Read the Passage: Ephesians 1:15-23
This passage contains the first of two prayers that Paul gives in the book of Ephesians, the other being at Eph. 3:14–21. Initially, it may seem strange that Paul would offer a prayer immediately after his teaching about predestination in Eph. 1:3–14. Yet, Scripture teaches that while God’s sovereign will is definite, prayer has great value and is an essential component of the Christian life. Indeed, God has determined within His sovereign will that His plans for His creation will be fulfilled as a result of the free prayers of the saints (cf. 1 Cor. 3:9). In other words, God wills both the ends and the means for the accomplishment of His will. While believers are invited to pray about anything (cf. 1 Pet. 5:7), we must keep in mind the fact that prayer is primarily about sanctification, not revelation. Although our prayers are not always answered as we might desire, God always gives us what we need.
In Eph. 1:15 Paul writes that it was the Ephesian believers’ “faith in the Lord Jesus and [their] love for all the saints” that provoked his prayer in this passage. When we see evidence of Christian faith in the lives of others, it ought to bring us great joy and prompt us to praise God (cf. 3 John 4). Indeed, true faith in Christ will be manifest in love for others, for “he who loves God must love his brother also” (1 John 4:21). As we turn to look at the content of Paul’s prayer in Eph. 1:17–19, we note that believers’ can pray for self-understanding (cf. Psalm 139), for health and deliverance (cf. Jas. 5:13–16), for forgiveness (cf. 1 John 1:9), for strength in the face of temptation (cf. Matt. 26:41), for effective evangelism (cf. Col. 4:2–4), for our own material needs (cf. Luke 11:9–10); for wisdom (cf. Jas. 1:5), as well as for discernment and understanding (cf. Phil. 1:9–11).
After writing that it was the believers’ faith and love that moved him to pray and to give thanks for them, Paul records the content of his prayer in Eph. 1:17–19. In this passage Paul prays for three main things for the church: wisdom, knowledge, and understanding. Note that it is God’s Word that ties these three prayer requests together, for wisdom is the application of God’s Word to daily living; knowledge is what is revealed in God’s Word, and understanding of the knowledge revealed in God’s Word is what leads to wisdom. Observe that Paul not only told the believers in Ephesus that he was praying for them, but also he communicated what he was praying for them. It is interesting that Paul did not pray for health, wealth, and material well-being for the church. Rather, his prayer related specifically to the spiritual maturity of the church as the believers in Ephesus grew in Christ-likeness.
At the end of Eph. 1:18, in an easily overlooked phrase, Paul prays that the Christians in Ephesus might understand that they are “the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints.” This teaching—namely, that the church is Jesus’ inheritance—was first alluded to back in Deut. 32:9, which reads, “But the Lord’s portion is his people, Jacob his allotted heritage” (cf. Deut. 9:26). Observe, then, the correlative truth that Paul reveals within this chapter: Jesus is believers’ inheritance (cf. Eph. 1:11) and believers are Jesus’ inheritance (cf. Eph. 1:18). Indeed, the church is the spotless bride of Christ (cf. Rev. 19:7; 21:9), and is the fulfillment of a promise made by the Father to the Son in eternity past, “before time began” (Titus 1:2). Paul wants the church to understand this truth, for then we can realize and embrace “the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe” (Eph. 1:19).
As was just noted, Paul concludes his prayer, exhorting his readers to understand “the greatness of God’s power toward us who believe” (Eph. 1:19). In Eph. 1:20–23 Paul explains that this divine power is the same power that “worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead” (Eph. 1:20). Note Paul does not pray that God will give the church such power; rather, he prays that the Ephesian believers would know and understand the power that God already has toward them. Next, at Eph. 1:22–23, as he had done at Eph. 1:10, Paul references the cosmic scope of redemption, as he reminds the church that Christ is the Head of the church and that all things are under Him (cf. Acts 3:19–21; 1 Cor. 15:20–28). Paul’s reference to the church being the Body of Christ is helpful, for it assists believers in understand that they, as the church, are one with Jesus (cf. Eph. 4:11–16).
- Have you encountered many Christians who believe they’ve mastered the practice of prayer? How have your own prayers changed as you’ve grown in spiritual maturity?
- How does the doctrine of prayer fit with the doctrine of predestination? Does it seem odd that Paul would mention both of these doctrines in the same passage?
- What benefit is there in letting others in the church know that you are praying for them, as well as communicating the specific content of your prayers?
- Do you think that most believers realize, understand, and embrace their position in Christ—that is, the fact that we are Jesus’ bride and His inheritance?
- Do most Christians think of themselves as the Body of Christ? How do Paul’s prayers in Scripture compare with believers’ prayers today?