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Lesson 9: Knowing God More Deeply (Ephesians 1:15-17)

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A. W. Tozer begins his classic, The Knowledge of the Holy [Harper & Row], p. 9) with this provocative sentence: “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” He goes on to argue (ibid.), “We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God.” His words, of course, reflect the psalmist’s comment concerning those who worship idols (Ps. 115:8), “Those who make them will become like them, everyone who trusts in them.”

If Tozer was right, then Martyn Lloyd-Jones was also right when he said, “Our supreme need is to know God” (God’s Ultimate Purpose [Baker], p. 342; he said this often in his writings). He meant, of course, to know God well, to know Him deeply, to know Him truly, as He is revealed in His Word.

There is a legitimate sense in which every believer has come to know God. Jesus prayed (John 17:3), “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” If you have eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ, you have come to know God. And yet there is another sense in which we need to know God far more deeply than we do. After 25 years as a believer, the apostle Paul said that he had not yet attained to knowing Christ as he ought, but he pressed on toward that goal (Phil. 3:8-14). And if that was true of Paul, who wasn’t exactly an average believer, how much more is it true of us! As the prophet Hosea wrote (6:3), “let us press on to know the Lord.”

That his readers would know God more deeply is the main theme of Paul’s prayer (Eph. 1:15-23). He has just unfolded in one long sentence (1:3-14 in the Greek) that God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ. These blessings include being chosen by the Father (1:4-6); redeemed by the Son, who has also revealed to us God’s eternal purpose (1:7-12); and, sealed by the Holy Spirit (1:13-14). Then Paul writes (1:15), “For this reason…” and goes on to tell them how he prayed for them. The logical connection is, “Because God has given us such a wealth of spiritual blessings, I pray that He would grant you a deeper experiential knowledge of Him.” Paul’s prayer shows us that we should pray often for one another and what we should pray when we do pray.

We should also apply Paul’s prayer to ourselves. We often pray, “Lord, heal me of this illness. Give me this job. Help me to do well in school.” While there is nothing wrong with such prayers, they are rather shallow. We also ought to be praying, “Lord, give me a spirit of wisdom and revelation in knowing You. Grant the same for my mate and my children, and for all of the saints in our church.” Paul’s prayer here teaches us that…

We should pray that God would grant that His people know Him more deeply.

It has often rightly been said that Christianity is not a religion. It is a personal relationship with the living God. Personal relationships do not run on autopilot. It’s easy to have an exciting relationship when you first fall in love, but it takes deliberate effort to keep your marriage close and growing as the years go on. The same is true in your relationship with the Lord. When you first come to Christ, it’s new and exciting. But, it’s easy to lose that first love for Christ and to grow distant in your relationship with Him. It becomes a routine or ritual. You aren’t growing to know Him more intimately. So, you need to pray with Paul for yourself and for other believers, that God “may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him” (1:17).

1. Since all spiritual blessings come from God alone, we should continually pray with gratitude for all the saints.

A. All spiritual blessings come from God, so we must ask Him for them.

We have already seen that God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, but that does not mean that we automatically experience these blessings. We must desire these blessings and seek God for them, both for ourselves and for all of God’s saints. Jesus said (Matt. 5:6), “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” Hunger and thirst are pretty strong desires! When a man is hungry or thirsty, he has only one thing on his mind, to find food and drink. He knows that he will die unless those needs are met soon. He is driven to satisfy those needs. That’s how we should seek to know God.

In Luke 10:21-22 we read of Jesus, “At that very time He rejoiced greatly in the Holy Spirit, and said, ‘I praise You, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants. Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight. All things have been handed over to Me by My Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son will to reveal Him.’” Thus, if we want to know Him, we must lay aside all pride in our wisdom and intelligence and approach him as infants, in simple trust. We must ask Him to reveal Himself to us.

But there is more, if we want the Lord to disclose Himself to us. In John 14:21, Jesus said, “He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him.” Maybe you’re thinking, “Doesn’t God love everyone unconditionally? Then why does Jesus say that He will love the one who obeys Him? That sounds like conditional love.”

There is a general sense in which God loves the entire world and sent His Son, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life (John 3:16). But, there is also a special, intimate love that is reserved for those who obey Him. It is only to those in this close, love-trust relationship, that He reveals more of Himself.

We understand this principle from our relationships. You only disclose your heart to those whom you trust. If you walk up to a stranger and start revealing personal matters, he will rightly think that you are weird. Intimate, personal disclosure is reserved for those we know well, who are trustworthy of that information. The same is true spiritually. As David wrote (Ps. 25:14), “The secret of the Lord is for those who fear Him, and He will make them know His covenant.” But, Paul’s prayer here gives us further instruction in how to pray:

B. Knowing that God has given us all that we are and have, we should continually thank Him.

Paul did not cease giving thanks because he had heard of the Ephesians’ faith in the Lord Jesus and their love for all the saints. Some argue that this letter could not have been intended for the church in Ephesus, because it sounds as if Paul heard these things second hand. But, it had been at least four years since he had been there, and he was now in prison in Rome. So he was continually thanking God for the good reports that he heard.

In a sermon on this text (Sermons on Ephesians [Banner of Truth], p. 83), John Calvin argues that Paul would have no reason to thank God for the Ephesians’ faith and love, unless these qualities came from God alone. If people can believe of their own free will apart from God’s sovereign grace, as many asserted in Calvin’s day and still assert, then the praise for it ought not be given to God, because He didn’t have anything to do with it. Calvin attacked the Catholic Church, which (like many evangelicals today) granted that God must help us by His grace in part, “but, for all that, they will still have man exalted and to attain to faith by his own doings.” But Calvin calls this a devilish opinion and shows that it robs God of all the glory that He deserves in our salvation.

So, if faith and love come from God, we should thank Him in our prayers for these things. We can commend those who are walking in faith and love, but we must be quick to divert all the praise and glory to God alone, because if we were left to ourselves, we would never be inclined to faith and love. Since all spiritual blessings come from God, we must continually pray with gratitude for all of the saints when we see them walking with God.

2. Those marked by faith and love have begun well, but we should pray that God would grant that they come to know Him more deeply.

Most of us would be quite content to hear of other believers who are living by faith in the Lord Jesus and with love for all the saints. After all, that is virtually a summary of the two great commandments. What more could you ask for? As Paul wrote (Col. 2:6), “Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him.” We received Him by faith, and so we should walk daily by faith in Him. And we should love one another, as He commanded us (John 13:34).

But, even though these believers in Ephesus were walking by faith in the Lord Jesus and with love for one another, Paul prays for more. He prays that God would give them “a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him.” He asks God to open the eyes of their hearts so that they would know “what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe” (1:18-19).

My point here is that it is not enough to pray for your loved ones that they come to faith in Christ. Yes, pray for that, but don’t stop there. Once they’re saved, there is more! Pray that they would come to know God more deeply! Pray this prayer of Paul for other believers and for yourself. If we’re complacent in our Christian walk, if we’re content where we’re at, we’re in spiritual danger. There is always more of God to know and experience. Faith in the Lord Jesus and love for all the saints is basic; so yes, pray for those qualities. But, also, pray for deeper knowledge of God.

3. Pray that God would give others and you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him.

Note two things:

A. The mystery of the Trinity and the inherent glory of God preclude us from knowing Him through our own understanding.

Paul refers to God as “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory.” Whether you take “spirit” in verse 17 to refer to the Holy Spirit or not, the doctrines of the Trinity and of God’s glory are evident in Ephesians 1. No one can figure out who the glorious, triune God is from philosophy or reason or intuition. While creation reveals His invisible attributes, His eternal power, and His divine nature, unbelievers cannot know God through creation because they suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18-20). The natural man cannot understand the things of the Spirit of God, because they are spiritually discerned (1 Cor. 2:14).

When Paul calls God “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ,” it does not imply that Jesus is not God. As Charles Hodge argues (Commentary on the Epistle to the Ephesians [Eerdmans], p. 70), Paul’s words (1:15), “faith in the Lord Jesus” imply His deity. The Bible is clear that we should not put our faith in any mere man, but in God alone. Also, Paul here refers to God as “the Father of glory,” while in 1 Corinthians 2:8 he refers to Jesus as “the Lord of glory.” Clearly, Paul believed that Jesus is equal to the Father in His deity.

So when Paul here says, “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ,” he is putting the emphasis on the humanity of our Lord. While He was on this earth, Jesus referred to the Father as “my God” (Matt. 27:46; John 20:17). In His humanity, Jesus trusted in the Father as His God and He often prayed to the Father.

Why does Paul use this designation of God here? I believe it is because Jesus showed us while He was on this earth how to live in complete dependence on the Father and obedience to His will. He showed us how to commune with the Father in prayer. Paul calls Him “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ” to show us that through Christ our Mediator, we have access to the same God that Jesus prayed to when He was on this earth. He is our great example.

But, Paul also calls Him, “the Father of glory.” That phrase is almost an oxymoron. Father implies intimacy, love, and acceptance, but glory implies that He is transcendent and unapproachable. God’s glory refers to His brightness, His majesty, and the awesome splendor of His presence. Whenever in the Bible anyone gets a glimpse of God’s glory, the response is always fear and trembling. That God is “the Father of glory” implies that He is the source of all glory. All things have been created to glorify Him. As Paul has just shown, He chose us in Him “to the praise of the glory of His grace” (1:4-6). Christ redeemed us and revealed God’s eternal purpose, “to the praise of His glory (1:7-12). He sealed us with the Holy Spirit, “to the praise of His glory” (1:12-14).

The point is, God is not “the old Man upstairs.” He is not our “good buddy in the sky.” No, He is “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory.” We are mere creatures, and sinful creatures at that, who have rebelled against this awesome God. The only way that we can come to know Him more deeply is if He will graciously open our eyes and reveal to us a glimpse of His glory.

One of the most instructive biblical illustrations of this knowledge of the Holy One is when Moses asked God to show him His glory. Moses had already seen the burning bush and heard God speak through it. He had already seen God inflict the ten plagues on Egypt. He had seen God part the Red Sea and provide a dry path for Israel, and then destroy the Egyptian army. He had seen God provide water from the rock. He had met God at the tent of meeting, where the cloud of God’s glory descended. He had spoken to God face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. He had just been on the mountain in the presence of God for 40 days and nights, where he received the Ten Commandments, written by the very finger of God.

For most of us, that would be more than enough, but not for Moses! After all of this, he dares to ask God (Exod. 33:18), “I pray You, show me Your glory!” The Lord’s response is very interesting (Exod. 33:19-20):

And He said, “I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the Lord before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.” But He said, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!”

Then the Lord told Moses to hide himself in the cleft of a rock, where God would cover Moses with His hand and pass by. Then the Lord said that He would take away His hand and let Moses see His back, but His face would not be seen. Did you notice that when God revealed His glory to Moses, He emphasized sovereign election? “I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.” His glory is inextricably bound up with His sovereign right to show mercy to whom He wills and to harden whom He wills (see Rom. 9:15, 18).

I’m going to make a radical suggestion. If you don’t agree with me, then at least give it some thought. It is: if you have not submitted to God’s sovereign right to be gracious to whom He chooses and to harden whom He chooses, you do not yet know God as deeply as you should. I base that statement on Ephesians 1, Romans 9, and also on Exodus 33, which show that when God reveals His glory, He speaks about His sovereign right to be gracious to whom He wills. Also, I make that statement because human reason would never come up with the concept of God’s sovereign election and at the same time assert the responsibility of men and women before Him. Human reason would accuse such a God of being unjust (Rom. 9:11-23). You can only submit to that truth and rejoice in it, as Jesus did (Luke 10:21-23) when the Holy Spirit reveals it to you.

B. Because God dwells in unapproachable light, we must ask Him for a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him.

Scholars are divided as to whether “spirit” refers to the human spirit or to the Holy Spirit. Some say that “a spirit of wisdom” makes sense, but “a spirit of revelation” does not. Thus they take it as a prayer that the indwelling Holy Spirit (1:13-14) would reveal the knowledge of God to these believers.

But, while recognizing that it must be the Holy Spirit who gives such knowledge, others say that the language of God’s sealing these believers with the Spirit (1:13-14) would not fit with a prayer here for God to give them the Holy Spirit. So perhaps it is better to say that Paul is praying that God would give these believers spirits characterized by wisdom and knowledge of Him that is revealed by God’s Spirit. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 2, God’s Spirit is the One who reveals the things of God to us. As Isaiah 11:2 prophesied of Messiah, “The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and strength, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.”

So Paul is praying that we would have spirits that are receptive to the truth about God that the Holy Spirit reveals through His Word. There is no new revelation about God today apart from the revelation of Scripture. If someone claims to have some new revelation that cannot be found in the written Word, run for cover! The spirit of wisdom enables us to live wisely by applying the knowledge of God through His Word to our daily lives. The spirit of revelation opens our eyes to see truths about God from His Word that natural reason and understanding cannot grasp (truths such as sovereign election, predestination, and God’s working all things after the counsel of His will). Any dreams or visions about God must line up with Scripture, or they are false.


Maybe you’re a history buff, and you have read a lot about President Bush. You know many detailed facts about the man’s life and his presidency. But, you’ve never met him. You don’t know him personally. Knowing him personally involves knowing many facts about him, but it involves more. Personal knowledge involves a relationship. It requires time spent together.

Paul is not praying for an academic knowledge of theology about God, although that is necessary in the process of knowing God. Rather, he is praying for a personal, experiential knowledge of God Himself through Jesus Christ, who is the only way to know the Father (John 14:6, 9).

Are you growing to know God personally through Jesus Christ, as the Holy Spirit reveals Him to you through His Word? Is spending time with God in His Word a priority to you? Knowing God is your supreme need, as Dr. Lloyd-Jones asserted. The quest of your life should be to know Him more and more. With Paul, you should be able to say (Phil. 3:8), “I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ.”

Application Questions

  1. Someone says, “Knowing God sounds like a difficult process. Why can’t it be easier?” Your response?
  2. How can a Christian who is prone to grumbling develop a thankful heart in all things?
  3. How can we develop and maintain a passion to know God?
  4. Can we know God rightly apart from understanding sound doctrine? Can we know doctrine without knowing God? If so, what’s the difference?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2007, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Prayer, Character of God

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