by Lynn Buzzard
Therefore I also … do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention in my prayers … that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ … may give you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened that you may know … what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints (Ephesians 1:15-18 (ASV)).
To understand this passage of Scripture requires a bit of law-school-like legal analysis. And in fact, on casual reading most people miss it—and miss a powerful, almost shocking, truth hidden in this prayer of Paul for all of us who are believers. The context is Paul’s prayer for all the church. He prays that we would have sufficient wisdom and revelation so that we would have our "understanding" enlightened and see three things. Certainly, whatever Paul prayed for when he went to the Lord for the churches of the first century—small, struggling, pressured, persecuted—ought to be instructive to us. What is it Paul wants them to see and grasp? The first and last ones are straightforward, even if stunning. It’s the middle one that requires careful reading.
Paul’s first request is that the believers would know "the hope of their calling;" and the last petition is that they would see the "mighty power" available to them. For a tiny church surrounded by the pagan Ephesian religious and political culture, these petitions must have seemed a bit much. Pray for survival, for courage in the face of threats, for perseverance—yes. But hope? Power? It was easy to be discouraged and overwhelmed in Ephesus with its splendor, wealth and "establishment." To live in expectation and hopefulness was not easy. It would have been much easier to live in the past—to remember, rather than anticipate, to wait for the end. But Paul wants them to live with anticipation, with hope in their calling. Hope drives people into the future. Hope expects the best days are not behind, but before—they are yet to be. That was quite a prayer for a pressured group in Ephesus. And perhaps for many today who seem overwhelmed by cultural and political forces, where the temptation is to lose hope, to circle the wagons.
And Paul’s prayer for the church to sense its "mighty power"—how could that be? They were so tiny. They didn’t own the establishment, had no coliseums, no great libraries like down the road in Ephesus, no control of the economic vitality of the port at Ephesus with its international trade market, no well-placed political presence, no prayer breakfasts. But Paul does not want them to see Ephesus’ power, but rather the power of God demonstrated in the resurrection. He ransacks the vocabulary to speak of the "exceeding greatness of His power" and the "working of His great might." That is the power available to God’s people.
It is the middle of the three prayer requests, however, that is most tricky and, I think, stunning. He prays for their awareness of the "richness of His inheritance in the saints." Most people, casually passing by this sentence, assume it refers to our inheritance from Christ—how wealthy we are as believers. We have a glorious heavenly home. We are rich in Christ. We are joint-heirs with Christ. Now those things are surely true, but not what Paul here declares. Look carefully.
Who is the party receiving the inheritance?It is "His" inheritance. It is Christ who is receiving something. Who is the testator? Who gives the gift? God the Father is the implied giver of the gift to our Lord. What is the gift? Get ready, here’s the surprise! We are the gift!! "His glorious inheritance in the saints"
What does this say? It says Paul wants us to understand that Jesus is thrilled and delighted to discover that the Father has given us to Him as an inheritance. Jesus reads the will—and we are His! As Luther put it—God counts Himself rich because we are His inheritance.
Can we grasp that? Here we are, in so many ways nothing. Sinners, weak and frail. In the scheme of the cosmos, virtually nothing. Yet Jesus is thrilled and excited that God has given the church, us, to Him. What a precious statement of how valuable we are to Christ. Of all the things God can and does give to the Son—lordship, the cosmos with its incredible complexity and beauty, the natural creation of extraordinary qualities—these are not what thrills our Lord. He is most excited that we are in His family. We are His children.
It’s almost unimaginable isn’t it—that we count that much to Him. That He loves us that much.
Here in Paul’s prayer are these three yearnings that God’s people would understand and incorporate: a sense of hope, a sense of their value, and a sense of empowerment. It’s a striking list given the realities of Ephesus which would easily drive all three out of the consciousness of God’s people. None were natural. No wonder Paul’s prayer suggests they come only by revelation and spiritually enabled insight. The sense of worthlessness which is so endemic in modern western culture strips us of our sense of the image of God in our lives; and the loss of the ability to cope with the forces around us similarly creates despair.
Even the church, like that at Ephesus, easily loses sight of these three enabling gifts of God’s grace. If our understanding could be open to these—and we would truly sense the hope before us, the love of Christ cherishing us, and the power of the Holy Spirit enabling us—wow!
Now that’s good news!-------------------
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This article [slightly edited] comes from the "No Higher Calling" devotional published by Advocates International. Lynn Buzzard is a former professor at Campbell Law School and the former executive director of Christian Legal Society.