A Commentary by John Stott
What prompts Paul to launch into prayer for his readers is something he had heard about them. In the previous paragraph he has written in fairly general terms how he and his fellow Jewish Christians had ‘first hoped in Christ’ (verse 12) and how his readers as Gentile believers had ‘heard the word of truth… and believed in’ Christ (verse 13). Now he becomes more personal: *I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints*. Strangely, the best manuscripts omit the words ‘your love’. Without them ‘the Lord Jesus’ and ‘all the saints’ become bracketed as the object of the Ephesians’ faith. So unusual is this notion of faith in Christians as well in Christ, and so unlike anything Paul writes elsewhere, that we are faced with a choice. Either we must follow Markus Barth in translating ‘faith’ as ‘faithfulness’ or ‘loyalty’, which is ‘something similar to love’ and could conceivably be directed to both Christ and Christians, or we must conclude, even against the strong manuscript evidence, that the words ‘your love’ were indeed dictated by Paul but somehow got dropped out by an early copyist. In the latter case we have the familiar couplet of faith in Christ and love for his people, which is exactly paralleled in Colossians 1:4. Every Christian both believes and loves. Faith and love are basic Christian graces, as also is hope, the third member of the triad, which has already been mentioned in verse 12 and occurs again in verse 18. It is impossible to be in Christ and not to find oneself drawn both to him in trust and to his people in love (to *all* of them too, in this case Jews and Gentiles without distinction).
Having heard of their Christian faith and love, Paul says he continuously thanks God for them (acknowledging him as the author of both qualities), and then encompasses them with his prayers. For despite his unceasing gratitude to God for them, he is still not satisfied with them. So what is his request? It is not that they may receive a ‘second blessing’, but rather that they may appreciate to the fullest possible extent the implications of the blessing they have already received. So the essence of his prayer for them is *that you may know* (verse 18). Although his other recorded prayers range more widely that this, they all include a similar petition either for ‘power to comprehend’ (3:18) or for ‘the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and understanding’ (Col.1:9) or for ‘knowledge and all discernment’ (Phil.1:9). We must not overlook this emphasis. Growth in knowledge is indispensable to growth in holiness. Indeed, knowledge and holiness are even more intimately linked than as means and end. For the ‘knowledge’ for which Paul prays is more Hebrew than Greek in concept; it adds the knowledge of experience to the knowledge of understanding. More than this, it emphasizes *the knowledge of him* (verse 17), of God himself personally, as the context within which we *may know what is…* (verse 18), that is, may come to know truths about him. There is no higher knowledge than the knowledge of God himself. As Adolphe Monod expressed it: ‘Philosophy taking man for its centre says *know thyself*; only the inspired word which proceeds from God has been able to say *know God*.’
Such knowledge is impossible without revelation. So Paul prays that God *may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him* (verse 17). Although RSV writes ‘spirit’ with a small ‘s’, the reference is likely to be to the Holy Spirit, since Scripture speaks of him as ‘the Spirit of truth’, the agent of revelation, and the teacher of the people of God. Not that we can ask God to ‘give’ the Holy Spirit himself to those who have already received him and been ‘sealed’ with him (verse 13), but rather that we may and should pray for his ministry of illumination. It is because of his confidence in this ministry of the Spirit that Paul can continue his prayer: *having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know…* In biblical usage the heart is the whole inward self, comprising mind as well as emotion. So ‘the eyes of the heart’ are simply our ‘inner eyes’, which need to be opened or ‘enlightened’ before we can grasp God’s truth.
The apostle now brings together three great truths which he wants his readers (through the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit) to know in mind and experience. They concern God’s call, inheritance and power. More particularly, he prays that they may know the ‘hope’ of God’s call, the ‘glory’ (indeed ‘the riches of the glory’) of his inheritance, and the ‘greatness’ (indeed the immeasurable greatness) of his power.