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Ephesians (2010)

Intercession in the Church

Ephesians 1:15-23

Lesson audio

For This Reason

For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.

(Ephesians 1:15-16 NIV)

In Review

The passage starts with the phrase, "for this reason." We need to review last week's lesson just a bit to understand the reason that Paul is taking his new tack. Briefly, he gives us three reasons:

·         First, he speaks of there being included in Christ. Becoming a Christian is not like becoming a member of the National Geographic Society. It's not a simple membership thing. Rather, to become a Christian is to be integrated into the body of Christ. It means that you have a particular function in that body, a task to which you have been assigned and for which you will be rewarded.

·         You are sealed with the Spirit. It means that you have the Holy Spirit within you, it means that the Holy Spirit is your guarantee of salvation, and it means that you should be guided by that Holy Spirit.

·         All of this is done, as Paul puts it, "to the praise of God's glory." This means that the coming of Christ and our salvation is not the result of our intrinsic merit, nor of anything we have done. It is the result of the love of God, and all the credit (glory) is his.

Ever Since

It's fairly obvious that Paul's thankfulness has a beginning moment in time. It is interesting to note here that the active verb is, "heard." Some scholars have speculated that, since Paul spent two years in Ephesus, this secondhand observation of faith implies that the letter was not originally written to the Ephesians. Some of the earliest manuscripts leave out that name. It is speculated that this might indeed be the long-lost letter to the Laodiceans. We may, however, examine just what it is that caused this thankfulness:

·         First, we have the fact that he heard about their faith. Think about the last time you got good news. You can remember what you were doing when it arrived; you can still remember the smile on your face when you found out. Have you ever considered that your faith is good news to somebody? That's particularly true of the somebody is important in the church. Pastors like to know that they have been successful. It's easy to count success by baptisms, but success as determined by growth in the faith is a little harder to measure. So when you hear of someone whose faith is growing and is strong, it warms your heart. At least it does so for this teacher.

·         Next, we have the fact that he heard about their faith. That's the important thing. It is the first condition of Christian growth; if there is no faith, then nothing else happens.

·         But faith without works is dead. If your teacher is to hear about your faith, he will most often hear of it in terms of what you have done. In this instance, it is the love of the disciples which shows up as the action. Remember that Christ said the world would know we were his disciples by our love for each other.

Giving Thanks for You

Paul is giving thanks, and the wording suggests a continuous action. In short, they were on his prayer list every night. This is a fairly common thing with Paul; in fact, it is most noticeable that Paul's prayer list includes a great deal of Thanksgiving. We might take an example here; how often do our prayers consist solely of our requests and complaints? Perhaps the Lord would do some more closely if we were to balance those things with our prayers of praise and thanksgiving.

Intercession

I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also 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 the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.

(Ephesians 1:17-19a NIV)

The Nature of Intercession

It is a curiously neglected subject: intercession. Most Christians do not understand the principles behind a prayer of intercession; they are much more concerned about getting what they want. Intercession is by definition a prayer for what someone else needs. We may understand the basis of intercession in these three principles:

·         The greater intercedes for the lesser. Think about that for a few minutes; are we not commanded to pray for the president of the United States, and all others in authority over us? How can this be? It is because we, as the church, stand far above any national government. We are the ones who are close to God, and therefore greater than those in authority over us — at least as far as God is concerned. We therefore must pray for them.

·         Those who intercede must know quite well who God is. We must see him as God the Father; the creator and ruler of all things. If we do not understand him as such, we are praying to the wrong God. We must understand that he is indeed glorious, far beyond our imagination. If he did not command us to come to the throne of grace in prayer, our courage would not be strong enough to let us pray. Indeed so powerful is this God that the one divine human ever to walk the planet, Jesus Christ, prayed to this same God.

·         What may surprise you is this: intercession does not depend upon how important you are; it depends on who you know. You don't have to be prominent in the church to intercede for others. The power does not depend upon your position but upon the God whom you beseech.

Paul Asks For…

Just what does Paul ask for? It's an interesting combination.

·         First, he asks that you receive the spirit of wisdom. The Holy Spirit is our source of wisdom; please remember that wisdom is highly practical. Wisdom contains the precepts by which daily living should be conducted. But there is one key characteristic wisdom: there is nothing miraculous about it. You can read it, you can memorize it, and you can understand it.

·         Revelation, on the other hand, is most assuredly divine in its nature. If God refused to reveal himself to us, there is little we could know about him. Without revelation, you do not know God. Without knowing God, your intercession will be very weak — at best.

·         Finally, Paul prays that "the eyes of your heart may be enlightened.” Do remember that the heart, in the language of the time, does not mean the seat of the emotions. It means the will of the human being. There is a curious concurrence here. Experienced Christians will tell you that sometimes you must believe your way out of a problem. You may not be able to see your way out of it. That's what's being talked about here; that your will might be so bound to God that you will see with your own determination. Sometimes the Christian "just knows" what the answer is. That phenomenon is what Paul is talking about.

Why?

Paul has a purpose in this. There are three things he wants us to know:

·         First, he wants us to know God. As this is essential to the core of Christianity, we will take this as obvious. But do consider: when your life is mired in sin, isn't it true that you really don't want to see God for who he is?

·         Second, that you will know the hope God has given us. He refers to this as the "riches of his glorious inheritance," meaning of course the hope we have in the resurrection of the dead.

·         This is accompanied and caused by his "incomparably great power." It is quite the case that most Christians completely underestimate the power of God. Our daily lives show us our own weakness, and somehow we project that on God. Think what it must have been like during the reign of Hitler to be a Christian in Germany. Persecution, ridicule and death came to those who truly believed. But yet the church marches on; the thousand year Reich lasted less than 15 years.

The Nature of the Church

That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

(Ephesians 1:19b-23 NIV)

The Power of God

Talking about the power of God is somewhat like describing the direction, "up." It's a fairly simple concept until you start to measure it. The first place in which one can measure the power of God is in creation. All that exists, matter and energy and spirit, came from him. He is superior to anything in the known universe, for he is its creator.

Perhaps the most obvious and yet startling superiority of God over the universe concerns death. Nothing in this universe — matter, energy, or spirit — is superior to death. But God raised Christ from the dead. His power is not just greater than anything in the universe, it is power of a totally different kind. The very nature of his power is beyond our comprehension, let alone any limits to his power.

Indeed, we are told that he is superior to all things, both now and in the age to come. It is risky business to talk about the age to come; we have really very little information about it. But there is one solid fact you can count on: any age to come God will rule just as he does now. It's not just his universe, it's his new heaven and new Earth.

The Authority of Christ

We might begin with a short note on authority. In the kingdom of God, authority is given in parallel with responsibility. As Christ's authority is superior to all others, so is his responsibility. One measure of his superiority is this: his authority and power are exercised in weakness. A man who is just a little bit more powerful than you are might lord it over you; someone who is immensely more powerful doesn't bother to do so. In fact, if one so powerful were to do it, we'd question his power. How great is Christ's power and authority?

·         One measure is the fact that it is for this age and the age to come; again, something beyond our comprehension.

·         Another measure can be seen in this phrase: "under his feet." Doesn't this bring to your mind an image of tiny little slaves approaching a giant in absolute awe? It is comforting to know, as the song says, "things over my head are under his feet."

The Body of Christ

We are all familiar with the phrase that the church is the body of Christ. That is not just a phrase which describes the collection of believers; rather, it is a statement of the purpose of the church. As our physical bodies exist to do our will — we are in charge of us, so to speak — so the church exists to do the will of Christ. In effect, we are the physical hands and feet of Jesus Christ, carrying out his mission to this world.

But I submit to you that if your will is strong but your body is weak, you are likely to fail. Christ has therefore given us a way to be strong as his body. That way is simply put: the imitation of Christ. It is not just that we will do what he would do; it is that we will be what he is. Life in the church is not a matter of a checklist; it is a matter of style. Our actions should flow from who we really are. If we are in fact a collection of "little Christs,” then we will do the things he would do. It is not a stretch; in fact, it comes naturally. The key is the imitation of Christ.

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