Text: Ephesians 1:15-23
Earlier this week I was reading an article that recommended five books that every pastor should own and regularly use. A surprising entry on the list was the parish or church directory. You see, part of a pastor’s duty is to pray, and especially to pray for his flock. In fact, I’m looking forward to our new photo directory for this very reason: the directory provides a useful tool to pray for you.
As we continue on in our Trinitytide trek through the Epistle to the Ephesians, we see that St. Paul understood this idea of a pastor praying for the church in a very personal way. Please turn in your bibles to Ephesians 1, beginning at the 15th verse:
For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers…
You may have noticed our passage today begins with a conjunction: “For this reason, because…” This ties today’s passage in with last week’s passage. If you recall from last week, we spoke of the “family secret” of God choosing and calling us into his family. The passage concluded talking about our response to that call: believing in Christ and being sealed with the Holy Spirit as the down payment of God’s promises. Paul’s prayer of thanksgiving for the Ephesians is based on their belief and faith in Christ and seal with the Holy Spirit as well as their love for other Christians, “the saints,” that we just read about.
In Acts 19 we read about Paul’s missionary journey to Ephesus. St. Paul had found a group of believers who were followers of John the Baptist, but had never heard of the Holy Spirit. St. Paul oversaw their baptism into Christ, he laid hands on them in what we now call Confirmation, and witnessed the power of the Holy Spirit come upon them in various ways.
We continue to witness those same works of the Holy Spirit today. Sometimes those works are overtly miraculous. Other times those works are through the “ordinary means of grace” in the Word and Sacrament. A few weeks ago, we a witnessed baptism, the sign of the Holy Spirit working regeneration and conversion. Next week Bp. Orji will be here to continue the same kind of work St. Paul did among the Ephesians as he lays his hands upon a couple dozen new members of All Saints and prays for the strengthening of the Holy Spirit.
If for no other reason, these things should be motivation to remember your fellow parishioners in prayer. Prayer for each other is one way you, like the Ephesians, can show your love for the saints. God uses the prayers of his people to work miracles, even miracles that seem ordinary. And if you don’t know what to pray for, remember that your Prayer Book has two whole sections full of occasional prayers and thanksgivings for most every situation in life. The words translated as “remembering” in our verse literally mean “making mention.” That is St. Paul mentioned the Ephesians by name in his prayers. We should do the same, whether we’re using the Liturgy or our own words.
St. Paul’s prayers and thanksgivings for the Ephesians don’t exist in a vacuum. There are two requests for which he is specifically praying. We find the first one in verse 17 and the beginning of verse 18:
…that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him having the eyes of your hearts enlightened…
One of my favorite doctrines of the Church is the doctrine of illumination. Some of you have heard this before, but it’s the basic idea that without the light of the Holy Spirit shining on our souls we spiritually blind, spiritually stupid. We cannot have true wisdom, revelation, or enlightenment without God’s help. You may recall the story from 1 Kings 3 when God promised King Solomon anything, Solomon asked for wisdom so that he would be a good king, a good shepherd. We, too need to ask God for wisdom. And then we need to go to the repository of God’s wisdom: Holy Scripture. As a child, my mother read to us a Psalm, a chapter of the Old Testament, a chapter of the New Testament, and a chapter of Proverbs every day. Talk about laying a foundation of wisdom! When it comes to practicality, the common Evangelical custom of going through Proverbs each month is invaluable.
But these things do require prayer as well. If you have friends and family that do not know Christ or are not walking with him, pray for them. St. Monica famously prayed for her son for 30 years before he came to faith. We now know her son as St. Augustine, the most influential theologian in the Western Church, whose feast day was commemorated last week. I dare say some of you are part of similar stories either as praying parents or as those for whom they prayed.
St. Paul’s prayer for illumination, enlightenment, wisdom, and revelation leads into the next prayer. Verse 18b:
…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 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.
The enlightenment Paul prays for is the knowledge of the hope that is based on God’s calling. Sometimes we call this the “assurance of our faith.” When Scripture speaks of hope, the idea is a lot stronger than it often appears in today’s typical speech. In Scripture, hope is based on God’s promises, hope is based on expectations for which we can be certain, even if we don’t have them yet. God’s calling of you into his family brings with it promises of union with Christ, resurrection with him in the last days, and the work of the Holy Spirit changing us into his likeness. German Reformer Martin Bucer, who helped Thomas Cranmer write the first Book of Common Prayer, wrote:
We are grateful to God in that he has chosen and called us to a certain and not to a doubtful calling…. Let us therefore pray for assurance of faith, let us repair the weakness of the flesh and its hostility toward the Word of God. Let us pray against sin, wrath, and sorrow, and let us concentrate on Christ, intercession, our responsibilities, and good works.
Not only are we to know the hope of our calling, but Paul also prayed for us to know the “riches of [God’s] glorious inheritance in the saints.” Last week, we talked about how St. Paul uses the word “saints” to refer to all those who have been set apart by God, all Christians, rather than those who have already received their reward. It is important to remember, though, that the calling all Christians have to holiness does come with a reward, a “glorious inheritance.” We often call this the “beatific vision,” when we will see God, as St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13, face-to-face. We will know him in his full glory, we will experience his joy and goodness in all of its perfection. In him, we will be glorified, not because we were so good, but because Christ is good, and we have his goodness.
The beatific vision is the glorious inheritance of all Christians, to which we will eventually undoubtedly attain if we are united to Christ. This assurance gives us what we need to fight sin in this life, to live as those who are called to be saints, empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Notice in verse 19 that God’s power toward us is based on his power in raising Christ from the dead: “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.” We know that God’s spirit is working in us in a powerful way because we share in the Resurrection of Christ. John Calvin wrote:
Paul quite rightly tells us to contemplate God’s power in Christ because his power in us is still hidden.
In other words, we do indeed struggle with sin. Sometimes we aren’t much better than the unbelievers! But by God’s grace we repent, we get better, and we become more like Christ, knowing that he will perfect us in the end.
This is another reason we need to pray for each other: we are so very weak in our flesh and we need God’s strength to keep our eyes on Christ, the pioneer and perfecter of faith (as we read in the Epistle to the Hebrews). Prayer should always lead to worship, to seeing Christ as exalted. There is a reason the bulk of the Daily Offices has been the recitation of the Psalms from the earliest monastic Offices down through our Prayer Book today. The Psalter is the hymnal of the Bible, the hymnal Christ himself knew by heart.
And [God] put all things under [Christ’s] 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.
Christ is the head of the Church, and Christ is the gift God gives to the Church. We participate in this truth every time we come to Holy Communion, receiving Christ in the bread and wine, assured of God’s favor and goodness toward us, assured that we are members incorporated into Christ’s mystical body, the Church.
Since we are members of the same body, our prayers for each other are all the more important. Just as you wouldn’t want any part of your own body to be injured or sick, we should want each other to be spiritually healthy and sound. This is why we pray for each other. At the same time, when we pray for each other, God drives home the fact that we are members of that same body, the Body of Christ.
Christ is our King, and we are his subjects. There’s a reason kings and queens traditionally speak with the “royal we.” As the monarch, they always represent all their subjects; the subjects are an extension of the king. When we think of what God did in the Incarnation of Christ this truth becomes truly amazing. St. John Chrysostom writes:
Oh, how high he has raised the church! For, as if he were lifting it by some stage machine, he has led it up to a great height and installed it on that throne. For where the head is, there is the body also….
The fullness of the head, he says, is fulfilled through the body. The body consists of all its members. He shows Christ using each member individually, not merely all in common. For if we were not many — one a hand, one a foot, one another member — the body would not be full. Through all members, therefore, his body is made full. Then the head is fulfilled, then the body becomes perfect, when we are all combined and gathered into one.
This is why we have both the command and privilege to pray for each other, to remember each other in our prayers. As one of us go, so do the rest of us go. And as Christ goes, so goes his body, the Church. We’ll conclude today with one of the Collects from the Prayers section on page 49 in the Prayer Book, a Collect that sums up the grace shown in this duty and privilege to pray:
Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom, who knowest our necessities before we ask, and our ignorance in asking; We beseech thee to have compassion upon our infirmities; and those things which for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our blindness we cannot ask, vouchsafe to give us, for the worthiness of thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Part 1 of our Ephesians Series
Note: in the audio, when referencing the Gospel Reading on the parable of the Pharisee and publican, I mistakenly refer to the Pharisee as the publican. That’s what I get for going off script!