A sermon by Dr Donald T. Williams - donaldtwilliams.com
Presented at Trinity Fellowhip on 2/1/98
We are privileged in this portion of Ephesians to read the prayer of an Apostle. Having overviewd in 1:3-14 the position in Christ occupied by the believers to whom he writes, having surveyed the breathtaking panorama of God's plan for the ages (to sum up all things in Christ) and their part it it (to become his inheritance, a showcase for the glory of his grace), Paul cannot restrain himself before starting a new topic from breaking into praise and petition: praise that such inestimable blessings should come to men, even to Gentiles, and petition that they might go on to a deeper, fuller, more perfect knoweldge of and experience of these things. So if you want to know how to pray for the Church, the answer is here. If you want to know what to aspire to as a Church, the answer is here: that "the Father of Glory may grant unto us a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him."
Nothing less than this is the goal of the Christian life, and this is inculcated by the very structure of the passage. V. 15-16 give the reason for Paul's prayer: that because he has heard of their faith and love he believes them to be ones of whom 1:3-14 is true. V. 17 is the petition proper: that they receive aid to an end, the end of knowledge of Christ. V. 18-19 repeats the same petition from another standpoint. V. 19-23 gives an example of the power from which the answer will come. All of this is for the sake of the end in view: knowing Christ.
What is the goal of the Christian life? What, in the final analysis are we here for? Why should anyone want to be a Christian? To listen to most of us is to hear something different from the answer Paul gives to these questions. It is not for the sake of inner comfort and peace (though of course this is abundantly supplied). It is not for the sake of the power to cope with the demands, the petty hassles, the frustrations, or even the tragedies of life (though of course this is abundantly supplied). It is not for the sake of eternal life, understood as mere continued existence (though of course this is abundantly supplied). It is not for the sake of having a purpose, a reason for living (though of course this is abundantly supplied). It is not even for the sake of the forgiveness of sins (though of course this too is essential and it abundantly supplied). None of these fringe benefits, which seem to have moved from the fringes into the center of things in the testimonies of too many modern Christians, is the central thing.
What is? It is simply this. It is a blessing without which all the others would be nothing, but with which they are almost superfluous. It is a blessing which contains in itself all we've mentioned and everything else necessary to our fulfillment. It is a blessing greater than which none can be conceived and without which none other is possible or even desirable. It is nothing less than this: that we might know God.
With this the words of all the saints agree. Moses said, "If your presence does not go with us, do not lead us up from here" (Ex. 33:5). David affirmed, "Thou wilt show me the path of life; in thy presence is fullness of joy, and at thy right hand are pleasures forevermore" (Ps. 16:11). Paul said "I count all things as loss for he excellency of the knowledge of Christ" (Phil. 3:8). John promised, "That which we have seen and heard we declare unto you, that you may also have fellowship with us--and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ" (1 Jn. 1:3). And our Lord Jesus Christ himself declared, "This is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent" (Jn. 17:3).
What then is the nature of this knowledge? The word used is EPIGNOSIS, GNOSIS (knowledge) with an intensifying prefix. It means knowledge that is full, complete, and personal; it means to be intimately acquainted with, well versed in. It is not used for mere information, much less opinion or hearsay. It means first-hand knowledge. It is used in 1 Cor. 13:12 for the time when we shall know as we are known. The goal in other words is not to know about God but to know him, in a personal fellowship that will grow ever deeper for all of eternity.
Do we know God? J. I. Packer asks pertinently: "The question is not whether we are good at theology or balanced (horrible, self-conscious word) in our approach to Christian living. The question is, can we say, simply, honestly, not because as Evangelicals we fell we ought to but because it is a plain matter of fact, that we have known God?"
So what does it mean to know God? Or another way of asking the same question is, how do you get to know God? Well, think of what the same phrase means when we apply it to one of our human friends. It includes at least the following:
In the first place, to know another person is TO KNOW SOMETHING ABOUT HIS HISTORY. Whenever good friends get together you can hear them saying, "Remember the time when we . . .?" With God, that means knowing the Old Testament, the New Testament, and something about Church history, which includes the history of his dealing in your own life. To know someone is to coordinate his past with your own past so that together they become meaningful as something we continue to share as we move into the future. "Remember the time?" is a question the person who knows God can share with him. The Old Testament through Church History are subjects in which he will therefore take a vital interest. Otherwise, how can he claim to be the friend of God?
In the second place, to know another person isTO KNOW SOMETHING ABOUT HIS WAYS. If you know me really well, you might be thinking, "I knew you were going to say that." Sometimes people who have been married or close friends for a long time can complete each other's sentences. This is a habit that can become annoying--but with people we really love we take delight in knowing them that way. To know God is to be able to anticipate how he would respond to a given situation, how he would feel about a proposed action. It is to take "What would Jesus do?" beyond the cliched level at which it usually gets stuck, to make it more than a piece of jewelry.
In the third place, to know another person is TO BE AFFECTED BY HIS WORDS. The old proverb says "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." Well, this may be true of lots of people, but there are two groups of people about whom it is a lie: those I care about and the editors who have my manuscripts at their mercy! When most of us go to the mail box, we tend to sort its contents into three piles: junk mail, which doesn't even make it out the dorr with us; bills, i.e., stuff we have to deal with out of duty; and real mail, something from a friend that may make our day. A good way of telling whether you know God is to ask which category the Bible fits for you. It's junk mail if you never read it. Or is it a bill, something you read because you are supposed to? If you know God it will be real mail for you.
Finally, to really know another person as a friend is TO HAVE AN INTEREST IN HIS DREAMS. It matters to me whether Brian gets his doctorate in history, whether Jaime ever finishes her novel and gets it published, whether Matt gets to make the next Star Wars, whether Mark ever gets to teach drama. There is much I would go out of my way to do to help make these things happen. That's part of what it means to love someone as a friend. So what about Eph. 1:10? How central is summing up all things in Christ in your life? If it makes no difference to you, if your own plans are made only in the light of this world, then I won't say God can't save you, but don't try to tell me that you know him, that he is your friend. To know another person as a friend is to have an interest in his dreams.
Therefore, in this light, the queston is not whether we are good at theology or balanced in our approach to Christian living but whether we can say, simply, honestly, not because as Evangelicals we feel we ought to but because it is a plain matter of fact, that we have known God?
Do you know God? Would you like to know him better? David knew him well, and said to Solomon in 1 Chron. 28:9, "If you seek him he will let you find him." Jesus said, "He that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out." Open your heart to him, to his history, his ways, his words, his dreams, and to the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, so that Paul's prayer--and mine--may be answered.
Here endeth the lesson. Dr. Donald T. Williams