Pastor David B. Curtis


Media #679 MP3 Audio File Video File

Prayer and Providence

Ephesians 1:15-17

Delivered 11/03/2013

For the past five weeks we have been looking at Sha'ul's b'rakhah. A b'rakhah was a common Hebrew form of blessing or praise to Yahweh. Paul is praising Yahweh for all that He has given believers. In verse 11 of this b'rakhah we see one of the strongest verses in Scripture on God's sovereignty:

also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, Ephesians 1:11 NASB

The word "predestined" means: "to decide beforehand." So Yahweh decided beforehand according to His purpose. In eternity past Yahweh had a plan, and in time He is working His plan. Yahweh works "all things" according to the counsel of His own will.

All that comes to pass in our lives is according to the eternal plan of the all-wise, all-powerful, and all-loving great God and our Father. There is nothing that happens outside of the counsel of God's will. Nothing.

Understanding the doctrine of God's absolute sovereignty might lead some to give up on prayer. They may think, "If God decreed in eternity past whatever takes place in time, what's the point of prayer?"

But what we learn from our text today is that this is not Paul's attitude. Paul understands God's sovereignty better than anyone, and yet he says over and over that he prays for the saints. Paul says to the Romans, "I make mention of you, always in my prayers." Romans 9 is one of the strongest texts you will find anywhere on the sovereignty of God in salvation:

So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires. Romans 9:18 NASB

After so strongly asserting God's sovereignty in salvation Paul says:

Brethren, my heart's desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation. Romans 10:1 NASB

Paul says, "God is sovereign in salvation, He saves who He wills. So I'm praying for your salvation." Don't struggle with this, just accept it as the Word of God. So Paul's understanding of God's sovereignty didn't hurt his prayer life one bit.

With this in mind, notice what Paul told the Philippians:

The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:9 NASB

Paul is telling the Philippians and all believers to practice what we see in him. That would mean that we are to be people of prayer. Paul prayed for all kinds of things; he believed in prayer, and he taught that believers were to pray:

Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving; Colossians 4:2 NASB

This word "devote" is the Greek word proskartereo. It first meant: "to be strong towards, to endure in, persevere in." It came to mean: "adhere to, persist in, to continue to do something with intense effort," with the possible implication of despite difficulty. The present tense of "devote" further emphasizes the idea of persistence of prayer.

From the b'rakhah of Ephesians 1:3-14, we turn to the prayer of Paul in verses 15-23. The heart of the prayer comes at the end of verse 17. Let's look at the first three verses of this prayer:

For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Yeshua which exists among you and your love for all the saints, do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Yeshua the Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. Ephesians 1:15-17 NASB

The very heart of Paul's prayer for these saints is, "...that you may know Him better." That's it! That's the whole prayer right there. Paul is praying that the Ephesians and all saints, might know Yahweh better. This means that he is writing to and praying for believers who already have some knowledge of Yahweh. His central request is, "O Lord, I pray that these folks who already know you might come to a new and deeper knowledge of who You really are."

Let's look at our text:

For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Yeshua which exists among you and your love for all the saints, Ephesians 1:15 NASB

From the b'rakhah Paul jumps right in to his normal thanksgiving prayer that he usually includes just after his introductory salutation.

"For this reason..."—plays an important role of joining two sections, the b'rakhah section and the prayer section. This refers back to verses 13-14, that is, since you've heard, since you've believed, since you're sealed — "For this reason... I pray for you."

"...I too..."—indicates that others besides Paul also thanked God for the Ephesian saints.

"...Having heard of the faith in the Lord Yeshua which exists among you..."—some argue that this letter could not have been intended for the church in Ephesus, because it sounds as if Paul heard these things second hand. But, this letter was not only written to Ephesians, but no doubt all the churches of Asia Minor. Paul was now in prison in Rome. So he was continually thanking God for the good reports that he heard.

"Faith"— as used here, includes their initial trust in the person and work of Christ. This formed the root and that which brought them into a living relationship with Christ through the Holy Spirit. S. Lewis Johnson writes:

A depositor's money is not safe in proportion to the depositor's faith in the bank in which the money is deposited. It is safe in proportion to the bank's solvency. So, the Christian is not a Christian because he possesses faith, but because he possesses faith in Christ. It is not simply faith that matters; it is faith and its object. (S. Lewis Johnson, "Studies in the Epistle to the Colossians, Part II," Bibliotheca Sacra (Dallas Theological Seminary, vol. 118, #472).

These believers were trusting in the Lord Yeshua the Christ. It is their trust in Him and what He has done for them that saves them.

"...And your love for all the saints"—he has heard of their love for all the saints. The work that God has done on behalf of believers is shown not only by their faith in Christ as Lord, but also by their love for all the saints. And in this context, "all" the saints refers to believers regardless of ethnicity, both Jews and Gentiles.

This love was a trait which is also exemplified in the life of other first century churches and individuals:

because I hear of your love and of the faith which you have toward the Lord Yeshua and toward all the saints; Philemon 1:5 NASB
For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints. Hebrews 6:10 NASB
Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another; for indeed you do practice it toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia. But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more, 1 Thessalonians 4:9-10 NASB

This love seems to have been a primary characteristic of the early Church—not just one which came as a surprise to the believers who began following Yeshua, but as one which was expected to be demonstrated amongst them.

Let's back up just a minute and notice that this love was demonstrated toward the saints. The same Greek word is translated: "saints, sanctified and holy" in the English Bible. All come from the same basic Greek word that means: "to be set apart." So Christians— those who have believed in Christ— have been set apart by God from sin for Himself. It's like an adoption has taken place. This child originally didn't belong to you and was not part of your family, but you went through the process, and that child became part of your family. He is now set apart from all other families and belongs to your family. That is what happened when God made us saints. Saints aren't a particular class of people among Christians. Saints are Christians.

Paul now says these believers have a love for all the saints. The Greek word that Paul uses here for love is not phileo, which is used for the love which is expressed between friends. This would be the word Paul would have used if a reference to the commitment to one another was in mind that flowed out of a natural affection and affinity.

The word "love" here is the Greek word agape. That this word was taken by the New Testament writers and applied to the love of God— hints at a totally different source for the action which springs not from the natural circumstances of the believers, but from a supernatural origin in God Himself. The key ingredient in agape love is its sacrificial character. It is not a love of emotion. It is not a love of response for something that you do to me or for me. We often characterize it as a love of action. Turn back to John, chapter 13. This is among the chapters which take place on Yeshua's last night on earth before His betrayal by Judas, and His crucifixion the next day. In preparing His disciples, Yeshua tells them, in verse 33, that He is only going to be with them a little longer, then He is leaving, and they can't follow at this time. Then He says:

"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. John 13:34 NASB

The commandment to love is not new. I mean, they were instructed to love in the Tanakh. They were to love their neighbor as themselves. What is new in this commandment is that love is placed in a totally new dimension. Christ says, "...that you love one another, even as I have loved you..." He says this on the brink of going to the cross for them. This love that He has for them is a love that knows no limits or bounds. Yeshua told the disciples on this same night:

"Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. John 15:13 NASB

Then he says:

"By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." John 13:35 NASB

This becomes an identifying characteristic of one who is Christ's disciple. He loves other believers. Please notice that Yeshua didn't say, "By this all will know that you have faith in me." He could have said that, but He didn't. He said their love would distinguish them as His disciples.

One writer, in commenting on verse 15 of Ephesians 1 says, "The second area that motivates Paul's thanks is '...your love for all the saints.' This is what identifies their faith as genuine, saving faith. They have a true, God-given love for all the saints." Along this same line, another writer states, "We will do well to search our hearts to see if we love God's people. The outstanding, tangible, visible, external evidence that we have faith in Christ is that we love all the saints on earth that we know. That means the ornery ones and the nice ones too."

Now, if what they are saying is true, and if you are not loving your fellow saints as Christ loved us, what should you do? Get saved! If love is a proof of salvation, and you are not loving, then you must not be saved. But understanding God's sovereignty you know that salvation is a work of God, so now what do you do? Let's put their view in a syllogism:

Major premise: All true Christians love each other.

(I don't believe this, but many believers do).

Minor premise: Joe doesn't love his brother in Christ, Mike.

Conclusion: Joe is not a true Christian.

Love is not the proof or evidence of salvation, it is the fruit and evidence of fellowship with the Lord Yeshua through an active faith (John 15:1-9; 1 John 3:14, 23). A faith that resides in Christ, and a love for others are twins that should walk together in life. Where the faith is a living active faith, love will be evident. But let's face it, there are times in all of our lives when we are not loving. And when we are not loving, we are violating the moral will of Yahweh.

John Calvin argues that Paul would have no reason to thank God for the Ephesians' faith and love unless these qualities came from God alone. If people can believe of their own free will apart from God's sovereign grace, as many asserted in Calvin's day and still assert, then the praise for it ought not be given to God, because He didn't have anything to do with it.

do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers; Ephesians 1:16 NASB

Paul had just thanked God for their faith and love. In fact, he said they had a love for all the saints. But Paul wasn't content with that, he wants them to continue to grow. So here he prays for their spiritual growth.

Paul's constant concern was for the maturing of believers. That was his burden and the desire of his heart, that believers would continue to grow. Paul had a passion for the spiritual development of the people of God. That was his great concern. We see this passion revealed in his prayer life. As Paul prays for the believers, he prays for their maturity. This is the very focus of his prayer life. Look at his prayer for the Philippians:

And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Yeshua the Christ, to the glory and praise of God. Philippians 1:9-11 NASB

Notice how he prays for the Ephesians in our text:

that the God of our Lord Yeshua the Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. Ephesians 1:17 NASB

Paul is saying, "I want you to grow." He is praying for their spiritual development. Look at chapter 3:

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:14-19 NASB

Paul prays for their spiritual health, their spiritual maturity. This was Paul's passion, the spiritual maturity of believers. Combining them, we noticed that the apostle prays that those addressed may abound in wisdom, knowledge, power, endurance, longsuffering, joy, gratitude, and love. Please notice that he prayed for their spiritual needs.

Rarely do we find Paul praying on behalf of physical needs. I'm sure that there were believers at these churches with physical needs. Paul didn't pray for generic church success and blessing. He ties his prayers directly to their spiritual needs. That was his passion and burden.

I want you to remember that when writing this book Paul was in prison. We looked at that in the introductory message of Ephesians— how he was locked up under house arrest. You think about that, and if you were there and you were writing a letter to the saints and you'd been locked up for your faith, what would you be asking? "Oh, pray that God will do something miraculous! That God will break down the walls of the prison, that He will strike the jailers and let me go." Not Paul! What does he pray for? He doesn't ask that they have things that they do not already have, do you notice that? He doesn't ask that God would impart to them something that they had not been given at the moment of their conversion, but he asks, and he implores, and he pleads to God, that God the Holy Spirit would reveal to them what they already have.

If you are wondering how to pray, the Pauline prayers are reliable guides. They were brief and explicit, directed to the needs at hand. He did not "pray all around the world" before coming to the point. Paul's prayers are tremendously instructive and often stand as a rebuke to the way many Christians pray. These prayers are not only brief and explicit, but they are spiritually strategic in nature. They center on the great spiritual issues facing individual believers and the body of Christ as a whole.

What is the content of your prayer life? Are your prayers characterized by thanksgiving as were Paul's? Do you pray for the spiritual health of other believers? What is more important than a believer's spiritual health? A.W. Pink writes, "How different are the prayers of Scripture from those which we are accustomed to hear in religious gatherings!"

Behind each of our requests is a desire! We often pray only for physical or material needs....why? We believe that health and material things will bring us happiness. This is not true. Our happiness comes from our relationship with God. Paul gloried in his physical problems. Do you?:

And He has said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness." Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 2 Corinthians 12:9 NASB

Why did Paul glory in his physical problems? Was he some kind of sick sadomasochist? No! He gloried in his problems because God was glorified in them.

So, Paul cut through all the superficial stuff and prayed for their real need— growth, which will bring blessing:

But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does. James 1:25 NASB

Blessings, spiritual and material, are connected to spiritual progress. As we grow in our relationship with God, we will be blessed.

Today, the prayer life of many Christians centers primarily on health and wealth issues. By contrast, Paul's prayers focus mostly on the spiritual needs.

The Lord of all, the God who created everything, the One who rules and reigns, whose purposes are accomplished, commands me as His child to talk with Him about whatever is on my heart, to enjoy communion with Him. What a blessing to pray for others. What a joy to know that others are praying for us. The Apostle Paul made it a regular part of his life to earnestly pray for fellow believers. Prayer is our duty. Am I allowed to use that word? We don't like to talk about our duties. But we have a duty to pray, do you realize that?

Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart, Luke 18:1 NASB
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. Philippians 4:6 NASB
rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, Romans 12:12 NASB

Prayer is our duty. Prayerlessness is a declaration of self-sufficiency, which is pride! On the other hand, prayer is a declaration of our dependency. Does your prayer life declare that you are dependant upon God for everything?

Paul says I, "do not cease giving thanks for you"—this again draws our attention to the persistency of Paul's prayer life. You can't help but be impressed about the importance of prayer that Paul placed in his life. I take it that when Paul said to someone, "I will pray for you," he didn't walk away and forget. You know, sometimes we will say that to people because it sounds like the spiritual thing to say at the time. They will say something to us, and we will say, "Well, I will pray about it with you." Then we walk away, and it never crosses our mind again.

This obviously doesn't mean that he was thanking and praying for the saints 24 hours a day, seven days a week. But he was saying that it was a regular part of his prayer life to remember them, to pray for them. They were a regular part of his prayer life. That must have come as an encouragement to these churches to know that the Apostle Paul had them on his heart.

"...While making mention of you in my prayers;"—prayers is from the Greek proseuche. This word points to the general privilege of prayer and lays stress on prayer as an act of worship and devotion to God. It looks at prayer as an approach to God from a recognition of our need and inadequacy, and of God's omnipotent ability to meet those needs.

Believers, we must understand that even though God is sovereign: Prayer Is Effective!:

Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I shall rescue you, and you will honor Me." Psalms 50:15 NASB
"He will call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. Psalms 91:15 NASB
'Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. Jeremiah 29:12 NASB

Yahweh promises over and over to answer our prayers. Hezekiah was a man of prayer and we see prayer's effectiveness in his life. Hezekiah was the king of Judah (South) just before Israel (North) was taken into Assyrian captivity (700 B.C.):

For a multitude of the people, even many from Ephraim and Manasseh, Issachar and Zebulun, had not purified themselves, yet they ate the Passover otherwise than prescribed. For Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, "May the good LORD pardon everyone who prepares his heart to seek God, the LORD God of his fathers, though not according to the purification rules of the sanctuary." So the LORD heard Hezekiah and healed the people. 2 Chronicles 30:18-20 NASB

When Sennacherib, king of Assyria, came against Jerusalem, Hezekiah turned to God in prayer:

But King Hezekiah and Isaiah the prophet, the son of Amoz, prayed about this and cried out to heaven. And the LORD sent an angel who destroyed every mighty warrior, commander and officer in the camp of the king of Assyria. So he returned in shame to his own land. And when he had entered the temple of his god, some of his own children killed him there with the sword. So the LORD saved Hezekiah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem from the hand of Sennacherib the king of Assyria and from the hand of all others, and guided them on every side. And many were bringing gifts to the LORD at Jerusalem and choice presents to Hezekiah king of Judah, so that he was exalted in the sight of all nations thereafter. 2 Chronicles 32:20-23 NASB

Believers, prayer is effective—Hezekiah prays to God, and God delivers Judah. Hezekiah's prayers were also effective in his personal life:

In those days Hezekiah became mortally ill; and he prayed to the LORD, and the LORD spoke to him and gave him a sign. 2 Chronicles 32:24 NASB

To get the full picture of what happened here look at:

In those days Hezekiah became mortally ill. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him and said to him, "Thus says the LORD, 'Set your house in order, for you shall die and not live.'" 2 Kings 20:1 NASB

What would you do here? What did Hezekiah do? Did he say, "Well God is sovereign, and He said I'm going to die, so that's it, I'm dead." No, he did the same thing you would do:

Then he turned his face to the wall and prayed to the LORD, saying, "Remember now, O LORD, I beseech You, how I have walked before You in truth and with a whole heart and have done what is good in Your sight." And Hezekiah wept bitterly. Before Isaiah had gone out of the middle court, the word of the LORD came to him, saying, "Return and say to Hezekiah the leader of My people, 'Thus says the LORD, the God of your father David, "I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; behold, I will heal you. On the third day you shall go up to the house of the LORD. "I will add fifteen years to your life, and I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria; and I will defend this city for My own sake and for My servant David's sake."'" Then Isaiah said, "Take a cake of figs." And they took and laid it on the boil, and he recovered. 2 Kings 20:2-7 NASB

Over and over in the life of Hezekiah he prayed, and God answered. What we see in the life of Hezekiah is that prayer is effective.

In 1540, Martin Luther's great friend and assistant, Frederick Myconius, became sick and was expected to die within a short time. On his bed, he wrote a loving farewell note to Luther with a trembling hand. Luther received the letter and instantly sent back a reply:

"I command thee in the name of God to live. I still have need of thee in the work of reforming the church. The Lord will never let me hear that thou art dead, but will permit thee to survive me. For this I am praying, this is my will and my will be done, because I seek only to glorify the name of God."

These words seem shocking to us, but do you want to know what is even more shocking? One week later, Myconius recovered and died two months after the death of Luther.

If you scour the pages of Holy Scripture, you will find in a study of the prayer life of the saints of God, that most of them, most of the time, center their prayer life around others.

I think we all need to ask the Lord what the disciple did, "Lord, teach me to pray." Maybe you've been a Christian for a while, and prayer has seemed kind of boring to you. The problem isn't prayer. The problem is you just don't realize how much God loves you. Prayer is a delight. Not something you endure, it's something you enjoy. Please never forget, prayer is effective!

And then his prayer of thanks turns to a petition,"... and I pray," he says:

that the God of our Lord Yeshua the Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. Ephesians 1:17 NASB

"...God of our Lord Yeshua the Christ..."—points the reader to the person to whom Paul prayed. The form here is unique. Paul calls Him "the God of our Lord Yeshua the Christ" to show us that through Christ our Mediator, we have access to the same God that Yeshua prayed to when He was on this earth. He is our great example. Yeshua showed us while He was on this earth how to live in complete dependence on the Father and obedience to His will. He showed us how to commune with the Father in prayer.

"...Father of glory..."—means either, the source or author of glory; or the possessor of glory. This is what Stephen calls Yahweh in:

And he said, "Hear me, brethren and fathers! The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran, Acts 7:2 NASB

It was as the "God of glory" that Israel especially saw Him and was how Stephen saw Him. This phrase would be well known to his hearers and is taken from Psalm 29:3:

Ascribe to the glory due to His name; Worship in holy array. The voice of is upon the waters; The God of glory thunders, is over many waters. Psalms 29:2-3 NASB

No description of God could exceed what is in this Psalm. It expresses His position as the Lord of glory and as Lord over creation.

Paul here refers to God as "the Father of glory," while in 1 Corinthians 2:8 he refers to Yeshua as "the Lord of glory." Clearly, Paul believed that Yeshua is equal to the Father in His deity.

"...May give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him."He has said that they were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise. So he is not praying that they will be given the Holy Spirit. He is praying for a special ministry of the Holy Spirit. He prays for a Spirit of wisdom and of revelation.

"Wisdom"—in Jewish usage described the individual who possessed moral insight and skill in deciding practical issues of conduct; a wisdom derived from his personal knowledge of God.

We all need wisdom, we need to respond correctly to the circumstances of life. Well, if you want to learn about wisdom, the Bible is the place to go. It has a lot to say about wisdom and how to obtain it.

"Revelation"—revelation has to do with the unfolding of divine truth. But revelation may also be used in the sense of illumination. We look at the Bible and we say, theologically, this is the revelation of God. This revelation is closed. We don't have any further revelation. We don't have new prophets standing up and giving revelation any longer. But we do need a great deal of illumination in the reading and study of the revelation. In 1 Corinthians there is a very important text in this regard:


Paul is quoting from Isaiah 64. The things that God has prepared for them that love Him can't be known externally:

For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. 1 Corinthians 2:10 NASB

You see, in order for us to even understand this incredible legacy that's ours in Christ, we must depend upon the Holy Spirit.

"Knowledge"—is the Greek epignosis, a compound form of gnosis, "knowledge." This is the intense form of the word knowledge. A concordance study of this word in the New Testament reveals that it is used only of moral and spiritual knowledge (the knowledge of God and His truth).

In Paul's prayer, the issue is not just knowledge, but the knowledge of Yahweh. The very heart of Paul's prayer for these saints is, "that you may know Him better." That's it! That's the whole prayer right there. Paul is praying that the Ephesians and all saints might know Yahweh better. That the saints would understand who they are and what they have in Christ. The Church today is in desperate need of the knowledge of Yahweh.

Warren Wiersbe, tells the story of William Randolph Hearst, the late newspaper publisher. Hearst at one point in his life decided to invest a veritable fortune in the collecting of great pieces of art. And he was collecting them all over the world and storing them in warehouses in different places. And one day he read a description in an art book of an incredibly valuable piece of art, and he determined that he had to have that piece of art. So he got his agent and he sent him all over the world to find it, no one knew where it was. That guy went all over the world to find that art treasure for William Randolph Hearst. Months and months went by and finally the man came back and reported, Mr. Hearst, "I found it." And with great joy he said, "Where, where was it?" He said, "It was in your warehouse, you bought it years ago."

What a great illustration of the Church, frantically searching for what it already possesses. Paul is praying here, Lord, deliver the saints from frantically searching for what they already possess. Most of today's church is longing, hoping and waiting for what they already have—THE PRESENCE OF YAHWEH!:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, Revelation 21:3 NASB

May the sovereign Lord give His people a knowledge of His presence.

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