Saturday, August 27, 2016

160828 Paul’s Prayer for the Ephesians (1)

Ephesians 1:15-23 For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
Today we’re going to look at Paul’s entire prayer but we’re going to focus only on the first few verses. Over the years, I’ve been encouraged by reading the prayers in the Bible. Paul’s prayers have been especially encouraging to me. He doesn’t mess around with “wholesale praying” instead he rapidly moves to “retail praying”. “What is this retail praying?” you ask. I’m glad you did because I want to give you an answer that I think we can all understand.
“Wholesale praying” goes like this: “Dear Lord, please heal all the sick, feed all the hungry, save all the lost, stop all the wars, etc., etc.” “Retail praying ” would be more like, “Dear Lord, Please heal my friend, please provide for the needs of the Smith family, please help me to lead my friend to faith in Christ. Please show us how to be peacemakers, etc. etc.” Praying retail is requesting a specific answer to a specific problem, or a need. 
The reason for Paul’s prayer. Look at Acts 20:20-21. Paul is speaking to the elders of the Ephesian church on his way to Jerusalem for the last time. “… I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, 21 testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Paul had heard of their faith in the Lord Jesus and of their love toward all the believers. When he received this news of their spiritual condition he updated his prayer list and continued to pray for them. All of us at some time or another have had someone ask us to pray for them. Too often, we say, “I will pray for you.” And, also, too often we fail to pray. Or, we will add the request to our prayer list and, from time to time, lift it up before the Lord. If at all possible, when someone asks me to pray for them I will stop what I’m doing and pray for them! No matter where we are, prayer is an appropriate thing to do. I think sometimes we leave the impression that God is not around when people come to us seeking prayer. If we tell them that we’re going to pray for them but later then there is the implication that we have to wait until God is available. Instead, we should pray for them right where we are when they ask. Then we can continue to lift up this need before the Lord until we get an answer. We need to apply a more consistent practice to our praying. Just as…
Paul did not pray once and stop. He said, “I do not cease to give thanks for you.” Let’s see what Jesus had to say about this matter as recorded in Luke 18:1-8. And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’ ” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
Jesus wants us to pray and not be discouraged. We may often be disappointed with regard to our prayers but Jesus is asking us never to be discouraged. In this story we are introduced to a widow who had no one to take care of her. She brought her needs before a judge who was not compassionate in any way, shape, or form. In fact, this judge refused to give her the justice she needed. Rather than be discouraged the disappointed widow continued to show up every time court was open. She kept coming to him and saying “Give me justice” again, and again, and again she pleaded for help. Finally the judge said, “I will give her justice” because she was exhausting his patience.
If an unrighteous judge will respond to a plea for justice that is repeatedly presented how much more can we expect our God to give justice to His people? We must remember that our God is not slow to fulfill His promises. Praise God, He is patient, kind, and gentle. Please, don’t be embarrassed to repeatedly ask God to give us what we really need. In His time and in His way our prayers will be answered.
Paul offered his request to the Father. I almost always address my prayers to the Father. When Jesus was asked to teach His disciples to pray he began the model prayer by addressing the Father.
God the Father is addressed. Look with me to what Jesus taught in. Matthew 6:9. Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.…”
Jesus repeatedly addressed His prayers to the Father. But then, of course, it was very clear that Jesus was speaking to His Father since He himself is God the Son! When Paul prayed for the Ephesians he prayed that “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you…” And then he began to list his requests on their behalf. I believe that under most circumstances prayer should begin with addressing the Father.
Having said that, I raise the question of praying to Jesus or the Holy Spirit. Is there ever a time that we might begin our prayer by addressing it to Jesus or the Holy Spirit? Let me give you some examples. In the book of Acts, when it was time to choose a replacement for Judas, the disciples prayed, “Lord, who knows the hearts of all men, show which one of these two you have chosen…” (Acts 1:24) When Stephen was martyred he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (Acts 7:59) When Ananias was sent to pray for Saul of Tarsus his conversation was with Jesus (Acts 9:10-16).
Time will not allow us to look at all the possibilities but it is sufficient say that we can certainly pray to Jesus.
In Romans chapter 8 we are taught that the Holy Spirit takes our words and makes them into effective prayer. Again, there’s simply not enough time to deal with this issue today. As God leads later we will come back to this subject.
Having addressed the Father Paul began his requests…
Paul asked for wisdom. When writing to the Colossians Paul offered a similar request. Let’s look at Colossians 3:16-17. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
The request made to God that the Father of glory, may give the spirit of wisdom
in the letter to the Ephesians is paralleled here in the Colossian letter. However the request is preceded by “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly…” and then goes on to speak of teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom… There needs to be on our part a cooperation with God whereby we let the word dwell in us. When we do so we have wisdom from God enabling us to sing and offer thanksgiving in our hearts. Wisdom that grows out of the word of Christ will allow us to “do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus”. Wisdom is a proper request to make on our own behalf as well as that of our friends and fellow believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. Adding to the request for wisdom…
Paul asked for revelation. Look with me to 1 Corinthians 13:11-12. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
In this life we will only be able to see spiritual things dimly. We need a revelation from God so that we can see him clearly. In the flesh we can only see as a person looking in a polished brass mirror seeing their face. We need the revelation that comes from God and that begins the process of maturing in us. We need to “grow up” and to give up “childish ways”. That is the kind of wisdom the church is in desperate need of all over the world. The Spirit of wisdom and of revelation comes to us…
In the knowledge of Christ. Look with me at Jesus’ prayer recorded in John 17:1-3. When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
When we begin our walk with the Lord our source of joy and our sense of importance comes from our human strength. Our faith needs to increase. At the point of salvation we know very little and depend very much on feelings rather than facts. Real faith is not some kind of “leap into the dark” as a lot of people would have it be. Saving faith is trust in Jesus Christ as a living person for forgiveness of sins and for eternal life with God. When Jesus asked the Father to glorify Him that glory would be seen in believers coming to saving faith. The Bible tells us that “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). Along with wisdom and revelation comes knowledge of Christ. The apostle Paul prayed that for his friends in Ephesus and we should pray these things for ourselves and our friends.
Peter commended his readers to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 3:18) This growth in knowledge of our Lord growing out of wisdom and revelation will allow our inner sight to become enlightened. The result of all these things happening in us will set us free from disappointment and discouragement. When the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Christ comes it will give us the ability, along with the Ephesians, to abolish discouragement. Paul asked the Father…
That the Ephesians may know hope. Turn with me to Romans 5:1-5. Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
When a person becomes a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ certain things should characterize his, or her, lifestyle. Rejoicing in the Lord because of the peace that He has given us should be the normal life for us. Hope, for the Christian, is not in any way like the idea expressed in, “I hope it will rain today”, or, “I hope I win the lottery”, or some other such example. Those examples speak of hope that is empty of real meaning. I can look at the “guess” made by the weather forecaster and have a little bit of knowledge of what I am to hope for. I cannot know for sure but I can hope.
Biblical hope is very different from the way we usually look at the word “hope”. When we speak of biblical hope we’re talking about something that we have assurance of even though it is not presently ours.
When I say that I have a hope of heaven I do not mean that I am guessing heaven may come my way. I have the promise of God. And that promise includes His commitment to us. I know that I was born in sin separated from God. Jesus said “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already because he has not believed in the name of the only son of God.” (John 3:17-18) Later, as Jesus was coming to the end of his life on earth, he assured his disciples, “In My Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:2-3).
When the Philippian jailer asked Paul and Silas, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” The reply to him was “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” (Acts 16:30-31)
The biblical hope of heaven is a sure thing for those who have believed on the Lord Jesus Christ! The fact that Jesus has ascended into heaven offering His blood sacrifice gives us assurance that we will go there also.
Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians certainly resonates with the needs in our lives today. The need for spiritual growth is very real as much for us as it was for the Ephesians. We need to walk in faith and love for all believers. We certainly know that we desperately need wisdom — God’s kind of wisdom! We will never be able to understand God in the same way that we understand another person. We are finite and God is infinite. But He has come to us and given us His thoughts. And having placed our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ we will be able to go on for eternity growing to be like Him. Put your faith in Christ.
All scriptures quotes are from: The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

160821 Our Inheritance In Christ

Ephesians 1:11-14  In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
These four verses begin and end with a statement about “an inheritance”! It is very important to the heirs that they understand what they have inherited and when they will receive it. The first statement categorically states that we have obtained an inheritance! The second statement speaks of the Holy Spirit who is the down payment on our inheritance and implies that our possession of it is yet future. We need to look into what it means to be an heir in God’s economy.
Our original inheritance comes to us at birth. We inherit our physical appearance from our parents, and their parents, back through all the generations. We also inherit a lot of our emotional makeup and idiosyncrasies from our ancestors. Just as we are born sons or daughters of our family…
We are born members of the family of Adam and Eve. Look at Romans 5:12. Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—
Adam and Eve were placed in the Garden of Eden and given one rule that they could break. They were told not to eat from the tree in the middle of the Garden — the tree of knowledge of good and evil. They were told that when they ate of it, that day, they would surely die. Not immediately die but surely die. When they were deceived by Satan, and ate of the fruit, sin came into the world. All their unborn children died along with them when they bowed down to Satan and disobeyed their living Lord. Because all of us are descended from Adam and Eve…
As such, we inherit sin, death and hell. Look at Romans 6:23. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Though Adam and Eve did not immediately die they did surely die. Death began to work in them immediately. They became aware of their nakedness and were ashamed! They hid themselves from God! We need to remember that we cannot hide from God and there is no need to fight against Him.
Too often we fail to remember that the wages of sin is death. Not just physical death but extreme death — eternal separation from the presence of God! God thought of us all as having sinned when Adam disobeyed. From the time of Adam until the time of Moses men did not have written laws and therefore could not have broken God’s law. Without the law they still died proving that God counted people guilty on the basis of Adam’s sin. We existed only in the DNA of Adam and Eve when they sinned. Therefore we, along with Adam and Eve and the rest of the human race, needed a Savior. We needed one who could deliver us from the curse of sin — inherited sin as well as sin committed by us…
In order to free us from that curse we are born again. Let’s look at Jesus’ words found in John 3:14-15. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
Born once we die! Born twice we live!
When the people of Israel were in the wilderness they rebelled against God’s provision for them. God sent poisonous snakes in among them in order to improve their focus on trusting Him. When they cried out for relief, and repented of their sin, God told Moses to raise a bronze serpent on a pole. Whenever a person was bitten by a snake they only had to look at the bronze serpent and they would live.
In the same way, people today, lost in their sin only, need to turn their eyes towards Jesus.
Helen H. Lemmel wrote a hymn about it. The chorus goes like this:
Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in His wonderful face, And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of His glory and grace.
Can you imagine a person in the wilderness after they had been bitten by a poisonous snake saying, “I don’t believe that bronze serpent can help me at all” and then refuse to look? Something very similar happens every day when a person is encouraged to look to Jesus! And they say something like, “What good would it do”? We have the promise of Jesus that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.
When we believe in him…
Our family relationships changed in Christ. Look to Colossians 1:11-14. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
When a person comes to believe in Jesus the process begins and, I believe, will never end. I praise God that He has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. Once we were in bondage to sin now God has come into our lives to deliver us from the domain of darkness ruled by Satan himself and place us in the kingdom of His Beloved Son. There is more than that! In John’s Gospel, the first chapter, we are told that those who believe in His name are given the right — the privilege — to become children of God! (John 1:12)
When a person is born again that person is no longer a subject of Satan instead that person becomes a member of the family of God. Scripture promises us that, having come to Christ, sin will have no dominion over us. (Romans 6:14) For me this is one of the greatest promises in Scripture. I often feel defeated and need to know that my stumbling and falling along the way is not a normal life pattern for me. Sometimes it looks as though sin will rule over us as we struggle along. But God’s word says, “That’s not so.”
We now are fellow heirs with Jesus. Look at Romans 8:16-17. The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
We have received the Spirit of adoption and are able to say, “Abba! Father!” Jesus, the Son of God, has become like us in every way except for sin in order that He might deliver us from that domain of darkness. He has come into our lives in such a way that we are able to join with Him in our inheritance. It is difficult for me to understand fully what God has gained from this. I know that believers have gained salvation. God has gained us while we gain Him!
Amazingly, this has been God’s plan eternally. Our inheritance in Christ is more than just something being added to us personally. Our inheritance in Christ is none other than Christ Himself!
In John’s first little letter we are given the assurance that He abides in us because He has given us His Spirit (1 John 4:13). The Holy Spirit witnesses that we are not only God’s children but also that God abides in us as we abide in Him. This is more than our intellect — the Spirit comes to give us assurance through our feelings. Ultimately God’s Spirit will be with us throughout our lives on earth and will deliver us to heaven. All of this is…
According to God’s purpose for us. Let’s go to 2 Timothy 1:8-9. Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.
Paul was not concerned about the fact that he was writing to Timothy from prison. He urged Timothy not to be ashamed of him or of the gospel. Instead we should recognize that the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Romans 1:16).
When the Bible tells us that God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4), and that we were predestined to live for the praise of His glory (Ephesians 1:11-12), we are being assured that God has a purpose for us. As God talks about our holy calling that was given to us before times eternal we are encouraged to believe that God thought of us in a special relationship with Christ before time began.
Now that we are born, and born again to salvation in Christ, we are no longer a thought in God’s mind. He is in the process of bringing us to a place where the benefits of salvation can be applied to our life. The Scriptures tell us that God’s purpose is seen in our dying with Him having been buried with him and being raised to a new life in Christ. What a magnificent blessing that is. (Romans 6:5-11)
We are so important to God that…
The Holy Spirit is our down payment. Let’s look at 2 Corinthians 1:20-22. For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. 21 And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, 22 and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.
The Holy Spirit comes to us in salvation. That Spirit immerses us into one body (1 Corinthians 12:13) and gives us a united front with all believers everywhere. From the very beginning of creation the Holy Spirit has been finishing and maintaining what God the Father has planned for us. The Son of God is seated at the right hand of power in heaven. That power is the eternal manifestation of God the Father. It is the Holy Spirit that dwells with us and shows us the glory of God in the face of Christ Jesus. He is God’s guarantee, or down payment, on our eternal salvation. It is not our good works that guarantee us heaven it is the purpose and power of God that gives us that guarantee. This is not a concept shown only in the New Testament.
Even the Old Testament predicted the blessings that would come from God through the Holy Spirit. Isaiah predicted the time when the presence of the Holy Spirit would bring abundant blessings from God. He spoke of the Spirit being poured out upon us from on high turning the wilderness into a fruitful field. (Isaiah 32:14-18) Joel spoke of the time when “your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit.” (Joel 2:28-29)
Everything is designed to glorify God. Look at Romans 11:36. For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
God does not need us or anything else! Yet we and the rest of creation, glorify Him and bring Him joy. We must always remember that God is absolutely independent and self-sufficient. God does not need anything from mankind. In Jesus’ high priestly prayer (John 17) He asked the Father to glorify Him with the glory that He had with the Father before the world was made. Only God exists by virtue of his very nature. He was not created He did not come into existence He always was and always will be. Although God did not need us He chose us to glorify Him. (Revelation 4:11)
When we come to faith in Christ we are transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light. We become children of the living God and have all things that pertain to life and godliness. Having been brought into the family of God we are given everything we need to “grow up” to Christian maturity. Peter tells us about the qualities we need to be sure of our salvation. (2 Peter 1:3-10)
I hope that you have believed on the Lord Jesus Christ and are now growing in your relationship to Him. Put your faith in Him. Today can be your day of salvation!
All scriptures quotes are from: The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.