Knowing that which is Spiritual, and Living by its Power (Ephesians 1.15-23)
Many people are aware – and rightly so – of the great doxology that opens Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. But how many have read past it? The next section of Paul’s letter takes that lofty, sublime picture of 1.3-14 and relates it to you and me. Having opened the letter with that great rehearsal of the spiritual blessings of God in Christ, Paul next turns to a prayer for his readers, that they will be filled with an awareness of the magnitude of the blessings we have in Christ, and that filled with such knowledge, they will strive to become, truly, the kind of people who are appropriate to such a life.
The picture of 1.3-14 is of a spiritual existence, a spiritual realm into which we are invited, by God’s grace, to live and participate. In fact, we are invited to make it our lives. You see, Christianity is not a matter of living basically on this earth with just a few points of contact with a distant spiritual realm. Paul instead envisions the Christian life as a life that is immersed in that realm, a life that transcends the world and its ways, its thoughts, and its end. Christians live on a higher plane, they live in a different world (as it were). Sure, our bodies are still here, but who we are, our hearts, our minds, our wills, our character – all of these have been transposed to another dimension, to another mode of life that is spiritually and morally far above what we find in this world. As Christians, we live different lives in a different world. We participate in a different domain. The challenge is to see that, and once we have seen it, to live like it.
This is the goal of Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 1.15-19. Paul’s readers have already begun to participate in the heavenly lifestyle, as evidenced by their faith in the Lord Jesus and their practice of love toward the saints (v 15). By such things they show that they are not people of the world, but people whose lives are now defined by their participation in the spiritual realm and its qualities. These are “core” matters to be sure, yet they do not exhaust the imperative that lies before us. Being God’s people is also a matter of having the right perspective, of seeing things correctly, of knowing the truth of the situation, and thinking and living accordingly. Therefore Paul prays that they may have “a spirit of wisdom and of revelation.” While it is possible that Paul is hopeful that they will receive some miraculous spiritual gifts that will fulfill this prayer, it is also possible that Paul is praying for something non-miraculous, something available to every Christian (even today). That is, this “spirit of wisdom” is an understanding, based on God’s revealed word, that enlightens and transforms our thinking and changes the direction of our minds and our “vision” so that we are oriented toward the spiritual realm in our hearts and minds. This may be confirmed by noting that Paul prays for “a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him (i.e., of God or Jesus).” It is by coming to a greater, deeper, and fuller knowledge of Jesus (through the inspired records of his life and work, but also in all the Scriptures) that we will come to see, with greater clarity, the scope of the life and “world” we have entered with him and through him. Once we begin to see and know who Jesus is and what he has accomplished for us (think of the book of Hebrews, for example), we will to that same extent begin to appreciate the tremendous hope to which we have been called and the riches of what awaits us in heaven (v 18).
But there is more. The last item on Paul’s “prayer list” in v 18 is that his readers would come to know the great power available to all believers in Christ. It is one thing to have a clear vision of the future, but it is another thing to reach that goal. Between the present existence on earth and the glory to come in heaven lies a lifetime of difficulties, hardships, trials, temptations, and hostilities from an evil world. How can we ever hope to make it from here to there? The answer is: by the power of God.
Paul himself knew what it was to live by divine power. He pointed out to the Corinthians that he should have been dead by now from all of the hardships he had experienced, yet here he was, still alive and serving the Lord (2 Cor 4.7-11). What was Paul’s secret? What kept him going? It was power and strength from the Lord that supplied Paul with the energy to do what he did. Here in Ephesians 1.19, that is what Paul prays for his readers, that they too would know what it is like to live by divine power. With such power at our disposal, the enemy cannot defeat us. God will keep us going when the world and Satan are trying to stop us.
This power of which Paul speaks is no small thing. It is not to be thought of as a little “boost” when we need it, some extra strength or energy when our own reserves are running low (like a “Five Hour Energy” drink). No, it is nothing less than the power of the resurrection itself. In vv 19-20, Paul makes it clear that this power that God supplies to us is the very same power that God used to raise Jesus from the dead. That life-giving, energizing, life-enabling power is available to us as we serve the Lord and face various trials, hardships, and hostilities from the world around us. With such power available to us, the enemy cannot wear us down, he cannot stop us, he cannot overcome us. “Greater is he who is in you than he who is in the world” (1 John 4.4). While the hostile world is trying to bring about our deaths, God is supplying the power of life to us.
This power will not only sustain us in our service to God in this world, but it will eventually overcome death itself and raise us to exaltation in glory with Christ in the ultimate vindication over our enemies. This is what this power did in the case of Jesus (vv 21-23), and God will do for us what he has already done for Jesus. In the mean time, we need to make sure that we fill ourselves with the vision and knowledge of the spiritual realm into which we have been called, and live like people who come from such a place.
If you are looking for something deeper, here is a review of some commentaries on Ephesians: http://www.ligonier.org/blog/top-5-commentaries-on-the-book-of-ephesians/