The prayers of Paul
This is a series on the prayers of St Paul found in the letters attributed to him in the order he is believed to have written them. Letters to the same place or person will be treated together with the first letter to that destination.
The letter to the Ephesians is not written to a specific church. Some copies of the letter do not contain the words “in Ephesus” in Verse 1. It is a general letter written to the churches in what is now western Turkey.
The authorship of Pau has been brought into doubt for two reasons, there are a number of words that do not appear in the rest of Paul’s writings and the focus of the letter is on the resurrection of Jesus rather than the cross of Jesus as in the rest of Pauls writings. Computer analysis of the text has shown that the number of unique words is not as high as was presumed, Paul uses the language of his detractors when challenging their ideas, and there are passages in letters acknowledged to be by Paul that focus on the resurrection of Christ. The idea that Paul did not write Ephesians is unproven.
As far as the payers of the Apostle Paul in his letters go, for me, this is the one, or rather one of two connected prayers found in the letter to the Ephesians, the other being in Chapter 3. These two prayers I have known about for decades, but that, and a friend talking about Paul’s prayers.
The story so far: This prayer starts the letter to the Ephesians. It is 16 verses in when it starts, but all that comes before it is a section blessing God our spiritual blessings. It’s a long list, and not exhaustive, but it is worth reading through slowly and in a thankful manner. We already have all these things listed.
It’s out of a list of God’s blessings for us that Paul’s first prayer FOR the saints comes. Before reading on, please thank God for blessing us, and in that attitude read the prayer below.
16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, 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, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power towards us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked 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 above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things 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 1:16-23 ESVUK
What Paul prays for here are basic things for the Christian life. That’s right, basic. These are things we all need. The context here is that we grow together as a community not as individuals
Wisdom, revelation and knowledge
For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love towards all the saints… (Ephesians 1:15)
Faith and love are linked. That is the message of the verse that links the blessings of God in verses 3-14 to the prayer in verse 16. That faith and love work together is the message leading to and continuing prayer. If you have faith it will show not only your love for God but also the way you love other people, which will—not should, will—show itself in action on their behalf.
“That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him.” (Ephesians 1:17)
Paul is outlining the very basic things in being a Christian. The context is faith in God and love towards his people, but the situation is still that of God’s blessings, about what God does for us rather than what we do for God, and in that context God wishes to bless the church, the community of people who follow Jesus Christ, wisdom, revelation and knowledge of God are his gifts to the church, and I pray that Christians will receive these gifts individually, especially knowledge of God, to bless the church.
Enlightenment – Hope, riches and power
Faith and love are linked. But Paul is still focussing on God rather than his people. Paul talks about the eye of our hearts being enlightened, the heart was seen as the seat of reason and thought in those days, not the centre of emotions as we do today. There is no emotionalism in this practical prayer.
Hope is the gift given to all the people who respond to God’s call. It is not only looking forward but also a gift for the here and now. A life lived in the belief of God’s final rule will be a life lived by those rules now and glimpses of God’s love and justice will be seen in what they do.
The gift of riches is not a gift to us, but God’s gift of us. God has taken possession of his people and it is a rich treasure. The Church and those in it are God’s gift. You are God’s gift. You are God’s possession. You are God’s riches.
God’s power is immense. Paul uses four different words for power in verse 19, which is literally, ” What is the immeasurable greatness of his power … according to the working of the might of his strength.” Words fail Paul here so he piles words up to attempt to describe God’s indescribable strength. The example Paul uses here is that God’s power is shown when he raised Jesus from the dead and lifted him up to heaven where he now reigns not with power, but beyond it. Death is the end of our deeds and our thinking, death is the ultimate power on earth, death has the last word. But God has shattered death. The power of death is completely destroyed.
The road to glory
Faith and love are linked, as is made clear in the introduction to this prayer, but Paul is still talking about what God has done for us and not what we have to do.
What is noticeable about this prayer is that there is no mention of the cross, instead the raising of Jesus from the dead and the exulting him to glory are seen as a single act. This is unusual for Paul, who nearly always spoke of the cross and is seen by some as proof that Paul did not write this letter, but do not worry, the cross is preached in this letter starting in the second chapter, although the exulting of Christ is the largest theme in this letter.
Many Catholic churches have the stations of the cross, a series of 14 icons of Jesus’ journey from the last supper to being laid in the tomb. A few have instead or as well as these the stations of the resurrection, 15 icons of the appearances of Jesus up to the sending of the Holy Spirit. This shows a tension in Christian thinking between the road to the cross with its focus on the price of our sins and the need for repentance and the road to glory with its focus on God’s power and Christ’s victory. It is difficult to look at these two things side by side, but worth it.
Because the focus here is on Christ’s exultation, then we see God’s power as much greater than the powers of evil and human power, there is no lying and yang here, of light and dark being equal and kept in balance, Jesus Christ is given a position far, far above that. If Christ rules in heaven then he can rule on Earth through us. The spiritual and physical worlds are not separate, you could say they are two sides of the same coin, but I believe they are more intrinsically linked than that.
Head and body
Faith and love are linked. Christ, in whom we have faith, is the head and the Church is the body. Paul is not only saying that Christ has been given the role of ruler over all things, which includes all people, but that task has been delegated to the Church. It says that in the Church is the fullness of Christ who is in all. Christ is in all, which means everyone and everything. Not just in Jesus’ followers but all, which includes all people and all religions. Christ is in all atheist. But the fullness of Christ is in the church, in the community of those who follow Christ. Not in the hierarchy but in the community of Christ’s followers.
Father, Yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory.
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2 thoughts on “Hope, riches, power and glory—Ephesians 1:16-23”
wow. I’m going to have to read that again…. several times.
You have drawn so much out of this passage, this prayer of Paul.
Thanks yet again John