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3. Prayer #1: A Prayer for Spiritual Enlightenment (Eph. 1:15-23)

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After describing in detail the blessings that are ours in Christ (1:3-14), Paul now goes to prayer on behalf of the Ephesians. This is the first of two prayers in this epistle. The first is a prayer for enlightenment; the second is a prayer for empowerment (3:14-21).

In this first prayer, Paul prays that the spiritual blessings that are ours in Christ may be known and appropriated by us, that we will comprehend and make use of the blessings and resources that are ours. So, the theme of this prayer is that “prayer is the key to spiritual wisdom and understanding.”

This prayer starts with…

I. Thanksgiving To God For Salvation (15-16)

For this reason, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers (15-16a).

Why did Paul give ceaseless thanks to God for them? He gave ceaseless thanks to God for them because he had heard of (1) their faith in the Lord Jesus, and (2) their love for all the saints. When he heard that they had been saved, and that they were demonstrating the reality of their salvation in their love for God’s people, he repeatedly gave thanks for them in prayer. What greater source of joy and thanksgiving could there be than the salvation of souls? Do you rejoice when people are saved? Or does it merely make you yawn? Do you have a passion for souls?

Paul gives thanks for the two marks of genuine salvation…

1. The First Mark Of Genuine Salvation Is… “Faith In The Lord Jesus

They had heard the gospel of salvation. They recognized it by faith to be the word of truth and they believed it (13). In particular, they expressed faith in the Lord Jesus.

They put their faith in the Lord. They submitted to his lordship over them. They acknowledged his deity. They recognized his sovereignty over their lives. This is evidence of genuine salvation – to be marked by saving submission to the sovereign Lord. Scripture is clear: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in you heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9). Furthermore, “No one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3) and only true believers have the Holy Spirit indwelling them (1:13-14).

Not only that, but they put their faith in Jesus, the one who came to be the Saviour of the world, the one who saved them from their sins. He was the object of their faith and the means of their salvation, for “a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ” (Gal. 2:16).

2. The Second Mark Of Genuine Salvation Is… “Love For All The Saints”

Indiscriminate love for all the saints is a mark of a genuine Christian - not loving some and not others, but love for all the saints, loving them as Christ loves them. 1 John 3:14 is clear, “We know that we have passed from death to life because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death” (1 Jn. 3:14).

Knowledge of God’s word must be balanced by love for God’s people. You can talk all you like about the truth and about theology, but without love your talk is just like “sounding brass or a clanging symbol” (1 Cor. 13:1).

True salvation is expressed in our oneness with all other Christians, a oneness that is characterized by love – not a love that is only a feeling which can come and go, not a love that is in word only, but a love that is in deed and in truth (1 Jn. 3:18) – i.e. practical, kind, genuine, and generous. Faith and love are inseparable in genuine believers. It’s sad to think that, as time went by, these believers in Ephesus kept their faith but lost their first love (Rev. 2:2-4).

Faith without love is lifeless. Love without faith is permissive. A loveless faith is cause for doubt about that person’s salvation. So, examine your own heart. Do you love all the people of God? Or, do you love some and not others? Do you love those whom you find attractive, nice, but despise those whom you find offensive? If the church is to be united in practice and not just theory, we must love all the saints, embrace them in our prayers and do acts of kindness for them. It’s not enough to merely say you love the people of God. That statement must be supported by action or it is empty.

There are so many ways that you can show your love to the saints. You can visit those who are shut in by virtue of old age or sickness. You can help to financially support the poor. You can encourage the down-hearted. You can serve others in many different ways through the various ministries of the church and personal acts of kindness.

After the thanksgiving for their salvation, this prayer continues with a…

II. A Petition For Spiritual Understanding (17-23)

… that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him (17).

Paul’s prayer is addressed to and invokes the blessing of the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory. This expression takes us back to Ephesians 1:3, where the same description of God is used. In using this expression, Paul distinguishes between God the Father and God the Son and in so doing emphasizes the divine nature of the Son, who is equal to, and one in essence with, the Father and the Holy Spirit. Here, however, Paul adds the descriptive phrase, the Father of glory. He probably adds this to indicate how the glory of the Father is so prominently displayed in the blessings which he has bestowed on us (1:4-14).

The request in this prayer is specifically for a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him (17). The subject of the petition is that the same God who has blessed them with every spiritual blessing in Christ (1:3) will also give them a full and accurate comprehension of who they are in Christ and what they have in him, by giving them a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him.

There is much debate among commentators as to whether the word “spirit” refers to the human spirit or the Holy Spirit. There are several arguments that push me towards understanding this phrase as a reference to the human spirit in the sense of “a disposition, influence, attitude”.1

  1. Jesus used the word “spirit” in this way when he said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matt. 5:3).
  2. The noun “spirit” is not preceded by a definite article, so it literally reads “a” spirit not “the” Spirit.
  3. It would not make sense that Paul would pray that God would give them the Holy Spirit, when he has just said that they already have him (1:13). F. F. Bruce explains, “As in Col. 1:9 the object of intercessory prayer is that the readers ‘may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will together with all wisdom and spiritual understanding,’ so here prayer is offered that the readers may be given ‘a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him.’”2

Nonetheless, we must acknowledge that such a spirit cannot be exercised without the work of the Holy Spirit. As John Phillips puts it, “The spirit of wisdom and revelation that gives us the knowledge of Him must come from the Holy Spirit.”3 This is a request that the wisdom and insight that God has already supplied to us (8) may be continuously communicated to us in ever deeper ways by his Spirit (Col. 1:9). Again F. F. Bruce writes, “A ‘spirit of wisdom and revelation’ can be imparted only through him who is the personal Spirit of wisdom and revelation.”4

Thus, Paul is praying that the Ephesian believers would have a spirit of wisdom and revelation (insight, understanding) in the knowledge of Christ. This is a prayer for practical knowledge and right conduct, which only the Holy Spirit can give. This is a prayer that God will grant the spiritual ability to understand His blessings toward us in Christ and to live in the good of those spiritual resources. This is a prayer that the Holy Spirit who indwells and seals us (1:13) will give us “a spirit of wisdom and revelation, which is a special gift, manifestation, or application of the Holy Spirit.”5

To this end, it is also entirely appropriate to petition God for a spirit of revelation… in the knowledge of him. Revelation goes beyond wisdom. It has more the sense of spiritual understanding through the illumination of the Holy Spirit. “Only as God reveals by his Spirit can his people understand by that same Spirit.” 6 It is solely the work of God by the Holy Spirit (cf. 3:5), who opens up to us not new truth, but the meaning and application of the revealed truth about God that we already have. In this sense, revelation continues to be given by God through the Holy Spirit to all believers to enable us to understand what God has disclosed to us and how to live by it. Through the Holy Spirit, God reveals to us things that the natural mind cannot understand, namely the “deep things of God” (1 Cor. 2:6-16).

In Christ, God has given us all that we need to know him fully and to live the Christian life properly. What we need is the right “spirit,” the right disposition, the right desire to comprehend the revelation we already have and to appropriate it for ourselves. So, don’t become distracted, looking for some sort of hidden spiritual treasure, some illusive key to spiritual blessing or power. We have it all in Christ. All we need to do is enter into all that God has given us – his grace, peace, forgiveness, future inheritance etc.

Therefore, the underlying thrust of our petitions should be, not for more blessings, more resources, or more power, but for more understanding in the use of all that he has already given to us at the moment we were saved; for the Spirit to be at work giving insight into and unveiling the purposes of God in Christ; and for growth in the knowledge of him.

This prayer of petition, then, is for the spiritual enlightenment of believers in the knowledge of God, the eyes of your heart (understanding) having been enlightened (18a). The heart in the ancient world was the centre of knowledge, of understanding and wisdom, the seat of the mind and will. The spiritual eyes of their hearts had been enlightened because they had heard the “word of truth, the gospel of your salvation” (13). They had believed it and trusted Christ for salvation and they had been sealed with the Holy Spirit. Thus, the eyes of their heart had been enlightened; spiritual light had penetrated their understanding through the gospel, just as it did the disciples on the road to Emmaus (Lk. 24:31-32), to whom Jesus revealed in the Scriptures the things concerning himself such that their “heart” burned within them and their “eyes” were opened so that they could understand the significance of what had just been revealed to them.

Divine enlightenment turns information into truth which is understandable. Once enlightened by the gospel we can receive greater truth, a deeper, fuller understanding of the gospel. If you read the Scriptures and cannot understand them as I often do, pray that the Spirit of God will open your spiritual eyes so that the light of God's Word can pour into you heart, revealing to you its significance.

This petition for spiritual enlightenment in the knowledge of Christ has three specific purposes or objectives…

1. To Know The Hope Of God’s Calling (18b)

That you may know what is the hope of his calling. To know in a deeper, fuller way the truth of God’s call - our election, predestination, adoption as God’s children, our redemption and our inheritance. All that we are and have in Christ is due to God’s call in Christ, something we should never forget and something we should want to understand more and more. We need to go beyond merely knowing that we are saved to a full realization of who we are in Christ, what our position is in Christ, and how we should live for Christ.

God has called us for a purpose: to be holy and without blame before him in love (4); to live to the praise of his glorious grace (6); to know the mystery of his will (9); to look forward to the completion of our redemption (11); to live securely in the seal of the HS (13-14); to walk worthy of his calling (4:1-2). God has called us to a radical new way of life in view of a secure destiny. It is a call to obedience to Christ, fellowship with Christ and each other, and a glorious eternal future.

Notice, it’s not just knowing God’s calling, but the hope of his calling. God’s call gives us a sure and certain hope - the hope that what he did in the past has secured our future; the hope that our redemption will be consummated in glorification; the hope that our life now will soon be eternal life with Christ in glory.

The first objective of this prayer is to know the hope of God’s calling. The second is…

2. To Know The Riches Of Our Inheritance (18c)

That you may know… what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in / among the saints. The interpretive issue here is, whose inheritance is this referring to – God’s or ours? Is this our inheritance that God is going to bestow on us, or is it God’s own inheritance of his people which he will enter into? I think it refers to our inheritance which God will give us, an inheritance which is in / among the saints. Here are some of my reasons for drawing this interpretive conclusion:

  1. Paul has already outlined our blessings from God in Christ in the previous paragraph (1:3-14) – our election, our predestination, our redemption, which will culminate in our inheritance. In fact, he has written twice in the preceding paragraph of our inheritance: “In him also we have obtained an inheritance (11)… In him you also… were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it” (1:14, ESV). So it makes sense that he is referring here in this prayer (18) to the same inheritance, which God will give us on that day.
  2. In 2:6-7 he speaks again of the fulfillment of our blessings, when God will “show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward is in Christ Jesus.” Again, it is God who bestows this on us, not something that God inherits.
  3. The notion that God is waiting to enter into his inheritance just does not make sense. God has already taken possession of us in Christ - we are his own special people (1 Pet. 2:9) who have an eternal inheritance of which we will acquire possession (1:14) in a coming day.
  4. As John Piper clearly explains, in the three instances where “Paul wants us to see with the eyes of the heart and grasp in a profound way, it turns out that he uses the very same wording when they come from God or go toward God. For example, he wants us to see the hope of his calling, the glory of his inheritance, and third the greatness of his power…I think it would be really strange if the modifier his had a different meaning in regard to the inheritance than it has in regard to the calling and power. It’s his calling in the sense that he gives it. It’s his power in the sense that he has it and gives it. And it’s his inheritance in the sense that he gives it to us…Finally, if you do a word study and look up all the places where Paul uses the word inheritance or inherit or heir, you find that they never refer to God inheriting, God’s receiving and inheritance, or God’s being an heir.” 7

I conclude, therefore, that his glorious inheritance among the saints refers to our inheritance that comes from God and which is bestowed on us as a community of faith, the saints.

Paul prays, then, that we, believers, will know the truth about our inheritance from God. God “has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light” (Col. 1:12), an inheritance that is “incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you” (1 Pet. 1:4), the final possession of which the Holy Spirit is the guarantee (14).

It’s not just knowing our inheritance, but the riches of it, for “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man the things that God has prepared for those that love him” (1 Cor. 2:9). The riches of this inheritance are beyond our imagination, but through the illumination of the Holy Spirit we can grasp them in a deeper, fuller way. The riches of this glorious inheritance are to see God, to be with and like Christ, to be gathered with all the saints from all time. One day the riches of this glorious inheritance will be ours as “heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:17).

Paul prays for believers to know God’s call in the past, our inheritance from God in the future, and in the present…

3. To Know The Greatness Of God’s Power (19-23)

That you may know…what is the exceeding greatness of his power (19a). God’s power is not only great but exceedingly great. God’s power surpasses all other powers – even those that are great. It is the power on which our calling and inheritance rely. To know that the entirety of our lives - past, present, and future - is controlled by the mighty power of God is very comforting and assuring.

God's exceedingly great power is exercised fully for our benefit: toward us who believe according to the working of his mighty power (19b). His power is exercised solely for the benefit of believers. We alone are saved and kept by his power and will be glorified by his power. His power is exercised to the full for us. His power is made available to us to the full extent of his mighty strength.

Notice it does not say “out of” but “according to his mighty power. He exercises the full measure of his might and power for us. Whatever power he has is available to us - not just a part of it but all of it.

His physical strength (ισχυος) is a mighty, manifested power, all of which he energizes and mobilizes for us. And “if God be for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31). All the strength of the greatest power of the universe, the Creator himself, is available and working for us.

So, how can we know God’s exceedingly great power?

A) We Know The Greatness Of His Power In Christ’s Resurrection From The Dead.

which he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead (20a). Only God has power over death. Therefore, the resurrection of Christ is full and final proof of the exceedingly great power of God.

B) We Know The Greatness Of His Power In Christ’s Exaltation Over All Other Powers.

and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above every ruler and authority and power and dominion and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come (20b-21).

Christ has been exalted above all evil, opposing powers. In 1 Cor. 15:24-26 these powers are “enemies who are to be put under Christ’s feet.” Notice the allusion to Ps. 110:1 and 8:6. Eph. 6:12 explains that “the principalities and authorities are evil forces (cf. also 2:2) so that in this letter as a whole the powers are to be conceived as hostile beings,” 8 all of whom will be made subject to him according to the working of (God’s) mighty power.

God not only raised Christ from the dead, but he raised him to the position of universal lordship and dominion to exercise power on God’s behalf, at his right hand in heavenly places.

The scope of God’s power is far above any opposition or competition; far above every ruler, authority, power, and dominion, and (in case there may be any other force) far above every name that is named both now and forever, not only in this age but also in that which is to come.

God’s power in Christ is absolute and pre-eminent and eternal. His rule is over every imaginable cosmic power. He is supreme over the whole universe. He alone has the power over death and evil. We cannot avoid death nor can we on our own overcome evil, but God in Christ has overcome them both and reigns supreme.

C) We Know The Greatness Of His Power In Christ’s Headship Over The Church.

And he put all things under his feet and gave him head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all (22-23).

Christ rules the entire universe in the interest of the church. Therefore, nothing can prevent our resurrection and the realization of our inheritance. The church is Christ’s body (which he directs and indwells) and the church is his fullness. He fills it just as he fills all things – i.e. the universe.

This petition is not for power but for divine knowledge of that power. We do not pray for the power we already have but for the knowledge of how to appropriate it for ourselves, how to live in the good of it. Through divine wisdom and revelation we enter into the benefit of God’s power, we rejoice in it, we are secure in it. We need to understand God’s power, to rest in it, to avail ourselves of it. It has saved us and secures us for his service and his eternal enjoyment and glory.

The same power that raised Christ from the dead will raise us up to glory (2 Cor. 4:14; Rom. 8:11). This eliminates any doubt as to God’s ability to complete our redemption. Therefore, how can we feel insecure? How can you think that you could be saved and lost again?

The power of God supercedes any other power in the universe, whether good or evil, and it is exercised on our behalf. No matter what opposition we may encounter in spiritual battles, God’s power is greater. He has raised Christ far above all of Satan’s hosts (the demons of darkness), far above the angelic hosts, far above every name in this age or the age to come.

Christ is the sovereign Lord of the universe and of the church. All his power is available in and for the church. So be strong and of good courage. No evil power is greater than God’s exceedingly great power.


I think that the structure of Paul’s prayer is most instructive:

I. Thanksgiving to God (15-16)

… for the testimony of their salvation in:

1. Their faith in the Lord Jesus (15a)

2. Their love for all the saints (15b)

II. Petition to God (17-23)

… for the knowledge of God (17):

1. To know the hope of God’s calling (18b)

2. To know the riches of God’s inheritance (18c)

3. To know the greatness of God’s power (19-23)

From this structure we can draw several practical applications to our prayer lives:

1. Prayer begins with praising God for his blessings (3-14). Do you remember to praise God for his blessings?

2. Praise leads to thanksgiving (15-16) and petition (17-23). When was the last time you thanked God for those who exemplify faith and love? When did you last ask God for a fuller knowledge of his ways with us - for the full knowledge of His past dealings with us; for the full knowledge of His future plans for us; and for the full knowledge of His present power toward us.

3. This prayer is not about feelings or experience but about knowledge - the knowledge of our incomparable hope in Christ, our inheritance with the saints, and God’s power toward us. Do you want more of the knowledge of God in Christ, of his blessings, his work, his resources, his plans and purposes? If you do, study God’s Word, pray for God’s enlightenment through his Spirit and you’ll grow spiritually in the riches of God. No wonder the apostle Paul could say: Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!” (Rom. 11:33).

Do you want security, comfort, confidence, hope, and freedom? You can find it in what God has revealed to us by his Spirit in his Word. Pray that God would reveal these truths to you in a practical way.

1 John MacArthur, Ephesians, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody Bible Institute, 1986), 44.

2 F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Ephesians, The New Testament International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1984), 269.

3 John Phillips, Exploring Ephesians (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1993), 49.

4 Bruce Bruce, 269.

5 Arthur G. Patzia, Ephesians, New International Biblical Commentary (Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers, 1990), 165.

6 Bruce, 269.

7 ( From an audio transcript of an interview with John Piper.

8 Andrew T. Lincoln, Ephesians, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word Books, 1990), 64.

Related Topics: Ecclesiology (The Church)

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