By Dr. W. Edward Bedore
The Apostle Paul starts the letter to the Ephesians with these words: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places" (Eph. 1:3). This sets the theme of the letter, which is the believers' position "in Christ." The words translated "blessed" and "blessing" come from the Greek root word ulogeo. This word carries the general meaning of "to give honor to." In other words, Paul is saying that the uniquely honored and highly exalted God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has honored the members of the Body of Christ with every spiritual honor in the heavenly places. This is an astounding statement of spiritual fact. The first three chapters of Ephesians are built directly on this verse, and the last three chapters are directly related to it.
Paul's prayer as recorded in verses 15-23 is an appeal that God would grant the Ephesians spiritual enlightenment and understanding of the blessings bestowed on them "in Christ" as outlined in verses 4-14. This request, of course, is not only to the Ephesian church but includes every believer from Paul's day until now. These spiritual blessings are referred to as "the hope of His calling" and "the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints" (verse 18).
The Lord Jesus Christ is seated at the Father's "right hand in the heavenly places." He has been exalted above and beyond all others in heaven and earth. As believers, we who were dead in sin have now been made alive with Christ and made to "sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (Eph. 2:1-7). To understand your calling "in Christ" read and re-read the first three chapters of Ephesians and ask God to grant Paul's prayer on your behalf.
In chapter three of his letter to the Ephesians, Paul starts to record a second prayer for the believers at Ephesus (see 1:15-23). However, in verse two he temporarily leaves off explaining the details of his prayer and goes into a discourse explaining his special knowledge of the Dispensation of the Grace of God.
Paul's explanation of his knowledge includes several important facts: 1). The Dispensation of the Grace of God was particularly given (revealed) to Paul (v. 2). 2). It was for the Gentiles (nations) (v. 1-2). 3). It was a mystery (secret) which concerned Jesus Christ (vvs. 3-4). 4). This mystery was never made known in previous times (v. 5). 5). This mystery has been revealed by the Holy Spirit (see I Corinthians 2:9-16). 6). Only after being revealed to Paul was it revealed to Christ's Holy Apostles and Prophets (cf. Galatians 1:11-2:9; II Peter 3:15-16). 7). In the Dispensation of Grace, Jews and Gentiles would become fellow-heirs in Christ (v. 6). 8). Paul, by a gift of God's grace, was to preach the unsearchable (hidden and untraceable) riches of Christ (v. 8). 9). Paul's commission was to make all men see what the fellowship of this mystery was (v. 9). 10). In past ages this mystery was hidden in God, indicating that it was not a subject of the Scriptures given before Paul's letters were written (v. 9). 11). That Jesus Christ was co-Creator with the Father (v. 9). 12). This mystery message is for the purpose of making the wisdom of God known (v. 10). 13). The mystery program is according to God's eternal purpose (v. 11). 14). God's purpose was accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord (v. 11). 15). It is in Jesus Christ that believers have access to God (v. 12; also see Romans 5:1-2).
These things are recorded for us in the Bible because they are vitally important to understanding the believer's inheritance "in Christ" (see Eph. 1:11-12). Do you share in this inheritance through faith in Christ? Only in Him can anyone be forgiven of their sins and receive the gift of eternal life.
In verse 14 of our text Paul takes up where he left off in verse one of Chapter three. This prayer is actually a continuation or addendum of his prayer recorded in chapter one, Verses 15-23. If we have blessings in Christ (the request of Paul's first prayer) we will now be able to continue in our spiritual growth and understanding of what it means to be "in Christ." If we do not first understand our position or standing before God "in Christ" we simply cannot fully understand what Paul is requesting on behalf of not only the Ephesians, but every member of the Body of Christ. Remember that while this was Paul's letter to the church at Ephesus, it was inspired by the Holy Spirit and preserved in Scripture as God's letter to the entire Body of Christ.
The main thrust of this letter is that the character or nature of Christ would be formed in the heart of the believer. To say it another way "that we would become Christ-minded" (see Eph. 4:20-23; Phil. 2:1-5; Col. 3:8-10). Paul equates this with "being rooted and grounded in love" (v. 17), which in turn enables is to comprehend or understand the matchless "love of Christ which passes knowledge" (vvs. 18-19). The love of Christ is the fourth dimension which gives real meaning and substance to the three-dimensional world we live in. True love can only be found "in Christ."
The love of Jesus Christ can only be exhibited in our lives in proportion to our understanding of the magnitude and scope of God's love and grace of which we have become partakers in Christ Jesus.
Our text does not record the content of one of Paul's prison prayers, but gives the reasons the Philippians brought joy and thanksgiving to Paul's heart whenever he thought of them. Whenever he went to the Lord in prayer, he always remembered the church at Philippi with specific requests on their behalf. Verses 5-8 reveal why every remembrance of these precious brethren was a cause of rejoicing and thanksgiving to Paul. This was not the case with every church Paul wrote to, as some were a cause of great concern, especially the Corinthians and Galatians, both of which he was forced to rebuke. The Corinthians for improper conduct and the Galatians for false doctrine (mixing law and grace).
Paul was thankful for the Philippians' fellowship in the gospel (v. 5). This refers to their giving to support Paul both during and before his imprisonment. He had no doubts about the Philippians' salvation and eternal destiny, and that in the meantime the Lord was working in their lives as they were being conformed to His image (v. 6). He knew this because in his imprisonment and in the defense (resisting all attacks against) and confirmation (by a constant and unwavering testimony) of the gospel they shared with Paul in God's Grace. Paul knew that even as a prisoner in Rome he was not forgotten by his brethren in Philippi. He was thankful to know that they were committed to the truth and importance of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This church was a source of great joy to God's appointed Apostle to the Gentiles because the Grace of God was exposed in their attitudes and actions (v. 7). And it was for these reasons that Paul's heart went out to these believers for whom he prayed often (v. 8).
Paul's prayer for the Philippians was that their love would continue to abound more and more. Abounding love is that which has no limit, it exceeds or goes beyond that which is considered standard or normal. It is an overflowing love that is not hindered by any boundaries, and simply cannot be contained. It is like a rain-swollen river in the spring which overflows its banks.
This love is not the outworking of misplaced emotionalism or religious fervor, but has a specific purpose and direction based on knowledge and spiritual wisdom gained through God's Word. Our knowledge is to be centered on the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ so that when we grow in Him we will be able to discern between sound and unsound doctrine (see Ephesians 4:11-15). The term "approve the things that are excellent" carries with it the idea of trying or testing those things that differ; to compare and approve or endorse that which is excellent or differentiate between those things that make a difference. This refers to making a distinct separation between Israel's program based on prophecy and God's program for the Body of Christ based on the "revelation of the mystery" revealed through the Apostle Paul (Romans 16:25; Ephesians 3:1-9). By separating prophecy and mystery, law and grace, and the kingdom from the Body, believers can direct their love in truth without stumbling or causing others to stumble over doctrine that is unsound "because of not rightly dividing the Word of Truth" (see II Timothy 2:15). This kind of love is expressed through service to others, which results in the fruits of righteousness which brings glory and praise to God through the Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul precedes his prayer for the church at Colosse with a sort of preamble to state his motivation for praying for them. In verse 3 he gives thanks to God for these believers and says that he was praying for them on a continuing basis. Verse 4 tells us that he began to pray for them as soon as he heard of their faith in Jesus Christ as Savior which was manifest in their love for all those who are "in Christ." Continuing on in verse 5 he states that because of their faith in Christ Jesus they have a hope. Not an uncertain hope of the sort promised by the world of man-centered religions, but a sure and eternal hope which was laid up for them in heaven (cf. Colossians 3:1-4). The security of this hope is found in nothing else but the person of the crucified, resurrected, ascended, and glorified Lord Jesus Christ Himself. This hope is presented to be an integral part of the Gospel of the Grace of God in Christ Jesus which Paul also refers to as "the revelation of the mystery" and the "dispensation of the grace of God" (see Romans 16:25; I Corinthians 15:1-4; Ephesians 3:1-4).
Verse 6 declares that the gospel had not merely been proclaimed at Colosse, but to all the world, and so was not a message limited to any one nation, ethnic group, or geographical location (also see Colossians 1:23). It is through the preaching of the Gospel of Grace that fruit unto God is brought forth. It is by the preaching of the gospel that those who believe are saved (Romans 10:12-17; I Corinthians 1:18-21). And it is through the preaching and teaching of sound doctrine by rightly dividing the Word of Truth (II Timothy 2:15), that the Body of Christ is edified (built up) in love (see Ephesians 4:1-16).
Since he had first heard of their faith in Jesus Christ and their love for other believers, Paul had been praying for the church at Colosse on a regular basis. Of course Paul's divinely inspired and recorded prayer for this group of believers is an expression of God's desire for the entire Body of Christ.
This petition to God makes mention of four specific requests on behalf of believers. First, that they would "be filled with the knowledge of His will" (v. 9). Of course this can only be accomplished through godly wisdom and enlightenment by the Holy Spirit. I Corinthians 1:26-31 tells us that wisdom from God is only found in Jesus Christ, and in chapter two, verses 6-16 that it is only through the indwelling Holy Spirit that spiritual enlightenment is possible.
The second request was for "a walk worthy of the Lord" (v. 10). This entails a life style that bears fruit unto the Lord through our labors (good works) done in faith on His behalf.
Third, Paul asked that the church be "strengthened with all might according to His glorious power" (v. 11), to the end that we will be able to endure suffering on behalf of Christ with the joy that comes from knowing our hope "in Christ" is sure and that He is all that is needed to sustain us: "And you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power" (Col. 2:10).
Last, that thanksgiving (v. 12) from a truly grateful heart would be given to the Father who has imputed Christ's righteousness to us that we might share in His Son's inheritance (Rom. 8:16-17; Eph. 1:10-12; 2:4-7; Col. 3:1-4).
While our text is not actually a part of Paul's prayer for the Colossians, it is sort of a capsule statement in which he states the reason for his prayer found in chapter 1:9-12. This passage also reveals the importance of verses 13-29, which provide pertinent information for increasing our knowledge of God and His eternal purpose which He has accomplished in Jesus Christ our Lord (also see Ephesians 3:8-12).
Paul's mention of conflict in verse one refers to his concern that the believers at Colosse, Laodicea, and all who had not actually met him in person (which includes all believers of today) might go into doctrinal error. He recognized a spiritual danger that caused him anguish of soul. His desire was that believers would be encouraged in their hearts and knit together (united) in love. This concerns not only the unity "in Christ" all believers share as members of the Body of Christ, but also the unity of the Spirit as outlined in Ephesians 4:3-6: "There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all." Understanding this unity results in the attaining of eternal riches through the full assurance of understanding, which comes through the knowledge of the mystery of the Dispensational of the Age of Grace as has been revealed to and through the Apostle Paul (Ephesians 3:1-12; Colossians 1:24-27).
All that is truly valuable is eternal in nature, and can only be found in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, through whom God has accomplished that which He purposed in Himself before the foundation of the world, according to the counsel of His own will.