This Sunday is traditionally known as Trinity Sunday and over the next three weeks we will be delving into some of Saint Paul’s prayers as expressed in the book of Ephesians.
Call to Worship: based on Psalm 8 O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is Your name in all the earth! You have set Your glory above the heavens. When I look at Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars that You have established; what are human beings that You are mindful of them, mortals that You care for them? O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is Your name in all the earth!
HYMN 111 Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty
Merciful God, we come before You with praise and thanksgiving!
Give us knowledge and understanding of Your goodness that we might once again be overawed by Your greatness; Let us draw near with confidence knowing that in Christ you have not only forgiven us but blessed us with every spiritual blessing. Open our hearts and minds to your presence among us here. May our worship this morning bring you honour and glory, for you alone are worthy of our praise!
Heavenly Father, we thank You for all You have done for us in Jesus. We thank You for all You have given us in Him. We thank You that You have blessed us in Him with every spiritual blessing. Through faith, we are made your children who have been blessed by You to be a blessing to all. Help us Lord to realise that this world is not about us, but that it is all about You and Your glory. Forgive us when we make our time of worship about ourselves. Coming with our own preconceived ideas and not expecting You to change and change us. Remind us again that it’s about Your purpose to bless the world with Your love, mercy and presence. As recipients of Your love, we thank You that we have the wonderful privilege and responsibility of being Your instruments of love and blessings to others in this world.
Grant us the wisdom to know Your will and the power, so that we might fulfil Your purpose for us. And forgive us when we resist the working of Your Holy Spirit, relying on our own understanding and strength.
Heavenly Father, we thank You that in Your plan and purpose for this world You enabled us to hear and respond to the gospel message of salvation. We thank You that as You did so, You poured out on us the Holy Spirit to seal our relationship with You so that we might inherit all the blessings You have given us in Christ Jesus. Enable us, by Your Spirit, to become more and more a people of praise reliant on your presence and power so that You may be glorified in and through our lives. We ask these things in Jesus’ name.
We pray the words You taught Your friends, saying:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial
and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours
now and for ever. Amen.
15 I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love[a] towards all the saints, and for this reason 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. 17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. 20 God[b] put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. 22 And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
‘I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15All that the Father has is mine. For this reason, I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
HYMN 457 All hail the power of Jesus’ Name!
A few weeks ago the family and I were privilege to see a show at the Usher Hall (theatre). As we were being shown to our seats, I could not believe the seats we had, six rows from the stage and pretty much in the centre. I was surprised and at the same time unbelieving and hesitant, could these possibly be our seats? I even confirmed with my wife: are you sure we are in the right seats, she was adamant, adding that we had bought these tickets a few months prior. I was still not fully convinced. The seats, our position was just too good to be true. So, every time an usher started walking in our direction followed by someone holding a ticket, I was sure that we would be asked to move. I only really fully relaxed when the theatre was full and the show had begun, a full orchestra and rock band right in front of me, what a powerful sight and sound. Have you ever felt that way? Or is it just my insecurities being explained to all publicly? Are there perhaps times that you feel out, like you seated in the wrong seat, the position or privilege is just too much to believe.
Over the next few weeks, we are going to delve into three prayers in what is known as the book of Ephesians. It must be noted that in the original form, written as a letter by Paul it was not divided into chapters and verses as we have today. It has been argued that the whole of chapter one, two and three, are praise and prayer, doxology and intercession interwoven for the first time in one of Paul’s writings. Some even argue that it could have been taken from or reflect words which formed part of the liturgy in Paul’s time. From these prayers we can gain both theory and praxis, theology and liturgy. There is a campaign I am sure you have seen the banners around “TryPraying” with the subtitle “There is hope” or “It is easy”. In reality though prayer is often complicated and I am sure many may feel that they are unworthy or inadequate to pray at times. It may be that you have stopped spending any time in prayer because you feel your prayers do not make a difference. My prayer is that we will all be inspired and informed by Paul’s prayers.
Some argue that as Paul writes this letter, he is not only addressing the church in Ephesus but the broader church in the region. This letter seems to be different and does not address a particular argument or wrong teaching and therefore we get a clearer understanding of Paul’s belief/ theology. The first half gives a clear belief of God and the Church and the second part gives practical examples of how to live out this belief. We cannot delve into all the detail but verses three to fourteen of chapter one in the Greek is one long sentence, no full-stops, not good grammar. It is Paul so excited, overwhelmed by God’s greatness, goodness and grace on our behalf and he is expressing it back to God. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,” (Ephesians 1:3). Verses three to six describe how we have been blessed through the Father. Verses seven to twelve how we have been blessed through the Son, Jesus. Verses thirteen and fourteen how we have been and continue to be blessed by the Spirit. Paul lists a vast array of Blessings that are ours in Christ Jesus. The work of Christ on our behalf, his death and resurrection are appropriated to us through the presence of the Holy Spirit.
The evangelical church has emphasized for generations the notion that at the point of conversion or faith, a convert receives Christ, that in essence God by the presence of the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in us. This understanding or notion is born out in many scriptural texts: “Christ in you the hope of Glory.” (Colossians 1:27 ). Paul however in Ephesians and elsewhere flips the language. Salvation is about you and I being “in Christ”. In the Greek form we have that phrase, “In Him” or “In whom” or “In Christ”, eleven times in eleven verses. In Paul’s view we are caught up into Christ and made one with him. On a side note: if this is prayer, Paul is repeating to God in a way of thanksgiving all God has done for him and those who would choose to believe. Does your prayer time start with thanking God for all he has done, in a real way reflecting the basis of your relationship with God? Paul uses this notion of us being “In Christ” or “in the Lord” about 164 times in his letters. It is a really difficult but vital notion to wrestle with and to come to some understanding. We have a saying in the English language “living in the past” normally expressed “stop living in the past” meaning that one must not allow some past hurt, experience or outdated overhaul world-view to dictate how one is experiencing, negotiating or relating to the present circumstances. In other words, although in a different time and place the past is what is profoundly impacting the present perception of or reaction to current circumstances. In a similar way living or being in Christ means who Christ is and what he has accomplished impacts the way we live and relate to others and our circumstances in the present. All that is true of Christ becomes true of us if we are “in Him”. It should inspire and inform our lived reality more so than our circumstances.
“15 I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love towards all the saints, and for this reason 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. 17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him,” (Ephesians 1:15-17) Here we get an insight into the focus of Paul’s prayers for fellow believers and it is different I am sure to a lot of our prayers. Firstly, he is not praying for himself and he may even be praying for people who he is yet to meet. Secondly, his focus is not on requesting God to lessen the burden or remove difficult circumstances or even bless with physical blessings but rather for enlightenment and understanding of their position, their blessings “in Christ”. Paul’s primary prayer is that the Holy Spirit would open their eyes, hearts and minds to the fullness of all that we have “in Christ.” Our human wisdom and understanding will never get us to an intimate knowledge of God, we need the Spirit to do that. It reminds me when Peter was the first one to proclaim that Jesus was the Messiah as Matthew puts it Jesus responded “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 16:17). How should this change our prayers? This should excite us because not only can we pray that God would reveal himself to our family, friends and neighbours but we can also pray and ask God to take us deeper into an intimate knowledge of God. Simply put we can pray “I want to know you more”. When last have you prayed a prayer like that? Irrespective of what you believe or how close you think you are to God.
The English word “Know” does not do justice to the Greek word used in Ephesians – EPIGNOSIS – which is a real deep, full knowledge, a thorough, life-changing knowledge of Christ. It is not just head knowledge it is experiential knowledge. It has with it a sense of relationship, not ritual or religion. The word can be used in a way a man knows a wife and they have a baby, not in a sexual way but intimacy. And if anyone knew Christ in a life changing way it was Paul and yet a fuller knowledge of Christ was his desire for himself and others.
“18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power” (Ephesians 1:18-19). Paul wants then to know three main things that they have in Christ Jesus – Hope, Inheritance and Power. In a sense he wants them to know the kind of seat they are sitting in, their position. He wants them to know so that they live from that reality even though at times their lived experience may be a vastly different reality. It reminds us that Jesus opened the eyes of the blind, pointing to a deeper enlightenment that was needed about God’s relating to mankind. Hope: they say that we can live about forty days without food, about three days without water, about eight minutes without air but only a few seconds without Hope. Not just a hope that things may possibly change and get better but a hope that there is a different reality that the victory has already been won and the end is determined. Paul goes on to root this hope we called to in Christ’s resurrection and in Pentecost. Hope for a better outcome because death, sin and evil have been defeated. Hope was a rare commodity in the first-century world Paul addressed and I am sure that many will agree hope is a rare commodity today. If, evil is dealt with and sin is defeated and we are assured of a future where all will be made new then there is hope to live in the present. Hope to work towards and usher in the way things should be. In a real sense we are living from the future not for it. God’s work in Christ addresses our meaninglessness and positions and empowers us to be instruments of change and Hope. This leads to the second thing that Paul wants us to know not only at a head level but at a lived experience level, inheritance. Initially when we read about inheritance in the context of faith, we presume it speaks of what we will receive one day. A closer analysis of this text shows that we who are “in Christ” are God’s Glorious inheritance, in other words we are the apple of His eye. Can we even comprehend that God’s glory is present most profoundly when God inherits his own people of faith? We have a hope beyond this life. Although this body may die, we live forever! Paul does not just want us to believe in the hereafter, he wants us to know it and experience it now.
Paul prays that they would know and experience the Hope they have in Christ and that they are and will be God’s Glorious inheritance. Lastly, he wants them to know and experience power that is theirs in Christ. “..and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. 20God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,” (Ephesians 1:19-20). The minute I mention power, I am sure many may get hesitant and sceptical some may even switch off because firstly our world is filled with examples of how power corrupts and subjugates. Secondly in our scientific world which denies anything that cannot be explained by empirical studies we question what kind of force are you talking about. On the other hand, I am sure not many will deny they need strength, power from beyond themselves to be all they know God desires them to be. In the context of Ephesians Paul is not talking about power to perform miracles but rather the power needed for transformation. Paul goes on to insist that all powers and principalities have been defeated at the cross and Christ is seated in victory. Again, we could argue away spiritual notions by describing those in power as earthly dominions or governmental structures but it seems that Paul is talking about spiritual forces. It is important that we do not get hung up on this but focus on what we need to know and that is that every power has been defeated. Further as we are in Christ, what is true of Christ is true of us.
There is a story told of a mother approaching her young daughter’s room only to over hear her beginning to pray as it was almost bedtime. The door was slightly ajar so she listened in not wanting to disturb. As she listened more closely all she could hear was her daughter reciting the Alphabet – a, b, c, d, e etc this went on and on with an occasional pause. The mother hesitated in interrupting not wanting to disturb but finally she just had to as she could not make any sense of her daughter’s prayers. The mother asked darling why on earth are you praying the alphabet. The daughter without hesitation responded because God knows better the words that are needed so I am just giving him the building blocks. Prayer often seems so difficult and yet it is foundational in growing our faith, a vital spiritual discipline. May we know that God has opened the way so that we may humbly enter the throne of grace and glory. As we gather to worship today death is defeated, Jesus rose and sent the Holy Spirit. Paul as he prays wants all to know the unique position they are in as they are united with Christ, “in Christ” all that is true of Christ is true of them. Sometimes we look from a distance hoping there is more when God has made a way that we can be seated with him.
Today’s topics are huge and complex – Hope, Inheritance and Power, some would even say divisive. You may not agree with all I have said today but I want you to consider one thing: your prayers. Are you praying that God would take you deeper in your understanding? Wherever you are in your faith journey, you can not only thank God for what you believe he has done but you can also ask him to take you deeper? Are you willing to pray a similar prayer to that of Paul, for yourself and for your family and friends – for wisdom and revelation that they may know the hope, inheritance and transformative power which is ours in Christ?
HYMN 500 Lord of creation, to you be all praise
O Lord God,
we praise You that in all things
we can know the guiding and comfort of Your Holy Spirit.
Give us, we pray, not our own weak desires
but Your power through Your presence,
for this is the surest way to live in the truth.
Save us from all that hinders,
from being content with too little of Your presence,
from thinking that You are still far from us.
When we feel our lack of You, inspire your Word to us
and remind us of resurrection and Pentecost.
Teach us over and over again not to rely on our
human wisdom and understanding.
Teach us each day to find and know fullness of Your Holy Spirit
given freely in Christ Jesus.
we lift before You those who carry heavy burdens,
those who find each day a challenge,
those who struggle to see hope for the future.
Lord, we thank You that You are the ultimate source of all hope,
and we ask that You would use Your people, Your Church
to bring hope, healing and light into the darkness today.
Lord, we lift before You those who carry heavy burdens of
for our leaders: local, national and around the world,
for those whose decisions will affect the lives of many,
give wisdom and compassion we pray.
Lord, we give You thanks for those who carry burdens of
responsibility in our Church –
locally, nationally and globally.
May the spirit of truth and wisdom guide and protect all who serve,
in whatever capacity, that You might be glorified in all our world.
For we ask this in the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ
HYMN 441 Blessing and honour and glory and power
May the God of all creation watch over all your ways.
May the Holy Spirt lead you in the paths of righteousness.
May the Christ who gave Himself for you, imbue with you all wisdom,
and may we all be bound together in eternal fellowship,
as we serve and glorify our God – this day and for ever more.
Bible Quotations taken from: New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
English translations of The Lord’s Prayer, © 1998, English Language Liturgical Consultation (ELLC), and used by permission. www.englishtexts.org
Prayers and final blessing adapted from Church of Scotland Weekly Worship for 12 June 2022.