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.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.