It does surprise us sometimes how God allows His people to be drawn aside from normality, especially from useful service. This was Paul’s experience, when for around four years, two in Caesarea and two in Rome, he was unable to travel as he once did. However, this withdrawal facilitated meditation, and a precious written ministry from Rome, when he expounded his well-matured understanding of divine truth. God overruled the laying aside of His child and, as a result, we are greatly enriched to this day. It is a comfort that the laying aside of a Christian need not be the end of God’s work in and through that individual.
Paul began to pray immediately upon conversion (Acts 9:11), and evidently became a man of prayer. Aside from his own personal prayer life, he prays for the saints in every one of his 13 epistles. These prayers reveal his deep interest in others and show that this is a very large part of true prayer. Not often in the NT is there prayer for sinners to be saved, but there is a vast amount of prayer for the spiritual growth of saints. If God makes Christians what we should be, gospel work will make progress. We must then remember that prayer, while it allows us to petition God, is chiefly to make adjustments in ourselves, so we will work alongside Him in His ongoing program.
Paul recognized that prayer is not forcing an unwilling God to give His child all that he or she desires (and “the sooner the better”). Rather, it is the outcome of His child’s growing intimacy with the Father, whereby His will is instinctively known, and we pray accordingly. Thus, answers are given, and God is glorified. This is close to what is meant by “praying in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.” It is praying as He would pray, with similar understanding, motives, and requests, in the measure that we “abide in Him.” How challenging this is!
During his house arrest in Rome, the prayer ministry of Paul reached wonderful heights, as seen in the four prayers of Ephesians 1:15-23; 3:14-21; Philippians 1:9-11; and Colossians 1:9-12. He had seen a great work done in Ephesus, and now he writes to them about the Church, God’s masterpiece, explaining the mystery hidden in past ages. He prays that they will be enlightened as to these things and to the God Who is behind them. We are familiar with Paul’s work in Philippi, and he writes to them mainly concerning fellowship in the gospel. His prayer for the Philippians emphasizes their growth in discerning love. In contrast, the Colossian assembly was unknown to Paul, apart from reports by Epaphras. This did not lessen his prayers for them; they were going to need help in resisting false teaching. Paul prays that they would be filled with the knowledge of His will. We purpose giving an overview of these four passages, primarily that our own prayer lives will be shaped as a result.
Prayer for the Knowledge of God and His Power – Ephesians 1:15-23
The Sequence in the prayer is noticeable; Paul begins with thanksgiving before making any request. This is in keeping with all that grace has bestowed in the earlier part of the chapter where in one long sentence (vv3-14) we learn what blessings God has purposed for His people. The prayer also forms one sentence (vv15-23). Sometimes our requests greatly outweigh our thanksgivings. A sense of gratitude, however, is always a feature of a healthy Christian.
The Saints in this prayer (v15) are being encouraged that they are full sharers in this great plan of God unfolded in this chapter. The crucial link was formed when they trusted Christ, for before this they were dead, deviating, dominated, degraded, doomed, distant, and in darkness (2:1-4,12-13; 5:8). Now they are elect, predestined, adopted, redeemed, sealed, heirs, and seated in the heavenlies in Christ. The Ephesian believers were in good spiritual condition, yet Paul feels burdened to pray for them. We tend to become complacent when things seem to be going reasonably well in an assembly, but we should never cease to pray for the protection and progress of even the best of saints. Paul had not seen most of them for some time but had heard of their continuing faith on the vertical plane, and love on the horizontal; of course the latter is the outflow of the former. Love must be to all, with none overlooked, however difficult this may be. “In my prayers” indicates that Paul had set times for prayer, a useful model for us all. He repeatedly brought them before the Lord (1:16a).
The Sovereign to Whom Paul prays (v17) is here the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, which exact form is only used here in the NT. It is used because we have Christ primarily as Man in this prayer, and this leads on to the important truth at the close of chapter 1, that a Man is in the place of exaltation and authority in divine purpose.
The Subject of the prayer is summarized in verse 17 as an increasing knowledge of God, not by academia or IQ, but by the supply of the Spirit of wisdom and revelation. The following verses expand on this to include the knowledge of what God is actually doing in His great program, which is the subject of this wonderful chapter. They had already received the Spirit, as the seal of ownership and as the guarantee that they would arrive at the goal (vv13-14), but perhaps here is a further reference to the Spirit’s ministry toward them. His Spirit acts upon their spirits. The knowledge here is a complete and clear knowledge, not something merely factual or abstract. This should be every Christian’s aspiration, and is the catalyst for a walk of holiness as outlined later in Ephesians.
The Substance of the prayer is found in verses 18-19. “The eyes of your heart” (JND), seems a mixed metaphor, but it conveys the sense of knowing God in our whole personality, not just in the mind. The process really began at conversion when our eyes were first opened. My whole self, mind, emotions, and will, are governed by this apprehension, and enriched by it. Then Paul, by using the word “what” three times, shows exactly what he desires them to know. The three matters involve God’s Prospect, People, and Power.
1. “What is the hope of His calling.” This may well refer to God’s hope, and links with verses 3-6, the first part of this long precious sentence. His hope was to glorify His Son by giving Him a people to reflect Himself and thus glorify Him as “the firstborn among many brethren,” the ultimate of God’s purpose. Some commentators link this hope with chapter 4:4, where the hope is clearly ours. Both are connected of course, but the emphasis in these verses is in what belongs to God.
2. “What the riches of the glory of His inheritance.” This links with verses 7-12, the second part of the long sentence, and refers to God’s inheritance which cost Him so much, and will be on display in the future.
3. “What is the exceeding greatness of His power to usward who believe,” is the emphasis of verses 13-14, the third part of the long sentence. Many of us can invent a great plan but are embarrassed by our inadequacy when we try to implement it. Not so with God. He has plenty of power in reserve, long before all is finally in place. Note the four terms about “power” in verse 19. This third matter, power, is expanded upon more fully.
The Stimulus behind the prayer is that God has already shown His great power in three ways (vv20-23). First, He raised Christ from the dead and set Him at His right hand. Second, He put all things under Him. Third, He gave Him to be head over all things to the Church which is His body. It is not surprising that God is far above all; but now, a Man is in that place. Every earthly title is beneath the exalted Christ (v21). Note in this verse another four terms describing these lesser powers. The last two verses (vv22-23), show how the saints will share with Christ in that future, eternal administration, and He in turn finds all His ultimate joy and completeness in those saints. This, the Ephesians were to grasp, and we are too, as well!
The Spirituality of Paul’s prayer is striking, especially when compared with many of our prayers. We easily become mundane and self-centered in our requests, and often major on the physical and practical needs. May Paul’s example lead us to advance in spiritual aspirations for ourselves, other saints, and the assemblies. He enjoyed the elevation of “the heavenlies,” and was not content until others were spiritually developed like he was. The real enjoyment of our wealth in Christ is the panacea of all ills, and is the secret of overcoming the world.