What is it that the church needs most?
I wonder if you have ever thought about that?
What does a local church need to be the kind of local church God wants it to be?
If you look at the way the apostle Paul answers this question in Ephesians 1, verses 15-23, I think you’ll see his answer is very different than what we might expect.
Because, we do have something we need.
There’s very clearly something Paul requests.
This is petitionary prayer.
In verses 3 through 14, Paul’s been worshiping God for the privilege He’s given the church. And now in verses 15-23, he’s going to that same God in prayer, because he sees there is very clearly something the church needs, if it’s going to be able to accomplish its mission. And I think looking at what Paul asks for tells us what we need as a church, and also, where we can find it, which of course, influences, why we go about things the way we do.
So first, what do we need, according to the apostle Paul?
And it kind of sounds weird actually, what do we need, because in verses 3 through 14, Paul’s told us we already have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.
So how do people who have every spiritual blessing, have needs, and yet, you know obviously, according to this text, they do, because Paul is convinced these people are Christians and yet he’s still going to God in prayer for them.
“For this reason”
For the apostle Paul, really everything that mattered in life, had to do with God’s great plan to glorify Himself by saving sinners through what Jesus did.
We have all kinds of things that matter most to us.
That get us excited.
That cause our hearts to sing.
But Paul shows us what should really matter for us as Christians, and that’s what God’s done through Jesus, in rescuing sinners, and we know that’s what matters most to Paul because he’s sitting in prison as he writes this letter, and yet he’s worshiping.
You remember verse 3?
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
And as he writes the Ephesians and he’s reflecting on what God has done to save sinners, all that God has done for believers in His great salvation plan, it’s for that reason, he says, as he looks at the Ephesians, that he is so thankful.
“For this reason…”
Beginning of verse 15.
“I do not cease to give thanks for you.”
In other words, I can’t stop thanking God for what He’s doing in your life, because what really matters to me is what God has done in saving lost sinners, and as I look at you as a church, I am convinced, He’s done that in your life.
You’ve been saved.
“For this reason…”
Verse 15 again.
“Because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and your love towards all the saints.”
“I do not cease to give thanks for you.”
Which tells us not only what Paul thinks is important, but also gives us an idea of what gave Paul assurance people really were Christians as well. It’s not just that they said they were Christians or that other people said they were Christians. It’s because as he said here, he had heard of two specific evidences of God’s work in their lives, and the first was of course, the fact that they had put their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and the second that they loved other believes.
It’s not just that they were nice people or good people.
It’s not even just that they believed in God, the test for the apostle Paul, had to do with a man’s relationship with Jesus and his relationship with Jesus’ body.
For the apostle Paul, there was absolutely nothing more exciting and nothing more important than a man’s relationship with God, and so when he saw these evidences that these people really were in a right relationship with that God, it caused him first to give thanks for them, and then second it led him to pray for them.
“I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that…”
Becoming a Christian is not the end for the apostle Paul, it’s the beginning. It’s almost like the way it is with having a child, when the child is born, that’s not the end, that’s the beginning, and so as Paul hears about people who have become Christians, it fills his heart with joy of course, but he knows there’s so much for them to experience and enjoy, and so he goes to God, in prayer.
And he asks God to give them a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him.
Which is so significant and I want us to enjoy each word.
First, he goes to the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, which reminds us of course, that we are a Trinitarian people, we approach God not just as a generic God, but we believe God exists in three persons, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, that’s part of what makes us Christian, and as Paul approaches this God in prayer, he approaches Him as Father, who he describes here as the Father of glory, the glorious Father, or the Father of beauty.
And he asks God to give these people the Spirit.
Or a spirit.
It’s hard to know whether he’s talking about the Holy Spirit or our spirit, but either way he’s talking about a supernatural gift that impacts us in our inner man.
He wants us to have a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him.
The God of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Father of Glory.
Paul wants us to know Him.
That is what he thinks we need most.
We are such doers as people, you know.
And so we think about the church and establishing a great church, and what do we think about what we need, we think we need resources, we think we need important people, we think need a great location, we think we need this and that, and while all of those things might be fine and helpful, they are not what we need most as a church.
When Paul goes to God in prayer asking for these Ephesian believers, the thing he wants most for them is that they would be supernaturally enabled, to really grow in their knowledge of God.
He wants them to have a spirit of wisdom.
That means the ability to really process and enjoy who God is and what God’s doing through Christ.
And a spirit of revelation in the knowledge of Him.
So not just any revelation, like revelation in the knowledge of where I am going to live next year, but revelation in the knowledge of God, and that just means simply that God will open up our eyes more and more to understand what He’s actually saying in His Word.
I know this sometimes doesn’t look like much to people on the outside, studying the Bible, and hearing God’s Word preached, and they can come in, even though they are very intelligent and great at their businesses, and highly respected by everyone else, but because they aren’t saved, all this talk is like almost nonsense to them, it holds no interest to them, whereas to believers, there’s nothing more precious, there’s nothing more important, and that’s because knowing God isn’t simply an academic exercise, it requires God to do a supernatural work in your heart, and of course, he’s done that already, when you became a believer in the first place, but that’s just a start really, Paul is praying that He would continue that work, and increase your ability to understand and appreciate Him.
He wants us as Christians to go as deep as we can in our relationship with God.
That’s basically what the word knowledge is pointing us towards.
Because, it’s not just an academic knowledge, he’s talking about. He’s not saying, I am praying that these people will know a lot of information about God and be able to say all the right things about God. He wants us to actually know God the way we know a person, and to know Him as fully as we can.
To use Jonathan Edwards’ illustration, which is one of my favorites, he’s not just talking about a knowledge like someone who has never tasted honey but has read a book about it might have. If you have never tasted honey but have read a lot of facts about it, you might be able to describe it to others, and you might to be able to describe it very well, but that’s a very different kind of knowledge than someone who has actually tasted honey, he knows honey in a completely different way, and that’s the kind of knowledge of God, Paul says we need as a church.
As Martyn Lloyd Jones has put it, “He is concerned that we should have an immediate knowledge of God, a real fellowship with God…He is concerned that we should have an encounter with God. He means a knowledge of God which is personal and intimate…The knowledge Paul has in mind is not mere theory, mere notion; not something abstract or academic; it is personal, immediate, a real meeting. He is praying about the true knowledge of God. It is almost impossible to put this truth into words, but it means that God should be real to us, and that we should be conscious of Him and conscious of His presence.”
The way Paul describes it next, is in verse 18,
“…having the eyes of your hearts enlightened…”
Which maybe sounds funny to us, hearts with eyes, you know, but with the word heart, Paul’s talking about our inner man, the part of you and me, that makes us, us, who we really are. It’s not just how we feel, that’s maybe how we would use the word heart, to describe our emotions, but it’s not just how we feel, it’s how we think, what we want, and all of that, wrapped up in, and Paul’s saying, in order to have this knowledge of God that he’s describing, that deep down inner man, the eyes of our heart, needed to be enlightened so that we could see.
It’s like, before we were saved, we were kind of like blind people.
And obviously, the problem with blind people is not that they don’t have eyes.
Their problem is that their eyes don’t work, you might say there’s like a veil over their eyes, and that veil needs to be taken away, for them to see, and spiritually of course, the point is, that was us before God saved us.
While God was all around us, shouting out at us, through His world and His word and especially through His Son, look at me, I am beautiful, I am glorious, I am everything you need and more, we were like deaf men at a musical, we were like blind men looking at a sunset, I just can’t hear it, I just see it, what’s everyone going on about.
And of course, what Paul’s saying here, is that one of the reasons I am praying God might enable you to know more and more of Him, is because when I look back at your salvation, I see that one of the fundamental things God was doing in saving you, in first place, was enabling you to actually know and enjoy Him.
This was part of the goal.
And so, just like how with a blind man who maybe goes for an operation on his eyes, the purpose of that operation, obviously, is so that he will use his eyes, Paul, as he’s describing our salvation, is using that same image, and he’s saying being saved is like a miraculous operation, only on the eyes of your heart, it’s like having the eyes of your heart enlightened, which means, of course, that we should use those eyes to look more and more at the beauty of God and the wonder of what He’s done for us through Christ.
That’s the whole point.
That’s what those spiritual eyes are for.
And I am saying this, because you will sometimes meet people who are like, why do you talk about God so much, and why do you talk about the gospel so much, that’s for the beginning of the Christian life, I know this, I have got this, I don’t have to look at that anymore, and that just doesn’t make sense, seeing how Paul describes salvation here, that’s like a blind man, being enabled to see, asking why he should keep his eyes open, why he should look at stuff?
It’s because that’s the purpose of having eyes in the first place.
We were saved to see.
We were saved to see God’s beauty more and more.
That’s what we are about as a church.
It’s not just that we were enabled to once to see and then it’s done.
We were enabled to see for a reason, so that we could keep on seeing more and more of God and what’s He’s done for us through Jesus Christ.
And, the thing is, we need this.
More than anything else.
We have this constant need throughout the whole of our Christian lives for the Spirit of God to work in our innermost person to enable us to really see.
First of all God.
But second of all, what He’s done for us.
Because, as you look at this text, you can see that Paul goes on to get specific.
It’s like he’s given us an idea of our broad overarching need, that we may know God, and then he gets more specific, in the second half of verse 18, “that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power towards us who believe.”
And there are at least two, maybe three specific things Paul thinks we need to especially know as a church, and if we want to add one more to that, we can turn over to Ephesians 3, verse 14, where we find Paul praying for the church once again.
“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of His glory, he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
So, here’s this church, who is part of this great incredible mission, of God, and Paul knows, this great incredible eternal mission, might overwhelm them, and so, he says, you know what you need, you need to know God, specifically you need to know, His great plan for you, His great power which is at work in you, and His great love for you.
And if you were going to ask me, I think, that’s what we need most.
As a local church.
It’s that simple.
Because, we look out there and we’ve got all these great things we want to do.
We want to put God’s beauty on display for everyone to see.
We want to be like a shining light in our community, in South Africa, in the world.
As John Piper has put it, we want to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things.
Basically, we want to make the angels say, wow, God is wise.
We want God to use us to enable these spiritually dead people, whose minds are totally against God, who find nothing interesting in God, we want God to use us, to wake them up, as a means, through which the Spirit works, to give them spiritual life.
We want to protect the truth.
If we think of the gospel like a treasure, the truth as the single most valuable thing in all of Sunnyside, God’s placed us in Sunnyside, with this treasure, and He’s given us this charge to protect it, and to help other people benefit from it, and yet, here we are with this incredible treasure, and we know, there are all these thieves and robbers who are totally devoted to stealing it, there are hundreds of these robbers around us, and we want to protect this treasure from them, while taking it out there to others, and we are not NAVY Seals, you know God didn’t choose spiritual NAVY Seals to protect this treasure, He chose us, and obviously, I mean, all of this seems so impossible for us, and so we might ask, how in the world can God expect us to be able to do this.
And Paul’s like, you know what you need, you know what you need, you don’t need more resources, you don’t need God to give you something you don’t have, that’s what you think, but that’s not what you need, what you need is for God to enable you to enjoy more and more who He is and what He’s already done for you through Jesus Christ.
That basically, is our greatest need as a church.
We know the gospel, but we need to know it better and more deeply.
We need to appreciate more and more God’s great plan for us.
In Paul’s words,
“the hope to which He has called you.”
If we as believers could just grasp how good our forever is going to be, that one fact, would change everything about us.
I sometimes think the problem with many Christians is that they don’t really believe in heaven.
When God saved us, or in Paul’s language here called us, He didn’t simply call us to live and then die, and that was it, His purpose was much bigger than that, it stretched on into forever.
In fact, if you look down at verses 6 and 7 of chapter 2, Paul says, that God, “raised us up with Christ and seated us with him, in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus.”
And that’s an incredible purpose.
If you were somehow sitting with God looking at these believers he saved and you looked at God and said why did you save them like this, one of the ways he might respond is by saying, I saved them so that I could show them just how kind I am, forever.
That’s the new heavens and the new earth.
That’s our hope.
That’s what God has in store for us.
For all eternity, He’s going to be finding new ways of surprising us with good things.
And if we are going to fulfill our mission as a church, in this world, right now, we need to be gripped by that.
Eternity can’t just be a word for us.
I think of this God, and this is an eternal God, this is a God who stretches back before forever even got started, who has no beginning and who has no end, this is a weighty being, and I am just a floating piece of dust in the air, next to Him, not even that, and He’s got this mind that is vast, He knows all things that have ever happened or will happened, He’s got the resources to do whatever He wants, in all the universe, there is not one single thing He can’t do, He’s not even limited by His imagination, He can come up with a trillion things to do, that I didn’t even know were possibilities to do, and what does He want to do, He wants to come up with new ways to delight us as a church, forever.
I mean, being part of the church is something so significant, because of what God has in store for us.
And we get an idea of just how much this great plan means to God, in the next phrase in verse 18.
Paul says he wants us to know,
“what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.”
And of course because we’ve just been talking about hope, we are tempted to read that, as what are the riches of our glorious inheritance, but that’s not what it actually says. It says, what is the riches of his inheritance.
He’s talking about God’s inheritance.
And he’s describing God’s inheritance as us, the church, believers, the one’s he has set apart.
It feels funny to describe God as having an inheritance, since the whole world belongs to Him, but the Bible talks this way, from the beginning about God’s people, this language goes all the way back to the Old Testament.
And I think, Paul’s here, primarily pointing us forward to our heavenly state, of course, he’s reminding us of God’s good intentions for us as a church.
We are going to be absolutely glorious.
The words he used back in verses 3 and 4 to describe God’s plan were holy and blameless.
“Even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him.”
Beautiful, in other words.
We look at the church now and it seems anything but, and of course, it is easy to grow discouraged, which is why Paul wants God to help us look forward to what He is going to do in His church, and the way He’s going to beautify us.
The whole universe is going to be amazed at what He’s done.
I sometimes think it’d be nice to know where people end up. You know? Even humanly speaking, there have been lots of great and powerful men, who started out something small. And you can imagine if you knew, where they’d end up, when they were small, that would impact the way you worked with them. You might get discouraged, but you would think, this is where this person is headed, and it’s that way with the church, if we become sort of pessimistic, and tired, and we are like, what can God do with these people, we absolutely know what God can do with these people, and we need to know it better, we need to appreciate God’s great plan, the hope to which He has called us, and His glorious inheritance in the saints.
And we need to know His power.
That’s the second part of Paul’s prayer request.
“And what is the immeasurable greatness of his power towards us who believe, according to the working of his great might.”
And you can see he’s just piling on words.
Of His power.
Of His great might.
Which is Paul’s way I think of trying to get us just to step back and say, wow. I don’t think the words themselves mean anything all that different. It’s more like someone who’s seen something amazing, and it’s so amazing, that as he describes it, he just keeps repeating himself, because he really wants you to feel it.
We really, really, really, really, need to know, deep down in our hearts, that there is absolutely nothing in the whole universe that can stop God from doing anything He wants and that’s best for us, as a church.
It’s not, and as we look down at the text, this is important to note, that Paul’s praying we might know the hope of our calling and the riches of God’s inheritance in the saints, and that we might have more of God’s great power.
It’s that Paul is praying we might know the immeasurable greatness of God’s power that is already at work in and through us.
One of the things that holds us up most as a church is not a lack of spiritual resources. Instead, what holds us up, is that we just don’t realize how many spiritual resources God has in fact already given us in Christ.
I mean, this really concerns me.
Because if you look at the way a lot of people are going about church, it’s like they think, as Christians, we somehow need something more.
We need more of Jesus.
We need more of the Holy Spirit.
We need more power.
Which of course puts false teachers in these positions where they can easily gain control over you.
I mean, if you are sitting there and you are feeling inadequate.
If that’s how you view yourself fundamentally as a Christian, not having enough, I can get you to do almost anything.
“You are saved, oh that’s fine, that’s a start, but you also need to give me so much, if you are going to really experience God’s power.”
I want God’s power.”
“Oh, you are a Christian, that’s good, but you also need to do this ritual or that ritual, if you are going to overcome Satan’s attacks.”
I definitely want to avoid Satan’s attacks.”
And you know, once you get started heading down that direction, it’s not long before you have something, that’s not even close to the kind of Christianity, we are reading about in God’s Word.
Which of course is part of why, Paul so desperately wants us to appreciate the sufficiency of the resources we’ve already been given in Christ.
If we don’t have this deepening personal relationship with God, if we aren’t more and more sure about our hope of eternal life, if we don’t appreciate just how big a future God has in store for the church, and the power that’s at work right now in the church, there’s no way, we are really going to be able to stay on track with the mission God’s given us as a church.
That’s what we so desperately need, and of course, that’s why we do what we do as a church.