Enlightened Hearts | Ephesians 1:15-23

 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, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Ephesians 1:15-23 ESV

After studying Paul’s greeting to the Ephesians and his large and complex doxology over our blessings in Christ, we come now to the final verses of chapter one. Being another massive sentence, our present passage is highly connected to the previous one (verses 3-14). While that doxology blessed God for the blessings of our being chosen, adopted, forgiven, and having an inheritance in Christ, here the apostle prays for the illumination of the Holy Spirit to understand our redeemed status in Christ. What follows is a rich tapestry of proper priorities in prayer, the inexhaustible might of our God, and the privilege of being Jesus’ church.

GIVING THANKS & REMEMBERING IN PRAYER // VERSES 15-16

With these two verses, Paul returns to his regular pattern of epistle-writing to congregations. Romans, 1 Corinthians, Philippians, Colossians, and 1 & 2 Thessalonians all move from the greeting immediately to a word of thanksgiving. Only in Ephesians and 2 Corinthians does Paul instead begin with a doxology to God. Unlike 2 Corinthians, this letter to the Ephesians also does contain word of thanksgiving. Since verses 15-16 set up the remainder of our passage, let us study them first.

Notice that within these verses we have two conjoined actions from Paul and two points of reasoning for his actions. The two actions are not ceasing to give thanks for you and remembering you in my prayers, while the twofold reasoning for Paul’s thanksgiving and prayers is hearing of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints.

Let us tackle Paul’s two reasons first. The fuel igniting the apostle’s thanksgiving and prayers for the Ephesians is his report of their faith in Christ and love for the saints. Consider Paul’s specific wording of the first one, your faith in the Lord Jesus. As we mentioned briefly last week, saving faith (or belief) in Jesus is not merely a cognitive and intellectual acknowledgement that Jesus is real and that He forgives sins. That kind of confession and belief in Christ treats Him as more of a get-out-of-hell-free card rather than the Risen King who is exalted “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion” (v. 21). Instead, saving faith in Christ also involves a submission to Him as Lord. In the same way that Deuteronomy 6:4 was the central confession throughout the Old Testament period, Jesus is Lord is now the central confession for Christ’s church. Followers of Christ are a people who joyfully declare with Paul: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). Following our once-crucified Savior means living a life of crucifixion, a life of killing our own lordship and submitting to the rule of Jesus. Yet even as our walk with Christ is a daily act of dying to self, it is also a daily reigning with Christ.

Second, Paul is thankful for the Ephesians love toward all the saints. As we described in verse 1, saints is the title for all believers in Christ because all Christians have been made into holy ones through our redemption in Jesus Christ. Note that Paul is not rejoicing that the Ephesians have love for one another, that is, the believers within the church of Ephesus. No, he delights that they have love for all the saints. Their affection goes beyond their local congregation to the entire universal church.

Let us embark on a (hopefully) quick tangent from this phrase. In regards to the local and universal church, there are two equally harmful but opposite errors that we can make. First, we might neglect the importance of local congregations while exalting the universal church. This is often seen by those who downplay the importance being physically present and active within a particular congregation because “church isn’t a building,” “I worship God better while…,” or any number of other excuses. The truth is that local congregations are the physical presence of the universal church. The church of Ephesus was not the same as the church of Philippi, and yet those believers were all saints in the same universal church. Local congregations are both biblical and necessary for as long as we are in this world. While I know that many Christians today are yearning for our physical gatherings to resume once the coronavirus crisis has passed, I fear that many view this homebound worship as superior to the regular assembly. If you fall into that category and either don’t yet belong to a local church or do not desire to return to the physical gathering, pray to the Father for eyes to see the (often broken) beauty of local congregations.

Second, we can also just as easily neglect the universal church while exalting our local congregation. This is seen frequently in the often quite subtle view that our church is on the right track doctrinally and ministerially, while other churches are wrong. Now we obviously should all believe what we believe and do what we do because we deem those beliefs and actions to be correct. For example, one reason that I am a Baptist instead of a Presbyterian is that hold to believer’s baptism rather than infant baptism. Those kinds of distinctions are important and, in this life, necessary. Yet the distinctions between denominations and even individual congregations becomes problematic whenever we begin to condemn differing views and practices. Of course, there are heretical doctrines and practices that we should rightly condemn, but following Mohler’s theological triage[1], secondary and tertiary beliefs should be held with humility and love for brothers and sisters who differ from us.

In short, therefore, we too should show love toward all the saints, both locally and universally. Furthermore, we should also note connection between these two reasons. Faith in Jesus as Lord must coincide with a love for the saints. As we will see shortly, the church is Jesus’ body and bride. How then could we rightly say that we love Christ without also loving those for whom He died?

Now that Paul expressed his reasonings, let us discuss his actions. I won’t spend much time here, since we have already addressed Paul’s thanksgiving for his audience in both Philippians and Colossians. Consider, therefore, the interconnectedness of Paul’s thanksgiving and prayer. For the apostle, to be thankful is to cry out in thanks to God the Giver. We ought always to abound in giving thanks to the One who gives “every good and perfect gift” (James 1:17). A thankful heart must also be a prayerful heart.

THAT YOU MAY KNOW // VERSES 17-23

Continuing on directly from verse 16, verses 17-23 describe Paul’s specific prayer for the Ephesians. As we study this prayer of Paul, keep this question readily on hand: how often do I pray for others the way that Paul did?

First, consider the beautiful image of the Trinity within verse 17. The apostle is praying to God the Father to whom are regular prayers should be addressed,[2] we know God as our Father because Jesus the Son has made Him known to us, and he is praying for the Father to give the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him. But why is Paul praying for the Ephesians to receive the Spirit, even though he has already said that they are sealed by the Spirit? Benjamin Merkle explains this well, saying, “Although all believers are already sealed with the Spirit (Eph. 1:13), there is still a need for them to be filled with the Spirit and walk according to him. Specifically, Paul prays that the work of the Spirit would produce wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of God” (ESV Expository Commentary, 39). This refers to what is called the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit. During Jesus’ Upper Room Discourse, He taught His disciples about the then future coming of the Spirit:

I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

John 16:12–15

The Holy Spirit guides us into all the truth, glorifying in every way Christ. This is accomplished through the word of truth. Just as the Holy Spirit “carried along” the authors of Scripture as they wrote God’s Word (2 Peter 1:21, so too does the Spirit open our eyes to behold wondrous things within the Scriptures (Psalm 119:18). The primary work of the Spirit, therefore, is not one of emotion and experience but of knowledge and understanding. After all, Paul further explains his prayer by saying that you may know. The Spirit’s ministry to us is to give us a deeper and richer understanding of who God is.

Yet also notice how Paul describes the Spirit’s illumination in us: having the eyes of your heart enlightened (or we might even say illuminated). The knowledge of God is by no means merely intellectual. Packer is right in saying that “A little knowledge of God is worth more than a great deal of knowledge about him” (Knowing God, 26). Knowledge that does not also shape our affections and warm our hearts is a dead knowledge. But we must also guard ourselves against the opposite extreme of having much affection with very little knowledge. Both intellectualism and emotionalism are deadly to the life of a Christian, and work of the Holy Spirit is to enlighten both our hearts and minds with an affection-stirring knowledge of God.

Next, within verses 18-19, notice that Paul develops the phrase that you may know with three targets: 1) what is the hope to which he has called you, 2) what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and 3) what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe.

First, what does it mean for us to know what is the hope to which he has called us? Paul will use hope again in chapter two in a description of our lives before being in Christ, “remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (2:12). Before Christ, we were without hope, yet the Father has called us to a glorious hope in Christ. As we have seen the blessing of being chosen and predestined by God before the foundation of the world, Paul also described to the Romans that God called, justified, and will glorify those whom He has chosen (Romans 8:30). Our present justification before God in Christ also points us toward our future glorification in Christ. To Titus, Paul calls that day of resurrection and glorification at the return of Christ “our blessed hope” (2:13).

Second, what does it mean for us to know what are the riches of God’s glorious inheritance in the saints? Like the usage of the word inheritance last week, this one again can be translated as we, the people of God, being His possession and inheritance or as us possessing the inheritance which God has given. As previously noted, both are biblical, and the grammar is ambiguous enough to allow for both translations to be reasonable. While the focus of verses 3-14 was our blessings in Christ, Paul’s eyes are set upon God Himself within this prayer. Thus, verse 14 indeed described our inheritance in Christ, but here Paul is referring to us as God’s inheritance. And indeed, He is worthy to possess the saints for whom He sent His own Son. As God is our “portion forever” (Psalm 73:26), we are also His own possession.

Third, what does it mean for us to know what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe? Fortunately for us, Paul expounds upon this final point through the remainder of the chapter. He begins by specifying that the greatness of God’s power toward believers is according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ. Within these two verses (19-20), Paul uses four different words to describe God’s power and might.

The word “power” (dynamis; cf. 3:20) means a spiritually dynamic and living force. This power of God is directed toward believers. Paul then used three additional words to describe God’s power. It is according to the working (energeian, “energetic power,” from which comes the Eng. “energy”) of the might (kratous, “power that overcomes resistance,” as in Christ’s miracles; this word is used only of God, never of believers) of God’s inherent strength (ischyos) which He provides (cf. 6:10; 1 Peter 4:11). This magnificent accumulation of words for power underscores the magnitude of God’s “great power” available to Christians.[3]

This immeasurably great power was displayed in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. I think that Merkle is right in seeing four acts of Christ being presented in these verses: His resurrection, ascension, exaltation, and domination.[4]

God’s power is displayed in Christ’s resurrection because it served as the seal of Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins. Upon the cross, He paid the penalty of our sins in our place, and upon rising from the grave, He triumphed over both sin and death. Indeed, as Peter said, “it was not possible for him to be held by [death]” (Acts 2:24). We rightly celebrate the resurrection not simply once a year but each and every Sunday because it is our trustworthy, living, and eternal hope that God has rescued us from our sin and will one day make our salvation complete by resurrecting our bodies as He did resurrected Christ.

God’s working is displayed in Christ’s ascension because upon taking His seat at the Father’s right hand, He poured the Holy Spirit out upon His people. By the Spirit, we are empowered to be the body of Christ, to continue Jesus’ earthly ministry, and to make more disciples of our Lord. It is through the ascension of Christ that Spirit comes to us as the people of God and the kingdom of God is presently expanding throughout the world as everything is coming under the rule and reign of Christ.

God’s greatness is displayed in Christ’s exaltation because Christ is exalted far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. It is likely that rule, authority, power, and dominion refer to angelic forces since later he also mentions “rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (3:10) and us wrestling “against the rulers, against the authorities, against cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (6:12). Although it is true that demons do have a measure of rule and authority for present, their might is far exceeded by the supremacy of Christ who is exalted far above them all. Furthermore, Christ’s name is also exalted above every name, both now and in the eternal age that is to come. Throughout the Scriptures, names are used to represent a person’s nature and character. Thus, Christ’s exalted name is another display of His exalted nature and character.

God’s might is displayed in Christ’s domination because he put all things under his feet. Domination is rather unsavory word today, but it does accurately describe Christ’s reign. To the Corinthians, Paul describes Jesus’ completed domination following His return and our resurrection:

Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

1 Corinthians 15:24-26

In the end, Christ our King will destroy all cosmic powers of darkness and even death itself, and His kingdom will have no end. Yet even now, Christ is reigning. All things are now subjected to Him, but, as the author of Hebrews states, “at the present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him” (2:8). For the time being, He patiently permits would-be insurgents against His throne to continue, but the day is coming when He will eliminate entirely all who refuse to submit to His Lordship.

Yet Paul further expounds upon Christ’s domination by saying that God gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body. Not only has God placed all things under Jesus’ feet, but He gifted Jesus to the church to be its head even as it is His body. The apostle will continue to explore this is idea of the church being the body of Christ throughout the letter, but here Paul is emphasizing our interconnectedness with Christ. He is our head, and we are His body. All things are under Christ’s feet, and so too is the church’s final triumph secure.

But does Paul mean by his final phrase the fullness of him who fills all in all? Tony Merida explains this clause well:

As Lord over all things, He fills all things, but this filling of the church is different. Only the church is His body, and He rules it and fills it in a special way. What this means is that we as a church are entirely dependent on Christ. What makes us something significant— indeed glorious— is our relationship to Jesus. He fills the church with His presence.[5]

The omnipresent Creator of all things and His exalted and glorified Son fill all of creation, but only believers have the distinct privilege of also being in Christ. Do you see the marvelous intricacies of this entire chapter? We are united to our Lord through His election, adoption, and redemption of us, and in Christ, we have the Spirit of wisdom and revelation to know God our Father. And while our reigning with Christ as His body is a spiritual reality for now, one day it will be a physical reality as God’s kingdom comes in its finality with the return of Jesus, the King of kings. Although our status in Christ is firmly fixed, we still continue to grow in our love and knowledge of the Father, Son, and Spirit. Even into eternity, we will still be striving to know Him more. We will forever grasp at comprehending just a little more of God’s wondrous calling of us to hope, of our glorious inheritance in Him and His inheritance of us, and of the supremacy of His might and power that He displayed through the resurrection, ascension, exaltation, and domination of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Recall now the question that asked us to keep in mind as we studied this text: how often do I pray for others the way that Paul did? A survey of the apostle’s other prayers throughout his epistles reveals that this prayer is not an outlier. This is simply the kind of prayer that Paul prayed. He understood the splendid wonder that eternal life is knowing God (John 17:3), so nothing is of more value than this affectionate knowledge. Of all the prayers that I can ever pray for another person, the most significant and meaningful of them all is that they would know God the Father through Jesus the only mediator between God and man and by the Spirit of wisdom and revelation. This is not to say that other prayers are worthless. We certainly should pray for the multitude of our needs, but our most pressing of all needs is to know God more. May this be our great prayer for both ourselves and one another as we day by day understand ever more the glorious riches of being in Christ.


[1] This is where Albert Mohler argued that doctrines can be divided into three tiers of importance. First-level doctrines are core beliefs like those expressed in the Apostles’ Creed that separate orthodoxy from heresy. Second-level doctrines are highly important beliefs that so effect the life of a congregation that different congregations or denominations are likely necessary. Third-tier doctrines are beliefs that can differ among members of the same congregation or denomination.

[2] As I mentioned in our study of the Lord’s Prayer, we can freely pray to Jesus and the Holy Spirit, yet Jesus taught us specifically to pray to the Father. But such prayers are not a neglect of the Trinity because prayer is only made possible by the Trinity. We pray to the Father through the mediatorial work of Jesus and in the power of the Holy Spirit.

[3] Hoehner, H. W. (1985). Ephesians. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, pp. 620–621). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

[4] Merkle actually lists them as resurrection, exaltation, conquest, and domination, but I believe the titles above are more fitting.

[5] Merida, Tony. Exalting Jesus in Ephesians (Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary) (p. 41). B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

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