The Content of the Prayer: Part 3 of 3 (series: Harmony of the Gospels)
by John Lowe
The “hope,” of which Paul speaks here, is not to be confused with wishful thinking. It is an assurance of the reality of what we have not yet fully experienced. It will not disappoint us. Why? How can we be so sure? Because the love of God has already been poured into our hearts through the Spirit—“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). The world of heavenly love, which is the future destiny of believers, is already ours! The Spirit who has poured it into us also indwells us as the guarantee of the final inheritance: “who (the Holy Spirit) is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory” (1:14). Having Him we have a confident expectation for the future.
Why does “the hope to which he has called you” hold such a priority in Paul’s prayers for his friends? Because how we live the Christian life is in large measure determined by how we think about the future. Putting it another way, the purpose behind God’s revelation about the future is to transform the way we live in the present.
This was certainly true of our Lord’s teaching: knowing that He will come again should lead us to live each day in the light of His return and to treat others in the light of His final assessment of our lives (see, for example, Matthew 25:31-46).
We find the same emphasis in Paul’s letters: even his prayer life is enlightened by knowledge of the future. Because he knows that the Lord will return in glory and judgment, he prays that believers may live in a way that is “worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power” (2 Thessalonians 1:11).
What does Paul mean when he now prays that the Ephesians will realize “the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people?” Does this refer to (a) the inheritance which God has in us, or (b) the inheritance we have in Him?
In the Old Testament, the people were regarded as the Lord’s inheritance (Psalm 28:9; 33:12; 78:62, 71; most beautifully expressed in Malachi 3:16-17). In turn, the Promised Land was the inheritance he gave to them (Numbers 18:26). However, Old Testament believers saw beyond the land to the Landlord—ultimately God himself was their inheritance. The land was a physical expression of the spiritual riches they possessed in Him. This was true not only of Aaron and his descendants who had no land inheritance (Numbers 18:20; Ezekiel 44:28), but ultimately also of all the people: the Lord was their “portion” (Psalm 73:26; 119:57; 142:5)
Paul’s reference could be either to the riches we have in God, or to the remarkable Biblical revelation that God regards His people as His “treasured possession” (Malachi 3:17). Since God’s inheritance in us and our inheritance in Him are really two sides of the same coin, either interpretation implies the other.
But in either case, why is it important that our eyes are opened to see this? Because seeing this brings us a deep sense of dignity and security. Dignity is ours because of the knowledge that we are treasured by the great God in whom our lasting treasure is to be found. Security is guaranteed by the knowledge that He guards those He treasures as well as the treasures which are theirs—”Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy, he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:3-5).
Think how much this would mean to the group in the church at Ephesus whose background lay in the dark arts. They once had been among the wealthy book-owners of the city, so much so that in their radical commitment to Christ they had burned their occult literature (Acts 19:19). Why did they not sell it and use the proceeds for evangelism? Because evil must be
rooted out and destroyed.
Christians—then and now—must live without regrets, “forgetting what lies behind” (Philippians 3:13). There is no greater incentive to do that than to realize that lasting wealth lies in the priceless treasure we have received from God. He has given His Son for us.
19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength
Many early Christians suffered financial ruin because of their faith in Christ: “You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions” (Hebrew 10:34). Doubtless the slogan “money is power” was as true of first-century Ephesus as it is of the great cities of the world today. But the Ephesian Christians were financially challenged and socially weakened. In Christ, however, great power is available to the weak.
In this verse, Paul wants us to understand “what is the exceeding greatness of His power” (KJV) toward us who believe. Every born again child of God has within his bosom the power of Almighty God. We are kept by the power of God. Jesus does not redeem a soul—and then leave that soul alone to fight the warfare of faith. Promises such as this encouraged Christians to move on in the spiritual life: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35-39, KJV). When the believer discovers this promise and thousands of others just as precious, he will march on to victory in Christ Jesus, through the power of God. God’s power is not only great—His power is “EXCEEDING GREAT” . . . “the exceeding greatness of His power” (KJV).
The power of God is seen in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In the Old Testament, people measured God’s power by His creation (Isaiah 40:12-27) or by His miracle at the Exodus of Israel from Egypt (Jeremiah 16:14). But today we measure God’s power by the miracle of Christ’s resurrection. Much more was required than merely raising Him from the dead, for Christ also ascended to heaven and set down in the place of authority at the right hand of God. He is not only Savior; He is also Sovereign (Acts 2:25-36). No authority or power, human or in the spirit world, is greater than that of Jesus Christ, the exalted Son of God. He is “far above all,” and no future enemy can overcome Him, because He has been exalted “far above all” powers.
Paul himself experience spiritual strength being given to him in times of weakness. Indeed he taught that such strength can be discovered only in the context of weakness. So he learned to be content in privation and even to “boast” in his weaknesses—not in and of themselves but because the Lord taught him that his “power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
So too, these young Christians, surrounded by occult powers, and perhaps especially conscious of the socio-political power of the Diana cult in Ephesus (Acts 19:19, 34) needed to know that the One who was in them was stronger than the one who is in the world: “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).
Some think that the measure of God’s power is brought out by the remarkable accumulation of terms, which is best illustrated by the King James Version—“And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power” (1:18)—“exceeding greatness,” “power,” “working,” “strength,” “might”. The heaping up of words suggests the idea of power, the very telling of which exhausts the resources of language and finally defies description.