For this reason, ever since I first heard about the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you and your love for all God’s people everywhere,I have not stopped giving thanks to God for you, remembering you in my prayers constantly. (Ephesians 1:15-16)
I am sure that anyone who believes in the power of prayer would pray for folks in trouble, folks that are ill or are being buried by some negative circumstance. Christians receive prayer requests for folks in needy scenarios all the time. It is the Christian lifestyle. “Tell me, what can I pray about for you?” Sickness, loss, lack and bereavement are all situations that need prayer and the power of God to sustain folks through hard times.
However, when we hit Paul’s discussion of prayer in Ephesians 1 we have a totally different concept. The first fourteen verses are highlighting the gloriously wonderful context of the true faith that existed in the hearts of the people to whom the apostle was writing. He highlights truths that are embedded into the life of all true Christians. The believer is chosen, blessed with everything God has to give, purposed for glory and purposed from before time began. The believer has forgiveness, clearing out the past; redemption, being owned by God, and having the status of family member; and the empowering of the Holy Spirit to walk in the high calling of God. It is all absolutely glorious. On top of all that, the reports have come to Paul that the practical outworking of these truths is wonderfully self evident in the lives of those to whom the letter was sent. At the end of all that information, we have Paul’s instant response. He thanks God for them and ensures that he remembers them all in his prayers. This is revelation that informs us of things happening in the invisible spiritual cosmos. Because of their experience in Christ, and because of the obvious outburst of grace and Christ-like love in them all he needs to pray for them, along with giving thanks for them.
I believe Ephesians was written as a “round robin” to many of the churches in Asia minor, or to use modern terminology – the area we know as Western Turkey. There are several reasons why I hold tightly to this hypothesis. One of those reasons is that I am given to understand from many academic volumes that there are quite a few manuscripts of the epistle where “at Ephesus” in the very first verse is missing. I am told that those that have the Ephesian location missing are among the oldest manuscripts extant. Another reason that causes me to hold to my “circular newsletter” theory is this section of the epistle in verses 15 and 16 of the first chapter. The language suggests that he is addressing people that he has not met but only heard of, when indeed he had spent three years in Ephesus. If he had lived in Ephesus and never circulated throughout Asia or met the other fellowships, it makes it legitimate to picture the apostle talking about having heard of the people’s faith and their love for God’s people everywhere, having not met them. It stands to reason that he was the father and the witness to the impact of the gospel message on the Ephesian population, but the disciples and others sent out from Ephesus also birthed churches in Colossae, Thyatira, Pergamos, and other cities within biblical Asia. If this letter was to be read throughout all the churches in Asia, there must have been some thoughts of the apostle of the Christians he knew of, yet had never met. The theory of academics is that there were several copies written and then as Paul’s workers attended differing congregations they would fill in the name of the city where the church was that they were visiting.
Paul had people reporting to him all the time. Having heard of the grace of God working in the province as a whole, as people were filled with faith and love, he set himself to pray for them. In fact, the language he uses suggests that he was constantly in prayer concerning them. How does one pray for those that are obviously grounded in their faith and witnessing the love of Christ in their lives? This brings to our attention several thoughts.
The important issue to imbibe is that Paul did not pray for the Ephesians because they were in crisis or having problems – in fact, the letter suggests that it is for reasons that are quite the opposite to lack, need or illness. He commended them for their love and faith, having told them in the early part of the chapter all that they had in Christ, and from that platform of understanding he postures himself to pray for them to experience more of what they have already got. It is necessary, I believe, to grasp the idea that there is more to being saved and walking with God than just getting our sins forgiven, wonderful though that is. The new birth translates us into the kingdom of God, which is infinitely greater in wonder and benefits than even the greatest finite mind can ever comprehend. We need revelation to understand what salvation is in all its fullness, and this letter supplies us with that revelation. Conversion and being born of the Spirit is marvellous, but walking with God has even more superlatives to be heaped upon the concept of being “saved” to really understand the process. We need to have a clear view of how the kingdom of God functions and then follow the principles behind the divine promises given. The more we can experience it down here on earth, the more glory we bring to God. This is called spiritual growth.
Everything big starts little. This growth in God does not take place automatically, neither does it happen all at once. We are progressively being changed as we renew our minds – assuming renewal of the mind is our greatest priority. Mind management is the first priority of the overcomer. All Christians are the same in their born again spirit but there are many different levels of understanding and accompanying victories which we should be manifesting in our lives. This is why every Christian on the planet can correctly say that Ephesians 1:3-14 is the exact truth of their derivation, status and divinely ordained goal in life, and yet some can turn out to be mighty world changing apostles, and some can simply cruise and remain so bland and ineffectual. One only gets out of a relationship as much as one puts into that relationship. It is with these things in mind that Paul prays that what these Asian Christians had in their spirit and were exhibiting in a life of faith and love, will be openly and ever increasingly manifested in their flesh. Whatever one’s experience of God is or has been, there is always more. However deep one has gone into the Spirit, there is always deeper and deepest to explore.
For these reasons, this prayer Paul is about to detail to us is powerful and valid for every Christian. One would be wise if one was to make this prayer personal to one’s self. It is powerful and ever so far-reaching in its conceptual insights.
Paul’s giving of thanks is part and parcel engrafted into the warp and woof of his prayer life. Thanksgiving is a vital nutrient in the interaction with God that prayer is intended to be. “I will enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise,” reads Psalm 100:4, suggesting that God welcomes those that come to Him in a genuine state of thankfulness. Philippians 4:6 instructs us similarly. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” To put it succinctly, Paul does not think that prayer is legitimate without a period of thanksgiving mixed in with the petitions.
“For this reason” he begins.What reason is he referring to? Everything listed in those first fourteen verses, together with the fruits of their faith that have been reported to him. The apostle is overjoyed at the clear evidence of a real and solid faith. He is so happy that he has been thanking God ever since he heard. He is selflessly rejoicing in the intervention of God in the lives of the Asians and he sees clearly that the momentum needs to be maintained. How can he influence the momentum of Godliness when he is so geographically distanced from them? Paul is filled with the solid factual and concrete concept that distance is not a barrier with God.
“I have not stopped giving thanks for you.” This is a revelation of one of Paul’s deep secret for maintaining the gifts of grace and power that sat upon his life. Thankfulness for anything that is God given was the lifestyle of the apostle. Praying was a lifestyle. Remembering people in his prayers was the air he breathed.