(This post reflects on the sermon preached yesterday at Westwood from Ephesians 1:15-23. You can view this sermon in its entirety by clicking HERE.)
It’s been a while since I posted one of these reflections, but this is a routine I’d like to pick back up in the weeks ahead. Yesterday I had the joy of preaching through a passage that I have grown to love and one that has been a source of great exhortation to me over the past few years: Paul’s introductory prayer for the Ephesian church in 1:15-23. We looked at the WHO (who does Paul ask would bring this petition about), the HOW (the petition would come about being granted), the WHAT (the central petition of Paul’s prayer), and the WHY (the outcome desired by Paul within the lives of believers). I shared with our church that one of the reasons I love the introductory prayers of Paul so much is that he is not only praying for a specific people in a specific place and time, but preserved as a part of God’s scriptural revelation, he is also praying for us–all believers! I also love these prayers because of what they reveal about Paul’s understanding of spiritual maturity. In these prayers Paul prays toward maturity, as this is his greatest desire for those who follow Christ. So, what does this prayer reveal about that maturity, and how can we measure our own understanding and pursuit of it? I’d encourage you to watch the sermon, but I also want to tie something together with what was presented in our Sunday School lesson from yesterday from the Gospel Project.
You see, the only way that we will gain the spiritual wisdom and revelation that leads to the settled conviction for which Paul longs to see become the disposition of our lives is through a passionate pursuit of knowing God. But for this to happen we need to understand what all this knowing entails. The term that Paul uses for knowledge, not only here but throughout his prayers and elsewhere in his writings, is a compound word (epi-gnosis) that most commentators suggest convey the idea of relational knowledge. It is a knowledge that is gained by experience, through growing personal relationship. One commentator (Wood) describes it as “fullness of knowledge through personal acquaintance.”
As I shared at the beginning of the sermon, I believe that at the heart of this prayer is Paul’s desire for disciples to know God. This knowledge of God actually serves as a thread that runs through Paul’s introductory prayers, undergirding them. Although it is not the primary petition (the WHAT) of this particular prayer, Paul includes it almost as an assumption. The baseline of every disciple’s spiritual growth is a growing knowledge of God. After all, this is God’s great desire for his people, and the objective of redemption. Peter writes that “Christ…suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). The central prayer that Paul offers for these brothers and sisters, that the eyes of their hearts would be enlightened through the work of the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation to know three specific spiritual realities, would only take place within the context of a growing knowledge of God. Growing in a knowledge of God is the prerequisite, and it is one that I’m afraid that we largely neglect in our culture.
This knowledge is not mere book knowledge. Nor is it a mere affirmation that one believes something is true. That’s certainly not the way I know my wife, or the way that we know our best friends or family members. Our knowledge of those closest to us, the ones with whom we have invested precious time and emotion, doesn’t stop at mere concepts about that person. Affirming someone is trustworthy is quite different than actually laying my life out through that claim and exercising trust. I can honestly say that knowing my wife hasn’t just resulted in a list of concepts I can affirm about her; it has truly changed my life. I live differently in relation to just about everything, transformed by knowing her. Although I’m sure she would affirm that I certainly haven’t reached the fullness of knowing her, I can say that at least some of that knowledge has reached its full expression through a change in my disposition to not only her but the world around me. And my love for her fuels my passion to grow ever deeper in that full expression of knowing her!
The same is true for our relationship with God. It’s not enough to simply offer mental assent to God’s steadfast love, for instance. God doesn’t desire that we would affirm attributes about him, but rather that we would come to know those attributes by experience in a way that transforms us, transforms our posture in light of the reality of those attributes. This type of knowledge leads us to rest in who he is; it transforms the way we know everything else, the very way we live our lives and respond to the situations of life. He desires that we be transformed through the reality of his steadfast love, that we would know it in our bones, not just in our minds.
The same is true for the three realities that Paul desires we would come to know as his people: (1) the hope to which we are called, (2) the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and (3) the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe. You see, Paul doesn’t just desire that we would get questions about those three truths correct on a doctrinal exam. He doesn’t just wish for people to nod in affirmation that those three things are true. He longs for believers to know these things by experience as we swim in the ocean of the knowledge of him, as we walk with him in relationship. He longs for believers to know them through experience to the degree that we begin to live from that knowledge, as settled conviction that is rooted in their reality. Paul desires to see the Spirit do the work of aligning our lives to that reality as it is revealed to us within the context of our relationship with our Father.
As I have thought more about this last evening and this morning, I made a connection with our Sunday School lesson from the Gospel Project yesterday. Since we didn’t meet in person, I understand that most did not get the benefit of hearing that lesson. Some who read this may not be members at Westwood. Our curriculum is transitioning from the book of Genesis to Exodus, and yesterday’s lesson was all about the identity of God as he reveals himself, not only in Exodus but all through the Scriptures. It is in Moses’ encounter with God at the burning bush that God reveals his personal covenant name of Yahweh, or “I AM.” Jerome, one of our elders at Westwood, did such a wonderful job of leading this lesson yesterday via livestream. One of the things he did was to take several minutes and simply name off many of the names of God we get from Scripture. Thanks, brother, for doing that!
It is in this interaction, though, between God and Moses at the burning bush that we get a glimpse of how the knowledge of God really is his greatest desire, and how that knowledge undergirds everything else. Notice what happens in this interaction. God commands Moses to return to Egypt “that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt” (Exodus 3:10). Moses responds with a question of HOW by pointing at his own perceived inadequacies. Moses is caught up in trying to comprehend how he could possibly be the one to do what God is asking. But notice how God responds, not so much by revealing the HOW, but by pointing back to the crucial WHO. “But I will be with you,” God responds (v. 12). After God goes about explaining what Moses is to do, still he expresses his own inadequacies. What is God’s response? Once again it is to reaffirm his own presence by proclaiming, “I will be your mouth and teach you what you shall speak” (4:12).
More than Moses had need to know HOW he would accomplish WHAT God had commanded him to do, he needed to know WHO. God was calling Moses to more than just a task. He was calling him to fellowship that would be transformative in aligning his life to the reality of who God is. And this would be the bases for everything that God would use him to do throughout the rest of his life. You see, the gospel is never a call to do. The gospel is always a call to believe. And by believe I do not mean mere affirmation by mental assent. The full expression of belief is our doing. We do out of what we (truly) believe. We live what we believe to be really real.
So this leads to assessment. What aspects of our lives and the way we live point to the reality of God we have gained through a growing personal knowledge of who he really is? How have our lives been transformed by God’s omnipotence, by his omniscience, by his immutability, by his sovereignty, by his steadfast love, etc…? His grand desire is not to gather a people together who are willing to affirm his attributes based on what they’ve read or been taught in a Sunday School lesson. His grand desire is to transform a people who have so closely walked with him that they have come to realize the reality of who he is through experience and fellowship, that affirms the reality of what they have learned through education. He desired to form a people who ultimately live from those realities within a dark and broken world. A people who have begun to understand the way things really are within that world in light of the reality of who he is. A people within whom the Spirit is doing the work of aligning hearts and lives with the truth of the gospel in all things (wisdom).
Brothers and sisters, I am learning that this is what Christianity is really all about. An authentic work of the inward work of the Spirit to the outward expression of our lives, rooted in a growing knowledge and settled conviction of the reality of who God is. It is not something that is compartmentalized from the rest of life, but that which begins to color every single aspect of life as the reality of all things is revealed through the reality of who he is, all accomplished through the finished redemptive work of Christ and the ongoing sanctifying work of the Spirit. Oh God, that we would desire to have the eyes of our hearts enlightened in this way!