Like any good letter-writer in the first century, Paul begins with words of blessing. As Dan so ably pointed out yesterday, the opening verses of this lovely letter are a single, long sentence of doxology and praise. And with his next, very large breath (again, one single sentence in the Greek!), Paul moves from blessing to thanksgiving and prayer — thanksgiving to God for these friends, and prayer for their further spiritual development. This is the only one of Paul’s letters to contain this triple-whammy of blessing/thanksgiving/prayer, so it’s worth our time to unpack these nine verses with care.
And as we do, I find myself wondering this: what might happen if all our correspondence — letters, notes, emails, blog comments — what if all of it borrowed from Paul’s pattern in this remarkable letter. Even if we find ourselves in disagreement with a writer or a friend, even if we’re concerned about a topic or a direction taken or a decision made — what might it mean in our written conversations if we always began with blessing, thanksgiving and prayer? Maybe as this New Year continues to unfurl before us, we could make that a resolution of sorts, to offer encouraging words first and foremost. We might find that any harsher words we’re harboring simply fly away with the wind if we concentrate on the kind ones first.
And what could be kinder than letting someone know that we thank God for them? Continually thank God for them? And what could be more encouraging than to hear that we are prayed for, prayed over, prayed about? Paul tells them exactly what his prayer for them is and I really like that. I can imagine that as he wrote (or dictated) these words, they became actual words of prayer in the very act of offering them. And the essence of that prayer is this: that the ‘eyes of their hearts’ might see/understand/know more of God in these three areas:
A 20th century Anglican theologian, C.F.D. Moule, described hope as “faith standing on tiptoe.” Professor Snodgrass amplifies with these words, ‘a tilt toward the future.’ Hope is what undergirds so much of who we are as followers of Jesus, isn’t it? Our hope is in him. Hope that we might live a deeper, richer life. Hope that we might become more fully the persons we were intended to be. Hope that we might find avenues of service, making contributions to a better life for many. And hope that we will live beyond this life, this earth, to enjoy a forever life with God. Paul prays that they will live more fully into that hope, that promise, that forever life.
The second of Paul’s requests is the hardest to grasp, partly because the language itself is tricky and partly because it’s hard for us to wrap our minds around this truth: WE are God’s inheritance. God’s glorious inheritance! Paul prays that the Ephesians — and we — might get a glimpse of this mystery. He prays that we might see, as C.S. Lewis once phrased it, ‘the weight of glory’ each human being carries as a seed inside, that seed flourishing to fullness through the redeeming grace of Jesus, the centering love of the Father and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.
Which takes us to the last of Paul’s prayer requests — that believers would fully understand and experience the resurrection power of God, unleashed in us by the indwelling power of God’s Spirit. Power is on ongoing theme in this letter and we’ll see that word again and again — more than in any other epistle. What we will discover as we continue in our study is this: the power of God is available to us not to prevent disaster, illness, or loss, but to enable us to live into everything that life brings us, and, by God’s grace, to emerge victorious on the other side. We are empowered to live, and to live well, in a world too often ravished by evil. The question is, will we lean into that power and allow the Spirit to strengthen us for the living of these days? Oh, I hope so! I pray so.