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The Letter of Paul to the Ephesians (Part 14 of 155)

April 7, 2011 Leave a comment

Today’s verse:

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him… (1.18)

Yesterday Paul told the Ephesians he was praying for them, and now he tells us a specific prayer. In the verses that follow, more about this prayer will be revealed, but for right now let us focus the “spirit of wisdom and revelation” that he asks that they be given.

First, what does it mean to ask that someone be given a particular “spirit”? Sometimes in scripture, the word “spirit,” used in relation to the activity of God, is a reference to the Holy Spirit, though it appears here that the translators did not think so, since they would capitalize the word in this case. In any case, if God is being asked to provide these things, it is certainly the work of his Spirit in some sense. But I suppose the word “spirit” is being used in a more general sense; perhaps today we would say something psychological like “disposition towards” or “motivation for,” or something similar. But the culture of the New Testament era was far less materialistic than our own. I imagine that they would naturally expect that things like wisdom and revelation must come largely from the influence of spiritual beings distinct from the self. I suspect that, in situations like this, they took for granted not only the activity of God but of the heavenly realm in general, of God and his angels–and I believe that they were right to do so.

Anyway, Paul wants God to provide, as he sees fit, the Ephesians with a particular sort of spirit: that of wisdom and revelation. Based on what follows (which we will get to over the next few days), I think it is right to see this in terms of God’s plan: Paul wants the Ephesians to perceive the great plan that God has for his people and for the world. And he has certainly talked about this quite a bit already! But his words so far are just a summary, and they alone cannot supply the Ephesians with what they need to truly absorb God’s story and be transformed by it, thus being made into the image of his Son. The words Paul has said so far are Holy Scripture, to be sure, but for the Ephesians to benefit from it, they need not only the words that the Spirit has spoken through Paul, but also the activity of the Spirit in themselves to open their hearts to those words–in the same way you and I need this activity, as we read those same words. So Paul prays for this.

In the bible, “wisdom” is not just intelligence, but the ability to see things as they actually are and live in harmony with that, to perceive God’s plan and have one’s heart and mind in tune with it. “Revelation” goes further: it is more perceptual, more supernatural, in the modern sense of that idea, at least. With a spirit of wisdom, perhaps what we see is the overall heart of God in his plan, and naturally comprehend his good designs; with a spirit of revelation, perhaps we see more the specifics of what God is doing, the events he is shaping.

Let us pray the same prayer for one another today: that we would see the amazing plan of God, both the overarching themes of his sacrificial love, providence, and redemption, and the specific ways that he is realizing them in the world today, among the people of this world. Let us be in tune with him so that we can be a part of his plan, and share the love of Christ, with the broken world that he died for. When you talk to someone today, remember that that is the true story of the world and that that person is a part of this story.

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The Letter of Paul to the Ephesians (Part 13 of 155)

April 6, 2011 Leave a comment

I’ve decided to start this series back up. Let’s see how far I get!

When we left off, Paul had just finished his opening paragraph (Ephesians 1.1-14), which is an amazing summary of the work of God in the world, through Jesus Christ. What is particularly amazing is the grand scale of his work that is described, and yet the ultimately personal nature of the plan. We are reminded that God had us in mind when he created the universe, when we were chosen “before the foundation of the world” to be his children, to be redeemed by his Son. His desire is to gather up all things in himself, to wrap the world in his love, and we are the centerpiece of that plan. At the end of the paragraph, the focus turns to the individual, who has God’s Holy Spirit in himself, dwelling in him, making him new and reminding him of God’s promise to see him through to the end, to receive the fullness of the love that God has lavished on us.

Here is our next verse–actually we will do the next two verses:

15 I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.

Paul has turned his attention more explicitly to the congregation of the Ephesians that his letter is addressing. Hearing of their faith, and the love it induces, brings Paul joy and encourages him to give thanks to God, continually. This is a valuable and important thing, to be thankful for the faith of others; I confess that this is a somewhat rare thing for me to rejoice in. Paul is absolutely confident in the love of God towards these people, and his saving grace in their lives, and so has the joy that we know is from heaven:

Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents. (Luke 15.10)

In my experience with the faith of others, I find that I tend to be cynical about it. Instead of looking for the mustard seed of faith in the heart of a sinner–which is all that counts in the end–I am ashamed to admit that I find the faith of others questionable, and often expect that people will fall away, often look for the thing that tells me whether someone is “truly a Christian.” I think there is an awful spirit at work here in this type of thinking, which has the power to bring animosity between Christians and to divide the church. What we should do is trust absolutely that God is at work in the hearts of others, and thank God for the faith we do see, and pray that God would nurture it, knowing as we do that he himself is faithful.

Yet we should, I think, be concerned about the faith of others. There is someone in my bible study who always sits in front at church and says he watches each person in our congregation as they go up for communion, and wonders about what is going on in their heart, and prays for them. He knows that God is doing a great work in our church, and he also knows that something precious is at stake in this life. I admire this a great deal, this deep and ultimate concern.

We know from other places that Paul does display anxiety about the faith of others; assuming that the inspiration of scripture implies that this is a “righteous worry,” how do we account for this? There is, I think, a place for a certain sort of anxiety, or at least sorrow. But it must be humble and it must stem from a genuine desire that people would know the precious love of God and what it costs. We can be burdened for others with a genuine concern for their souls–but this burden must always acknowledge that it is God himself who is burdened more, and who in fact bore the ultimate burden.

 

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