Open Our Eyes, Lord! Back to all sermons
Date: January 16, 2015
Speaker: Pastor Cameron Arensen
Series: Book of Ephesians
Scripture: Ephesians 1:15–1:23
Synopsis: In Ephesians 1:15-23, Paul describes how he prays for the believers (saints) in Ephesus. What does he ask for? Knowledge. That they may know! What exactly does Paul want them to know? That is the question that we explore in this message (Open Our Eyes, Lord). And what impact does this knowledge have on our everyday lives – especially on those who may be suffering from depression?
When you pray for other Christians, what kinds of things do you pray for? Take a moment to think about that – thinking back over your prayer times this past week.
There is a whole category of prayer that we call “intercession” – praying for and on behalf of other people. When we do that, what kinds of things are we asking God to do for them? What kinds of things are we asking God to do in their lives?
In the passage of Scripture before us this morning, Paul prays for the believers, the “saints and faithful ones” in Ephesus. I find it very interesting what he prays for.
Let’s see how Paul introduces his prayer in verses 15-16:
For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers,
Paul is building off the final phrase in the previous sentence; the fact that the “saints” that he has been writing to in Ephesus are people who have heard the gospel and believed in Christ, and therefore have received the sealing presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives. This faith has also been confirmed by the love they now display to other “saints”. And Paul gives thanks for this.
But he also says that in addition to giving thanks for them, he prays for them. So what does he pray? What does he ask God for? Let’s read on, beginning 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 in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened that you may know…
Of all the things that Paul could have prayed for, he asks God to give them knowledge. “I am praying to God for you, and this is what I am asking – that you may know!
He asks for it in various ways. First of all, we see that he addresses his prayer to God, the Father of glory. Last week we saw that God is doing everything “for the praise of his glory.” This God, this Father of glory, is the one to whom Paul prays. And he prays that God will give the saints in Ephesus “the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation…”
Now here is an interpretive question; should the word “Spirit” be capitalized or not? The original manuscripts of the New Testament did not distinguish between capitals and lower case letters. So it is a question for the translator and the interpreter as to whether this is a reference to the Holy Spirit, hence requires a capital, or should be lower case “spirit” in the sense of an attitude or mind-set or predisposition toward wisdom. On this question, I must carefully and respectfully disagree with the translators of the English Standard Version, and opt for a small letter “s” for two reasons. One is that in the original text there is no “the” or definite article. Also, Paul is writing to people who have already been sealed by the Holy Spirit. They already have the Spirit’s indwelling presence. So to pray that God will give them the Holy Spirit would be a contradiction.
So what Paul is asking is that God would give the believers in Ephesus a mind-set or predisposition that is characterized by and open to true wisdom and revelation. Now, having said that, I also believe that all such true wisdom and understanding can come only through the illuminating work of the Spirit of God who indwells us as believers. So at the end of the day, these two do not contradict each other, but reinforce each other.
This spirit is one that is characterized by wisdom; an important Biblical value describing understanding, the ability to make sense of things, to make wise decision, to see things clearly.
It is also a spirit of revelation. This is where the Holy Spirit’s work is paramount. There is a divine element required here. The word “revelation” literally means to “uncover” or to make something that is unknown, known. Revelation comes from God. There are things that we can only know through revelation, because God makes them known to us. Paul is praying that they might have a spiritual mindset that is open to and eager for the revealing work of the Holy Spirit.
This all is to take place in a particular arena. It is “in the knowledge of him (Christ)” This word for knowledge is the word of experiential knowledge of relationship. It is not simply the knowledge of facts about God, but the knowledge of relationship; not just an orthodox theology, but a growing relationship with Christ himself.
Paul continues in the same vein in the next phrase: having the eyes of your hearts enlightened that you may know… This is simply another way of stating his prayer. I like the phrase “eyes of your hearts.” Remember we discovered last time that “God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” I talked about the two worlds or the two realities; the spiritual and the physical. The world we can see and the world that we cannot see. The spiritual blessings we have received belong to the “heavenly places”, the heavenly realm that we cannot see with our physical eyes. So Paul prays here that “the eyes of our hearts” may be opened to see what God has given to us in the spiritual, heavenly realm.
All of this adds up to the final phrase in this statement, “that you may know…”
So what did Paul pray and ask God for when he interceded on behalf of the believers in Ephesus. We could paraphrase it this way: “O God, I want them to know, to see, to really understand, to “get it”…
To know what? To see what? To understand what?
That is where we shall turn now. And we will find that Paul asks that the believers would know three things.
The first thing is the hope to which He has called you. Or, more literally, the hope of his calling.
What is our calling? I think that we can put in here the spiritual blessings we discovered in the first 14 verses of Ephesians 1: That God chose us before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption as members of his family. That he has sealed us with his Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee that we shall acquire the full possession of our salvation and eternal inheritance. That is our calling. That is what God has begun to do in us and what he fully intends to complete in us.
This is the hope to which he has called us. The Bible uses the word “hope” in a very specific way. It isn’t wishful thinking, like you and I might “hope it will rain” or “hope we win the big game.” Hope in the Biblical sense is to look forward with confidence to that which is good and beneficial: a confident expectation of a good future outcome or result.
So this is future oriented. Paul prays that we might know what we have to look forward to. This obviously includes all the future joys of eternity. But I also believe that it includes what God wants to do in our lives here on earth as he works in us to change us, to transform us and to reshape our lives.
The second thing Paul wants us to know is the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.
Here again there is an interpretive question. There are two possible interpretations. The first is that this refers to the riches of all that we inherit as Christ’s followers. This would take us back to all the “spiritual blessings in heavenly places” that are ours in Christ. This is surely a wonderful truth and something worth praying for.
But I think the second interpretation is a little stronger and fits the language and grammar better. That is the interpretation that the church of Jesus Christ, the saints are Christ’s own inheritance. We do inherit many wonderful things in Christ, but what Paul is praying for us in this verse is that we might come to understand that we, the redeemed saints who make up the Church of Jesus Christ are Christ’s own inheritance. He wants us to understand how rich that inheritance is in God’s sight. He wants us to know how precious we are to Christ. How highly he values us. How his own glory is wrapped up in what he is doing for, in and through the Church.
The third thing he prays for us to know is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us.
This is where the rest of this text takes us.
and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 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. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
Paul brings all of his formidable vocabulary to bear in this final part of his prayer. He actually uses four different synonyms for power and strength and might; the effective, strong, energizing, dynamic might and power of God. It is “immeasurable”, he says. It is over and above and beyond anything we can comprehend, let alone exhaust. And the incredible thing about it is that this immeasurably great power is “toward us”, or at work in us and on our behalf. That power is already available to us and at work in us, and Paul prays, “I pray that you may know the immeasurable greatness of that power.”
He goes on to tell us that the supreme demonstration of that power is already on display. It was demonstrated when God raised Christ from the dead. He raised him out of the grave and promoted him: up, up, up and up to the seat of authority in the heavenly realms (there’s that phrase again). He is seated in the seat of authority that is above every other authority or rule or power or dominion. These are all words referring to ranks of power in the spiritual world – whether good or evil. Jesus is more powerful than all of them put together.
And then he gave this same Jesus, who has the name that is above every name, and who is seated at the right hand of the Father in “heavenly places”; he gave this Jesus to the Church to be the head of the Church which is his body. I think the last phrase here refers not to the church, but refers again to Christ as “the fullness of him who fills all in all.”
Christ has all authority and power and Christ is the head of the Church. And all of that authority and power is available and at work on behalf of the Church. And Paul’s prayer for us is that we might know that and trust in the power and experience his power at work in our lives and in our church.
This is Paul’s prayer for the Ephesian believers and for all believers. It is not a prayer that God will give them more. It is a prayer that God will open their eyes to know what they already have; what God has already given.
As I looked at the three things that Paul wants them and us to know, my mind turned back to my experiences as a counsellor. Before coming to Abu Dhabi, I spent two years working at a counseling center in California. I spent the better part of my working days listening to hurting people.
One of the most common problems we dealt with was the problem of depression. Depression is something we all struggle with from time to time. It is more severe and long lasting for some. But what strikes me is how the three things that Paul prays for us Christians to know are applicable to a depressed Christian.
One of the most prominent features of depression is the sense of hopelessness; the loss of hope. We all experience tough times in life, losses of things or people that are important to us. But for the average person these are temporary, down times. We believe and expect that the setback is temporary and that things will get better. But the depressed person has lost hope. Things are bad, and he/she does not believe they are going to get any better.
It may be a temporary feeling or a long term feeling. For such a person, Paul prays: “Lord, open their eyes.” To see what? “Hope!” The hope of our calling. It is ultimately an eternal hope. But it is also a hope that God has good things he wants to do in our lives here and now as he works out his salvation in our lives.
Another common dynamic in depression is low self-esteem. “I am no good to anyone. I am worthless. No one cares about me. I am useless.” These feelings may come from a variety of sources, but regardless of where they come from, they are painful symptoms of depression.
For those who struggle with these painful feelings, Paul prays: “O Lord, open their eyes.” To see what? “That we are members of the Body of Christ. We are the Bride of Christ. We belong to Christ. We are his inheritance. And it is a rich inheritance, and one that he places great value on. We are precious in his sight! He redeemed us and we belong to him and he loves us and cares about us, and values us!
A third dimension of depression is a feeling of powerlessness. “I have no power to change, to act, to do anything.” Depressed people commonly perceive themselves as victims who are acted on or against by other people, and that they are helpless and without power to do anything to change things.
For those who feel powerless, Paul prays: “O Lord, open their eyes.” To see what? “The immeasurable power of God that is available to and at work in us who believe. Resurrection power. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead is available to us to enable us to live new lives now.
For each of these painful components of depression, Paul prays for open eyes to see and know what God has done, is doing, and still wants to do for us.
I want you to notice something. Paul does not pray that God will give us a positive future to look forward to. He does not pray that God will include us in Christ’s inheritance that is so precious to him. He doesn’t even pray that God will give us his power. He prays that God will open our eyes to see and know that these things are already ours.
We live in the United Arab Emirates. It is one of the richest countries in the world. But for most of history, but the people of this region lived a very hard, subsistence life. They moved from oasis to sea shore and back, depending on the time of year. They survived on the dates from their oasis, and depended on their camels for milk and transportation and came to the ocean to fish in the right season. And life was hard! Survival itself was never assured.
Take a look at the historical pictures of Abu Dhabi as recently as the 1960’s, with a few scattered buildings and barasti shelters. Contrast that with Abu Dhabi today, with sky scrapers and luxury hotels and shopping malls and modern highways and fancy automobiles. One of the classic books, written by a local businessmen bears the title: “Rags to Riches.”
So here is my question. How long has UAE been a rich country? The obvious answer would be around 50 years. But now let me ask the question a different way. The UAE’s wealth comes from oil, doesn’t it? So, how long has the oil been here? The answer is that the oil has been here all along. One could make the argument that this region has always been rich! The people who lived here just didn’t know it.
In the opening paragraph of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he started out by telling us that God has “blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms.” So why do so many followers of Christ live lives of spiritual poverty and bare spiritual subsistence? Because we don’t recognize that under our spiritual feet lie reservoirs of “spiritual oil” and spiritual riches that exceed all the oil reserves of the UAE and these reserves are going to last, not just 100 years or 200 years, but for all eternity. We are spiritually rich, but too often we live in spiritual poverty because we do not recognize all that Christ has done for us and wants to do for us and in us.
So, back to the question with which I opened this message. When you pray and intercede for other believers, what do you pray for them? What do you ask God to do for them? And when you pray for yourself, what do you ask God to do for you?
Let me suggest that we spend at least some of the time praying along with the Apostle Paul: “Open our eyes Lord; that we might know the hope of our calling, the riches of his glorious inheritance, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe.”
- Read Ephesians 1:15-23 together.
- What kinds of things do we usually pray for when we pray for other people? How does this contrast with Paul’s prayer for the believers to whom he is writing?
- Why do you think Paul places so much emphasis on knowledge?
- What exactly does Paul want them to know?
- Discuss Paul’s three requests for knowledge; what is included, the practical implications and how you would describe it to a new believer: * The hope of his calling * The riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints * The immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe
- How will this discussion affect the way you pray for others and yourself?