The Content of the Prayer: Part 2 of 3 (series: Harmony of the Gospels)
by John Lowe
Perhaps most of the Ephesians felt diminished and out of favor in the city they had once called home. Their needs were great. But what was the answer? Paul believed it was to know God. This is our greatest privilege, and it is the only thing worth boasting about (Jeremiah 9:23-24). That is why in his various “prison letters” Paul prays that his reader's knowledge of God will increase (Philippians 1:9; Colossians 1:9-10; Philemon 6), for to know God is to know Him as “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father.” Paul’s burden was, in essence, the burden the Lord Jesus poured out to His Father in His great intercessory prayer for the church—“After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you” (John 17:1)—before His arrest. Thus to know God through Christ is to experience eternal life (John 17:4).
But how can we get to “know him better?” We need to receive “the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that we may know him better.” The phrase “spirit of wisdom” echoes the expression used for the Holy Spirit in Paul’s Greek Old Testament (called the Septuagint). He may well have used it here in that sense. The “spirit of wisdom” is often interpreted as an attitude of mind, like when we speak of a spirit of meekness or of courage. Understood in this fashion the words express a desire of the apostle that his readers may have an attitude of mind, a spiritual disposition, by which they will be able to comprehend divine truth. If this is the meaning here, then the verse is seen as a prayer for the readers to experience to the fullest degree the blessed ministry of the Spirit—particularly in His capacity as “Spirit of wisdom and revelation.” This is the Spirit who anointed Jesus so that he grew in wisdom and knowledge (Isaiah 11:2; Luke 2:52). Christ now sends Him to us to share with us “wisdom and revelation.”
Here “revelation” means essentially the same as “illumination.” That is, to have the “Spirit of wisdom and revelation” is to have the eyes of one’s understanding (“heart”) enlightened. In Paul’s writings, “heart” stands for the whole inner man. Paul is not suggesting that Christians receive their own revelation. Rather, the Spirit brings us to know, understand, and live in the light of the revelation God has made of himself in Christ and through the Spirit.
When spiritual sight is restored, we become like Elisha’s servant. He was terrified by the sight of the enemy occupation of the hills surrounding Dothan—just as the Ephesians might well have felt terrorized by Satan’s powers (and terrorism, whether from outside or inside the church, is one of the tactics he often uses). In answer to prayer, the servant’s eyes were opened. He saw beyond the visible to the invisible and was able to walk by faith and not by sight—“so we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:18; see also 2 Kings 6:17). He received a “spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him” God.
18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people,
“That you may know” introduces the three specific elements of knowledge which Paul desires his readers to possess: “the hope to which he has called you” (1:18), “the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy
people” (1:18), and “his incomparably great power for us who believe”(1:19). Note that it is God’s calling, God’s inheritance, and God’s power. But more specifically, it is the “hope” of his calling, the “glory” of His inheritance, and the “greatness” of His power which Paul wants the readers to grasp and appreciate. And he also wants believers to know how precious they are to God and what God expects of and from them.
Paul prays that the Ephesians will know “the hope to which he has called you.” In his view “those which He has called,” are those who have obeyed God’s summons and have been made believers in Christ. Should the apostle have prayed for something more practical than this? Paul did not pray in this way because of a lack of knowledge of the actual practical difficulties the Ephesians faced. Nor did he pray in these lofty terms simply because this was a circular letter. Since he had lived in Ephesus for an extended period of time (Acts 20:31), he could easily have prayed for specific people. But, like the Lord Jesus, as he prayed for His disciples in their hour of greatest crisis, he saw to the heart of their need: that they might have the eyes of their hearts* (the inner man) enlightened to know God (John 17:1-26). Until the Holy Spirit has wrought His regenerating work in us, the eyes of the heart* are blind. The person who has never been born again cannot know the things of God: “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:14). And the average believer is totally ignorant and unappreciative concerning his present spiritual possession. But when the eyes of the inner man are opened through the power of the Holy Spirit, we grow in knowledge and understanding of spiritual truths. Dear reader, if you are born again, you are somebody, whether you have realized it or not! You are now a son of God. You now possess the divine nature of God. In your bosom dwells the Holy Spirit.
* In the Bible the heart is the seat not so much of the emotions as of the understanding, so that this is a prayer that Paul’s readers may have their spiritual wits sharpened to understand three things: “the hope to which He has called you”—the blessed hope of everlasting life; “the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints”—the glory and wonder of that life among the heavenly beings; and “the immeasurable greatness of His power in us who believe”—that is, the presence in us even now of God’s power to help us realize this life (1:18-19).
When we ask such a question—“Should the apostle have prayed for something more practical than this?”—we reveal much about our priorities. We think we can see what is really important, but we are short-sighted. Yes, sad but so, most Christians are totally ignorant concerning our position and our possession in the Lord Jesus. We need spiritual eye surgery from the Spirit in order to be able to see clearly.
Later he underlines that by nature the Ephesians—as Gentiles—had “no hope” (2:12). They were not the recipients of the special covenant promises God had given to Abraham and his posterity. For them, life was, at the end of the day, a hopeless business—the future a closed door beyond which nothing could be seen. At their funeral services there could be little more than a clinging to the past, some small consolation in gratitude for good memories—but no light dawned on them from the future.