The Lord's Day Morning
September 18, 2005
“Hope, Inheritance, Power”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
Amen. If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Ephesians, chapter one, as we continue to work our way through this great letter of the Apostle Paul to the church at Ephesus, and ultimately of course, to all of God's children, because this book is the book of the people of God, and it is God's gift to His people that we might learn who He is and what He has done for us and how we are to live in this world.
Now, we've said many, many times in our study of Ephesians 1 so far that almost the whole of this first chapter is prayer. Verses 3-14 is a prayer of adoration, or a doxology; verses 15-23 is a prayer of petition or request, and we've been studying this prayer of request for the last couple of weeks. We've seen Paul begin in verse 15 asking God to give us a realization of and an understanding of the truths that we have already praised God for in verses 3-14, and we've said that that reminds us as believers that we can never know the truth too well. The Apostle Paul states a number of things in verses 3-14 which are realities for believers, and then he turns right back around and asks God to reveal those to us by His Holy Spirit in this prayer of request.
Now, another thing we've said all along is that this is a life-reorienting prayer; that the prayers of the Book of Ephesians could change the way we approach life, the way we think about life, the way we live and minister in this world if we would adequately take them in. Even as that first prayer of doxology re-centered our lives on God, so that instead of being narcissistic and self-centered we became God-centered, God-worshiping, God-serving people, so also this prayer is designed to reorient our life in at least two ways.
It's designed, first of all, to reorient the way we pray for one another. We said this last week. Very often when we pray for one another our prayers are prayers of crisis, and appropriately so. Who wouldn't want someone to pray for them in time of crisis? It's a good thing to pray for brothers and sisters in Christ who are going through crises, but sometimes when we pray those prayers for friends in times of trial and crisis, we realize that that's the only time that we pray for them, or that that's the only thing we pray for them about. And this prayer gives us substance for petition that goes far beyond praying for someone in time of crisis. Paul is opening up his heart, and he's letting you know how he prays for Christians every day; and so, this prayer can reorient the way we pray for one another. But it also can reorient the things that we long for and understand and desire most in this life.
So let me outline the passage for you. Today we're going to focus just on verses 18 and 19, but right now I'd ask you to look back to verse 17 so you can remember the context. Paul in verse 17 tells us that he is praying to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, to give us something. And what does he say that he prays to God to give us, in verse 17? The Holy Spirit; the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation. Now this is a surprising thing, because the Apostle Paul has just said that as believers we're all sealed with the Holy Spirit. Why would he then turn around and pray that God would give those who have been sealed with the Holy Spirit the Holy Spirit of wisdom and revelation?
Well, you’re going to see why in just a few moments. The Apostle Paul knows that it is the work of the Holy Spirit to bring to bear in our hearts the truth of God's word, and even as we have just praised Him for who He is and what He has done for us in verses 3-14, in accordance with His word, now Paul wants the Holy Spirit to bring that truth to bear in our hearts, and so he prays that the Father would give us the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation. Why?
Well, now look at verse 18. You get the answer there: In order that your heart would be enlightened; in order that your heart would understand the truth of God's word; that your heart would appreciate the truth of God's word; and that your heart would be set on, would desire God and His truth and grace and blessing beyond everything else. And so the Holy Spirit's work is going to be giving you an enlightenment of the “eyes of your heart,” so that your heart understands and desires God, His grace, His blessings, beyond anything else in this world.
And Paul doesn't stop there. Look at verses 18 and 19. He has three specific petitions. Why does he want the Holy Spirit to give you a heart enlightenment, to enlighten the eyes of your heart? Well, because he wants you to know and desire three things.
First, in verse 18 he says he wants you to know what is the hope of His (that is, God's) calling. He wants you to have hope, and he wants you to know the hope of God's calling of you — what God has called you to and for is to give you hope, but it's the Holy Spirit who helps you realize that hope.
Secondly, in verse 18 again, he wants you to know what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints. He wants you to see the riches of God heaped on you.
And then, third and finally, he wants you to know God's power: “…what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.” That's what we're going to study today. The main petition is found in verse 18. The specific sub-petitions that we would have hope, see riches, and know the power of God, are found in verses 18 and 19. That's what we're going to work through together today, if God is pleased. Let's look to Him in prayer and ask for His blessing on the reading and hearing of His word. Let's pray.
Lord God, we acknowledge that Your word is truth. We acknowledge that every word of Your mouth is inspired and is profitable for maturing us, building us up in righteousness that we would be equipped for every good work. But we also acknowledge, O God, that Your Holy Spirit gives us understanding of Your word, illumines our hearts and minds, helps us to know more deeply and embrace more faithfully Your truth. So we ask for Your Holy Spirit's help even as the word is read, that we would not simply be hearers, but that we would become believers and doers of the truth. This we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Hear God's word.
“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.”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.
To live the Christian life, we need a heart that knows God and is set on God, a heart which is comforted by a God-provided hope, a heart which is captivated by God-provided riches, and a heart which is confident in God-provided power. And so the Apostle Paul lifts up this prayer for the Ephesian Christians and for you and me so that we would have what we need for the Christian life: a heart that knows God and is set on God, that desires God; a heart that is comforted by the hope that only God can give; a heart that is only satisfied in the riches that God bestows, rather than the fading riches of this world; and, a heart which gains strength from the power that only God provides. This is the petition that Paul lifts up for the Ephesians and for you and me. We’re going to study it together today.
I. That the eyes of your heart may be enlightened
Paul's first prayer, you notice here in verse 18, is that our hearts would know and desire above all else three heavenly blessings. Look at what Paul says: “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened.”
Now perhaps the English translation has thrown you a bit there, because when you hear the word eyes you’re expecting the verb to be open. You’re thinking that God wants the Holy Spirit to open your eyes, but Paul says that he wants the eyes of your heart to be enlightened. There's a famous worship song today that goes “Open the eyes of my heart, Lord….” There's nothing wrong with that prayer, but it's not the prayer that Paul prays here. It's not open my eyes, but enlighten my eyes. Why? Let's think about that a minute.
You remember what Jesus says in Matthew 6:22ff? He says that the eyes are the lamp of your body. Now, He means a lot of things by that. He's just been talking about ‘where your treasure is, there will your heart be also’, and He's going to talk about not serving and loving mammon and God at the same time…that you can't love and serve God and mammon, you’ll hate the one or love the other. But what he's saying is that the eyes are the vehicle, or the instrument, through which the desires of our hearts are manifested. We look upon something and we desire it. The desire comes from our hearts, but it's expressed even in our seeing, so that Jesus can say ‘What your eyes desire tells you a lot about your heart.’
This strikes home, doesn't it, in the story of Samson? Jennings and Sarah Kennedy and I were watching a little video on the life of Samson yesterday, and it hit me in the course of watching this that Samson…what Samson desired almost killed him. Samson had…he was a strong man, a powerful leader who was used mightily for the people of Israel, but he had a weakness for good-looking women — and he had lots of them! And isn't it interesting what happens?
After Samson forsakes the Lord, after he betrays his faithfulness to the Lord, he explains his secret to Delilah, she betrays him into the hands of his enemies, the Philistines…what does the Lord have his enemies do to him? Put his eyes out. His eyes had almost been his undoing. He could not resist a beautiful woman. So what does the Lord do? The Lord takes his eyes, because the Lord loves Samson so much. Samson's eyes could have taken him to hell, and the Lord in His love for him takes Samson's eyes from him so that in the end, what happens? The eyes of Samson's heart, instead of being set on these beautiful women, is set again on glorifying God, so that at the last he can say, ‘Show me the pillars of this temple, and Lord, give me the strength to bring it down on Your enemies so that You will be glorified, so that the children of Israel will be glorified. I want Your glory, God.’
You see, Samson's desire had been restored to the right place, to the glory of God, instead of following those sinful desires.
Well, the Apostle Paul is praying here for us that the eyes of our hearts would be enlightened in this way; that we would know God, that we would know His truth, and that we would desire God and that truth above all the false offerings of this world; that we would not be swayed to love mammon; that we would not be swayed to love the world, and the flesh, and the devil; that we would have our hearts set on God. And so he's saying, ‘Lord God, give them heart enlightenment. Let the deep desires of their hearts be set on You, on Your truth. Make them to have passion for You, long for You; for their hearts to love You above all else; with all their heart and soul and mind and strength to want Your glory; give them heart enlightenment. That's what Paul is praying for the Ephesians, and that's what we need to be praying for one another, friends.
We live in a very affluent culture. Most of us in this congregation are affluent to one degree or another, and that very affluence, that very prosperity, tempts us to set the eyes of our heart on something that can never fulfill and satisfy us, but which is good enough at fulfilling and satisfying us that it can tempt us to stray from God. And here is the Apostle Paul saying, ‘Ephesians [and by the way, they did not have that challenge to the degree that you and I have it]’ — he says, ‘Ephesians, I'm praying for you that the eyes of your heart would be enlightened, that your eyes…that you would be filled in the depth of your heart with the light of God, who has brought you out of darkness into His marvelous light, that your heart would know God, would know the truth, would desire God, would desire His truth and His blessings above all else.
But Paul doesn't stop with that general petition. He goes on to say three things in particular that he wants for you.
Notice what he says first: “…so that you will know what is the hope of His calling….” He is praying that the Holy Spirit would give you a deep and real and personal grasp of these great realities, first of all, so that you would know the hope of His calling; that you would have a certain hope based upon God's eternal choice of you, God's effectual calling of you. God has called you out of darkness and into His marvelous light, and in doing so He has given you real and substantial and tangible hope in this fallen and messed up world. And we can't live the Christian life without that hope.
Has it ever struck you how many hopeless people there are around you? You know, when you see people falling for schemes and tricks, what's really happening is that somebody is playing on their hopes. They feel hopeless, and somebody is offering them the silver bullet, the magic potion, and they go for it in droves.
A group of ministers in the area and I were meeting (three of us) on Friday and talking about ways that we could encourage one another in ministry, and ways we could encourage other evangelical churches. And we began to talk about a minister of a congregation that has tens of thousands of people attending his church on the weekends, and tens and hundreds of thousands watching his television program. And we were talking about the fact that he really never preaches Christ or the gospel, but that from a real heart of sincerity he tries to encourage people. He seems to be completely sincere, but the encouragement and hope that he offers to people is very superficial and trivial, and never is rooted in the deep things of the word of God. And we began to talk about this phenomenon. Why would 30,000 people gather in a church to hear that kind of a message, we wondered. And as we talked about it amongst ourselves, we decided this: It's a clear sign that there are people out there desperate for hope, and they will look anywhere — anywhere — somebody offers it to them, even if the hope that is offered is superficial and trivial.
God knows that, my friends. And here is the Apostle Paul saying, ‘I want you to have the eyes of your heart enlightened so that you may know the hope that God has given you.’ Paul knows that we can't go through this life without hope. Paul knows that there are hopeless people in this world, but he also knows that no Christian ought not to realize that he is filled with hope, that he is not without hope in this world. So he prays, ‘Lord God, enlighten the eyes of their hearts so that they will know what is the hope of their calling; that they will have a certain hope in this world.’
We need hope, my friends. When we look at ourselves, when we look at our church, when we look at our city, when we look at our culture there is much to be hopeless about. In fact, very often when people grow older in this life they become bitter and cynical because there is so much despair and there is so much hopelessness…and here is the Apostle Paul saying no Christian ought to ever be in that circumstance. No Christian need ever be in that circumstance, because God by His Holy Spirit grounds us in this hope of our calling. God has called us from darkness to light. God has called us from bondage to freedom. God has called us from the dominion of Satan into the glorious dominion of the Lord Jesus Christ. God has called us from servitude to the freedom of the sons and daughters of the living God. There is every reason for us in that calling to be hopeful in this world.
Why is it that we resonate so much when J.R.R. Tolkien in his fictional work The Lord of the Rings has Galadriel give that vial that has some of the light of the Silmaril to Frodo, the brave young Hobbit? Why is it that we resonate when she gives that vial and says, “Here is a light, when all other lights go out”? Because we know it's a beautiful picture of that inextinguishable hope that only God can give in this sin-darkened world, and the Apostle Paul is praying, ‘Lord God, give the Ephesians that hope. They’re going to be persecuted. Some of them are going to lose everything that a human being can possibly lose in this life.
You know, there are some people in this room today from the Coast who have lost everything that it is possible for a human being to lose, physically speaking, but their hope is still in Christ, and that hope cannot be extinguished by a great storm, or persecution…in fact, neither height nor depth, not any other creature can separate them from the love of God which is in Christ, and therefore cannot take from them hope. But you know, Christians seem to forget that from time to time, and the Apostle Paul says ‘I'm praying that for you, brothers and sisters.’
Let me ask you this, friends: Do you pray that for one another? On every row in this room there are Christians in trial. Do you pause and say, ‘Lord God, in the midst of her trial, in the midst of his trial, open…enlighten…the eyes of his heart, of her heart…that she may see, that he may see the hope of his calling’?
Paul continues. Notice the next specific petition: That you “…would know what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints.” Now, this can be taken two ways. It could be taken to be speaking of God's inheritance of us, or it could be taken to be speaking of the inheritance that God gives to us. Paul speaks of both of those in his writings, and it's a good legitimate debate as to which one it is. But I don't want to get into that right now. All I want you to see is Paul holding out to the Ephesians the riches that have been bestowed upon them by God in Jesus Christ — whether it's the riches of being chosen as God's inheritance or whether it's the riches of being given an inheritance by God, we have been lavished with a mercy and a grace and riches from God beyond all comparison, and the Apostle Paul wants them to see that. He wants them to have eyes to understand that and desire those riches above worldly riches. As Samson almost got himself eternally killed through his eyes’ desiring the things of this world, so we as believers can get ourselves messed up by desiring the things of this world. And here's the Apostle Paul saying ‘I want the eyes of your heart to see the riches that God gives, which cannot be corrupted by moth and rust, which cannot be stolen by a thief, which cannot be destroyed by a storm. I want your eyes fixed on those riches, desiring those riches.’
You know, every time we sing Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken in this congregation we sing this phrase: “Solid joys and lasting treasure, none but Zion's children know.” What we're saying is that the only people who ever really experience solid joy and lasting treasure in this life are people who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. Do you believe that? You sing it all the time, but do you believe it when you sing it? The Apostle Paul is praying here that you would believe that when you sing it.
Every time we sing Come, We That Love the Lord we sing this phrase: “The men of grace have found glory begun below.” That's saying that believers in our Lord Jesus Christ have already had a taste here of the glory that is to come, no matter what their circumstance — whether they’re persecuted, whether they’re peripheral, whether they’re marginal, whether they’re oppressed, whether they are deprived of earthly blessings and in the midst of trial and tribulation, they have found glory here which is a foretaste of the glory to come. Do you believe that? The Apostle Paul is praying when he says that you would “know the glory of the riches of His inheritance in the saints” that you would understand that you are God's inheritance, that you've been given an inheritance by God, and it is glorious to see His grace displayed in this way upon us. Do you really believe that? Paul is praying so.
Then finally, look at the third thing that he prays for: “…And what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.” Now the next several verses are Paul piling up arguments for you to believe in the power of God. That's what we're going to come to next Lord's Day, Lord willing. But I want to draw your attention to this: Paul is saying that he wants us to know the surpassing greatness of God's power.
When we look within ourselves, if we're honest, we see much weakness. Even if God in His mercy has granted us to grow some, to mature some, to have some victory over sin, the most consecrated believers…when we look at ourselves, we see the weakness. It is apparent to us, and our weakness seems no match for the challenges that we face. And we look out in the world, and we look at a sinful world and a sin-sick world, and a world filled with troubles — filled with troubles so far beyond the scale of our being able to do anything individually or even collectively about them.
You know, that's one of the amazing things of the story of the last three weeks. Even the federal government of the United States has been utterly overwhelmed by this storm. God blows this storm, and the federal government is brought to its knees in trying to respond to it. That's the kind of world we live in. We live in a world full of sorrow and tribulation, but it's the power of God that is at work within us, and the Apostle Paul is saying that it's the same power that is at work in us in our sanctification that raised Jesus Christ from the dead and seated Him at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.
You see what Paul's doing. He's encouraging you. When you look within at your weakness, he's saying ‘I just want you to remember. You may find it hard to believe, but it is the same power of God that raised Jesus from the dead that is at work in you making you more like Christ. When you despair that you’ll ever be like Christ, you just remember that it is the power that raised Christ from the dead that is conforming you to the image of God's Son.’ And the Apostle Paul is saying ‘This is what I pray for you, Ephesians.’ And our lives would be reoriented, friends, if we prayed for one another this way and if we understood and desired these things for ourselves.
You know, I think maybe the two books of the last forty years that have most beautifully summed up this truth — the truth of this petition — are J.I. Packer's book Knowing God, and John Piper's book Desiring God. And you see, the Apostle Paul is saying ‘I want you to have enlightened hearts so that you can know God and you desire God, and you desire these gifts from God more than anything the world has to offer, and you find satisfaction in God and in these gifts in ways that the world and its gifts cannot satisfy.’ Well, my friends, if we came to that point, it would truly be life-reorienting. May God make it so in our lives. Let's pray.
Our Lord and our God, we thank You for Your word, and we pray that You would make us faithful to pray for one another this way; and more than that, we pray that by Your Holy Spirit these petitions would come to pass in the lives of all our brothers and sisters in Christ in this congregation. This we ask in Jesus' name. Amen.
Grace to you, and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.