Know God Better
Sunday School Lesson for March 10, 2002
Paul’s Thanksgiving (1:15-16)
The second section of chapter one contains Paul’s passionate expression of his profound love for his Ephesian brethren. This is accomplished by means of a declaration of thanksgiving to God and a prayer for their spiritual well being. Verses 15-16 express his gratitude to God in terms of their "faith in the Lord Jesus" and "love for all the saints." Paul had become aware—"ever since I heard"—of their vibrant Christian lives and the evidence of authenticity manifested by fidelity to Christ and brotherly love (cf. Col. 1:3-4; 1 Thess. 1:2-3). These two, "faith" and "love," represent the "leading graces of Christian character" and mark them off as true disciples of Christ (Vaughn, 26). Verse 16 seems to picture the apostle as one literally overcome by both joy and gratitude as he considers his brothers and sisters at Ephesus—"I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers" (cf. Phil. 1:3; Col. 1:3; 1 Thess. 1:2).
Paul’s General Petition (1:17-18a)
As Paul faithfully intercedes on behalf of the Ephesian believers—"I keep asking . . . God"— one request stands in the place of preeminence. Paul wants his readers, above all else, to "know" God "better." This request, though indeed simple, is couched in profoundly significant terms:
The knowledge of God for which Paul prayed is much more than a "bare knowledge of God from His works which was available to the pagan world (Rom. 1:21); it is a personal knowledge of him in experience . . . ." [italics added] (Bruce, 269-70). As the verses that follow will reveal, there are three specific areas of divine knowledge that Paul desires for his audience. The knowledge or understanding of these truths, prompted by the work of the Holy Spirit in each believer’s life, will lead to a deeper appreciation and experience of Christ Himself. This understanding, in turn, will bring about a profoundly changed life.
In keeping with his request for the impartation of "wisdom and revelation," Paul prays that the "eyes" of their "heart" may be "enlightened" (18a). Again, this points to the ministry of the Holy Spirit who provides "spiritual eyesight" for the children of God. Because He is the "Spirit of truth," He makes it possible for believers to grasp the truth about God and Christ and the blessings, privileges, and responsibilities of their salvation (John 16:13f).
Paul’s Specific Petitions (1:18-23)
The First Request (v.18)
First, Paul desires that his readers fully "know" the "hope to which he has called you." The "call" to which Paul refers is the divine summons to salvation, or more precisely, "the effectual call of God that actually issues in conversion" (Vaughn, 29). Those whom the Father has chosen in Christ in eternity past (1:4) are "called" to faith by the preaching of the gospel in time and space. As 1:13 makes clear, the evidence of this call is belief in Christ and the reception of the Holy Spirit.
This calling is accompanied by the giving of "hope" –a hope for which we have been eternally appointed to share (cf. 4:4). In this context, the word "hope" may indicate an expectation of the future that sustains us in the present. Believers, then, continually look forward to something even more glorious and greater in the future when Christ returns. Such hope enables Christ’s followers to look past their present sufferings and battles to the glory that is yet to be revealed (Stott, 56). Note how this is expressed elsewhere by Paul:
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.
The Second Request (v. 18)
Secondly, Paul prays that they might "know" the "riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints." This request also looks forward to something yet future—a day when all the blessings that God has provided in Christ are explicitly revealed (cf. Col. 1:12). This "inheritance" is "glorious" in character. That is, it defies all attempts to explain or define it. What God has prepared for those who have trusted in Christ is truly beyond all human comprehension (1 Cor. 2:9). To "know" it in this sense means that believers should be fully convinced that God has promised untold blessings for those who are in Christ.
The Third Request (vv.19-23)
Finally, Paul prays that they might also "know" God’s "incomparably great power for us who believe" (v. 19) John Stott observes that while the call points to something in the past and the hope looks to the future, the "power" referenced here "spans the interim in between" (57). The Scripture, then, not only addresses our past and future, but also our present experience as disciples of Jesus Christ. As the believers of the first century world continually faced the prospect of suffering and intense persecution for the sake of their faith in Christ, Paul wanted them to know with absolute certainty that God’s sovereign power would be upon them and at work in them. Such knowledge would instill great confidence in their hearts as they lived (and died) for Christ.
In verses 20-23 Paul provides an in depth look at the magnitude of the power of God that is operative in the lives of believers. In particular, he supplies the ultimate illustration of God’s sovereign might—Christ’s resurrection "from the dead" and His exaltation to the "right hand" of God (v.20). F. F. Bruce notes that if Christ’s death on the cross was the "supreme demonstration of the love of God, as Paul wholeheartedly believed (Rom. 5:8), the resurrection of Christ is the supreme demonstration of his power" (271). This very truth is articulated elsewhere by Paul:
and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.
And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.
In addition, Christ’s ascension to His seat at God’s right hand "in the heavenly realms" also displays God’s unparalleled might. The reference to the "right hand" reveals that God has promoted Jesus to the "place of supreme honor and executive authority" in direct fulfillment the expectation of Psalm 110:1 (Stott, 59). In this position, Jesus is "far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given" (v. 21). That is, He occupies the place of ultimate sovereignty over all created things and is truly the "KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS" (Rev. 19:16).
The mention of various authorities and powers reveals that "whatever grades of authorities there may be in the universe, they are all inferior to him" (Bruce, 273). Curtis Vaughn agrees, noting that Christ is "above all grades of rulership, real or imaginary, good or evil, present or future" since the "invincible power of God has exalted and enthroned the crucified and risen Christ" (33). To make his point even more emphatic, Paul adds in verse 22 that God has even "placed all things under his feet." This is a quotation from Psalm 8:6 and again stresses the universal lordship of Christ.
In verse 23 Paul declares that Jesus Christ is also Lord over the "church" and functions as her sovereign "head." This first use of the word "church" in this letter certainly speaks of the church universal that is composed of local congregations. The anatomical language employed to define the church—"his body"—communicates the essential union shared by Christ and His redeemed people. Christ, then, is not only the sovereign Lord of the entire universe, He is also Lord over the church. John Stott states the case this way: "For he whom God gave to the church to be its head was already the head of the universe. Thus both the universe and church have in Jesus Christ the same head" (61).
The final phrase of verse 23—"the fullness of him who fills everything in every way"—is admittedly difficult to interpret and has prompted a variety of solutions. Perhaps F. F Bruce offers the best interpretation in understanding that the "fullness of deity resides in [Christ], and out of that fullness his church is being constantly supplied" (277). Therefore, in Christ her sovereign "head," the people of God are divinely supplied with all they need for faithful Christian life and service.
Major Themes for Application and Discussion
One: Praise-worthy Christians—Once again we are challenged by the example of our first century Christian brethren. In a hostile environment, and without the many advantages we have at our fingertips, these primitive Christians lived lives that stimulated God-ward gratitude in the heart of the apostle Paul.
Two: The Necessity of Intercessory Prayer—It is clear from passages such as this that God’s work through His church will not be done apart from the ministry of prayer. In other words, one of the means God employs for the accomplishment of His will is the faithful and fervent prayers of His people. Look carefully at 1 Timothy 2:1-4. What are the practical implications of Paul’s exhortation to Timothy?
Three: The Ministry of the Holy Spirit—In light of 1:17 how would you define the ministry of the Holy Spirit to the believer? What are His principle functions in terms of His ministry to Christ’s body?
Four: The Connection Between Orthodoxy and Doxology and Theology and "Do-ology"—Note how Paul links a deeper understanding of the truths of Christianity with fervent worship and dedicated service to God. There seems, then, to be a direct connection between what we know and how we live. Do you agree, and why or why not?
Five: The Believer’s Power Supply—In light of 1:19ff where would you locate your source of power for faithful Christian living? How do you access it?