Ephesians 1:15-23

Paul loved the church body deeply. In this section of Ephesians, Paul expresses his love for the church body in Christ. This love is expressed through the prayers that Paul prays for the church body. Notice this entire section is not exactly a literal prayer that he would pray (unlike in the gospels where we can read what Jesus actually prayed at times to the Father). Rather, this is an explanation of how Paul prayed for the body of believers. From this we’ll not only understand how to better pray for our own church but also how to pray in love for one another through Christ who binds us all together as one.

These 9 verses in Ephesians are one entire thought from Paul. In the original Greek manuscripts, punctuation was not used. This is why we sometimes have such long sentences in our English translations. The long sentences are showing us Paul’s continuous, cohesive thread of thought as he expounds even more on our relationship as the church (the body of believers) with Christ. Verses 15-23 should be read as one thought even though our English Bibles break this up with punctuation marks. In ways this makes it easier for us to read, but always keep in mind that this is one continuous thought. As such, each verse builds upon the previous.

Ephesians 1:15–16:

15 For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints,

16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers,

Now these two verses tripped me up a little as I read through them. When I see the word “For” at the beginning of a sentence, I typically go back to the previous verses to see how the author will connect what he is writing to what he has already written. But that’s not exactly how this word is used here. For all you NASB folks out there (of which I am one), these verses are a bit harder to read so for this week I switched to the ESV, which is more readable without sacrificing the formal equivalence in translation. Or in other words, in this case the ESV gives a more understandable translation than the NASB while at the same time preserving the original wording.

In verse 15 the phrase “For this reason” points to the reason, which is stated in the following section surrounded by commas: “because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints”. And then it picks back up in verse 16. So a decent paraphrase of this could be: “Because I [Paul] have heard of your faith and love, I continually give thanks and pray for you.” So the reason Paul is thankful and prayerful towards the church body is due to the things he has heard about them. Specifically, Paul has heard of their faith in Jesus and their love towards all the saints.

From this we know that Paul is still receiving word from the churches in and around Ephesus (in Asia). And that word is that the church’s faith in Jesus is strong and growing. But not only that, notice Paul adds that he also received word that the church is exhibiting love (agape) to all the saints. Note the word “all”. The saints weren’t just loving those within their own churches or within their own cliques in the church. They loved all the saints, or we could say they loved the collective whole of the church body.

Why did Paul add this extra phrase about loving others? Well, Jesus not only summed up the law as love God, love your neighbor but in addition to this we, as believers, give evidence of God’s love by loving others both inside and outside of the church. So Paul is saying that he’s not only heard of the church’s faith but he’s heard the strongest evidence of their faith through their love.

May I (we) always exhibit this love as evidence of my (our) hope in Christ!

Paul finishes up his introduction to this section by saying two things. First, he continuously gives thanks for the church. This continuous thanksgiving is not meant to be taken literally as if he was 24/7 in constant state of prayer giving thanks to just the church. That would be impossible, even in prison where he would have ample time for prayer. However, it does express that Paul is thinking of and giving thanks for the church in his prayers daily (as would be possible whether he was in or out of prison). Paul isn’t just thinking of the church at this one point in time as he’s writing this epistle; he’s thinking of them daily.

Second, Paul remembers the church in his prayers. This isn’t just a quick “oh I just remembered…” type of prayer. This is a deep and loving prayer towards the church, an unceasing prayer that is based on his thanksgiving for the church. Throughout the rest of this section, we will see how Paul remembers the church in his prayers.

As a note, you may notice that I don’t use the word Ephesians here, but rather the church. This letter is one that focuses on the church, not just the church of Ephesus. In fact, in verse 1 where it states that that this letter was directed towards the church at Ephesus, some original manuscripts do not contain the words “at Ephesus”. I won’t go into all the reasons why this happened; although, there are several possible explanations. But what we can understand from this is that while this letter may have been sent to Ephesus first, the reality is that it was circulated amongst all churches. Even today we can think of Paul’s letters as being circulated amongst all churches, even our own. So when I write about the book of Ephesus, I write as to what Paul was originally writing to, that is the church as a whole (including Ephesus and Crossings).

Ephesians 1:17–18:

17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him,

18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,

Here in Verse 17, Paul begins to expound on what he is specifically praying for the church..that is, first and foremost the wisdom and revelation of God. Notice the word “and” tying  together both wisdom and revelation. It is both the Spirit of wisdom and the Spirit of revelation that is given to us by God, but it is given to us in the knowledge of Him. This is not just some worldly wisdom that some have. After all, there are non-believers that seem wise or are considered as wise by the world. Rather, this is a God given wisdom that puts our faith to work. It is a wisdom that is different from the world’s version of wisdom.

Alongside wisdom we have the God given revelation of Him. This word “revelation” means an unveiling of previously hidden knowledge. Within this context it is the unveiling of God’s will. Now this does not mean that we today should expect new knowledge that is extra-biblical. The canon of scripture has been fully and completely written. We need not add to it or subtract from it. In fact the book of Revelation warns in the strongest words possible to not do this. However, since the canon of scripture was not fully written at this time, Paul was writing this letter as directed by the Holy Spirit to the churches (and Ephesus) to reveal new revelation that had been unveiled through Christ. This book revealed several mysteries to the early churches…mysteries that have been fully revealed to us today including some, like the church, that we may take for granted. But remember, back in those days the church only had the Old Testament, which pointed to the mystery of Christ which had just been fulfilled. The unveiling of these mysteries was happening as the Ephesians and other churches were reading this letter of Paul’s. Just imagine the wonder they had from reading the Old Testament anew as the mystery of Christ had just been revealed to them.

All of this wisdom and revelation came about in the knowledge of Him. This word “knowledge” is a bit nuanced in the original Greek. In English this word means an understanding or maybe a “head knowledge” of something or someone. But in the Greek this word for knowledge is prefixed with the Greek “epi” which signifies a more intimate or full knowledge of something or someone, God in this case. So it’s not just knowing that God is real or exists somewhere or even that God has certain attributes like love, justice, etc. It is a personal knowledge of who God is in the person of Jesus Christ, a full and intimate relationship with Jesus.

In verse 18 Paul continues to explain how he prays for the church. The phrase “having the eyes of your hearts enlightened” is a metaphor for having a true and personal knowledge of Christ in our most inner being and that we would even more deeply understand the wisdom and revelations of God. To the early church this wisdom and revelation came through the apostles and their preaching, teaching and writings; to us today that comes through the preaching and teaching of our elders and pastors as well as our own personal study of His word.

Here again we hear of the greatest of heavenly blessings that are bestowed on us through Christ. Namely, the hope we have been called to and the glorious inheritance. Now this hope we have is not just a possibility of something. Rather, it is something that we know to be true because of our relationship to Christ. It is a hope that we look forward to expectantly… something that we do not yet posses but will when we are perfected in Heaven alongside our Savior.

Now the glorious inheritance that is spoken of here is a difficult one to translate. Does it mean God’s inheritance of us as believers who will glorify Him forevermore? Or does it mean our inheritance of the eternal blessings that God bestows on us? There is much discussion of this in various circles and commentaries. I tend to lean towards the former where we are God’s inheritance and as such we will glorify Him because of this inheritance. However, I’m not 100% tied to that interpretation. I do believe it could mean both. That is we can, at the same time, glorify God as His inheritance and also receive an inheritance through Christ. Being an inheritance and receiving an inheritance both let us doubly glorify God. And God’s glorification is a constant theme throughout Ephesians.

Ephesians 1:19–20:

19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might

20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,

The message from verse 17 that God may “give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him” is continued in verse 19. Paul’s prayers include that we, the church, may know the power of God. This power is described as immeasurable greatness or (in other translations) it is a surpassing greatness or exceeding greatness. This infinitely great power is directed towards us as believers in the church.

This power can be and has already been shown to us. We can know this power through the raising of Jesus Christ from the dead as well as from the seating of Christ at the right hand of God. That’s what Paul is saying in 19b-20a: ” according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ”. This idea of God raising Jesus from the dead and seating Him as Lord over all is beautifully echoed for us in Ephesians 2:6:

6 and [God] raised us up with Him [Jesus], and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus

Of course, Jesus was raised up as Lord over all, while we are simply and graciously raised up with Him.

Taken together, verses 17-20 are a large portion of the prayer Paul is continuously giving up for the church. Paul wants believers to grow in the very personal knowledge of who God is, and he furthers this by asking for wisdom and an unveiling of the mysteries of God’s will to be given to all believers. This enlightening of us though wisdom, revelation, and knowledge of God is for three purposes so that we might know:

* The hope of His calling.

* The riches of His inheritance.

* His infinite power towards us who believe (this power could also be thought of as providing a full and unyielding security in Christ) .

If one of the great Apostles would desire to pray this prayer of hope, riches, and power for all the believers, shouldn’t we too also pray this on a consistent basis…not only for our church but for all believers in all churches?

Ephesians 1:21–23:

21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.

22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church,

23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Verse 21 continues from verse 20 to describe more fully what it meant for God to seat Christ at His right hand. The seat at God’s right hand places Jesus in a position of power far above all things. Before we talk about what specifically Jesus is Lord over, we need to look at the words “far above” and “all”. These words give a sense as to the power and completeness of Jesus’ lordship. He is far above all things, which means that He is not only “above” all things in rank and power, but that He is “far” above all these things. That is, His rule extends to such great heights that no one and nothing can even come near His lordship. Thusly, we can be assured and secure in the knowledge that Jesus’ lordship will never leave us or forsake us. The second word is “all”, which gives us the security of knowing that there is nothing and no one that Jesus is not lord over. This includes both good and evil, angels and demons, believers and unbelievers. All means all.

Knowing this gives us a better sense of the fullness of Jesus’ lordship over the list of things Paul gives us next. The list starts with rule or those acting as rulers or leaders and continues with authority or those who exercise control over others. Following this is power, which is any governing authority. Next is dominion, which are those having ownership over others. Finally we get to “every name that is named”, which fully covers all people, angels, demons, etc. The name of Jesus Christ is far above all names that have been named and even those that will be named. The name Jesus means God is salvation. That is who Jesus is. Jesus is God and therefore is our salvation. Without Jesus there is no hope, inheritance, or power towards us. It is no wonder that there is no name that will ever be above Jesus as only Jesus can provide the one thing that we as sinners need most…salvation!

It should be noted that there is evidence that Paul meant for all rule, authority, power, dominion, and names to be more related to a spiritual rule, authority, power, dominion and names. And indeed some of these are mentioned in Colossians 1:16:

16 For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him.

These cover both heavenly and earthly (invisible and visible) thrones, dominions, rules, and authorities. I think it is obvious that Jesus is above all of these things in both the heavenly and earthly realms; however, Paul may have been stressing the heavenly realm due to the fact that many early churches, especially Ephesus, were battling the spiritual forces of evil. Remember the church at Ephesus and elsewhere were surrounded by temples to other gods (Dianna, for example being one of the most prominent ones at Ephesus). Later we also read in Ephesians 6:12:

12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.

This verse shows us a strong leaning by Paul towards spiritual warfare against forces unseen, forces in the heavenly or spiritual realm.  

Verses 22-23 sum up what has already been said of God the Father and Jesus. However, we also get this new word “church” (more on the church later as we get into chapter 3 and how this must have sounded to the believers at that time). Yes Jesus is Lord over all, but here we get a new idea that Jesus is Lord over all especially in His relationship to the church. This is for the benefit of the church body and for the glory of God. The church is also defined as the body of Jesus (i.e., from verse 23a, “which is His body”). Furthermore, the body of believers, which all believers are partakers of, is not only the fullness of Jesus but is also filled by Jesus just as the Holy Spirit fills each believer individually. What this means is that we as a church are in union with Christ. Christ fills the church so that those outside of the church body may see Jesus in the church. Through this Jesus draws sinners to Himself to become part of His body as the church under His lordship. Our part is to worship, praise, and obey God. Jesus does the rest as He draws sinners to himself through His filled body…the church.

This section of Ephesians 1 ends appropriately with Paul’s prayer blessing God the Father and Jesus Christ our Lord. All of Paul’s prayers for the church culminate in the glorification of Jesus. Notice that these verses begin with requests for wisdom and knowledge that can only come from God and end with the glorification of our Lord Jesus. In heaven we won’t have to pray the first part anymore. We can focus for an eternity on the second part, glorifying God the Father, Son, and Spirit!