A sermon on Ephesians 1:17-18 by Rev Richard Keith on Sunday 2 August 2020
On his journey round the world an explorer discovers an island. Two hundred years later and a new generation of explorers are still unlocking its mysteries. But it is still the same island.
A little girl laughs as she jumps the waves at the beach. Five hundred metres away divers are exploring a wreck 10 metres below the surface. But it is the same ocean.
A man and a woman meet each other for the first time at a dance. Fifty years of marriage later and they are still learning new things about each other. But they are the same two people.
And this is Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians: that they find out new things about things they already know. In Ephesians chapter 1 verses 17 and 18 the apostle Paul wrote to them,
I keep asking that the Father may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better, in order that, having had the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.
I’ve called this message “Exploring New Territory”. But that sounds a bit ambiguous. So I just want to clarify that I don’t mean that Paul wanted the Ephesian Christians to be finding out things that they had no idea about. Like an explorer searching an ocean for land that may or may not be there at all, or like a young man scanning the hall for a girl to dance with. But Paul wanted them to be finding out new things about things they already knew about. Like exploring an island that has already been discovered. Like a husband and wife still surprising each other after 50 years. Like a diver exploring the depths of the ocean off the beach she used to play in as a little girl.
What I mean is that we who are Christians, who have accepted Christ with faith as our Saviour and Lord, we know certain things. The Spirit of God has opened our eyes to know the truth about the world, the truth about ourselves, and the truth about God. We’ve committed our lives to God and to Christ and to his church on the basis of that knowledge. But we don’t know everything. So to find out new things, to discover new treasures from God, to explore new resources of the faith, to find new blessings for us to count on when things get tough – that new knowledge doesn’t undermine what we thought we already knew. But it makes it richer.
Notice that Paul doesn’t ask the Father that the Ephesians might know more about him, but that they might know him better. Now you might know about me. You might know where and when I was born. You might know my age and where I live and my shoe size, which is size 9 like all proper sized feet. You might know lots about me. But do you know me? If I did something that surprised you, would you jump to wrong conclusions because you don’t really know me.
You might know about Scott Morrison. You might know that he is the Federal Liberal member for Cook. That he was the Minister for Immigration, then the Minister for Social Services and then the Treasurer. And that on 24th August 2018 he succeeded Malcolm Turnbull to become the Prime Minister of Australia. You might know all sorts of things about him. But do you know him?
In the same way you might know about God. That there is a God. That he made the world. That you are his child. That he sent his only Son to purchase your life out of sin and death and hell. But do you know him? Do you know his love? Do you know his strength? Not know about his strength but rely on his strength, like it is the only strength you have? Have you tested the limits of his ability to help you? The Spirit has opened our eyes. He has shone his light into our darkest places. He has burned away the fog and confusion of our minds about the truth of reality. But not so that we might know about God. So we can write books and answer clever questions and win Bible quizzes. But so that we might know him as our heavenly Father. And knowing him, that we might love him. And loving him, that we might serve him in Christ’s name and in the power of his Spirit. And loving and serving him, that we might love and serve each other, and that we might test the limits of our love and service, drawing on the strength that the Lord supplies, only to find that in him there are no limits.
Week in, week out, we come to church. We read the Bible and most of us, I mean all of you, sit there patiently and hear all sorts of things. But God forbid that by so doing, we should know more about God, but that we should know him better.
The three goals of this intimate, personal knowledge of God are teased out in verses 18 and 19:
in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.
Firstly, we are to know the hope to which he has called us. Sadly, our hopes are often so small or so selfish. We hope to make it through the day. We hope for just enough to get by. We hope for a good job and good health and a long life. We pray with all our heart that God will make our dreams come true. But just in case God doesn’t pull through we keep our hopes small enough so our hearts won’t break with disappointment.
But God wants us to know the hope to which he has called us. Our true hope is in God. He is our only hope, the God who made everything out of nothing, the God who raises the dead to life, the God who made all things very good and sent his Son to give his life to restore all things to perfection. God’s plan is to put an end to suffering. God’s plan is to build the home of righteousness. God’s plan is not the postponement of our death, but the death of death and the end of all evil. We tolerate sin in our hearts and injustice in our communities, but the coming of God’s kingdom will mean the end of them all. We hope that our church will survive, but God plans for his church to flourish and grow and has promised that the gates of hell will not prevail against it. This is the hope to which we’ve been called. This is the purpose for which we are to live and to breathe. It is vaster and broader and more extensive than our small and shallow hopes, and its effects are eternal. For God is not interested in blessing our way as much as he is interested in us walking his way.
Secondly, we are to know the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints. Paul reminds us here that we are children of the king. That the wealth at our heavenly Father’s disposal is larger than the national trade deficit. That his riches make the treasures of the Vatican look like shabby trinkets. So often we complain about how poor we are, how happy we would be if we had just a little more, and forget that, if we have a roof over our head and if we are pretty sure that we’re going to eat tonight, even if we don’t know what will be on the menu, that we have more than half the people of the world. And that if we have a steady job and own our own home, we are in the top 1% on the planet.
But these earthly treasures are nothing compared to the Lord’s wealth, and the glory of the inheritance that is awaiting us. We know the riches of his love. We enjoy the blessing of his Spirit. We have received the incomprehensible gift of his grace. We have been ransomed by the infinite worth of the blood of Christ. Too often we exist as spiritual paupers. We pray to God like beggars living in rags. Because we forget that we are children of the king. And the treasures of the kingdom are our inheritance.
Thirdly, we are to know his incomparably great power for us who believe. We feel powerless, like there is nothing we can do. Nothing to make any difference. Nothing to make any impact. So we do nothing. We try nothing. We achieve nothing and we tell ourselves that it is because there is nothing we can do. But the Lord’s great power for us who believe cannot be calculated. It is stronger than the current of the deepest river, it has more thrust than a stage one rocket booster, it burns more calories than an exploding star. As Paul says,
That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms.
Physicists talk about potential energy. We create potential energy by pumping water up to the highest dam. The water just sits there in the dam. Everything is calm and still. Boats float on it. Fish swim in it. People think it is a lake but it is pure stored energy. Sitting there, the water doesn’t seem very powerful at all. But that’s because the energy is potential. Open the floodgates in the dam, and all that water rushes out, turning turbines that power the nation. All because that water was raised up high.
Jesus Christ represents the potential energy of the kingdom. Things may seem too quiet like things never get done. But God has raised his Son to the highest throne. He is far above all rule and authority, power and dominion. God has placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be the head over everything for the church. So that when the Spirit opens the flood gates, nothing can stand in the way of God’s will being done. Power to change lives, to transform communities, to bring sinners to repentance, to bring sceptics to faith, to lead churches in love and obedience and equip believers for ministry and service.
What Paul is opening our eyes to is the vast spiritual resources that are just at our fingertips, but that we just never use. Like people who have access to the internet and use it to watch cat videos. Like people who own a Saab and use it to buy the groceries once a week. Like people who have been given one life and never live it. Too many people are content to paddle about in the shallow end of their spiritual life, never discovering the treasures that lie in a deeper relationship with our heavenly Father.
For every single one of us there is something stopping us from doing what we know we should. I’m not talking about what you want to do. There may be plenty of obstacles between you and what you want to do. Christ did not give his life, he did not pour out his Spirit, he did not call you out of a life of selfishness to fill your wallet and to make you feel comfortable. I mean to do what you should do. Fear grips our heart and causes uncertainty and unnecessary delays, when we need to be clear and firm about doing the good that we know we should. And we tell ourselves lies like it wouldn’t make any difference anyway. Because the only obstacle between you and what you should do is you.
My prayer for you is Paul’s prayer for his Ephesian friends, that you might explore new territory, discovering new things about things that you already know. That you might know God better, not know more about him. That you might know the hope to which he has called you. the riches of his glorious inheritance and his incomparably great power. Imagine it. All that potential energy locked up in our exalted Lord, Jesus Christ. Let us draw on his power and let us do his will with his grace.