The passage before us this morning reminds us of how radically different our lives are to be as Christians.
To show this Paul sets up a vivid contrast between the woeful state of the unbeliever and radically spiritual state of the believer.
To strengthen his argument and emphasize how important holiness must be, he begins by pointing out what we are not. The Christian’s call to purity will be seen all that much more distinctly when it is held against the backdrop of the pitch, black corruption of the unbeliever’s life.
So, as we look at verses 17-19, I want us to take note of how woefully corrupt the unbeliever is.
My wife tells me that the key to social interaction is finding the one thing that you have in common. I believe she is right. As a matter of fact, that is the tactic that the Apostle Paul uses here to meld the two most factitious groups in the world together.
It is by recognizing what they have in common.
In order to become a member of one of the old Southern Presbyterian churches, you had to stand before the congregation to make a public profession of faith. And, as you became a member, one of the questions that you were asked went like this:
I’ve always found that second part of the vow quite interesting. It is one thing to say, “Yes, I will submit to my elders.” But it is another thing to commit to studying the purity and peace of the church. If you make a commitment to submit to your elders, you only have to do that when they come knocking at your door.
But if you promise to study the peace and purity of the church, you make a commitment to daily doing whatever you can to promote the unity of Christ’s body. So, as you stood before that congregation and took that vow, you pledged to make your life’s objective to keep factions from rising and doing whatever possible to reduce conflict.
Our passage this morning is a continuation of the great doxology that commenced in verse 3. Even though your Bible might have a period at the end of verse 6 we are continuing in our praise to God God.
The period is added because there is a shift in thought. In this passage we begin to praise God for his grace.
When I was in college I began to read the Bible on a regular basis. Up until this point I had never had personal devotions or worked through the Scriptures systematically. Now that I had left home and started off on my own, I thought I better take more responsibility for my personal growth in Christ.
Tiger Woods is not only known for his abilities as a golfer. One of the things that sets him apart on the green is his mental toughness. His ability to focus and mentally battle through is evident when you watch him. But that edge did not come naturally. A reporter from the New York Times has told where it came from:
That became apparent when things weren’t going his way. As things began to go badly for him, he began to pout. As his game continued to droop, he stopped trying altogether.
His father, a former Green Beret, chewed out his son. “I asked him who he thought he was. I told him golf owed him nothing and that he had better not ever quite again.” The way Earl remembers it, Tiger never said a word, and he never quit again.
The best things in life don’t come served on a platter to those who think they deserve it. They come to those who know they must persevere no matter who they are and now matter what happens.
The same is true for us as Christians. We should never think that we are kings that should be served. No. We must always remember that we are servants to the king. And because we are his servants, we must diligently look to fulfill our calling—no matter what faces us. In this world we must, like Tiger Woods, persevere—seeking to grow up to full maturity.
As we come to this passage this morning we see that that is the Apostle Paul’s burden. He writes to Christians living in a tough environment. Ephesus was one of the most prestigious cities at that time. It was filled with paganism which the Ephesians had been converted from. There were many obstacles before them. That is why Paul bows his head and offers this prayer. He prays that the flock of God may persevere in the Christian life.
I. The motive for his prayer: 
We should ask, “What makes Paul pray for these Ephesian Christians?” Sometimes ministers have to pray simply because there is nothing else they can do. They have to pray because everything seems to be going wrong. But that is not the case here. Paul is moved to pray because everything is going right! Look at what it says in verse 15, “For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.”
Somehow Paul has received a report about how things are going (he is probably in Rome when he wrote this letter), and their report card has superior marks! Their faith in Christ is excellent and their love toward the saints is just as good.
Here you find the two parts of the Christian life. Our Catechism asks the question, “What does the Bible teach?” And it answers, “What we are to believe about God and what duty God requires of us.” In other words, the bible teaches faith in Christ and love toward others. So you see that the Ephesian Christians were excelling in the Christian life.
Let me just say that both of these are so important. Faith and love: they are compliments to each other; they go hand in hand. If you have one without the other—if you become lopsided—then you’re not living the Christian life. You’re falling into error.
For example: If you have love without faith, then you are just being moral people. This is a lot like what liberal churches are like. They have great love for other people—they try to do lots of good works, they try to express compassion for the needy and such—but their theology is all goofed up. They’ve distorted who God is and they don’t see a need for faith in Christ because there is no need for his redeeming work.
On the other extreme there is faith without love. There is the orthodox church—the church with all the right doctrine—but no love. It is as cold as ice. This is the error that the Ephesian church would later slip into. In the book of Revelation the church was commended for being staunchly orthodox. They couldn’t stand evil people and they wouldn’t tolerate false teachers. But Christ said, “this one thing I have against you, you have abandoned the love you had at first.”
“You’re not being hospitable to each other anymore. You’ve become only focused upon yourselves. You’re not seeking to care for each other anymore.” Christ can’t approve of that kind of church either.
We might think that way. We might think that, as long as we have our confessions and we’re holding fast to our Reformed doctrine, we’re doing good. But that’s not true.
Yes, we need solid doctrine. But we need love too. A spiritual church doesn’t sacrifice one for the other. A spiritual church knows that both, faith and love, are of the utmost importance. That is a successful church.
I want you to understand that too. I think we are too much confused on what makes a successful church. A successful church is not successful when it has a lot of people. A business downtown can be considered successful when it has a lot of customers. But that is not the way you grade a church.
A church is successful when it pleases God—when it is excelling in faith in Christ and love toward others. Let’s keep that in mind. We might begin to think that we are not a successful church because we do not have 100 members. Get that out of your mind. You are successful as a church when you are obedient. When your report card says A+ in Faith and love.
Paul prays because of the revelation he had of the church’s success. But what does Paul pray for? If their spiritual success is motive for his prayer, what is the essence of his prayer?
II. The essence of his prayer: [16-18a]
In verse 17 we find that he prays “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him.”
Let’s think about this for a second. Let’s clarify what Paul means. What is a “spirit of wisdom”? In our study in Proverbs we have said that wisdom is “skill in living.” It is being able to live by God’s law, being able to take the principles of Scripture and apply them to life. May I say then, that Paul is praying for them to have a spirit of love. If God’s law teaches us how to love, and wisdom is applying God’s law to life, then the spirit of wisdom is basically a spirit of love.
And what does Paul mean by “a spirit of revelation in the knowledge of him”? We talk about the Bible being the “revelation of God.” We would not know who God was unless he revealed himself to us. We gain knowledge of God when he reveals himself to us.
So if I might summarize Paul’s prayer: Paul is praying for the same thing that causes him to pray! He is praying that we grow in faith in Christ and love towards others! In other words, Paul basically says, “I pray that you keep doing what you are already doing! Keep being a successful church!”
You see, there is a tendency for us to grow complacent. For instance, if a student gets a good report card—let’s say that he got all A’s—he can think that he can relax. He can say, “I’ve worked hard these last few weeks, I’m doing pretty good, I think I’m going to take it easy for a while.”
That can happen in our walk with Christ too. If we think that we are doing well in the Christian life—we have been working hard to study the Bible, we have really been trying to help out our friends—you might start to think I’m just going to relax a bit now—just take a little break.
But the Christian life is to be full speed ahead! There are not supposed to be any pit stops along this road.
But that isn’t our nature. We want to slow down. We want to be selfish. That’s why the essence of Paul’s prayer is “that God may give us that spirit”. It is not something that we can churn up in ourselves. It is not something that we can fuel or keep going. A fire cannot keep itself going. It needs someone to keep putting logs on it and keep fueling it. And we can’t keep ourselves growing in the Christian life. If you think about it we’re a grumpy people, we are a selfish people. It is only if God puts it in our hearts that we will flourish in faith and love.
It’s that wonderful conundrum of God’s sovereignty and our responsibility. We are to keep striving in the faith, but only God can make it happen.
I once heard someone say that as a minister I am to “preach like a Baptist and pray like a Calvinist.” I’m to call you to grow in faith in love, but run back to my office and pray that God will cause you to grow.
Ø We’ve seen the motive and the essence of the prayer. We’ve seen that they have a divine fire, and he asks for divine fuel. But what is the purpose of his prayer. What does he want them to get out of it.
III. The purpose of his prayer: Confirmation [18b-21]
In verse 18 you see that Paul prays this prayer, “that they may know.” He prays for confirmation—that they may be fully assured. He prays that they may know 3 things. The first thing he wants us to know what is the hope to which he has called you.
Paul is very pastoral here. He knows that we are going to encounter an overwhelming amount of misery in life. But he wants us to be assured that we will one day arrive at our final destination. You could say he wants us to be equipped for the journey.
In John Bunyan’s famous work, “The Pilgrims Progress”, the main Character, whose name is Christian, comes to a resting point along his journey. He takes up lodging at this house there so that he might be renewed for his journey. Just before he was to leave the people of the house took him up to a high point and gave him a glimpse of his final destination, the Celestial City. With that vision burned in his mind he is eager to set out again on his pilgrimage.
In life we must remember that God has a plan. He intends that you will one day enjoy perfect bliss and happiness with him in glory. That is your hope. That is the hope to which he has called you. And that hope can help us persevere in life.
The second thing Paul wants us to know is what is found again in verse 18. It says he wants us to know “what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.”
Now let’s be clear. He does not say what is our inheritance. Our inheritance is heaven and eternal life. That’s what we just talked about. He says he wants us to know what are the riches of HIS inheritance. What is God’s inheritance? It is his people. We are God’s inheritance!
Paul wants us to know what a great treasure it is to have one another. He wants us to know the blessing of being joined to and having fellowship with his family. This is a community unlike any other. It is a treasure that supersedes any other relationship.
Just last week Elizabeth’s parents told us that a Buddhist fellow happened to come to their church. The people in that church showed great interest in him. They welcomed him, they talked with him, someone even had him over for lunch after church. The man was amazed at the experience. He kept saying, “I feel loved here. I’ve never experienced anything like this before.”
We might not know it. We might simply have become too accustomed to it. But what we have here is a special union. The communion of saints is a glorious thing.
Paul wants us to know the hope to which we are called and the wonderful riches there are in our union. The last thing Paul wants us to know is found in verse 19. He wants us to know “the immeasurable greatness of his power towards us who believe.”
It goes on to tell us how great God’s power is: he raised Christ up from the dead, raised him up into heaven (20), and he has authority over evil spirits (21).
One thing that we often come to grips with real fast is how powerless we are. All around us are the influences of the world. Satan and his minions are out to get us. It can be intimidating. That’s why we need to remember God’s power.
You know we have advanced in medical practices in amazing ways. We have now have surgeries – what were once significant surgeries—they are now done on an outpatient basis! You don’t even have to stay the night.
We have the ability today to give someone a heart transplant if they need it. That was something unheard of just a generation ago. As a matter of fact, we are now coming to see that we are advancing beyond heart transplants. A few years ago they tested the first artificial heart. Somebody created an artificial heart, and it was placed in a man who needed a new heart. It was an incredible breakthrough. I don’t know how the man is doing, or if he is still alive, but what an amazing breakthrough!
But medical technology has not been able to overcome death. There have been incredible breakthroughs, but they don’t have that kind of power.
But God does. He raised his Son from the dead. He even raised him into his presence. All that power is on our side. We might be weak. We might be outmatched. We might be surrounded on every side. But God is with us. And with him we can’t lose.
During a Monday night football game between the Chicago Bears and the New York Giants, one of the announcers observed that Walter Payton, the Bears’ running back, had accumulated over 9 miles in carreer rushing yardage. The other announcer remarked, “Yeah, and that’s with someone knocking him down every 4.6 yards!”
Walter Payton, the most successful running back ever, knows that everyone—even the best—gets knocked down. The key to success though, is to get up and run just as hard again.
As Christians, we need that kind of perseverance. Whatever obstacle we face in the Christian walk, we must seek to overcome. We must always be seeking to push forward—growing in the faith.
Savalas asked me to speak tonight on giving. I joked with him about it. I asked him if he wanted me to come in here and try and soak you guys. I could do the whole tele-evangelist thing and get you to dig down deep and fork over whatever you got. Unfortunately I don’t have the hair or teeth for such a thing.
I would like you to turn to Ephesians 4:28. Here in this text we find what I call God’s way to prosperity. And I want you to notice, as we go through it, that the way to prosperity is the way of giving. Prosperity comes through giving. Read with me…
Now when you look at this passage, what you find is that there are three things said here about giving. As matter of fact, it mentions three ways of giving. You know, when we think about giving usually we only think about the financial side of things. We only think about giving money. But there is so much more to giving, as this passage shows.
As you look at this passage, I want you to notice that one thing God wants us to give is simple respect.
I. We must give simple respect
This passage starts off by saying, “Let the thief no longer steal.” Now, all of you know exactly what that means. You are not allowed to take things that do not belong to you.
But you know, we can turn that around and state it more positively. Instead of saying, “do not steal.” We could say, “You need to respect your neighbor’s personal property.”
As a matter of fact, that is the sum and substance of the 8th commandment. The 8th commandment reminds us of the sanctity of one’s property. God has created wealth and has seen fit to entrust it to certain individuals. And since God has committed those things to his care, we are not to overstep that boundary by stealing it.
So I want you to understand that giving begins right here. This is the most basic form of giving. When we think about giving we have to remember that the most fundamental form of giving is the respect we show for another person and the things that God has given them.
And this is very important for us to stress. We have to go back to baby steps here because I do not doubt that a good number of you have been involved in some form of robbery. Some of you might be here because you were guilty of larceny or theft. Maybe you hopped in a car that wasn’t yours and you took a little joy ride. Or maybe you are here because you robbed a convenience store or cheated someone out of some money.
Others of you were thieves, but you just didn’t get caught. That wasn’t part of your sentence. You might have been caught for drugs, and you might be serving time for the drugs, but they didn’t catch you for the money you were pilfering from your mother’s purse or from your family. Because of the addiction you had you were going after any money you could get your hands on.
And even right now, you still don’t get it. There might be guys here who don’t understand this concept of respect when it comes to your dealings with other people and the things that are theirs. You don’t mind swiping your bunkie’s candy when he’s not looking. Or if you borrow something, you are not careful to return it.
It doesn’t seem like much to you—it’s not like you are swiping the guy’s wallet or anything, and you justify it by using that kind of rational: “Its small, and he’s not going to miss it.”
You have to understand that that’s wrong. You are disrespecting him at that point. What’s more, you are disrespecting God.
God calls you to seek the welfare of the people in this place. God has determined to bless that person and if you put your fingers on their stuff or you hinder their prosperity in any way, then you are violating the most rudimentary principle of giving.
So the first and most basic form of giving is the restraint we show in not taking our neighbors stuff. We give by way of simple respect. But our text goes on to say that we give by way of honest labor.
II. We must give honest labor
It says, “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands.”
This is talking about being productive. It’s talking about having an occupation. The Apostle Paul says, “You need to go out and get a job. You need to work for a living and do something productive with your life. No longer are you allowed to engage in this destructive lifestyle, but you need to do make an honest living and contribute to the general welfare of society.”
I know that work is typically thought of as a 4 letter word. And some of you might be thinking, “did he just say the ‘l’ word?” Labor!
I know that we don’t typically have a good view of work. Work is usually thought of something that you should avoid at all costs. We view it as an evil thing, or, at the very least, we view it as a necessary evil. It is something we have to do in order to eat and get by in life.”
But that is not a Biblical view of work. The Bible tells us that we are to view work as a form of giving!
I know, that sounds odd to us. Work is not giving, we say. Work is selling people things. Work involves getting paid and exchanging goods and toil and pain and all round not too much fun.
But think about it. When you have a job, what you are really doing is serving people. You are giving people your help; you are providing a service for them; and you are contributing to the welfare of society because you are giving them something they want or something need.
As a matter of fact, they want what you have so much they are willing to pay you for it!
Work is a form of giving. Actually, work allows you to give in three ways. When you work you 1) give God glory. That’s the greatest form of giving. When you pick up a paintbrush and you slap some paint on a fence or a house or a wall, you are honoring God with your time and your effort. You are making something beautiful and as you do so, you are pleasing God with the energy you use.
God created us to work. When he created Adam, God put him in a garden and said, “Go to it man!” And every time you involve yourself in good old fashioned work, you make God extremely happy.
2) Work is also a means of giving to others. You are not just giving praise to God, but you are giving someone something they want. They come to you because they have a need and you are able to fill that need. Maybe they need a ditch dug and you can dig that ditch for them. So you are giving them your time and effort to get that ditch dug. What happens is that when you are done they are happy. They are just so pleased that they got their ditch that they give you money for it.
3) The third way you give is through that money that you just received. Now that you have money in your pocket, what are you going to do with it? You are going to buy something! And you end up giving that money to somebody else. You are going to go down to the McDonald’s and buy your little lady a hamburger. They are so happy that you give them that money, that they give you a hamburger back! You just made their day! Because you were so giving and bought a hamburger.
Or, maybe you decide to save it, and you put it in the bank. The bank is so happy you did that that they are going to give you this thing called interest. You actually make money from saving it! Woo-whooo!
You see how everyone benefits? When you work, there’s this funny little thing that happens: It is called “prosperity.”
Prosperity is the direct result of work. When you give by means of your labor you give this little gift called prosperity to the economy. And God loves that, just as much as you do.
Now, let’s bring this home. I don’t want you to think that work is something that is waiting for you on the outside. Work is something you can do right here in the prison.
I don’t know exactly how that may look. But you can work. You can do what Paul says here: You can labor, doing honest work with your hands. Now I know that there are probably going to be a lot of hindrances. There are a lot of things you can’t do. Your resources are limited. But you can be creative and you can do things for others around you to some degree.
Some of you can get involved in the work program. If you can’t do that, ask yourself how else you can serve the Lord? If you have the ability to write, sit down and start pumping out a book. Write a devotional and circulate it around to the brothers.
There is a famous pastor named John Bunyan. He was sent to prison for preaching the gospel for 12 years. You know what he did during those twelve years? He wrote books and made shoe strings. In order to support his family, he took scraps of leather and made shoestrings. His family would bring him the leather and he would fashion the shoestrings. Then he would give them back to his family who would then go out and sell them at the marketplace. That’s the way he supported his family while in prison.
He also wrote a number of books. The most popular is a book called Pilgrim’s Progress, which you need to read at some point. It is one of the most famous Christian books of all time.
But understand that work is a way to give.
And now that you understand that work and personal respect are forms of giving, you are ready to think about giving in the normal sense of the word. The last thing Paul says in this verse is that giving also comes by way of heartfelt charity.
III. We must give heartfelt charity
In this verse he says you need to get a job, “So that you can have something to share with anyone in need.”
I hope you see that this completes the circle. You are no longer taking, but you are working, so that you can give to someone in need. You’ve gone from being a burglar to a benefactor.
Of course, the only way you can do that is if you are working. When you are gaining wealth, you are now in a position where you can help others.
Now what kinds of people are we to give to? Well, this obviously includes people who are poor and destitute. There are some people who do not have the means to provide for themselves. For some reason, they are providencially hindered and unable to make a living. Perhaps they have been injured; maybe they’ve lost their job. Maybe they’ve had some sort of trama and now are stuck with a huge medical bill.
You can think of widows and orphans too. A number of years ago there was a single mother in our church. Her husband had left her and now she was faced with a problem. If she went out and got a job, she would end up neglecting her kid. Her kid would then be without a father or a mother! You know what our church did? The church took her in and allotted a sum of money to them so that she could stay home with her kid and raise him the way she was supposed to.
Now that her boy is grown, she has a job of her own. He’s out working and she is too. All that was possible though because there were people in the congregation who were giving regularly to the church. They were being blessed by God and then giving back to the Lord a portion of that blessing.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could get all the moms off welfare?
Now think of this: there is another way to give. It is giving to the ministry of the gospel. Kingdom work requires money. I know that God can do all things, but he has chosen to allow ministers of the gospel the opportunity to eat. They typically do a better job when they have food and shelter and clothing. Kingdom work requires us to give. Missionaries will be sent out to the ends of the earth only when our churches can afford to support them.
Listen to this: I heard of one instance where missionaries are being asked by Muslim leaders to come to their areas and teach people about free market capitalism. That’s just biblical economics. They want to learn the principles of economics so that their countries will begin to prosper and grow a solid economy. That’s great! We’ll teach them the principles of economics; while we are at it we’ll teach them the gospel too!
We have countries where missionaries are actually being invited to come and speak. But that means we need to fund those missionaries.
The same thing is going on right here in this place. Through your contributions and your dues, gospel work is being carried out. Guys are able to hear the gospel. I’ve heard that the FCA dues may need to be raised. I know that’s not something you want to hear, but at least it means that the Lord is doing something in this place. There is kingdom work going on, and that is a good thing. And by giving to this you have an opportunity to have a hand in supporting all that the Lord is doing here.
So just think how far your giving can go. As you give financially, the Lord is able to take that and make it abound further than you initially imagined.
This is what Paul means in 2 Corinthians 9. In that passage he’s talking about the generosity of the Corinthians. And he says that their contributions are not only supplying the needs of the saints, but in fact this help is causing an overflow of thanks to God. In other words, by helping the needy saints, more people were coming to know the Lord! The initial generosity of meeting those needs are being multiplied so that there was even greater impact evangelistically around the world!
My friends, these are the Scriptures guides to giving. And I hope you take them to heart. Remember how God has called you to give; through personal respect, honest labor, and heartfelt charity. God’s way to prosperity is a glorious thing, and it begins when we give.
Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.
[This message was designed for the Christian men at Richland Correctional Institute]
Kindled Fire is dedicated
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.