A Commentary by John Stott
Ephesians. 1: 15-23. Conclusion.
It is time now to step back from the detailed questions which have necessarily been occupying us and survey the sweep of Paul’s prayer for his readers. To me one of its most impressive features is his emphasis on the importance for Christian maturity of ‘knowledge’ (*that you may know*), together with his teaching on how knowledge is attained and how it is related to faith. For in this apostolic instruction he unites what we moderns, with disastrous consequences, too often separate.
a). Enlightenment and thought.
The whole thrust of Paul’s prayer is that his readers may have a through knowledge of God’s call, inheritance and power, especially the latter. But how did he expect his prayer to be answered? How do Christians grow in understanding? Some will reply that knowledge depends on the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit. And they are right, at least in part. For Paul prays that ‘the Spirit of wisdom and revelation’ may increase their knowledge of God and enlighten the eyes of their hearts. We have no liberty to infer from this, however, that our responsibility is solely to pray and to wait for illumination, and not at all to think. Others make the opposite mistake: They use their minds and think, but leave little room for the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit.
The apostle Paul brings the two together. First he prays that the eyes of his reader’s hearts may be enlightened to know God’s power. Then he teaches that God has already supplied historical evidence of his power by raising and exalting Jesus. Thus, God has revealed his power objectively in Jesus Christ, and now illumines our minds by his Spirit to grasp this revelation. Divine illumination and human thought belong together. All our thinking is unproductive without the Spirit of truth; yet his enlightenment is not intended to save us the trouble of using our minds. It is precisely as we ponder what God has done in Christ that the Spirit will open our eyes to grasp its implications.
b). Knowledge and faith.
It is commonly assumed that faith and reason are incompatible. This is not so. The two are never contrasted in Scripture, as if we had to choose between them. Faith goes beyond reason, but rests on it. Knowledge is the ladder by which faith climbs higher, the springboard from which it leaps further.
So Paul prayed: ‘that you may know…what is the immeasurable greatness of his power in (better, ‘for’ or ‘towards’) us who *believe…* which he accomplished in Christ…’ It is vital to see how Paul brings together the verbs ‘to know’ and ‘to believe’. The very same resurrection power which God exhibited in Christ is now available for us. First we are to know its surpassing greatness as demonstrated in Christ’s resurrection and enthronement, and then we are to lay hold of it experimentally for ourselves by faith. Of course we are already believers. Our faith has already been mentioned in verses 1,13 and 15. But now the present participle *pisteuontas* (verse 19) emphasizes the need for the continuing exercise of faith in the apprehension of God’s power. Thus knowledge and faith need each other. Faith cannot grow without a firm basis of knowledge; knowledge is sterile if it does not bring forth faith.
How much do we know of the power of God, which raised Jesus from death and enthroned him over evil? True, the very same power of God has raised us with Jesus from spiritual death, and enthroned us with Jesus in heavenly places, as Paul will go on to show in 2:1-10. But how much of this is theory, and how much is experience? It is not difficult to think of our human weakness: our tongue or our temper, malice, greed, lust, jealousy or pride. These things are certainly beyond our power to control. And we have to humble ourselves to admit it. ‘The words the apostle uses here are so many thunderclaps and lightnings, to beat down and subdue all the pride of man.’ But are our weaknesses beyond the power of God? Paul will soon assure us that God is able far to surpass our thoughts and prayers ‘by the power at work within us’ (3:20), and he will go on to exhort us to ‘be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might’ (6:10). This is the power of God that raised Jesus from the dead, and raised us with him. It has put all things under his feet; it can put all evil under ours.
Tomorrow: Ephesians 2:1-10. Resurrected with Christ.
|The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Ephesians. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.|