We’ve been running on empty. What we need is the full knowledge of Christ Jesus.
READING: Ephesians 1:15-23
“[M]ay [God] give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him” (Ephesians 1:17 NKJV).
I have a number of CHRISTIAN friends who declare their faith with this phrase: “Jesus is the Lord of my life.” While this confession may serve as an accurate statement of the Lord’s rule in my friends’ individual lives, it is far from adequate as a declaration of the comprehensive lordship of Christ Jesus. For in truth, the lordship of Christ over an individual is but a very small part of his sovereign exercise of authority in heaven and over all the earth (cf. Matthew 28:18-20).
Sometimes I ask my friends if they know that Jesus is lord over a good bit more than their individual lives. Often, I am sad to report, they do not. In their thinking, Jesus is merely lord over them and perhaps the church they attend. They also appear to believe that he has little or no authority in the world and is basically irrelevant to what is happening in it. It is Christians such as these—and there are multitudes of them in our world today—who have basically surrendered the world and its governance to the devil. My friends, you see, possess but a limited knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Having a limited knowledge of Jesus Christ is like going on a long auto journey with a nearly empty tank of gas. You may head out in the right direction, but you’re not going to get very far. A like thing will happen to the Christian who has a limited or partial knowledge of the basics of who and what Christ Jesus is. He’ll get a good start on his Christian life, but he won’t be able to finish strong.
Brethren, it’s better to ride your chariot with a full tank than push it along the road with an empty tank, at a snail’s pace, until you find a gas station. But to ride your chariot you need a full tank of gas. That is, you need to have what St. Paul called, in Ephesians 1:17, the full (or complete) knowledge of Christ.
The full knowledge of Jesus Christ was something the Apostle Paul prayed the Ephesian Christians would have. We find his prayer in our Epistle reading for today, Ephesians 1:15-23. I want to survey this prayer with you now, for it is rich in instruction regarding the full knowledge of our Lord.
INTRODUCTION: THE GOAL OF PAUL’S PRAYERS
The goal of Paul’s prayer was for the Ephesians to fully know the Lord Jesus. Because Paul had forged a strong bond with these Christians years before (cf. Acts 19:1-20:1; 20:17-39), we must assume his prayer is that of a man who deeply loved them.
Paul probably wrote the Ephesian epistle around A.D. 60 while he was a prisoner in Rome. A man nearing the end of his days will tell you what he thinks is important. He will also pray for what he thinks is important. And what Paul thought was important was to pray for the Ephesian believers to come to the full knowledge of their Lord.
Faith & Love
Communication over great distances was slow in that long ago day. But Paul had heard a good report about the Ephesian believers, probably by word of mouth from witnesses who were well acquainted with them. The Ephesian believers, Paul was told, were marked by faith in Christ Jesus and love for each other. It was these things that motivated Paul to offer thanks and prayers on their behalf (vv. 15-16).
Praying for more
While one might think that faith and love were all that the Ephesian believers needed, Paul continued by informing them that he was praying that God would grant them the “spirit of wisdom in the knowledge [i.e., full knowledge]” of the Lord Jesus. The math teacher wants his students to master math. The apostle wanted his disciples to master the knowledge of the Lord Jesus.
The One to Whom Paul Prayed
Paul directed his prayers to the God and Father of the Lord Jesus, thus placing his requests in the Father’s loving and caring hands. Though his prayers and writings might be instrumental in imparting the knowledge of Christ, Paul knew that ultimately the knowledge of Christ depended on the gift of the Father. So for this he prayed.
II. THE MEANS TO THE END
Paul’s prayers were a means to an end; they also sought a means to an end. For the believers in Ephesus to come to the full knowledge of Christ Jesus, God would have to grant them the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Christ (v. 17).
Knowledge in the Western tradition is arrived at by study, instruction, and contemplation, and there is certainly nothing wrong with earnestly engaging in these things. But notice that Paul didn’t call the Ephesians to study or to seminars or to advanced Bible courses. What he did do was pray that God Himself would grant them a spiritual grace to perceive and lay hold of the riches that pertain to the full knowledge of Christ.
I know a lot of pastors who spend hours working on their sermons, and that is commendable. But I think God’s people would learn more if we shepherds spent more time praying for them to have the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Christ. Paul’s intercessions, I strongly suspect, were far more voluminous than were his writings or sermons.
Eyes that see
With God’s Spirit, Paul added, the “eyes of the heart” would be able to see (or comprehend) the full knowledge for which Paul prayed (v. 18).
I think there is another lesson here that strikes against a Western tradition that places too much emphasis on head knowledge and too little on heart knowledge. I’m in Brazil at present, where just the other day a pastor with quite a bit of theological education complained of the dry, academic, and often heartless approach of the seminary that trained him for ministry. (He earned his Masters of Divinity degree from a respected Reformed seminary in the United States.) Where, he asked, is the heart in all our learning?
I’ve met doctors of theology who couldn’t grasp the most basic truths of Scripture because their hearts had shriveled to the size of a raison. Such men (and women) are flashlights with one battery (i.e., the “head” battery), and they cannot give light. But I’ve also met simple folk brimming with the true knowledge of Christ because they laid hold of it with the eyes of their heart.
Brethren, look to God’s truth with your heart. That’s where your spiritual eyes are.
SEEING CHRIST JESUS
What is it that the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Christ reveals, and that the eyes of the heart see? It is Christ Jesus and all the things that pertain to him. I have many good theological books in my study, and I am grateful for them. But if my books don’t open a window onto Jesus Christ, I have little use for them. “One picture is worth a thousand words,” the old adage goes. When the eyes of the heart see Jesus, the picture stays fixed in the soul.
Paul’s next words provide word pictures of Christ Jesus that Paul wanted the Ephesian Christians to see.
The hope of his calling (v. 18)
Paul wished for the Ephesians to see, with the eyes of their hearts, the hope of the Lord’s calling. Some commentators believe this phrase means the “hope of the Lord’s calling of the believer.” While they may be right, I believe this clause points not to Christ’s calling of us but to the vocation of Christ himself. In other words, I think Paul wants us to see who and what Christ Jesus is, and with that to fully understand his role is in human history.
Eyes don’t see themselves. They see beyond themselves. Paul wants us to see Jesus the Lord, the Savior & Ruler of Nations who has (to borrow from Matthew 28:18-20) all authority in heaven and on earth. Put another way, he wants us to see Jesus in terms of all that he is, all that he did, and all that he does.
In our day, Christians of all stripes tend to have a me-centered focus. Having a me-centered focus is like driving a car while looking at your belly button. Paul prayed that the Ephesians would avoid such a thing. He prayed that the Ephesians would see Jesus in all his glory.
The inheritance of Christ in his people (v. 18)
Paul also wanted the Ephesians to see the riches of Christ’s inheritance in his people. The King has a kingdom; the Shepherd has a flock; the great High Priest has a temple and priesthood. We are the kingdom and flock and temple and priesthood of the Lord Jesus. Seeing Jesus, we see ourselves in the proper light, and lay hold of an understanding of who and what we are.
The greatness of God’s power (vv. 19-20)
Paul’s prayer continues to gush forth. He desires that the believers in Ephesus perceive the surpassing greatness of God’s power, which was (and ever will be) the same power that raised Jesus from the dead. It was that power that shook the earth around the tomb on the day of the Resurrection, rolled the rock away from the tomb, transformed Jesus’ mortal body into an immortal one, elevated him into the heavens, crowned him with glory and honor, and seated him at the right hand of God. That same power now works on behalf of the Church. It is her power grid, her protection, and her weapon of war.
The sovereignty of Christ (vv. 21-22)
Paul wanted the Ephesian believers to fully comprehend the Lord Jesus’ governmental sovereignty. He is seated, Paul emphasized, over all principality and power and might and dominion. Furthermore, [God has] “put all things under his feet.” In other words, the Savior is also Lord of Lords and King of Kings. In Paul’s day that meant that the Roman emperor was subject to Christ Jesus. In our day it means that all governmental authorities are subject to him.
The head of the church (v. 23)
Finally, Jesus is the head of the church—the ecclesia—the governmental assembly of the redeemed. Moreover, Jesus fills this people, one and all, with his divine presence. Wow!
Really seeing the Jesus whom Paul has described in Ephesians 1:15-23) will prove impossible if we attempt to see him with Spirit-less, rational minds. But if we are filled with the Spirit of grace and look at him with the Spirit-graced eyes of the heart, we will begin to see the glorious majesty of our Lord as Paul intended us to.
And that, my friends, will bring us to the full knowledge of Christ.
IV. SUMMING UP
How then may we apply Paul’s words in our lives in our own time? Permit me a few recommendations.
Taking it all in
First, we must take Paul’s words to heart. Ephesians 1:15-23 is sort of like a glorious sunrise whose beauty is so vast you can scarce take it all in. Even so, you can’t take your eyes off of it. The rational part of our minds offers little help when we gaze on a beautiful sunrise. Likewise, the rational parts of our minds offer little help when we gaze upon Christ Jesus as Paul has portrayed him in Ephesians 1:15-23. But gaze on him we must.
Let the look fill us
Second, we must let seeing Christ be the thing that fills us with his knowledge. It’s the looking, you see, that does the job. Seeing Christ makes clear what our Lord’s calling is—it is his vocation to rule nations; it tells us what his inheritance in us is; it reveals the nature of the power that operates on our behalf; it declares his absolute sovereignty; it reveals him as the head of the body that we are; and it tells us that that body is the people of the divine presence. “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else” (Isaiah 45:22).
We must join the Ephesians as beneficiaries
Paul prayed that the Ephesian brethren would understand these things, so third, may we join the Ephesians as beneficiaries of Paul’s intercessions. That is, may we also come to the full knowledge of Christ and see him for who and what he is, and also ourselves for who and what we are in him.
I am reminded here of the words of David, who declared, “Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised” (Psalm 145:3). A little later in this great Psalm, he added,
All Your works shall praise You, O Lord,
And Your saints shall bless You.
11 They shall speak of the glory of Your kingdom,
And talk of Your power,
12 To make known to the sons of men His mighty acts,
And the glorious majesty of His kingdom.
13 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
And Your dominion endures throughout all generations.
We must make the long journey, brethren, and fight the long war. But we cannot make the long journey or fight the long war on empty tanks. We cannot succeed in life with only a partial knowledge of Christ. To do our duty as it should be done—as it must be done—we must come to the full knowledge of him who loved us and gave himself for us. Thus must we pray: O God, fill us with the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of our Lord. Amen.