A sermon by Dr Donald T. Williams - donaldtwilliams.com
Presented at Trinity Fellowhip on 1/25/98
We have spent several months studying The Great Blessing, this grand doctrinal overture to the Book of Ephesians that runs as a single sentence in Greek from 1:3-14. Now we finally come to Paul's second sentence (not counting the initial greeting), which runs from v. 15-23. Today, we will mainly look at the first couple of verses. It is important that we see thereI. THE SEQUENCE OF PAUL'S SENTENCES
It is necessary to follow the flow of thought through these verses if we are going to understand them. The theme of the book is God's eternal purpose to bring glory to his Son, salvation to his people, and shalom to his creation, with the Chruch's role in that. Its purpose is to encourage believers to achieve their high purpose in these terms by revealing the exalted position and destiny which is theirs in Christ. Vv. 3-14 was an overview of what God has done in Christ to that end: election (v. 4), predestination (5), adoption (5), redemption (7), revelation (9), sealing (13-14). All these things--every spiritual blessing--are in Christ and are the inheritance of all who believe in Him.
Now, this position, these pirvileges, this identity, this destiny, this provision, and this purpose are so great and exalted that before he continues to break them down in more detail, Paul feels a need to stop and pray that his readers may have supernatural aid in understanding them, especially the hope of his calling, the riches of his glory, and the greatness of his power (which raised Jesus from the dead, vv. 20-23). The "therefore" or "for this reason" of v. 15 means, "because all this is true of you, I pray that God will reveal it to you--for that is the only way you will understand it." That is how these verses fit into the outline.
What are the implications of this arrangement? The first certainly is the Difficulty of Doctrine: it is impossible profitably to understand it without the supernatural enablement of the Holy Spirit. What Paul preaches in 1 Cor. 2:14--that the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit, neither can he know them--he practices here by praying this prayer for his readers.
But why is Christian truth so hard for us to grasp? The problem is not that biblical teaching is so abstruse and complex intellectually. Some of it is quite challenging, difficult but not impossible considered intellectually, but some is very simple. Either way, that's not the problem. The problem is that we are asking people whose only experience is of earth to believe and understand heavenly things. We are asking people whose life is but a breath of wind that appears and vanishes away to believe and understand eternal things. We are asking people whose hearts are by nature polluted by sin to believe and understand holy things. We are asking people whose minds are filled with clever plans of their own making to believe and accept the grace, the unmerited favor, of God. We are asking people whose dreams are full of schemes for their own advancement to live for the glory of God. And these conflicts, these barriers, these impediments to our acceptance and understanding of these truths are not just in the advanced and esoteric teachings but also--perhaps even more so--in the most simple and basic truths of the Gospel where we must begin!
It is therefore not possible for fallen Man unaided to learn or to teach these things. It is not possible for you by the length of time you spend, the soundness of your methodology, the intensity of your concentration, or the sincerity of your desire (though if we are to study them at all it is essential that we bring our best in all these areas to the task)--it is not possible for you thus to pierce the clouds of glory around God's throne and comprehend these celestial principles. But it is also not possible for me by the incisiveness of my logic, the clarity of my explanations, the eloquence of my diction, or the power of my rhetoric (though I too if I am to preach His Word at all must bring my best in all these areas to the task)--it is not possible for me thus to drive home these truths of God into your hearts.
It is only by the supernatural intervention of the Spirit of God, using all those methods and efforts but taking us beyond them, that we can learn these truths without which we perish. Therefore, Sunday School teachers, parents, witnesses--do you pray this prayer for your students, your children, and your friends as one without which your efforts are in vain? When you study the Scriptures for yourself, do you pray this prayer for yourself as one without which your efforts are in vain? We must! For then we will experience the wonder that, by his grace, it IS possible for even a child to understand the love of God.
This prayer in its context not only teaches us the Difficulty of Doctrine but also the Destiny of Doctrine, or the purpose of theology. Paul gives thanks even as he prays for his readers. He simply cannot contemplate the wonder of these truths for long without breaking into praise. Theology was never intended to be some dry and abstract study pursued simply for intellectual pride or academic advancement. To make it so is nothing less than blasphemy against the God who revealed it. There is no true Theology that does not lead to Doxology. We need no Learning that does not lead to Living; neither do we need Striving that does not stem from Study of the Word of God.II. THE GROUND OF PAUL'S GRATITUDE
Why does Paul give thanks for the Ephesians? Because they are included in the Great Blessing. How does he know they are included? Because of the Sealing with the Holy Spirit, which he now summarizes in two evidences of vital Christianity: Faith in the Lord Jesus and Love for the Saints.
Question: "How do I know if Jesus is my Savior?" Answer: If you are trusting in him and not in your own works. What are you trusting in? The fact that you are not so bad as those who are even worse sinners? Some supposed mercy of God divorced from his justice? The ritual of some church? The fact that you have compiled an impressive record of service and external righteousness? None of that helps at all, and if you are trusting in any of it you are not saved! It will all let you down. Or are you trusting in Jesus Christ? In his sacrificial death on you behalf, his resurrection, his intercession for you? Then you are surely saved, for that is the only thing that can avail. No matter how godly and righteous you may become (and if you are saved by grave you must indeed walk worthily of that calling), Satan will always be able to find failures to throw in your face. But no matter what kind of ammunition he has, if you are truly trusting in the Blood of Jesus Christ, you have only to remind him of that. He has no answer to it, for there is none.
Question: "How do I confirm the knowledge that Jesus is my Savior based on my trust in him?" Answer: If you love the brethren. This is a clear sign of our love for God, for if we truly love him we will love what he loves--and he has loved the Church to the point of dying for her. It is also a good proof of genuine Christianity because your fellow believers are often among the hardest people we have to love! It has been said that the Church is like the Ark: you wouldn't be able to stand the stench inside if it weren't for the storm outside. I wish I had a nickel for every person who has ever complained to me that "Unbelievers treat me better than Christian do!" Why is this? Partly it is a matter of perspective. We have higher expectations of believers and hence feel more let down when they do not meet them. Satan is highly motivated to magnify conflicts between believers, for thus he hinders the witness of the Church. And we have a religious subculture that encourages us to come to church expecting to get our needs met. When two selfish people each focused on their own needs meet, there is going to be an explosion! These are some of the reasons why people often take offense in the church at things that outside it they would never have noticed. Therefore, if in spite of all this you truly love the saints--look forward to seeing them, rejoice in their joy, and weep with their sorrow because they are your fellow believers--well, in this also there is something more than natural, if philosophy could find it out. It therefore gives you a second answer to the attacks of Satan, and it gives the Apostle something to be very grateful for.III. THE PURPOSE OF PAUL'S PETITION: Growth in Grace
It is interesting, finally, that Paul's thanks for his readers' possession of v. 3-14 leads him to pray that they will have more. How can you have more than every spiritual blessing? Well, you can't have more THAN every spiritual blessing, but you can have more OF every spiritual blessing. It is a profound thought that for the possessors of 1:3 Paul prays for more. Therefore, a true Christian is never satisfied with his level of devotion to Christ. Show me one who is, and I will show you one in whom the process of backsliding has already begun. Therefore, our battle cry must always be, "Press on! Press on! Press on to the mark of the high calling of God!"
That is what it means to have an infinite God. He is inexhaustible, unsearchable. Never now or in all of eternity will you be able to say, "I have plumbed the depths of the love of God!" Never now or in all of eternity will you be able to say, "I have gotten to the bottom of the goodness of God!" Never now or in all of eternity will you be able to say, "I have exhausted the righteousness of God!" Never now or in all of eternity will you be able to say, "I have gotten to the end of the grace of God!" When the ages grind to a halt and entropy exhausts the motion of the planets and the last light of the stars goes forever black, each one of the saints will still have more to discover of the hope of his calling, the riches of his glory, and the greatness of his power toward us who believe. And therefore my prayer for you also is that he may give unto you the Spirit of revelation in the knowledge of him. May he grant it richly.
Here endeth the lesson. Dr. Donald T. Williams