“Paul’s prayer for us”
Sunday 3 November 2019
I have mentioned to you many times in my sermons that the New Testament was written in a form of Greek language known as Koine Greek. One of the features of written Koine Greek was that it did not have any punctuation marks. Not only that, but Koine writing did not separate words from each other – so an original Greek text would consist only of letters following letters following letters.
So the first task in translation of Koine Greek was to separate out all of the letters into individual words. Then, the next task was to break the words up into sentences, phrases and clauses using full stops, commas, colons, semi-colons, question marks, hyphens, exclamation marks and so on.
I don’t think there would be any more challenging part of the New Testament needing punctuation than the first chapter of Ephesians. Thought after thought tumbles out in a manner to sorely test any grammarian.
It is as if the whole chapter is one big single developing thought.
But translators have valiantly worked at breaking the original text into thought chunks that we can at least manage. In the middle of the text that we read today, we can discern the shape and intent of a prayer expressed by Paul for the community of Christians for whom the document was produced.
The preamble begins in v15 – “I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love towards all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.” The prayer of the writer is prompted by the reports that have reached him about this community. The reports highlight two things: i) the community’s faith in the Lord Jesus, and ii) the community’s love towards all the saints.
Remember, I have pointed out previously that, in the Pauline literature, “faith” is not about a set of doctrines; faith is about commitment and fidelity to the person of Jesus Christ. And the love towards the saints does not refer to the saints in heaven, but it is used here, as commonly in the New Testament, to refer to the living followers of Christ. We would be referred to as the saints in that context. So the reports that have come to Paul assure him that this community is composed of individuals with a deep personal commitment to Jesus Christ and who live that commitment out by the love that they display towards their fellow Christians.
It occurs to me that any Christian community would be pleased to hear that others perceived them to have these attributes. Clearly they are characteristics that every Christian community should be striving to emulate – commitment to the person of Jesus Christ and a genuine love towards one another.
The writer then prays for three things in order to make the Ephesian community even stronger in its Christian life. The writer prays for a spirit of wisdom and revelation (some translations, instead of “revelation”, use “perception” or “insight”) so that three things might happen for them.
Firstly, that they might know the hope to which God has called them.
Secondly, that they might know the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints.
Thirdly, that they might know the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe.
What is the hope that God has called us to? It is a share in the risen life of Jesus Christ who died, was buried and rose again for us. This is our hope as Christians. It provides us with a particular lens through which to view the various events of our lives. This hope assures us that no matter how wonderful or dire things might appear at any particular time, we have before us the hope of resurrection to draw us on closer to God.
We know that things that are good will be even better and things that are bad will be conquered by God who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all. The prayer of the writer is not just that we would experience the hope in the fullness of time, but that we would bring that hope into play here and now in the daily ups and downs of our lives.
The second prayer petition concerns the riches of his glorious inheritance. It is a prayer that we would experience what it really means for us to be inheritors with Christ. Here we do well to look at Paul’s Letter to the Romans where he wrote: “The Spirit bears witness that we are God’s children: and if God’s children, then heirs of God. We are heirs of God and fellow-heirs with Christ:”
The intent of this petition in Ephesians is that we would fully grasp what it means for us to be heirs of God and fellow-heirs with Christ. Do you realise how privileged and undeserving we are to be invited into this proximity of the divine? The writer of Ephesians knows that if the Ephesians, or us, were to realise how graced we are that it would make an enormous difference to the way that we imagine and live our lives.
The third petition is that we know how immeasurable is the power of God for us who believe. God is waiting at all times to express that power in our lives if we but allow him. Power is often seen as a sinister thing in our world today, mostly because power is experienced in its abuse. But the power that God promises is benign and for our benefit and the benefit of the world. I consider that we could well reflect on the notion of God’s power to gain some idea of how God could work good for and through us if we but give the opportunity.
It is an area of our belief that I think we moderns need to revisit because we are so full of our own ability to solve all our predicaments that we have forgotten how to engage with the power of God in our lives.
You know it is interesting to look at this text as a model for prayer. Notice that the writer does not tell God what God needs to do to make things right in our eyes. The prayer recognises that, if we engage with resurrection hope, if we recognise our special status as heirs of God and fellow-heirs with Christ, if we appreciate the great power of God in our lives, then all of our specific prayers of petition take on a new perspective. God will be all in all and our lives will be complete and filled with Easter joy.
Please read over the second reading (Ephesians 1.11-23) again during the day. It will help you gain a better appreciation of the model of prayer that is espoused there. It is a rich text. And be grateful that translators have been able to unearth this richness from the complex Koine Greek in which it was written.
Archdeacon Allan Paulsen