Paul’s Prayer for the Ephesians

The streets of Ephesus where Paul walked are worn out, the buildings he frequented are in ruins, an echo of the past and a reminder that the glories of men fade. But the words he wrote to these people are not empty shells, they are vibrant full of life and beauty and will bless the church as long as time exists.

PAUL’S PRAYER FOR THE EPHESIANS

Ephesiansj 3:13-21

“Wherefore I desire that ye faint not at my tribulations for you, which is your glory. For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God. Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.”

In the ancient ruins of Ephesus in Turkey, lie the remains of an ancient and successful civilisation. Ephesus was one of the major cities in the Roman province known as Asia Minor, a centre of population and commerce. It was also a deeply pagan city devoted to the worship of the goddess Diana, with the Ephesians taking a particular pride in their temple.

Ephesus also, in the providence of God, became a major theatre of activity for the early Christian Church. Paul especially became associated with this place labouring here as evangelist and pastor for three years, his longest sojourn in any one place during his missionary adventures.

It was in this rich and devoutly pagan city that Paul planted a new culture, a new philosophy at the heart of which would be the Gospel of Jesus Christ. During those three years of ministry Christianity grew at such a rate that it could not be ignored because the craftsman who manufactured idols of Diana noticed a considerable decline in business. This led to riots on the streets and the arrest of Paul. Those were turbulent and memorable years!

Writing to his beloved Ephesians flock years later, while imprisoned in Rome, Paul shares the contents of his prayers for them. In so doing he crafts one of the finest and most exemplary prayers that we read in the New Testament. This is a prayer we can offer for ourselves, for our families and and for our congregation.

The streets of Ephesus where Paul walked are worn out, the buildings he frequented are in ruins, an echo of the past and a reminder that the glories of men fade. But the words he wrote to these people are not empty shells, they are vibrant full of life and beauty and will bless the church as long as time exists.

Paul’s People

“Wherefore I desire that ye faint not at my tribulations for you, which is your glory. For this cause…”

Paul’s prayer begins with words “For this cause” which introduces us to the reason why he was praying these words for the Ephesians.

What was his burden?

The previous verse tells us that he was concerned for them as they came to terms with his suffering. He did not want them to be discouraged because he was a prisoner. He wanted to lift their thoughts.

This is certainly part of his motivation and they inform us that these people for whom he prayed were anxious and fearful. This is most definitely a prayer for the anxious and fearful.

But Paul’s writings are a great deal more intricate than a simple linking of one verse to another. These words “For this cause” cannot be divorced from the great themes of Ephesians. For example he begins chapter 3 with the same words “For this cause”. Therefore the cause he is referring to is one that he has been unfolding in the earlier sections of his epistle.

In chapter 2 the cause he is referring to is revealed; the Ephesians have been made alive as a consequence of God’s mercy and grace; they have been brought near to God by the blood of Christ; they are at one with believing Jews belonging to the family of God; and their fellowship is a beautiful spiritual temple which exists for His glory.

This is a picture of beauty and victory. The Ephesians are God’s special people in a corrupt society. Therefore Paul prays for them.

God is interested in us. He cares for us. He loves us. Therefore we pray to Him with confidence. This is the cause which drives us to prayer!

Paul’s Presentation

“…I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named…”

Paul displays reverence of soul when describing himself as bowing his knees. The Scriptures never prescribe one bodily posture when we pray. Whether we pray on bended knee, standing, sitting or even while lying down is not as important as the reverence of soul that is required and demanded. Paul had such reverence because he prayed “unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ”:

“The little word unto is a very expressive word which means ‘facing’ or ‘face to face’. He bows his knees in order to come face to face with God”. (Martyn Lloyd-Jones)

He doesn’t merely call God his Father but our Father and in so doing emphasises His connection with Christ and the entire Christian family in heaven and earth. This idea that we are all connected with God whether in earth or in heaven through Christ, that He is the common Father of all believers and that Christ is our brother is wonderfully liberating. This certainly helps us us appreciate the Church prayer meeting – the communing of God’s dear people through Christ, face to face. We need a vision of the reality of knowing God through prayer. This is the channel which Paul will lead us deeper into.

Paul’s Petition

Strengthened by the Spirit

“That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man”

His first request is that these Christians will be strengthened in their spirits by the Holy Ghost. He does not pray for emotional peace, physical health or preservation from persecution. The health and well being of the inner man is his primary concern.

So it must be for us. The spiritual man needs fed and nourished. We can only face life with struggles and challenges being strong in our souls. Jacob was an old decrepit man, confined to bed but he left this world stronger in soul than he had ever been at any other time in his life as he blessed and directed his sons.

Whatever our ambitions and burdens let us seek God for strength.

But Paul shows us here that spiritual strength is a vital stepping stone along the journey of faith and growth. Strength will bring us closer to God. This is the direction of this prayer and all true prayer.

Faith in Christ

“That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith…”

As we know – Christ dwells in the hearts of all of God’s people. The knowledge of His presence is not universally felt in equal measure by all Christians, however. We aren’t always as conscious of Him as we should because of our spiritual weakness and our lack of faith. When we sin and backslide He withdraws Himself, as with Laodecia, to prompt us into yearning for His presence.

Therefore we must be constantly longing for the awareness of Christ dwelling in our hearts!

Love for Christ

“…that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge…”

This leads Paul into another petition; that the Ephesians would be totally immersed in the love of Christ. This will root them and ground them giving a solid ground from which they can face all the difficulties of a pagan and evil world.

Dr James Montgomery Boice writes about Napoleon’s armies discovering a dungeon and the remains of a Protestant martyred during the Spanish Inquisition. The corpse had become a skeleton but still the cruel chain was fastened to the ankle bone. The prisoner, however, had left a witness for these soldiers to see. A cross was scratched out on the wall of his cell surrounded by four words – height, depth, length, breadth. In that abysmal place this anonymous servant of God experienced the great and immense fullness of God’s love before he departed from his place of suffering for the land which is fairer than day.

Fullness of God

“…that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.”

The final part of Paul’s petition is astonishing. He prayed for a step by step growth in grace from strengthening, through faith, to an immersion of love so that these Ephesians would know and experience the fullness of God.

Paul prayed this for ordinary Christians like us.

This is a legitimate request yet it is an awesome request.

It is a request which highlights the shallowness of our spiritual experience and sheer lack of spiritual ambition.

This is a request which God answers gradually and continually. God is infinity, there is therefore no end or conclusion to the filling of the human spirit with God and by God. There are no limits here – a continual infilling.

Only eternity can fill the human spirit with God because God is eternal – yet eternity has begun in our souls from the moment we were converted.

To be filled with all the fullness of God is to love Him with all of our hearts.

It is be submissive and yielded to His plans.

It is to pray with real meaning and fervour.

It is to read the scriptures with a seeking soul.

It is to give ourselves to Him with purpose.

It is to say farewell to the appeals of this world with its fading and worthless pleasures.

It is to anticipate glory.

“God made me for Himself, to serve Him here, With love’s pure service and in filial fear, To show His praise, for Him to labour now; Then see His glory where the angels bow.

All needful grace was mine through His dear son, Whose life and death my full salvation won; The grace that would have strengthened me and taught; Grace that would crown me when my work was wrought

And I, poor sinner, cast it all away, Lived for the toil or pleasure of each day; As if no Christ had shed His precious blood, As if I owed no homage to my God.

O Holy Spirit with Thy fire divine, Melt into tears this thankless heart of mine; Teach me to love what once I seemed to hate, And live to God before it be too late.”

Henry Williams Baker

Paul’s Promise

“Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us,”

Paul prayed with faith that God would do for these people everything that he had requested. Indeed he held onto the God who could do more than he ever could anticipate.

Consider your innermost thoughts, your desires and longings. There are longings within your heart that you may never never have vocalised in formal prayer because they seem so sensitive – you have not found nor can you find the words. They are echoed in some way as you pray but you have never expressed them properly because you can’t. But has seen your heart, God has felt the groaning of your soul, He has accepted those desires even you yourself do not fully understand or comprehend them.

If these desires are selfish and sinful they are of little consequence. But if they are spiritual arising from a sincere heart God knows and cares just as He feeds the ravens, protects the defenceless sparrow and clothes the lilies of the field. Not only will he grant those desires but will do so in a way that above and beyond anything that you could ever ask for or even think.

These are His promises to a pleading people.

Let us believe and marvel at what God will yet do in our lives and in our families.

Paul’s Purpose

“Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.”

Paul’s purpose was the glory of God. This is why we were created. This is why why we were redeemed. This will be our purpose throughout eternity – the glory of God. Every prayer must have this end in sight. Every Christian life must be ambitious for God and His honour.

Let us pray to that end.

Mourn over our selfishness, our pride, our backsliding, our sin, our shallowness, our lukewarmness, our worshipping of the gods of pleasure and materialism in this self seeking world.

Let us mourn every deed, every word, every attitude, every reaction and even every thought that so grieves the Spirit and detracts from the glory of God.

Let us pursue a relationship with God that is deep, meaningful and transformative.

That we would live for His glory.

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