Friday, November 28, 2008

Ephesians 2:4-5

4But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions - it is by grace you have been saved.

Just as v1 of this chapter began with, “And you,” and some pretty bad news, so v4 of this chapter begins with, “But God,” and some of the greatest words in the entire Bible. In those words, we see the mercy and love of our Creator. And from here on out to v10, Paul elaborates on the election and predestination of the Father originally mentioned in Ephesians 1:3-6. See also Romans 8:28-30 for this thought process of Paul as well. This passage is about the movement from death, under the just judgment of God for our sin, to life in Jesus Christ, because of His finished work. Paul is moving us through the divine actions that rescued us out of our predicament and brought us into the freedom and life of sons and daughters of the Lord Jesus Christ. Psalm 121:1-2 says, “I lift my eyes unto the hills – where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.”

Now in these two verses, we get some rich language: “great love;” “rich mercy;” “alive when dead;” “saved by grace.” In v4, we see that God’s great love for us motivated Him to make us alive even when we were dead. Our spiritual death had brought a great chasm between us and God, but that didn’t stop Him. His forbearance and forgiveness were up to the task – all for His glory.

Paul says that God is rich in mercy, and when you take the abundant mercy of God and the great love of God and mingle them together, you get grace (v5). In v5, we see that God made us alive. He didn’t stop there, but He had to start there. Paul ties what happened to Jesus in His resurrection and enthronement at God’s right hand to our experience in union with Christ. It was true of Him, and it’s true of us (v5-6). God made us alive with Christ. Paul has to sum this up with a simple thought – “it is by grace you have been saved.”

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Ephesians 2:1-3

Having praised God for the greatness of His mercy to us in Jesus Christ, having interceded for Christians to God, asking Him to enlighten our eyes to come to a greater understanding of His power, Paul gets personal, showing God’s merciful power toward us in the depths of our predicament. Paul wants us to be realistic about human nature. All around us today, in this world of trouble, people say that the answer to the problems of this world is found in the human heart. Paul says the opposite is true. All of the problems in this fallen world are found in the human heart, but the answers are not found there. The answer, Paul says here in Ephesians 2, gives us optimism as Christians, even in the midst of this dark and depressing, sinful world. We see the first part of our position in Christ, having been reconciled to God and seated with Christ.

1As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.

Paul just finished a great prayer, in which he exalted the power of God in Christ by proclaiming His sovereign reign over all things, that He is the fullness of the Church, which is His body. And then Paul turns his attention to “you.” He begins, “As for you.” Christ is the King, the fullness, the life; but as for you, you were dead. When Paul says, “You were dead” (as he also does in Colossians 2:13), he is speaking of current believers (specifically Gentiles) prior to their genuine conversion. He means that you were in a state of spiritual alienation from God, prior to the grace effect in your life. Calvin says, “As spiritual death is nothing else than the alienation of the soul from God, we are all born as dead men, and we live as dead men, until we are made partakers of the life of Christ.” You who are now alive in Christ were once dead, and it’s crucial to know this, according to Paul. Why is this reality so important? Let me suggest two reasons:

First, as believers en route to heaven through the process of sanctification, we always need to remember the grace of God that called us out of darkness and into His glorious light. At no point along the journey of our Christian lives do we rob God of glory; apart from Him, we can do nothing. And so it’s important, as we live lives of repentance, that we keep in mind what we deserve – God’s wrath due to our sin. Paul will hit that point in a minute, but knowing our deadness is important to give all the due glory to God for His work in us and for His love for us. Ligon Duncan says, “Unless we study to know our sin and to see it for what it is, and unless those of us who have come to faith in Christ remember what we were apart from the grace of Christ, then we will never ever appreciate the magnificence of God’s saving grace to us in Jesus Christ.”

The second reason that this concept of deadness is so important regards our approach to evangelism. Benjamin Franklin said, “God helps those who help themselves.” I think it was Dave Stone in a sermon who said the opposite, “God helps those who cannot help themselves.” Dave got it right. Life is communion with God, and apart from communion with God there is no real life. You can be breathing, doing the things you want to do, choosing between various alternatives according to your greatest desire; and yet, if you are not in saving fellowship with the God who created you for eternal fellowship with Himself, you are not experiencing life – you are, in fact, dead. Apart from Christ, you are dead; you can do nothing. “Everything done apart from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23); “Without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6).

Jesus came to give life, not to give us a boost that we would experience life, but because we (mankind as a whole prior to and not merely as us individually) had forfeited life through sin. When we consider the plight of unbelievers, we must realize that we are living in a graveyard. When we live for Christ, it happens before blind men; when we speak the words of truth, our neighbors are deaf. When we evangelize and call non-believers to come to Christ, it’s like standing over a tombstone telling the dead and buried to arise and return to life. They can’t hear; they can’t listen; they can’t respond; they are dead! Thus, prayer becomes the tool most effective in evangelism. Only God can open the blind eyes, unlock the deaf ears, and breath life into dry bones (see Ezekiel 37; John 3). If we think for a moment that our unbelieving neighbor can choose Christ apart from first receiving life from the Holy Spirit, then we will have a wrong motive and a wrong method for sharing the gospel with them.

Now Paul not only says that “you were dead,” but he tells you how this came to pass. “You were dead in your transgressions and sins.” With the word transgressions, Paul is calling to mind the truth that we have crossed over the boundaries that God has set for us. And with the word sins, Paul is saying that we have completed missed the purpose for which God intended us to live. These are terrible truths, and the summary of them is the state of deadness, death – separation and alienation from God. This news is completely contrary to the news of the world – “You can do it! People are basically good, especially when they sincerely try hard in whatever realm they desire to succeed.” Paul says, “No. People are dead. They can’t do it.” In regards to evangelism, an analogy is often used that unbelievers are weak and wounded sinners, lost and left to die; they are merely sick, or half-dead; they need only reach out and take the hand of Christ, or open their mouths and take the medicine that heals. But the true analogy, the Biblical analogy, is that unbelievers are dead. Jude 12 goes so far as to call some of them “twice-dead.” They can’t reach out and accept Christ; they can’t open up and take their medicine. They wouldn’t want to if they could, according to Paul. They need the “But God made you alive,” of Ephesians 2:4.

In v1-2, Paul is speaking specifically of Gentiles, and he includes Jews in the thought process in v3. His point is that those who are spiritually dead are dominated and directed by the urgings and the desires of the world, the flesh, and the devil. He says of the Gentiles, “You followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.” (We’ll elaborate on the devil’s elaborate title when we come to Ephesians 6:12.) Paul includes himself, and his people, in this total depravity. In v3, he says of the Jews, “All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature [or flesh] and following its desires and thoughts.” This is the spiritual condition in which everyone – Jew or Gentile – apart from Jesus Christ finds himself or herself. Though Gentiles suffer inner temptation, Paul seems to indicate that the main forces behind their sinful condition are the world and the devil. Likewise, though Jews suffer from outward temptation, Paul seems to indicate that the main force behind their sinful condition is the sin nature, or flesh. Perhaps Paul is acknowledging that those with the law have had their sin nature awakened, while those without the law simply sin apart from an aggressive attack from within.

Paul is saying that our spiritual condition of deadness is not just theoretical; it is evidenced in our outward life. It can be seen in our actions and in our choices. In the world, then, we see men and women, apart from Christ, rebel against God. Their lifestyles exhibit living in the “carvings of the sinful nature,” the lusts of the flesh, “following its desires and thoughts,” indulging the desires of the mind. We see active rebellion against God. The world says that if you desire something, it must be good, and therefore no one can tell you that you can’t do what you desire. But Paul says that kind of living is simply irrefutable proof to the truth that the world is spiritually dead. These desires, though they may be alive and burning in us, are according to the flesh and they lead to death.

Paul implies that we were subject to Satan (Galatians 4:3; Colossians 1:13), unable to change (Jeremiah 13:23) from our spiritual deadness. We were in active disobedience; we “followed” or “walked” (Gentiles) and “lived” (Jews), “following” the world and the flesh and the devil. In v3 we read that we, like the rest, “were by nature objects of wrath,” or “children” of wrath. We were no different, certainly no better. You Gentiles used to live like them; we Jews lived like them too. Our very nature – the state of fallen humanity – deemed us worthy of wrath (Romans 5:12-21). Because your infants and toddlers and children came from the seed of sinful Adam, God’s wrath is justly hanging over them (John 3:36); sin, the cause of death, reigns in them, even though they haven’t yet committed a single act of rebellion against God.

Vincent Cheung says, “It would be wrong to assume that a person becomes a sinner only after he personally commits his first sin, since all of us are ‘by nature objects of wrath.’ Spiritual death necessarily implies total spiritual inability and passivity…. This in turn means that God shows mercy and love to a person not because that person is willing to receive; rather, the fact that the person is willing to receive is because of God’s mercy and love, producing this willingness to receive in the person” (1 Corinthians 2:14). Thus, the conclusion here is that God’s grace did not manifest itself in us because of a choice we made, because of a disposition we created in our hearts. Rather, God worked in us to bring about that choice and receptive disposition. (Theologians call this biblical view monergism, in which salvation is wholly a gift and a work of God. The unbiblical view is called synergism, in which man must at least freely cooperate for God to save him. But the biblical view contends that any cooperation from man is in itself a gift and a work of God.) The implication for Paul is that, now, you are different; now we live differently, because of v4. Lord willing, we'll look at it next time.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Ephesians 1:19b-23

That power is like the working of His mighty strength, 20which He exerted in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly realms, 21far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22And God placed all things under His feet and appointed Him to be head over everything for the church, 23which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills everything in every way.

Paul begins now to exalt Christ in this prayer for God’s people. (See Colossians 1:18 regarding the eternal and complete supremacy of Christ over all things.) He’s still praying for our enlightenment, that we may know the superabundant (other-worldly), demonstrated (not merely potential) power of God, so that we may see that the power of God is sufficient to carry us in the Christian life. And he declares that the same power that raised Jesus is at work in us. In this prayer of petition, Paul is essentially praying in a poetic way that his readers might know experientially God’s powerful working of His powerful power! The Greek adjectives convey every aspect of powerfulness that you can imagine. Calvin compares the words to the root of a tree (strength), the tree itself (power), and the fruit of the tree (working), all supplemented by the word, “mighty” (v19).

Paul then, in v20-22, gives a long series of evidences of God’s power at work in and through Jesus in order to convince us of the greatness of God’s power at work in and through us. Notice three of these proofs in particular: the resurrection (V20) of Christ, the ascension (v20) of Christ, and the headship (v22) of Christ. In the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we see the power of God to defeat death. Make no mistake, we will die – unless Jesus returns first. But God’s power in us is able to keep us alive and give us true, eternal life. In the ascension of Jesus Christ, we see the power of God to grant authority. Think of Jesus in His humanity – the lowliest of births, a mere carpenter by trade, no power to speak of from a human perspective. And yet God’s power – the same power at work in you – grants Him authority, as v21 says, “far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given.” There is no opposing force in the universe over which Jesus Christ does not reign (Isaiah 9:6). Jesus Christ has pre-eminence, or supremacy, over every being. Indeed, as v22 declares, “God placed all things under His feet.” The sovereignty of Jesus Christ knows no limitations. He is Lord of Lords and King of Kings. In the headship of Jesus Christ, we see the power of God – interestingly – to care for His Church. In v22, Paul declares that Jesus is the “head over everything for the church.” Authority exists for the sake of service. The rule over all things that God has granted to Jesus Christ has been granted for the benefit of those He loves, of those who love Him, of His people, of those who trust in Him – of His church. Jesus rules the world by His word and by His Spirit for the benefit of His people.

Ligon Duncan says, “We will never live the Christians life confidently unless we believe that God has the power to answer our prayers, to protect us, to guide us, and to take us to the end.” In these thoughts in the prayer of Paul for the Church, he has in mind what he’ll talk about in Ephesians 2 – namely the fact that we were brought from death to life (Ephesians 2:1-10) and that we were brought from alienation to inclusion (Ephesians 2:11-22) through the power of God for our good. And we get just a foretaste of this idea in v23. Paul says that the church is the body of Christ, “the fullness of Him who fills everything in every way.” Now that’s a challenging verse. What does Paul mean?

When it comes to the physical body, one finger has no direct and inherent relationship with another, and the elbow has no direct and inherent relationship with the knee, but all of these are united by and under one "head." Likewise, people from various cultures and backgrounds may seem to have little in common, and at first may even be hostile to one another; however, they have become one in Christ. This must be at least part of what Paul means by the metaphor (Ephesians 2:14-16). But later, in Ephesians 5:22-24, Paul applies the idea of headship to marriage. Vincent Cheung says, “By applying the head-body metaphor to the marriage relationship, Paul is saying that ‘wives should submit to their husbands in everything.’ And this is what he means when he says that the church is Christ’s body… He is ruling over us! For the church to be Christ’s body means that ‘the church submits to Christ.’” As Jesus taught in John 15:5, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in Me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing.” Furthermore, as the body of Jesus experienced hardship in His earthly life, so believers, as the body of Christ, experience hardship in our earthly lives.

Paul will elaborate on the encouraging idea of fullness as we head into chapters 3-4, but one of the things he’s pointing to is God’s purpose to make us mature and grow us up to be like Jesus. One commentator said, “By speaking of the church as Christ’s body and fullness, [Paul] emphatically underlines its significance within God’s purposes. Its glorious place in the divine plan, however, provides no grounds for boasting or arrogance…for the church is wholly dependent on Christ. In itself, it is nothing. Its privileged position comes from its relationship to the One who as head graciously fills it with His presence.” The power of God is determined to fill believers to all the fullness of Him who fills all in all. God will not be thwarted in His purpose to mature us, for we are “predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son” (Romans 8:29). Paul wants us to believe that, and that’s why he’s praying this prayer of petition: that we would understand intellectually, that we would see with the enlightened eyes of our hearts, the incomparably great power of God to us in Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Ephesians 1:18-19a

18I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints, 19and His incomparably great power for us who believe.

Paul asks for enlightened heart-eyes. It’s not “open” their eyes, but “enlighten” their eyes. Why? Ligon Duncan says, “The eyes are the vehicle, the instrument, through which the desires of our hearts are manifested. We look upon something and we desire it. The desire comes from our hearts, but it’s expressed even in our seeing, so that Jesus can say ‘What your eyes desire tells you a lot about your heart.’.” He goes on to recall the story of Samson:

“After Samson forsakes the Lord, after he betrays his faithfulness to the Lord, he explains his secret to Delilah, she betrays him into the hands of his enemies, the Philistines… What does the Lord have his enemies do to him? Put his eyes out. His eyes had almost been his undoing. He could not resist a beautiful woman. So what does the Lord do? The Lord takes his eyes, because the Lord loves Samson so much. Samson’s eyes could have taken him to hell, and the Lord in His love for him takes Samson’s eyes from him so that in the end, what happens? The eyes of Samson’s heart, instead of being set on these beautiful women, is set again on glorifying God, so that at the last he can say, ‘Show me the pillars of this temple, and Lord, give me the strength to bring it down on Your enemies so that You will be glorified, so that the children of Israel will be glorified. I want Your glory, God.’ … Paul is praying here for us that the eyes of our hearts would be enlightened in this way; that we would know God, that we would know His truth, and that we would desire God and that truth above all the false offerings of this world; that we would not be swayed to love mammon; that we would not be swayed to love the world, and the flesh, and the devil; that we would have our hearts set on God. And so he’s saying, ‘Lord God, give them heart enlightenment. Let the deep desires of their hearts be set on You, on Your truth. Make them to have passion for You, long for You; for their hearts to love You above all else; with all their heart and soul and mind and strength to want Your glory; give them heart enlightenment. That’s what Paul is praying for the Ephesians, and that’s what we need to be praying for one another, friends.”
One of the Holy Spirit’s works is to give you an enlightenment of the “eyes of your heart,” so that your heart understands and desires God, His grace, and His blessings beyond anything else in this world. The heart of man is the mind of man. There is no mind/heart distinction (see Colossians 3:1-2); accordingly, the translation could also read, “I pray also that the eyes of your understanding may be enlightened.” Therefore, “the eyes of your heart” is just another way of saying, “the understanding of your mind.” Paul is thus praying for his readers to receive an intellectual understanding about spiritual things. Therefore, we do not just pray “open my eyes,” but we pray, “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in Your law” (Psalm 119:18). Today there are many people who claim that they want to “know God,” but they are unwilling to use the God-ordained means to get to know Him, since many of them are really seeking feelings and experiences instead of real spiritual knowledge. Vincent Cheung suggests, “If a person truly wants to know God better, let him take up a systematic theology or a biblical commentary, and read it with prayer.”

Specifically, Paul wants us to be enlightened for three reasons: first, that we would know the hope to which God has called us; second, that we would know the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints; and third, that we would know His incomparably great power for us who believe. Ligon Duncan says, “To live the Christian life, we need a heart that knows God and is set on God, a heart which is comforted by a God-provided hope, a heart which is captivated by God-provided riches, and a heart which is confident in God-provided power.” Let’s break down those three elements of knowledge.

First is hope. Paul knows that there are hopeless people in this world, but he also knows that Christians ought to realize that they are filled with hope. No Christian need ever be in a hopeless circumstance, because God by His Holy Spirit grounds us in the hope of our calling. God has called us from darkness to light, from bondage to freedom, and from the dominion of Satan into the glorious dominion of the Lord Jesus Christ. There is every reason for us in that calling to be hopeful in this world. Christians are the called ones; we have a role in this world. And so we – now united to Christ – are never to be without hope, like we were before coming to faith (Ephesians 2:12). And we ought to be praying for our brothers and sisters in Christ would know the hope of their calling (Ephesians 4:4) through the enlightenment of the eyes of their hearts by the Holy Spirit.

Second is the riches of inheritance. Now this could be understood two different ways. It could be that we are God’s inheritance. Christians are His treasured possessions for all eternity. He gave everything to buy us; we are like His pearl of great price, His treasure in the field, and His lost coin that is found. And doesn’t that make you feel blessed, that God would think of us this way? Who am I that the Lord of all the earth would care to know my name? Who am I to be loved this way? Amazing love! How can it be that God my King would die for me? Paul could be talking about this, that we are God’s inheritance. Or it could be that Paul is talking about our inheritance of God’s abundant riches. Either way, Paul wants us to see that we have been lavished with mercy and grace and riches from God beyond all comparison. We are God’s inheritance, and God has granted us a rich inheritance in Jesus Christ, but we won’t experience the fullness of that until kingdom come in all its glory. Ligon Duncan again recalls Samson, saying, “As Samson almost got himself eternally killed through his eyes’ desiring the things of this world, so we as believers can get ourselves messed up by desiring the things of this world. And here’s the Apostle Paul saying ‘I want the eyes of your heart to see the riches that God gives, which cannot be corrupted by moth and rust, which cannot be stolen by a thief, which cannot be destroyed by a storm. I want your eyes fixed on those riches, desiring those riches.’” Do you pray that prayer for your brothers and sisters in Christ? Paul did; and we should.

Third is the great power of God. Paul wants the eyes of our heart (our mind) to be enlightened to know the incomparable power of God. We live in a world full of sorrow and tribulation, but it’s the power of God that is at work within us, and Paul is saying that the same power at work in us for our sanctification is what raised Jesus Christ from the dead and seated Him at the right hand of God the Father. It’s a prayer for perseverance that is encouraging us. When we see and feel our weaknesses, Paul is saying, ‘You may find it hard to believe, but it is the same power of God that raised Jesus from the dead that is at work in you making you more like Christ. When you despair that you’ll never be like Christ, I want the eyes of your heart to be enlightened to know that it is the power that raised Christ from the dead that is conforming you to the image of God’s Son. This is what I pray for you, loved ones.’ Our lives, as believers, would be reoriented if we prayed for one another this way and if we understood and desired these things for ourselves.

See Jeremiah 9:24. God grants what He commands, just as Augustine declared long ago in his prayer, which was offensive to Pelagius. God commands us to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and here, Paul prays that God would make that command be obeyed through the Holy Spirit. My prayer is this: O Lord, you command repentance from sin and faith in Jesus; grant what You command. Bring repentance from sin into my life and the lives of my family members; bestow saving faith, fruitful faith, into our hearts and minds and souls. Help us to love and serve You with all our strength – in Your strength, and for Your glory. Grant us what You command. Amen.

In this portion of Paul’s prayer, he’s wanting the very core of our being – our heart’s eyes (our minds) – to be enlightened, to come to a deeper knowledge of God and to desire Him will all that we are. J.I. Packer wrote Knowing God, and John Piper wrote Desiring God. Those books sum up and elaborate on what Paul prays in these two short verses of Ephesians.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Ephesians 1:15-17

15For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, 16I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. 17I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know Him better.

Paul extends his prayer of praise from v3-14 to intercession. Paul prays to God for what he would have God do in the lives of God’s people. Interestingly, much of this prayer is a prayer that God would bring about in us a realization of the things that we have just praised Him for in verses 3-14. In other words, Paul prays that God, by His Holy Spirit, would give us an experiential understanding of the truths for which we praise God in our own lives. To consider that this composition is merely a general letter, written from prison – house arrest – in Rome, along with other letters, like Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon, makes it all the more meaningful.

Though Paul was in Ephesus for over two years, he is writing some five to seven years later. Perhaps much has changed. No doubt the church had grown. The circular intent of this letter may be clearly seen in Paul’s wording in v15. He tells his audience that he is thankful for them on account of their faith and love – “generally the whole excellence of Christian character,” according to Calvin. Ligon Duncan says, “By faith, the Apostle Paul refers to both believing the truth of God’s word and trusting in the person of Jesus Christ, and those two things always come together. Saving faith always entails believing the truth of God’s word and trusting in the person of Jesus Christ.”

In v16, Paul implies that he is thankful to God – not to them – for their faith and love. Paul sees faith and love; he’s encouraged by it, but he gives all the praise to God. We are to do the same. When I read this, I see Paul in a great light, but I see myself as faithfulnessless. I lack faithfulness. I have stopped giving thanks for you; I have not remembered you in my prayers. I have not done what Paul does here. How can I live the Christian life without striving for the life that Paul lived? He says to imitate him. But I do not.

In v17, Paul asks God to bless His people with wisdom and revelation (see 1 Corinthians 2:10), specifically “the Spirit [or a spirit] of wisdom of revelation.” Christians know God; He has revealed Himself to them in a special way already. Christians have the Holy Spirit; He indwells their hearts and leads them in this life of transition. Paul knows that one of the crucial works of the Holy Spirit is to bring the truth of God’s word to our hearts; therefore, even as we have just praised God for who He is and what He has done for us in v3-14, now Paul wants the Holy Spirit to bring that truth to our hearts. Those who know God need to know Him better; those who have the Spirit need to be refilled constantly (due to leakiness).

Paul is asking God to grant his readers the intellectual quality of wisdom and revelation, or as he puts it in Colossians 1:9, “spiritual wisdom and understanding.” Thus some translations say, “a spirit,” rather than “the Spirit.” Such wisdom, of course, is the result of the Holy Spirit’s work in the human mind, so either translation fits. One commentator said, “What Paul is praying for is that God might so work in the lives of the Ephesian saints that they will have the spiritual wisdom and a revelation from Him that is the result of the Holy Spirit’s work of energizing their human spirit. That spiritual disposition should characterize these saints.” Ligon Duncan says, “Increase in the knowledge of God, experiential understanding of who God is and what He has done for us, is the key to maturity in the Christian life.”

Vincent Cheung says, “The foundation of such a request can be nothing other than God’s absolute sovereignty over all things. Within the biblical worldview, to pray for wisdom and enlightenment presupposes God’s direct contact with and control over the mind of man. Biblical teaching opposes any idea that God would exercise absolute control over all things but at the same time allow the human mind to control itself by its own free will, as if this is even metaphysically possible... Paul’s priority is intellectual, and his prayer reflects this. A Christian properly operates by intellectual understanding of revealed information. In other words, a Christian should strive to understand and remember biblical doctrines, and then obey them and live by them. A Christian lives and grows by knowledge, and knowledge about the things of God. When Paul prays that his readers would receive spiritual wisdom, that they would receive an intellectual acuity about spiritual things, he is in effect praying that God would open to them the way to real and sustained spiritual blessing and progress.” I read an exposition of 2 Peter 1:3-11 in this context the other day:

3His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness. 4Through these He has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. 5For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. 8For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins [the Gospel]. 10Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, 11and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Keeping the gospel ever before our mind’s eyes is the key to living the Christian life. That’s why Paul asks the glorious Father to give his Christian audience the Spirit [or a spirit] of wisdom and revelation, that they might know God better. How do you pray for one another? Do you thank God when you see faith and love displayed in the lives of your fellow Christians? And do you intercede for your brothers and sisters in your local congregation, that they would come to know God in greater and deeper ways? It was Paul’s concern. He thanks God for the spiritual blessings that have been heaped on everyone who is in Jesus Christ, and then he turns around and he asks for all those who truly know God, that they would know Him even better. Paul begins his prayer of intercession with thanksgiving – for the faith and the “faith expressing itself through love” (Galatians 5:6) of the Christian congregations of Asia Minor – and supplication – asking God to give those same Christian congregations “the Spirit [or a spirit] of wisdom and revelation.” He is thankful to God, and he asks for wisdom and revelation so that the Christians of Asia Minor would know God better.