Friday, September 25, 2015

Ceaseless Interceding (Ephesians 1:15-23)

"(15) For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you and your love for all the saints, (16) do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers; (17) that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. (18) I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, (19) and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might (20) which He brought about 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 every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. (22) And He put all things in subjection 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.” (Ephesians 1:15–23, NASB95)

While we will not look at this whole passage today, what we do have is a continuation of the response of praise from Paul begun in verse 3. I have long said that Paul was the master of run-on sentences, and as I read these verses in various translations I see how others have struggled with punctuating his words. But I must admit that I really love imagining the great joy that must have flown from Paul as this huge response of praise flowed out of him, possibly even without stopping to take a breath. I know that excitement, and when I speak there are definitely times that I also tend to overflow with long and joyous responses of praise. This is true of most of us when we get excited about something, and what we have here is definitely an excited response of praise to our God who deserves all of the glory for what He has done.

Having written about our salvation and what a glorious and irrevocable gift it is, Paul now shifts to the response of the Ephesian believers in light of their own faith in Christ. Jesus had told the one lawyer to love God and love others in order to inherit eternal life (previous post), but the lawyer resisted Jesus’ words asking Jesus how far he must go. But hearing of the Ephesians and their faith Paul shared his excitement over how they had been doing exactly what Jesus had commanded. These believers, in response to God’s love for them, had shown that same love toward one another. He was so excited about this that he told them that he did not cease giving thanks for them as he made mention of them in his prayers. He took what he heard of these believers before God who drew them to Himself and He praised God for what He had done in and through them.

Paul had spent considerable time in Ephesus working among them, and now to hear how they had grown in their love for God and one another was truly a blessing to him, and He continually thanked God for what God had done there. While this is not a prayer, Paul does share with them several things that he was praying on their behalf. Paul was taking what he heard and turning it to God. He thanked God for what He had done, and he lifted to God the things that he desired God to do in and through them. Paul gives us here an example of what we call intercessory prayer. It is the praying for others. He demonstrates it  here not only as a priority for his life knowing that it God who works His will in them, but also as an encouragement letting them know his hopes for what God has done and will do on their behalf. Paul’s prayers were not wishful thinking. They were lifted to God in the full confidence of what He had done and said He would do. Paul praised God knowing that it is God who gets the credit for what had been done, and he petitioned God as he asked God to continue to work in specific ways.

Later in this same letter Paul would ask the Ephesian believers to come before God and do the same thing for him—praying on his own behalf. Right after speaking on the issue of the spiritual warfare, which we are all engaged in, Paul returned to the issue of prayer writing, “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints, and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.” (Ephesians 6:18–20, NASB95)

He encouraged them to persevere in prayer for all the saints and then even specifically to pray for him. Paul began this by saying in 1:16 that he did not cease praying for them, and in chapter 6 he asked them not to cease praying for their brothers and sisters in Christ as well. Then he added a specific request of them for himself that they persevere in praying that in the face of him even being imprisoned as an ambassador in chains that he would not only have the right words to say when speaking of the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ, but that he would also be bold in doing so.

Paul told them to do this “in the Spirit.” We had just read in Ephesians 1:13 that we have been sealed by the Spirit, and here Paul instructs them to pray in the Spirit. In Jude we are warned against those who come into the church who do not have the Spirit, who would bring division into their midst. Their protection against this was the instruction of verses 21 and 21 which reads, “But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life.” (Jude 20–21, NASB95) Sometimes it might be hard for us to know. But the certain reality is that God knows, and we are called to bring all things to Him in the Spirit who He has given us and along with that to grow in the faith as we engage together in building up one another.

Paul wrote in Romans that as we come to God that the Holy Spirit works. “In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (Romans 8:26–27, NASB95) We not only have the Spirit, but we have one another. God has done an incredible thing in this, and as we practice praying for others we are constantly reminded that He is alive and that we are not alone. God will hear our prayers. 

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