2015-7-26 “Things to Receive, Things to Know”

Cornerstone EPC                                                                              Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734                                                                          July 26, 2015

“Things to Receive, Things to Know”
Text: Ephesians 1:15-19

We continue this morning in our sermon series through Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, and as we continue through chapter one, we note an inescapable fact: Paul is a man of prayer.  The whole of this first chapter, except the first two verses, is a prayer.  Verses three through fourteen—a single sentence of 202 words in the Greek New Testament—is Paul’s prayer of praise to God for His blessings.[1]  It took over a month to examine the rich material in that prayer, and we finished last week.

Now we come to a second long sentence (Ephesians 1:15-23), a sentence of 170 words in the Greek New Testament.  In short, Paul turns at verse fifteen from doxology to thanksgiving and intercession.  That is, Paul turns from God’s praise to thanking Him for the Ephesians and to petitioning Him for good things on the church’s behalf.  The Lord willing, we shall treat this prayer over two weeks: verses fifteen to nineteen this week, and verses twenty to twenty-three next week.  Let us hear God as He speaks to our souls through His inerrant, inspired, authoritative, and sufficient Word.

(Here occurs the public reading of God’s Word: Ephesians 1:15-19.)

Note at the outset of today’s exposition that the items contained in Paul’s thanksgiving and prayer are the Spirit’s desire for Christians today.  We begin, as Paul through the Spirit does, with thanksgiving.  Paul gives thanks to God for the Ephesians’ faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Faith in Christ involves two important actions.  First, it involves intellectual assent.  There are certain propositions in Scripture—either explicitly stated or reasonably inferred—that we both hold to be true and defend against attack.  This much is necessary for saving faith, but—being alone—it is not sufficient; we need more.  Second, faith involves volitional trust.  That is, we, by using our wills, trust ourselves to God’s saving goodness both now and evermore unto an infinitely distant future.  We trust chairs, benches, and pews to support us as we worship Him in this place; most of us give this no second thought.  What if we trusted so thoroughly in our three-in-one God that we gave no second thought to His sustaining providence for us?  This is the Lord’s will for us.  May God make it so, and evermore so, in our lives.

Paul also thanks God because of their love toward all the saints.  When Paul refers to Christians as the saints, he is not thinking of perfect, or nearly perfect, people.  This is a technical term for God’s redeemed in Christ Jesus.  The Greek word rendered holy in the singular (hagios [agioV]), when made plural (hagioi [agioi]), can refer in certain contexts to God’s New Covenant people in Christ Jesus—to wit, the Church, or Christians in the aggregate.  The link between holiness and the redeemed in Christ is strong.  We who belong to Him are both positionally holy, by virtue of our union with Christ and our consequent separation from the world unto Him, and practically holy as our outlook and conduct less and less resembles the world out of which we are rescued—and more and more resembles our Rescuer.  Holiness is another thing, in addition to faith, which we are to receive.

Paul thanks God for the love (Greek agape [agaph]) evident in the Ephesian Christians—and here is another thing for us to receive and to dispense to Church and to world.  Our culture thinks of love as a noun: a feeling, or state of being—perhaps best represented by the slow songs popular on Top 40 radio.  Scripture teaches that love fundamentally is a verb; it is something we do.  Love, as the Spirit uses the term through Paul’s pen, is other-centered and self-denying.  It comes from God, and cannot rise naturally from within us.  This love is the love expressed between the Persons of the Godhead in what C. S. Lewis called the dance of the Trinity.  This is the love which God shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, Whom He has given to us (Romans 5:5).  Moreover, this love is the distinguishing characteristic love (or should be) between Christians.  This too is something to receive and to dispense—and what a precious gift of God it is to us.

Now we come to Paul’s intercessions—those specific petitions that he asks for the Ephesians.  These are things that God, through His Spirit, would have for us as well.  Paul prays for the Ephesians wisdom.  Having taught philosophy many years ago as an adjunct professor, I know something of the struggle to answer the question, “What is wisdom?”  In these later years, I now ask a different question, namely, “Who is wisdom?”  My answer, of course, is Jesus Christ, Who became for us wisdom from God (1 Corinthians 1:30).  The word of the Cross is folly to the perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18).  If we would be wise, and act wisely, we would entrust ourselves to God in Christ—and we would seek Him for every perplexity that providentially comes to us in life.

We also are to receive revelation from God.  By this we do not mean what some call new revelation.  God written revelation to us is the Holy Bible: the thirty-nine books of the Old Testament and the twenty-seven books of the New Testament—nothing more, nothing less, and nothing else.  From time to time, we who are in Christ may sense a leading in one direction or another, or we may gain additional insight into what we know from God’s Word.  We must test these against God’s written Word, for He will not lead, impress, show, or any other such action contrary to His Word.  What we do mean by revelation, in this context, is that we may understand the Gospel more fully.  The Lord continues to reveal more of Himself as we walk with Him.  He continues to deepen our understanding of His Word as we continue to read that Word and to meditate upon it.  This too is a blessing the Lord designs for us.

The Lord also desires for us, as He desired for the first-century Ephesians, to receive knowledge.  Knowledge of God occurs along two lines—lines analogous to those invoked concern faith earlier in this sermon.  First, knowledge of God is cognitive.  We learn Biblical truth as it either states truth explicitly or as we deduce it or induce it from those explicit statements of truth (i.e., by reasonable inference therefrom).  This requires intellectual faculty and effort—but, once again, this, being alone, is not sufficient.  Second, knowledge of God is experiential (what our Reformed forefathers called experimental)—and this experiential knowledge of God must accompany the cognitive grasp of Him.  This knowledge of Him is what we gain as we walk with Him day by day, week by week, season by season, and year by year.  We learn of God not only as we apprehend His Word, but as we pray, as we discharge our ministries, and as we worship and enjoy fellowship with His people.  God would have us know Him—really know Him—and these are ways we accomplish just that.

The Spirit also would have the Ephesian Christians and us to receive enlightenment.  By this we do not mean what some non-Christian Eastern religions mean.  We mean that, as Isaiah prophesied, that we who once walked in darkness have seen a great light (Isaiah 9:2).  Jesus Himself says concerning Himself, “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).  Our experience may well be that of the man born blind, when he testified, “Once I was blind, but now I see” (John 9:25).  This light that is Christ shines in the darkness—and the darkness neither understood it nor overpowered it (John 1:5).  Therefore, let us walk in this light, as He is in the light (1 John 1:7), for in His light shall we see light (Psalm 36:9).

Now, having received so great a set of gifts, we are to know certain things.  We are to know the hope to which we are called.  We hope for things we want, but do not yet have.  We hope in this life for a number of things: graduation, career, marriage, children, and so forth.  Our hope is grounded upon union with Christ Jesus.  From this flows in time what Jesus calls abundant life (John 10:10), and from this flows in eternity what He calls eternal life (John 3:16).  This immediately gives rise to the notion of our hope being realized both already (in part) and not yet (to the full).  We rejoice in what we have of our hope, and we long for that part—the much greater part, to be sure—yet to come.  We are to know the hope to which we are called.

Also, we are to know the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints—that is, in the Church, the Bride of Christ.  Think of the Church in two spheres.  First, think of her here on earth—an entity called by some the visible Church and by others the Church militant.  Here she is beset by many external adversaries and internal difficulties, and here she strives to conform to her Lord’s will.  Second, think of her in Glory—an entity called by some the invisible Church and by others the Church triumphant.  In that realm there are no more difficulties and there is no more strife.  This is a glorious prospect indeed.

I disdain to the highest degree bumper-sticker theology, yet one can sympathize at times with the sentiments therein expressed.  Years ago, I saw this on the bumper of a car, “Lord, protect me from your followers.”  At times not too recent, in places not too close, I’ve prayed something close to this—and I understand from whence it comes.  These folk may love Jesus, but they have no use for the Church—whether due to a bad church experience, or to perceived inconsistency between Christian profession and allegedly Christian practice, or to a Lone-Ranger Christian mentality.  Though I understand this sentiment, it must be jettisoned in favor of a deep love for the Church and her constituent members.  God’s riches of His inheritance is poured into and through His people to the blessing of many.  Jesus died for His bride, the Church.  In Glory she will have mystic sweet communion with Him—and with those whose rest is won.  Let us cherish the Church now, for we shall in eternity much more fully.

We also are to know the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe.  This notion thrills my soul.  Paul, alluding to Isaiah 64:4, wrote to the Corinthians Christians, “No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).  Later in this series, God willing, we shall rejoice over Paul’s remark to the Ephesians that God does far more than we can ask or even imagine (Ephesians 3:20).  I know not what circumstance you brought to this place today—a circumstance in which you need God to move powerfully and decisively, even miraculously.  I do know in part the exceeding greatness of His power, and I pray you do too, and I urge you to commit the thing you brought today—not to mention your very self—unto Him Who can you with you and your situation far beyond your wildest dreams for His glory and your good.

How gracious is our God to bestow such lavish gifts on us.  He would have us receive ever-closer relationship with Him, and He would have us know powerful truths deep in our souls.  In view of all of this, may He ever have His praise and glory—especially from us.


[1] The sentence that is Ephesians 1:3-14 is the second-longest sentence in the Greek New Testament.  Colossians 1:9-20, at 218 words, is the longest sentence in the Greek New Testament.