Read the passage here
In a Nutshell…
There are many different ways we look at the Christian life. Several ways of thinking about what it looks like to “be successful”; to become mature; to grow up in Christ.
Often, we think of it as a sort of score card.
The Health and Wealth arm of the church sees this as the more you are blessed with earthly things, the more you must be in God’s favour. Now this may be seen as a result (of God’s favor), but in my estimation, this is in many ways the goal (to win God’s favor so we can get the things).
This isn’t too different from how many of us see our relationship with God. It is purely defined by what we can get God to do for us. If we are struggling or face tragedy, it must be because we are not following God closely enough. Conversely, we follow God (or whatever approximation we choose) so that we won’t face hard times. Our earthly blessings (comfort) are ultimately what we pursue.
Some of us keep score by virtue of the number of things we accomplish “for God.” How many mission trips we attend; how much offering we give to our church; how many people we “bring to Christ.” The more we do, the more we accomplish, the more we are “growing our relationship to Christ.” Obviously, the converse of that is how many things we don’t do: I don’t lie, I don’t steal, I don’t cheat people, I don’t hate people…
Sometimes it’s a little more subtle than that. We become mature by attending church, by attending small group, by reading books, etc. etc.
Now, I hope that it’s obvious that none of these things are bad per se (with the exception of health and wealth theology). But the thing that I want to impress upon you is that spiritual formation isn’t a thing that we build or that we do or accomplish. As we talked about last year, spiritual formation is the Holy Spirit building the life of the Spirit in us.
So, am I attending small group because it’s a thing that good Christians should do? Or am I attending small group because I want to pay attention to what God is doing in me in the context of community? Am I attending worship on Sundays because I want to be seen in the church and therefore confirm my position as somewhat who is devout – to have people look up to me? Or do I worship on Sundays because I want to hear from God and to call out to God?
Furthermore, growing up in Christ is not just about building the “Christian” part of our lives. It’s not just about inserting more and more church activities into our lives. But rather, it’s about learning to live our lives, our whole lives, Christianly.
Our passage today is Ephesians 1:15-23.
From a hymn of praise, blessing God because he blesses us, Paul moves into prayer: a prayer for us, because of what God has done and is doing.
The prayer opens with the words, “For this reason…” And it seems that the immediate reference of the “For this reason…” is located in verses 13 and 14.
13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
Here, we can see that “the reason [for]…” is that, In him [we]also…were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it…” In other words, because we are sealed with the promise of the Holy Spirit, Paul gives thanks.
Furthermore, though it is also a continuation of Paul’s thanksgiving, Paul offers a petition:
16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. 17 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. 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, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe.
Paul intercedes with us that, because we are sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, and though we have “the guarantee of [an] inheritance, we have yet to “acquire possession of it.”
So his intercession is that God may give us the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that we may know him better. And that the eyes of our hearts may be enlightened in order that we may know the hope to which we have been called, the riches of God’s glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.
So again, Paul’s prayer of petition is that we may know God better, and also that we (the eyes of our hearts) may be enlightened to know the hope to which we have been called. This hope is the riches of God’s glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.
Continuing on, how does Paul understand that power? Well he outlines it in the very next sentence:
That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.
So let’s break that down. What is the power that Paul is talking about?
It is the power that raised Christ from the dead.
And what does that power look like? How is it manifested?
- Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father,
- far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age, but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet
- God appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.
So what I see here is that the power of God works in Christ, and therefore works through Christ in us in order to make in us:
- Restored relationship with the Father
- Restored relationship with the world
- Restored relationship with each other.
And all of this is:
- …the hope to which we have been called, the riches of God’s glorious inheritance in his holy people,
Which is accomplished by
- his incomparably great power for us who believe.
Quite simply, this is the eternal life that John is talking about in his Gospel.
And once again, let us not forget that, though we take part, as Paul acknowledges in his prayer, this is what God is doing. God is forming us, in our relationship with Himself, with this world (our place in it), and with each other. He is restoring us by his power, by his strength, and by his wisdom.
So What Now…?
All those things that we think are important to what it means to grow up in Christ, they may or may not be important. But inasmuch as we follow our own plans and our own expectations, we may shut out ears and our hearts to what God wants to do – to give us new life. To transform our entire lives – all we are and all that we do.
But what would it look like if we were able to pay attention to what God wants to do in our lives – and not just our church lives, not just our “christian” lives. What would it look like if we recognize that God wants to transform our whole lives. What if we were to understand that the power of God, the same power which raised Christ from the dead, is working to redeem all that we are and do?
And so, I pray as Paul does and I hope you pray with me that the eyes of our hearts will be enlightened so that we can see what God is doing. So that we will pay attention to what God is doing and that we can take part in it. Because the power that raised Christ from the dead and raised Him up is the same power that is working in us.