Thursday, November 8, 2012

Praying For The Church

We have studied Paul's first prayer for the Ephesian church in a previous post (here), where Paul prays for spiritual illumination - that the believers may know and grasp the glorious grace of God and his spiritual blessings. In chapter three Paul prays a second time for the Ephesians. This is a beautiful and edifying prayer that we should incorporate into our own prayers for the church.

Let's take a look at his prayer, found in Ephesians 3:14-21.

1. Bowing To The Father (3:14-16a). ‘For this reason’ Paul prays (14a). For what reason? The overflowing grace of God in Christ, shown in his people, the church (chapters 2 and 3)! Because God has created a new people to showcase his glory to the universe, Paul prays for that people!

Praying Reminders. Sometimes in our prayers we simply jump to the petition itself, using as few words as possible, in order to ‘get in and get out’ of prayer (this is probably most true concerning men..right ladies?). There may be a time to be brief in prayer, but there are many examples in Scripture of lingering in prayer in order to praise God and spend time with him. This text is one example (so is the Lord’s model prayer). Paul seems to say things that are ‘unnecessary’ in his prayer; things we all already know. But this is ok! As we heap up praises to the Lord and quote his promises and who he is, we are also being encouraged and edified by reminding ourselves (and those praying with us) of precious truths! Look at Paul’s reminders in this prayer before he begins his petitions:
  • Reminder: To Whom We Pray.I bow my knees before the Father…” (14b). To whom does Paul bow his knees? The Father! What a reminder! Paul has already spoken of God’s predestinating us to adoption as sons (1:4-5), and our ‘boldness and access with confidence’ (3:12) to approach him in faith. We must continually be aware of the One to whom we are praying.
  • Reminder: God is the Source. “from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named…” (15). Translations vary on this verse; the words should either be translated ‘every family’ or ‘the whole family’ (O’Brien; Stott). God’s naming of every family would speak of his sovereignty over all (ESV Study Bible notes); his naming of the ‘whole family in heaven and on earth’ would follow what Paul has been saying about the unified church, and would indicate unity between the church in heaven and those still on earth (Boice). Whichever translation is used, Paul reminds us that God is the one who names; He is the Source! The family flows from him.
  • Reminder: God is Exalted.that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you…” (16a). Paul also speaks of God’s ‘riches of…glory,’ reminding us of the exalted position of the one hearing our prayer. Prayer is not the power of positive thinking, or willing something to happen, but asking God to ‘grant’ our requests, out of his abundant supply.
2. Praying For The Church (3:16b-19). Paul now describes his petitions for the church:
Petition 1: To Grow in Spiritual be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith –“ (16b-17a). First, notice the importance of the Trinity in Paul’s thinking! He is praying to the Father, asking for the internal work of Christ, by the Spirit. This is the 4th mention of the Trinity so far in Ephesians (1:3, 17; 2:18) [Stott]!
The internal strength of the Spirit and the indwelling of Christ seem to be two ways of speaking about the same experience (O’Brien). Christ indwells us in the person of the Holy Spirit. Paul is praying for progressive growth in spiritual strength. He has been preaching glorious doctrines to the Ephesians, and he is about to go into 4 chapters of application of these awesome truths; they need strength from God to walk in what they’ve heard!
How can Paul pray for Christ to indwell saints, who are already indwelled with the Lord (Rom 8:9-10; 1
 Cor 6:19)? Commentators point out that there are two Greek words for ‘dwell’ Paul could have used. The first one (paroikeō) has temporary connotations, meaning to dwell somewhere as a stranger or foreigner; the other word, which is the one Paul used (katoikeō), means to settle down permanently. So Paul is praying that “Christ may settle down in our hearts and control them as the rightful owner,” because “this is something they grow into as Christ takes stronger and fuller possession of every corner of their lives” (Boice). Paul is praying that the church would grow stronger spiritually and increase in their experience of Christ’s indwelling power.
Petition 2: To Grow in Christ’s Love.that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge…” (17b-19a). The church not only needs to grow in spiritual strength, but we also need to grow in our experience of Christ’s love. Paul prays for a firm foundation of love (‘rooted and grounded’), and a supply of strength to comprehend the dimensions of Christ’s love for us, and knowledge of the unknowable! How can we know something that ‘surpasses knowledge?’ We can know by experience the love of Christ that can never be exhausted! Just as his riches were described as unsearchable (3:8), Christ’s love is beyond our ability to fathom. But we can taste this love, and grow in our experience of it, forever! Paul prays that God would grant his church to progress in their experience of the love of Christ.
Petition 3: To Grow Towards God’s Fullness.that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (19b). This 3rd petition, like the other two, is a prayer for progress, for growth toward maturity. God is making us like Christ (Rom 8:29). We will be progressing toward this goal until that day when we are like him, when we see him as he is (1 John 3:2). Paul prays that God would grant his church to shine with the fullness of God!
In all these requests Paul is praying for the progress, growth and sanctification of the church. This should teach us how to pray!
3. Giving God Praise (3:20-21). Paul ends his prayer, and the entire ‘doctrine’ section of Ephesians, with a doxology of praise to God. He begins and ends his prayer with praise and with reminders of God’s great ability to answer the prayer he has prayed. Our prayers should be filled with praises to God!
The God Who Is Able (20). “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us…” (20). Paul may have asked some bold requests, but he has asked them of the God who is able to answer! Paul piles words on top of words to emphasize God’s super-ability to come through. He is able to do, not only more; not only abundantly more, but FAR ABUNDANTLY MORE than we ask in prayer…or even than we can imagine!!! And this power is at work within us (1:19-20).
The God of Glory (21). “…to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (21). This is the only fitting way to close this HUGE prayer, and this AMAZING section of Ephesians. TO HIM BE GLORY!
But Paul does not just give God glory in general. He summarizes the theme he has been unpacking for 3 chapters. To him be glory ‘in the church and in Christ Jesus.’ This is the goal of his spiritual blessings, ‘to the praise of his glorious grace’ (1:6, 12, 14) and this is God’s eternal purpose (3:10-11). God is glorifying himself in Christ, through his church; this is his purpose. Paul is praying according to God’s will. We too should pray for his glory in the church!
And this glory Paul prays for is ‘throughout all generations, forever and ever.’ Hallelujah! Neverending glory to God through his people in Christ!

The only thing possibly left to say is, “AMEN.”

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