The Lord's Day Morning
September 11, 2005
“Giving Thanks for Faith and Love”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
Amen. If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Ephesians, chapter one. We resume our study of this great letter together.
We have said several times that almost the whole of Ephesians 1 is prayer: verses 3-14 constitute a single prayer of adoration to God in which Paul blesses God for who He is and what He has done for us; verses 15-23, the remainder of the chapter, constitute together a single prayer of intercession in which God reports to the Ephesians and to you and me what is the desire of his heart as a pastor, as a shepherd appointed by the Lord Jesus Christ, to happen in the hearts and lives of the congregation. In this prayer he prays to God for what he would have God do in the lives of God's people, and interestingly, much of this prayer is a prayer that God would bring about in us a realization of the things that we have just praised Him for in verses 3-14.
In other words, over and over Paul prays that God, by His Holy Spirit, would give us an experiential understanding of the truths for which we praise God in our own lives, in our own hearts.
Let me outline the passage that we're going to study today. We’re going to read the whole of 15-23 to give ourselves the context of this prayer, and then we're going to do exactly what we did for our study of verses 3-14. We’re going to park on it, and we're going to work slowly through it so that we can savor and understand every component of this prayer, because this prayer, just like verses 3-14, is a life-changing prayer, a life-reorienting prayer. Today we're just going to be focusing in the message on verses 15-17, and I want you to note three things in those verses.
First, in verse 15, I want you to note what Paul is thankful for. Of all the things that he could have been thankful for about these Ephesian Christians, notice what he's thankful for.
Then in verse 16, notice who he is thankful to. He's thankful about something in them, but he's thankful to someone in particular for what he's thankful for in them.
And then finally, if you look at verse 17, you’re going to see what Paul's prayer is for them in light of his thankfulness…in light of his thankfulness to God for what God has done in them, what is his prayer for them. And we’ll look at those three things together as we hear God's word today. But before we hear it read and proclaimed, let's look to God in prayer.
Our Lord and our God, we thank You for Your word. It is a lamp to our feet, it is a light to our way. Your word is truth, and by your truth You build us up in a knowledge of Yourself, and You mold us and shape us into the image of Your Son, so that our characters become more and more like His character, so that we love the things that You love and He loves, and we hate the things that You hate and He hates.
We ask, O God, that You would open our eyes to understand the word of truth, and that by the Spirit You would apply it to our hearts in such a way that we are indeed transformed. This we ask in Jesus' name. Amen.
Hear the word of God.
“For this reason I took having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists amongst you, and your love for all the saints, do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may 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. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might, which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.
When you thank God in prayer for one another, for fellow believers, what do you thank Him for? When you are thankful for fellow believers, what is it about them that makes you thankful? When you see evidences of the Lord's work in a fellow Christian's life, who do you praise? Who do you give the credit to? And when you pray for one another, when you intercede for one another, when you want the very best for one another and you pour that out in prayer to God, what are the things that you intercede for? What are the petitions that you ask? What are the requests that you make?
Well, the Apostle Paul gives you wonderful answers to those questions in the passage we're going to study today. As we look at verses 15-17 of Ephesians 1, at the beginning of this great prayer of intercession, I want you to notice first of all what Paul is thankful for in these Ephesian Christians; secondly, who he is thankful to because of these Ephesian Christians; and then, thirdly, what Paul requests of God for these Ephesian Christians.
I. What Paul is thankful for in the Ephesian Christians
First of all, look at verse 15 and notice how the apostle highlights faith and love as the two qualities in the lives of the Ephesians that cause his heart to brim over in joy and gladness as he hears of their work. Listen to what he says in verse 15:
“For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you, and your love for all the saints, do not cease giving thanks for you….”
The Apostle Paul is in prison in Rome. He's many miles away from the Ephesian Christians and those in the surrounding regions near them, and yet he's getting steady reports. No doubt people are traveling for commerce and other reasons from Ephesus to Rome, and occasionally he gets reports of how they’re doing. It's been a number of years since he's been pastoring that congregation, and he's getting reports about them – and the reports that he is getting cause his heart to overflow with joy and gratitude, and praise and thanksgiving.
And what is it that gets him excited? Is he getting reports that the church at Ephesus is the largest church in the region? It's the fastest growing church in the region? That its community status and influence is far beyond anyone else in the region? That its church programs and its budget size are the largest in the area? No, none of those move Paul to praise. What he hears is that the Christians are displaying faith and love, and it thrills him! And he gives thanks to God. That's what grips the apostle's heart; that's what moves him to gratitude to God — that faith and love have been rooted in the lives of this congregation and are being displayed in the lives of the members of this congregation. So, let's think about those two things for a moment.
By faith, the Apostle Paul refers to both believing the truth of God's word and trusting in the person of Jesus Christ, and those two things always come together. Saving faith always entails believing the truth of God's word and trusting in the person of Jesus Christ.
And, you need to pause and realize that these Ephesian Christians were in an almost identical world situation to you and me today. They lived in a pluralistic culture. They lived in a culture where it was OK to believe in anything you wanted to believe, as long as you didn't expect anybody else to believe that. They lived in a culture where ‘your God's OK and my God's OK, as long as you don't set about claiming that your God is the only God, that your Savior is the only Savior, that your way of salvation is the only way of salvation. As long as you worship God in your own corner and didn't make any claims of His universal dominion, you were fine. But these Ephesian Christians were manifesting real saving faith, and that always entails believing in the truth of God's word and believing in the person of Christ, and that means believing that there is one way of salvation, there is one true God, there is one Savior: Jesus Christ. And these Ephesian Christians had manifested faith, even though for many of them it would cost them their lives and livelihoods. They were standing against the culture and they were manifesting saving faith in God.
Can that be said of us here in First Presbyterian Church? That we're ready to stand with the Bible, with the one true living God? That we're going to believe that Jesus Christ is the only name under heaven by which a person may be saved? That we're going to believe that He is the only way of salvation, the only way into the presence of the only true God? That's a very unpopular thing to believe today. You say that out loud in some places and people will think you’re crazy. It's becoming more and more peripheral in this culture, but that is the faith once delivered. And the Apostle Paul is saying ‘I thank God that you Ephesian Christians have stayed with the Bible, you've stayed with belief in the Lord Jesus Christ, you've stayed with belief in the truth of God's word, you are trusting in Him alone for salvation. It causes my heart to overflow with joy.’
But he doesn't stop there, does he? He goes on to say ‘I praise God, I give thanks because of your faith and your love for all the saints.’ That faith in God which they had had overflowed in a tangible love for one another in Jesus Christ. Even though this congregation was mixed – it was made up of two groups. Some of them were ethnically and religiously formerly Jewish. Some of them were Gentiles who had embraced faith in Jesus as the Messiah promised to Israel in the Old Testament and revealed now in the fullness of time. So there were Jewish Christians and there were Gentile Christians there, but they loved one another and they manifested a love for all the saints, so that the predominantly Gentile church in Ephesus showed a real, tangible concern for Jewish Christians elsewhere. Those differences in backgrounds, in former religious affiliations, did not matter. They were united now around the truth of God's word, around the Lord Jesus Christ, and those former differences made no difference anymore. They loved one another as fellow believers in Christ, and it caused Paul's heart to brim up with joy as he saw those Christians loving one another.
Just this last ten days I've had numerous opportunities to watch Christians love, and it's a beautiful thing to behold. Word came that First Presbyterian Church/Gulfport's church had been destroyed, or largely destroyed, and that the congregation was not even going to have the money to pay the insurance [deductible] of $25,000. Within three hours there was a Presbyterian church in Florida that said ‘That's no problem. We’ll pay that [deductible].’ Or, in this last week, we've heard people say ‘Well, the congregation of First Presbyterian Church/Gulfport won't be able to support their pastor over the next two or three years. Their livelihoods have been lost, their homes have been lost; they won't have the money in order to continue that ministry.’ And so churches have banded together — PCA churches — and said ‘That's fine, we’ll pay that pastor for the next three, four, five years, however long it takes for them to get back on their feet.’
Or, just watching you — whether it's Leslie Davis working with the Salvation Army, or Jimmy Moore and Joe Holland taking a bunch of guys to go work at Christ United Methodist Church with the Red Cross distribution center, or whether it's Mark Roberts taking food to Vicksburg, or whether it's Philip Parker going to the coast–and I could tell you 500 other stories just like that–it rejoices my heart to hear of the people of God showing this kind of tangible love.
When we hear of the Day School taking in 70 children of evacuees to educate them in the year to come, or the Twin Lakes folks gathering in folks who have been displaced by the storm, or those who are going to help those displaced by the storm, it causes joy in our hearts to see this kind of tangible display of Christian love. And the Apostle Paul says ‘That's what gets me excited, Ephesian Christians, when I hear reports of you. It is your faith in Jesus Christ, and your love for all the saints.’
So, my friends, when we give thanks for one another, that's where we ought to be looking. ‘Lord God, I thank You for the way that You have manifest your grace in the life of Brother So-and-So or Sister So-and-So. They show such faith in God, so that in his vocation, in her calling, in her rearing of children she shows an absolute fidelity to the truth of God's word and an absolute trust in Jesus Christ.’ Or, ‘Lord God, thank You for Brother So-and-So and Sister So-and-So — the way that he or she loves those Christians who are in need moves me to be more loving as a Christian.’ And the Apostle Paul gives thanks because of the faith and because of the love of these Ephesian Christians, and this faith in Christ always issues forth in a love for one another. As it has been said, “Faith is an empty name if it does not come to fruition in love.” That's what we ought to be praying for one another and interceding for in the days to come: that we would be people of faith and love, but we also ought to pause and thank God for the faith and the love that we do see in one another.
II. Who Paul is thankful to
Secondly, notice verse 16, because the Apostle Paul thanks God for this Christian faith and love. Isn't that striking, that he says:
“…Having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus Christ which exists among you, and having heard of your love for all the saints, I do not cease giving thanks fro you, while making mention of you in my prayers.”
Now, to whom does he give thanks? He doesn't give thanks to the Ephesian Christians. He gives thanks to God. Paul thanks God for the Ephesian Christians’ faith and love. Now, isn't that striking?
Have you ever heard a sports figure thanking people after a great performance? Maybe it's a football game, and he's thanking his mom and his dad, or his coach, or someone who invested in him, who contributed to the success which he displayed on the field in that day. But you never hear him say ‘And I'd like to thank Wally Yoblonski in Des Moines, who's sitting here watching this game on TV.’ Why? Because Wally Yoblonski in Des Moines did not help him do what he did on that field that particular day! Thanks is given to the one who invested in the success, and here the Apostle Paul says ‘I see faith and love in you, fellow Christians. Thank God, because He is the source of that faith and love. Everything good in you finds its root and fountain in God.’
You remember what Augustine said? – “Lord, the good in me is due to You; the rest is my fault.” And that's exactly the opinion of the Apostle Paul: the good in us is due to God, the rest is our fault; so that whenever we see the evidences of grace, we trace those evidences of grace right back to the Giver of grace, and we give praise to Him. We give thanks to God. He gets the credit for all the good things we do.
It has been incredibly encouraging to hear the things that you have been doing as members of the congregation in these last two tumultuous weeks, but I want to encourage you in the days to come to be ubiquitous in your ministry, but to be inconspicuous in that ministry. Our goal is not to draw attention to ourselves. We don't want any of the credit or any of the praise. We want to be in there, rolling our sleeves up, giving and giving, and giving, and giving, and we want all the praise to go to God.
And that's the way the Apostle Paul does here. He sees faith and love. He's so thankful and encouraged by it, but he gives all the praise and all the glory to God. That's how we want to do, as well.
III. What Paul prays that God would do for the Ephesian Christians
And then, he moves from thanksgiving to prayer, prayer of petition. He thanks God, and then he makes the request. And what is the request that he makes in verse 17? It's quite extraordinary. “…That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him.”
Yes, you heard that right. The Apostle Paul prays that these Christians — these Christians whom he has already indicated are sealed by the Holy Sprit, given a saving knowledge of God and a close walking and communion with Him; these Christians who appreciate the sovereign, redeeming love of God — he prays that God would, by the Holy Spirit, give them a better knowledge of Himself.
Now, what is the case? Do Christians know God, or do they need to know God? Which is it? The Apostle Paul's answer to that question is, “Yes.” Christians know God. Paul's term for having a personal, saving relationship with God through Jesus Christ in the New Testament is knowing God. When he wants to say that someone has a saving personal relationship with Jesus Christ, the way he says that is ‘he knows God…they know God.’ But the Apostle Paul says that all those who know God need to know Him better. They need to more fully comprehend and understand and appreciate and experience the greatness of His love, and so his intercession for these Ephesian Christians is that they would by God's Holy Spirit increase in their knowledge of God. Because increase in the knowledge of God, experiential understanding of who God is and what He has done for us is the key to Christian maturity in the Christian life. Why are we so “nuts” about teaching at First Presbyterian Church? Why do we do it every chance we can? Why do we teach the Bible everywhere we can — from the pulpit, in the classroom, in the Day School, in Mom's Bible Studies — why are we always teaching the word of God? Because… (not because we want to know stuff that nobody else knows…not because we want to be smarter than other people…not so that we can win the Bible “sword drill” or so that we can baffle our friends with “fun facts to know and tell about the Bible”)…we study God's truth because God has given us His truth so that we might know Him and then be transformed by knowing Him. The truth of God is given so that we might know Him, and then be changed by Him in the way we relate to one another.
How do you pray for one another? Do you thank God when you see faith and love displayed in the lives of your fellow Christians? And to you intercede for your brothers and sisters in this local congregation, that they would come to know God in greater, in deeper ways? It's what the Apostle Paul was concerned for. He thanks God for the spiritual blessings which have been heaped on everyone who is in Jesus Christ, and then he turns around and he asks for all those who truly know God, that they would know Him even better.
And that's so important, because none of us ever will know too much about God, and none of us in this life will ever know enough about Him. And the more we know of Him, the more we will love Him, the more we will praise Him, the more we will be like Him. And do we not all feel the need to be more like Him? To love the things that He loves, to detest the things that He detests, to bear witness of Him in word and life? All of that is wrapped up in knowing the truth of God's word, and so the Apostle Paul prays ‘Lord God, give them Your Holy Spirit, the same Spirit which revealed the word of God, the same Spirit of wisdom that made Solomon wise; give them Your Holy Spirit so that they would know You.’
Isn't it amazing? He's just praised God for who He is and what He's done, and then he turns right around and he says, ‘Now these Ephesian Christians who joined me in that prayer, Lord God, show them who You are and what You've done. Make them know You better.’ That's a good prayer for us to pray for one another today, this week….and it's a transforming prayer. You see, it's a prayer that doesn't let you stay the same way you are, because, as you begin to know God, everything changes.
Our Lord and our God, we ask that You would by Your Spirit help us to know You, and that this knowledge would lead to worship, to love, and to praise; would lead to faith, and would lead to love of our brothers and sisters in Christ, our neighbors, and even our enemies. We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you, from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.