Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A Prayer for People Who Have Everything

Part 8 in a series through the New Testament book of Ephesians

You can listen to this sermon here.

For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. 

A Prayer of Thanksgiving 

What do you get the person who has everything? Maybe desktop horseshoes, the world’s largest gummy bear, or the original beard hat.

In 1:15-23, Paul prays for people who have everything. They have been blessed “with every spiritual blessing” (v. 3). Paul’s prayer begins with thanksgiving. He writes, “I do not cease to give thanks for you.”

When we pray, we should always give thanks. 

Why was Paul thankful for the Ephesians? He was thankful because it was evident that the Holy Spirit was at work in their lives. The phrase “for this reason” (v. 15) refers back to verses 13-14: “You heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in [Christ], were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance.”

The sealing of the Holy Spirit is like an engagement ring. When a man gives a woman an engagement ring, he is promising to marry her. Of course, men sometimes break their promises. Sometimes the wedding never happens. But God always keeps His promises. When we put our faith in Christ, God gives to us the Holy Spirit, and He is the guarantee that we will receive our inheritance (i.e., the blessings of the life to come).

Two Essential Virtues 

How did Paul know that the Holy Spirit was at work in the lives of the Ephesians? They possessed two virtues that are expected of believers. These two virtues should be present in our own lives.

1. We should have a growing faith in Jesus. 

Paul had heard of the Ephesians’ “faith in the Lord Jesus” (v. 15). Paul says, “I have heard,” because it would have been 5 or 6 six years since he had been in Ephesus (and Ephesians may have been a circular letter). “Faith” involves not only our intellect, but also our will. Jesus is not only the believer’s Savior, but also his or her “Lord.” “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9). If you confess that Jesus is your Lord, you are saying that you are willing to submit to his will. Jesus said, “Whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 10:38-39).

2. We should have a growing love for others. 

Paul had also heard of the Ephesians’ “love toward all the saints” (v. 15). Paul had not only heard of their vertical relationship (with Jesus) but also their horizontal relationships (with one another). Their love was “toward all the saints.” Every believer is a “saint” (not just people like St. Patrick). Ephesians was written “to the saints who are in Ephesus” (v. 1; cf. v. 18). The word “all” is significant. The Ephesians loved all the saints, not just some.

“Love” (agape) refers to selfless, giving kind of love. Jesus said, “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). It’s not easy to love people like Jesus has loved us. A few years later, Jesus said to the church at Ephesus, “You have abandoned the love you had at first” (Rev. 2:4). 

Remembering Others in Prayer

Paul was regularly “remembering [the Ephesians] in [his] prayers” (v. 16). Prayer requires faith and love. Do you believe in the effectiveness of prayer? Some Christians have doubts about prayer. Does prayer really change things? If God “works all things according to the counsel of his will, why pray? We don’t have all the answers, but James 4:2 says, “You do not have, because you do not ask.”

Do you demonstrate your concern for others by praying for them? How often have you told someone, “I’ll remember you in my prayers,” but have forgotten to pray for that person? (Paul requested prayer for himself in 6:19-20.)

We should pray that others will grow in faith and love. Often, when we pray for others, we only make requests concerning their physical and material well-being. But spiritual growth is more important.

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