Trying to live the Christian life takes a lot of work. It isn’t easy. In fact, sometimes it’s down right hard to know what you should do or even how you should think. Fortunately for us, the Lord has left His final word on things, the Bible. And yet, there may be moments when we need wisdom beyond our education or understanding. For that reason, Paul wrote this to his friends in Ephesus:
I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. (Ephesians 1:17 TNIV)
Clearly, God enlightens and empowers His people to, among other things, know Him better and to do His work more effectively. In the first chapter of his letter to the Ephesians, Paul had talked about the work of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit in his powerful doxology. A big theme in those opening verses is the election of God. God chooses to save sinful man; it’s not the other way around. Following this heavy doctrinal doxology with its emphasis on God’s eternal plan of redemption, Paul moved on to how all this touches the every day lives of his friends.
Revelation, Ephesians 1:15 – 23
Nothing happens anywhere to anybody unless somebody somewhere is praying about it. That’s my simple theology. I think Paul would agree:
For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all his people, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. (Ephesians 1:15, 16 TNIV)
In Paul’s thinking and writing, three things are linked together: faith, hope, and love. Even while he wrote tremendous and deep truths about our faith in God, he always linked that heady teaching to hope and love. God is the giver and initiator of all three. It’s more than just a passing reference when Paul mentioned that he never “stopped praying” for the Ephesians; he was trying to teach them something very important. He was encouraging them to keep on living right: it was the quality of their faith and love that moved him to give thanks to God for them. It was his way of giving them a spiritual pat on the back.
But also, Paul was teaching them a good habit: praying for other believers. Habits are so easy to form, but for most of us, bad habits come so much easier than good ones. A good habit is to pray all the time for other believers, giving thanks for the positive aspects of their lives, and praying about the other ones that may not be so positive.
It sounds so easy, but this is a difficult thing for modern Christians to do. Most of us these days are all-too aware of our own needs, often at the expense of the needs for others. Our prayers are too often very self-centered. Praying the way Paul did means that you stop worrying about yourself and start actually exercising your duty to God and to other believers.
But, it wasn’t just the state of the Ephesians personally that motivated Paul’s prayers for them. The phrase, “for this reason,” points back to something he had just written. The thought of how much God had blessed these believers and Paul himself was the inspiration to pray for them. The Gospel was bearing the right kind of fruit among these wonderful Gentile believers, and Paul was just tickled about that.
In his prayer, Paul did have some requests on behalf of the Ephesians, and they are significant:
I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. (Ephesians 1:15 – 19a TNIV)
The Ephesians were doing extremely well spiritually, but like the song goes, “everybody needs a little help.” Look at what Paul was praying for on behalf of his friends: that they would receive supernatural wisdom and revelation from God; that they might grasp the hope they have in Christ; and that they may understand the power they have as followers of Christ.
All believers need this gift of “spiritual illumination” which comes only from the Holy Spirit. This kind of wisdom cannot come apart from the Scriptures, but sometimes we need the Spirit of God to help us understand His revealed Word and will. One Bible scholar expressed it like this:
…the sum of knowledge of the Christian believer is the knowledge of God, which always means the knowledge of Him AS God, living and true, and the source of all life and truth – a personal knowledge which involves communion, adoration, and obedience in love.
The kind of knowledge Paul is referencing here is more than “book learning.” It’s knowledge that comes from personally knowing something about someone resulting from a relationship with them. It’s not academic and theoretical knowledge; it’s personal. It is entirely possible to know all the facts and theories concerning God, yet not know Him personally. Paul prayed that his friends would know God personally and thereby open themselves up to “revelation knowledge.”
The Holy Spirit wants to teach believers today. One of the reasons why so many Christians are so Biblically illiterate is because they are unwilling to allow the Spirit to teach them. They’ve become dependent on a preacher or popular Bible teacher. Good preaching and good Bible teaching are good things, by the way. But our primary source of spiritual illumination has to be the Spirit of God working through the Scriptures.
All this illumination is supposed to help believers grasp the hope that is theirs in Christ, but also to understand the incredible power that resides within them – the same power that raised Christ from the dead. This was a common theme in Paul’s writing:
I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:10, 11 TNIV)
The mystery of grace, Ephesians 3:1 – 13
Paul had been praying that his friends might receive supernatural, revelation knowledge of certain aspects of God; His character and the blessings that result in a personal relationship with Him. In chapter three, Paul writes about the “mystery of God’s grace.” Paul was given a revelation of His grace, and he’s going to pass along to the Ephesians some of what he learned.
Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you,  that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. (Ephesians 3:2, 3 TNIV)
The word “mystery” catches our attention. A lot of us enjoy reading mystery novels or watching mystery movies on TV. But as this word is used in the Bible, it’s not quite the same as M Poirot investigating the scene of a crime and making all kinds of incredible deductions using his “little gray cells” that will lead to unmasking the culprit. Paul uses “mystery” seven times in Ephesians, and he never uses it in reference to a puzzling circumstance or special secrets that only a handful of people know.
He uses the word referencing something previously unknown that he is now making known. The mystery here in Ephesians 3 is really no mystery to any of us, but back in Paul’s day, it was a real stunner: both Jews and Gentiles have the exact same access to God through Jesus Christ. Jews, even Jewish believers, thought they had the advantage over Gentile converts, and we can imagine how that made Gentile believers feel!
But when God is involved, nothing is ever hidden for long. He graciously showed Paul a “mystery” not ever revealed before:
In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. (Ephesians 3:4, 5 TNIV)
It’s God’s truth, so He can choose when and to whom He reveals it.
This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 3:6 TNIV)
The mystery the Holy Spirit revealed to Paul was more than merely the fact that Gentiles would be saved. That was no mystery; it’s a truth that was revealed back in the Old Testament (see Isaiah 11:10 and Zechariah 2:11, for example). The mystery, essentially, is that when it comes to salvation, one soul is as needy as the next and all come to God the same way, and both are brought into a new body, which is the Church, and Christ is the Head of that new body. He’s the one in charge.
This is a significant truth that has far reaching ramifications. Consider this: From Adam to Abraham there were only Gentiles on the earth. That’s the way things were for some 2,000 years. From Abraham to Christ, there were only Jews and Gentiles on the earth, and that was another 2,000 years (approximately). But from Christ to the present age, a little over 2,000 years, when God looks at the earth, He sees three groups of people: Jews, Gentiles, and the Church. Paul made reference to this new three-fold division of humanity in his letter to the Corinthians:
Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God… (1 Corinthians 10:32 TNIV)
It was important for the Ephesians, Gentile converts, to know this wonderful truth that was once upon a time, a mystery. God cares for all His people and He has made special provision through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, to teach them what they need to know.