, but there’s enough here for you to get it.  This final note of a truth-packed prayer doesn’t end with a personal salvation, me-and-God picture, but with all believers in all times connected together into an organic whole with Christ at the head of it.  So, as Paul writes elsewhere, the hand cannot say to the foot, “I have no need of you”; rather, the whole works together for the singular purpose of its head, Jesus Christ.

As we will sing in a moment, “I need you, you need me; we’re all part of His body.”  So, that is also the final part of this rich prayer: not only that you will know God’s character, God’s actions, and all that it means for you; but also that you will know what it is to be bound together as one body under Jesus Christ.  That is the Church.

That will raise a natural question: if we are the Church, what are we supposed to do together?  And that is where we will turn in the month of November.  It is not without cost, though.  Next week, Quay Youngblood will preach on the challenge and cost of following Christ as His Church, then we will turn to our mission under Christ.  Amen.





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