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TEXT: Ephesians 1:15-23

SUBJECT: Ephesians #3: Thanksgiving and Prayer

Today, with God's blessing, we come to part three in our study of Ephesians, a Letter written by the Apostle Paul, to promote the unity of the church-both on Sundays (when we're together), and on the other six days of the week (when we're not).

This togetherness-Paul says-is not of our own making. It is the unity of the Spirit. But, if we are not called to create the unity of the church, we are called to keep it.

Does this sound familiar to you? If you've read very far in the Bible is ought to, because this is just what the Lord did in the beginning. He created the world, and told the human race to keep it.

We botched it, of course, but the Lord did not give up on us. About 30 AD, He created a new human race, with the Resurrected Jesus as its New Adam, and the Church as His Bride, the New Eve.

Looking at this dinky little building, with its aging congregation, in a Podunk town, it's hard to believe we're the New Humanity, the New Creation, But this is what we are! This is why the unity of the Church is so important! And why we've got to do everything we can to keep it, and turn to God for the things we cannot do.

How do we maintain and improve the unity of the Church? This is what the Book is about, and as we work our way through it, I'll try to point out some of the things we can do.

THANKSGIVING

The first two are named in our text, 1:15-23. What are they? Paul starts with thanksgiving, v.15-16a-

Therefore, I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and love for all the saints, do not cease to give thanks for you.

The word, therefore, is a connector. It attaches what we have here with what comes before. What's that? It is Paul praising God for unifying the Church, first by choosing its members to be His people, then by redeeming us from our sin through the death of Christ, and finally, by giving us His Holy Spirit, who both saves us now and guarantees we'll be fully saved at the Resurrection.

These are heavenly doctrines, but Paul doesn't leave them there. He brings them down to earth, by thanking God for choosing, redeeming, and indwelling-not the universal, invisible Church, but the church in Ephesus!

The unity of the Church is not a vague, abstract, mystical thing. It's a real thing to be practiced in a real church full of real people with their real problems, real oddities, and real knuckle-headedness.

This brings up a question: Are you thanking the Lord for your brothers and sisters in Christ? It's far easier to ignore them, and-when they make you mad-to despise them or even to hate them. But how can writing them off, looking down on them, or wishing them ill unify the church? Paul was not a naïve man; he knew very well what the weaknesses and sins of the church were, but he also recognized their faith in the Lord Jesus and their love for all the saints.

This reminds me of a story I've often told-but not often enough. Two men were walking down a noisy street in New York. With horns blaring, pedestrians yelling, boom-boxes booming, car engines racing, tires squealing, and so on, he heard a bird singing up in a tree, and told his friend-Listen, that's a nightengale. The friend was amazed he could hear a bird over all the city noise. The man said to him, 'Watch this'. He took out a handful of coins and dropped them on the sidewalk. When they hit the ground, every head within twenty feet turned to look. He said, 'Hearing depends on what you're listening for'.

If you're looking for my sins, you'll see them with your eyes closed; if I'm looking for your weaknesses, they're easy to spot. But what if we're looking for each other's faith and love?

They too can be seen! Because these are the most visible marks of salvation. Our loyalty to Christ and devotion to each other are not what they ought to be-we're all shamefully deficient! But we do love another and we are depending on Christ.

Paul promoted the unity of the church-not by nitpicking the faults of others or pushing them faster than they could go, but by recognizing God's grace in them, and thanking Him for it.

He didn't do this, only when he was in a sunny mood or when they had done something especially kind for him, but all the time-

I do not cease to give thanks for you.

This brings me to another story, a story I tell on myself, both to humble me and to help you. Several years ago, I got a bad attitude toward a couple in the church. I cannot explain why I felt the way I did, but I did. Like everyone with a bad attitude, I felt somewhat justified in keeping it because-well, because they're the way they are. It wasn't long, however, before I started feeling guilty.

I confessed my sins to the Lord, and this made me feel better for a while, but it didn't change my attitude. I thought of confessing my sins to the couple, but I couldn't see the use in doing that if I also wasn't going to change!

So, what do I do? I thought it over for quite some time and hit upon a plan. I'll start thanking God for them, and I'll do it for it for fifteen minutes a day until I start feeling thankful for them.

Those were the longest fifteen minutes of my life! That's how I felt for several days, but then something happened: I started believing what I said. I thanked the Lord that He chose them for salvation, that Christ died for them on the cross, and that they are possessed by the Holy Spirit; that they will go to heaven when they die, and share in the Resurrected Glory of Christ.

Then it some of their good qualities came to mind. They worked hard, shared with needy people, witnessed to the lost, and loved to talk about the Bible. Before long, I started wondering why I had hard feelings toward them at all!

Finally, I went to them, and apologized for my rotten attitude, and what do you think they said? 'What did we do wrong?' I told them, 'Nothing'. They replied, 'Oh, great, we forgive you!' And that was that.

I was never going to be right with these dear people until I was thankful for them. And I was never going to be thankful for them until I remembered what God had done for them!

Unless we are thankful for each other, we will not be united. We may get along well enough when everything's going well, but when the stresses of life start pressing us, our unity will go to pieces.

From a human standpoint, church unity depends on mutual thanksgiving. We not only thank God with each other, but for each other!

Are you doing this?

If you're not, you need to start. I don't care what method you use or whether you use any method at all. For some people, the church directory can be a helpful way of thanking God for each other; for others it becomes a kind of drudgery. Here's my advice: give thanks for one person or one family each day. If they're close friends, you'll have more detail in your prayers; if they're not, you'll have fewer. But so what? Thanksgiving doesn't require footnotes!

If you find it hard to give thanks for 'some people'-all the more reason to give thanks for them. If they're Christians, you can do this because all Christians have some faith and love, and since these things matter more than all the world besides, you can thank the Lord for them and with sincerity.

In a word-

In everything give thanks,

For this is the will of God

In Christ Jesus for you.

And, let your brothers and sisters in Christ be near the top of your thanksgiving list!

This is the first practical step toward church unity.

PRAYER

The second step is prayer, v.16b-

Making mention of you in my prayers.

'Giving thanks' is a big part of prayer, but it's not the whole thing. The very word, 'prayer' means 'request', and this is what we do for each other, we ask for things.

What should we ask for? We should ask for everything, allowing God to give what He thinks is best. If you read the Lord's Prayer, you won't find the words, 'me or my', but always, us and our. Thus, everything asked for there can and should be asked for for the brethren-

Daily bread.forgiveness.leading away from temptation.deliverance from evil.

In another place, Paul says-

Bear one another's burdens.

This seems to mean that you're to pray for my burdens, whatever they are-sickness, grief, money problems, family issues, not knowing what to do, and so on.

In praying for each other, we strengthen ties. My concern for you brings you closer to me, and-I hope-me closer to you. We become teammates, and if you've been on a team, you know people who would never be friends otherwise, become tight while playing with and for each other.

GOD AND FATHER

As important as it is to pray for each other's health or finances, Paul is praying for something else. What he wants us to have more than fit bodies or fat wallets is understanding, vv.17-18a-

Making mention of you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened.

He's praying to the Lord, of course, but he doesn't call Him, 'the Lord' or 'God', but rather the God of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Father of glory.

The first title refers to His generosity or willingness to give us the wisdom we need. How so? Because if He gave us Christ, He will give us all we need. The second name recalls His power. A good father may want to help his children, but can't. This father can because He is the Father of Glory, which is the expression of His Divinity.

Before telling us to pray, Paul tells us whom we're praying to! We're not praying to a powerful, but stingy God, nor to a generous but weak God. We're praying to-

The God of our Lord Jesus Christ,

The Father of Glory.

UNDERSTANDING

Paul is sure this God will open our eyes to what we most need to know. Of course he's sure. As an Old Testament scholar, Paul knew wisdom was the gift of God, and often given in answer to prayer. When Solomon was a young man the Lord came to him in a dream, offering him anything he asked for. The king asked only for wisdom, and he got it. Did Solomon study and think and talk things over with other wise men? Sure he did. But the wisdom didn't come from his books or his brain or his advisers, it only came through them. It came from the Lord, I Kings 3:12, the Lord speaking-

Behold, I have done according to your words; see I have given you a wise and understanding heart.

This was not the experience of one man only, but of all the wise in Israel, Proverbs 2-

If you cry out for discernment and lift up your voice for understanding, if you seek her as silver and search for her as for hidden treasure, you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom: from His mouth come knowledge and understanding; He stores up sound wisdom for the upright.

Paul wants his friends in Ephesus to know. And not only in Ephesus.

Why does he want us to know things? It's not to make us feel good, though learning often does. It's not to enable us to win arguments, though that's fine too. It's also not to be better teachers, though we need better teachers. And it is certainly not to make us feel proud of ourselves and look down on others!

We need to be wise so the church can be united. This is the direct teaching of 4:14-17 and the background for the whole Epistle. Does all knowledge bring us together? No, some of it tears us apart. In other places, Paul warns against disputing about words, fables, endless genealogies, vain philosophy, speculation, and going beyond what is written.

This kind of knowledge divides. We want the knowledge that unites. Paul tells us what it is. Three things.

HOPE OF HIS CALLING

The first is found in the middle of v.18-

The hope of His calling.

The calling is God's call to Christ and each other. Its hope is eternal fellowship with Christ and each other. The word, 'hope' in English often means 'wishful thinking', but in the Bible it stands for a future certainty. It's an expectation of the good things to come. The things God has promised, and therefore the things that must surely come to pass.

This hope, please remember, is personal, but not only personal. It is also collective. It is both my hope and our hope!

INHERITANCE

The next thing Paul wants us to know is at the end of v.18-

What are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints.

What is the Christian's inheritance? It is the Lord Himself and all His people! This is a rich and glorious legacy, and one that will be shared by all the saints.

By living in the hope of our rich, glorious, and shared inheritance, we cannot help loving and respecting each other, because we have the same share in God and one another, in salvation and in heaven.

THE POWER

But, oh dear.How can we possibly endure to the end and have all this? How can we stick together through the hardships of life and share in the glory that will be for all who do? We don't know.

Paul prays we will, vv.19ff-

What is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come. And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.

The church is going to glory together because the same power of God that raised Christ from the dead and made Him Lord of All is now working on our behalf.

When you think of the great miracles of the Bible, what comes to mind first? Parting the Red Sea? Sun and moon standing still? Feeding five thousand with a boy's lunch? Lazarus raised from the dead? All great miracles, no doubt, but all done with God's left hand. His stronger hand was used for the harder works of exalting Christ.and unifying His Church.

A church living together in love and faith? You'll never see a greater miracle.

Just to make sure we follow the argument, Paul ties it all up in the last two verses. Christ has been crowned Lord of all, for the sake of the Church. V.22 doesn't call Him the 'Head of the Church', but the 'Head of all things to (or for the benefit of) the Church'.

To emphasize our connection to Christ, he calls us His body and His fullness, which I take to mean 'completeness' which means, 'Bride'. For, as Eve completed Adam, in a sense, so the Church completes or fulfills Christ.

THE PRACTICE

This is high theology, but it translates into common life. If the Almighty Power of God is at work uniting the Church, it must follow:

The Church can be united, and this means, between Christians, every interpersonal problem can be solved or lived with. When dealing with break-ups in marriage or friendship one of the hardest things to do is get people to hope. They've gotten their hopes up a hundred times before, and every time they were disappointed. They don't want to be hurt again, so they say 'It's hopeless!'

And they're right! If left to themselves and counselors and support groups and books and seminars and anti-depressants and promises and resolutions.

But what if they're left to The exceeding greatness of His power? Sick marriages can be healed! Dead friendships can be resurrected! Churches burned to the ground can be rebuilt.

But only when pin our hopes to the power of God and the Lordship of Christ!

God will unite His Church in Christ, and He has given us the privilege of having a part in His Work. Let's get to it, starting with giving thanks for each other, praying for one another, and pondering the truths of our most holy faith.

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