Ephesians: Thanksgiving and Prayer – Nik Gee, 8 Sept 2019

As Maggie said last week, our new series, based on Paul’s letter to the Ephesians all hangs on this incredible verse:

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Ephesians 2:10  (ESV)

And this order is really important. 
Christianity is unique amongst all religions as others require sanctification before justification. (i.e. to become ‘good’, before we can become acceptable). 

In the letter to Ephesians we see that we are accepted by God first, just as we are, we are his workmanship first & foremost, and the good works follow – they spring from our identity & a not a condition of our acceptance. 

The first thirteen verses of the first chapter can be summed up as:
I am blessed, chosen, adopted, accepted, redeemed & forgiven.
What a great starting point!

In this letter Paul is attempting to address a community that is diverse in religious & cultural background (both Jew & gentile) and also based within a wider community that practises many different religions, with powerful cults swell as the occupying Roman culture that elevates the emperor to deity.
So the first half of the book focuses on identity, who we are in Christ Jesus, what it means to be saved, what it means to follow him – that we are called to a mission & we are given his power to do this. 
Then the second half brings practical advice on how to live a holy, pure, and Jesus-inspired lifestyle

When I was reading the next part of chapter one ahead of this sunday, I was reminded about a conversation we had in our small group last Wednesday…

We were reminiscing about a time a while back when our small group went to a pub in town for a social night out at their pub quiz – not that it matters, but we won!
Maggie wasn’t with us at first, she was travelling back home on the train via York.

Now I got a call from her asking me to me her at the station as there had been a fight on the train & she was a little shaken.
When I met her off the train, it turned out that some lads had been winding up a couple of blokes & it had all kicked off with them attacking each other, rather violently.

Everyone else on the train did nothing but, Maggie being Maggie, felt she had to intervene. (she often does this, and it sends me into a cold sweat – she will even tell people dropping litter to pick it up, and they always do, it’s the teacher look)
So she dived in between these guys, ordered the young lads to get off the train, which they did (because, teacher-look) and told the older, and larger, men to calm down & not chase after the youths.

No one else acted, they were all waiting for someone in authority (a guard or a policeman) to take charge. But Maggie acted with authority, based on her experience of stopping many school fights (and plenty of others in nightclubs), and also her confidence that when she spoke they would do as she said.

So I remember being a mixture of proud & horrified, although she was more concerned that her brand new White Company scarf had angry-blokes blood on it!
But I recognised that she had authority in that situation & felt secure & confident enough to act upon it.

Do we know & recognise Jesus’ authority?

  • Do we know who we are – as we learnt last week, we are in Christ, under that authority./
  • Do we know what He places upon us, the power he delegates to us?
  • Are we walking in his authority & living lives of confidence that we are ‘blessed, chosen, adopted, accepted, redeemed & forgiven’, by the most high God?

Let’s move onto verses 15-23, Paul’s thanksgiving & prayer for the people of Ephesus…

For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.
I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.
I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.
That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand
in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.
And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. 
Ephesians 1: 15-23

For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, 16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.
What a wonderful beginning: these people are marked by their faith in Jesus & that they live to be like Him and to love one another, and it shows!
My prayer is that visitors to this church would come away with the same impression, and often we get such lovely feedback from guests who do say that – you guys love Jesus & you do care deeply for one another.

I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 
This version is the NIV version, but I read the New Testament for Everyone version, which has been translated by NT Wright, and really liked how it says:
I pray that the God of King Jesus our Lord, the father of glory, would give you, in your spirit, the gift of being wise, of seeing things people can’t normally see, because you are coming to know him (NTE version)

What a great way to say it: 
Seeing things people can’t normally see”

Things such as prophecy, but also seeing with eyes of compassion, innovation, or justice:

  • where someone else might miss the person grieving, or someone lonely, or in need of help – God gives us the eyes to see & the compassion to act.
  • where there is a need but no-one seems to know what to do, God may give us the eyes to see a new solution & the creativity to act upon it.
  • where there is injustice, something rises up within us when we see the wrong that should be righted & He gives us the courage to step up & to step in.

However, he’s not giving us eyes to catch people out, to find out juicy facts for gossip or worse!

When I first began to go to a church that expected the Holy Spirit to move, and to inspire us to hear from him in this way, I have to admit I was a little worried.

I was a new Christian, I loved God, but I was still working out what it meant to follow him & had some baggage that he needed to deal with – and I was concerned that some of these prophetic types might look at me & know all my hidden secrets, and then tell everyone how awful I was!

But then we see the end of that verse: it’s about knowing him better.
It’s not so we can be caught out & exposed.

When Maggie & I lead a ministry time we’re not seeing all your inmost thoughts written above your heads, that’s not what ministry is about – occasionally we do think God prompts us with things to share, but it says in 1 Corinthians 14:3
the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort.
Revelation is followed by wisdom for us to identify that within ourselves which we need to change, or turn away from & from that we can know him better.

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.
He has called us to be filled with hope, to understand that we are his daughters & sons, & to recognise that he gives us power.

And, again using the New Testament for Everyone version for the next verse:
This was the power at work in the king when God raised him from the dead and sat him at his right hand in the heavenly places. (NT Wright version)

The same power that raised Jesus from the dead:
As I said before Ephesus was a place of power, as well as trade & money, powerful religions thrived there – all trying to influence & control the people to maintain their dominion – and in the face of this Paul encourages the Christians growing their community while surrounded on all sides by enemies.

NT Wright says: “for Paul, the greatest display of power the world had ever seen took place when God raised Jesus from the dead…this power of the creator God at once sets itself apart from, and establishes itself as superior to, all the ‘powers’ that people might ever come across”
Paul is encouraging that that God is already at work amongst them, as their faith & love for one another indicates – and he prays for increase

And also see here that God placed Jesus ‘at his right hand’.
Katia Adams is a gifted prophetic teacher, who spoke at this year’s Vineyard National conference.
And she spoke of how ‘Ephesians isn’t simply trying to tell us our direction from the Father but rather trying to open our eyes to the overwhelming Kingdom resource that we’re sitting in’.

She spoke of how, over & over again throughout the bible, the importance of His right hand is emphasised:
God’s right hand was so significant that where he placed it was where the lion’s share of blessing, birthright and inheritance would go; from His right hand comes so much power that enemies are shattered & wiped out; His right hand is a place of refuge & source of support; His right hand is filled with righteousness & brings deliverance and salvation; and from His right hand comes creative power; the Son of His right hand is one who He makes strong

It’s not just that Jesus is powerful, it is that ‘We are the sons and daughters of His right hand’
This is our inheritance.

In Jesus we receive all the Father’s favour, blessing – comfort, support and refuge – and joy, creativity and life in all its fullness, through His power.

He is seated…) far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 
I really love the way the Message Version paraphrases this as:
in charge of running the universe, everything from galaxies to governments, no name and no power exempt from his rule. And not just for the time being, but forever. (Message version)

Everything from galaxies to governments… forever:
We often think ‘God’s not in this situation’ or ‘He doesn’t love/care about me’ because stuff is going wrong (this is similar to times throughout all of human & our personal history, and also many points in the bible – think of God’s people between end of Malachi, the last book of the OT and beginning of Matthew, 1st book of the NT, for 400 years God did not speak to his people, and yet his perfect plan for his rescue of his people, in & through Jesus, was still in process), 

We need to set our trust & our hope in he who is running the universe – our circumstance is not proof, or lack of proof, of his eternal glory & goodness – sometimes we need that bigger picture

And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.
We are sons & daughters of the most high God, called to live in hope & love one another in unity, through the power given by the ruler of the universe.

So, as we take time to reflect on the implications of this passage, what have we learned that might lead us to praise God – that stirs our hearts to simply glorify him?

What has challenged us to repent of sin – that has highlighted where we have fallen short, or the lies we’ve believed, or the life we live despite that glorious inheritance?

Can we step into a life that embraces this truth & can we trust in his eternal promises, through hard times as well as good?

Let’s pray…