(Eph 1:15-19 ESV) 15 For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 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, 18 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, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might
Paul concludes this chapter with a single sentence extending from from v. 15 to v. 23. We’ll have to take it in pieces.
Paul, having discussed hope at some length, naturally transitions to faith and love. “Faith” is “in the Lord Jesus.” Just as was true back in v. 1, “faith in” could be translated as “faithfulness to.” We must always avoid the danger of letting Christianity be an intellectual exercise only.
Just so, “love” is love toward all the saints — all Christians, not just our sect or our congregation or our tradition.
The Spirit’s powerful work within us
Paul then assures his readers that he remembers them in his prayers, and that he prays for them to have “a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you.” Now, the NIV capitalizes “Spirit” whereas the ESV does not. I’m pretty sure Paul means “Spirit” with a capital S.
Call me crazy, but there’s a strong parallel with —
(Isa 11:1-2 ESV) There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. 2 And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.
“Wisdom” parallels “wisdom.” “Knowledge” parallels “knowledge.” “Enlightened” parallels “understanding.” “Greatness of his power” parallels “might.” So it’s not exact, but it’s sure close. Of course, this presents the obvious problem that Isaiah is speaking of the Messiah and Paul is speaking of the ordinary Christian. But that’s a problem because we’ve imagined a Spirit who provides so little wisdom, so little knowledge, so little enlightenment, and so little might that we figure Paul was praying for something that God won’t do. I figure that’s our problem, not Paul’s.
Paul is clearly praying that God will give these things, not that we’ll achieve these things. Of course, God may well give wisdom through circumstances that force us to learn wisdom, but if that happens, God helps us learn wisdom in response. It’s not merely that we read the Bible, have an experience, and apply the Bible. If that’s true, why did Paul pray? Clearly, he thinks God’s going to help us.
And so, certainly Jesus has a greater measure of the Spirit than the ordinary Christian, but we still can have far more from the Spirit than we often expect.
“Spirit of wisdom”
The phrase “spirit of wisdom” has quite a history.
(Deu 34:9 ESV) 9 And Joshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, for Moses had laid his hands on him. So the people of Israel obeyed him and did as the LORD had commanded Moses.
(1Co 12:8 ESV) 8 For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit,
“Spirit of wisdom” is wisdom given by the power of God. It’s something we are told to pray for —
(Jam 1:5 ESV) 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.
It makes sense that we might want to do that, and as James says, do it without doubting —
(Jam 1:6-8 ESV) 6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
“Spirit … of revelation in the knowledge of him”
“Revelation” — apocalypseos — is used by Paul to speak of something revealed to him by God, often the gospel (Gal 1:12 and Eph 3:3, for example). He uses the word in reference to his conversion experience, where he met the resurrected Jesus. He uses it in parallel with “visions” in 2 Cor 12:1. Paul also uses the word to refer to the Second Coming, when Jesus will be revealed (2 Thes 1:7). But he also uses it for the sort of revelation that any church member might share in the assembly (1 Cor 14:26). And he uses it in parallel in “revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching” (1Co 14:6 ESV).
It’s hard to be dogmatic here, but Paul certainly seems to think that his readers at least had the potential, by the power of apostolic prayer (not the laying on of hands!), to receive revelations given by God. I think it’s clear enough that he is not speaking of revelation the equivalent of inspiration. No one gets to write any more scriptures. But there is much that can be revealed other than the next Romans or Acts.
If we pray fervently and with confidence for guidance from God, why would we deny it when we receive it? And if God shows us the answer, why isn’t that a revelation? I doubt that there’s ever been an eldership that wasn’t driven to its knees to seek divine guidance, and that’s a prayer for a revelation.
“Knowledge of him” is similar to —
(Eph 4:11-13 ESV) 11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,
The goal isn’t systematic theology so much as personal relationship. I mean, do you want to know all book knowledge about wives? Or all about your wife? It’s not that the two are mutually exclusive. Book knowledge helps, but personal knowledge is the goal. Lord willing, we’ll return to this question.
“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”
“Enlightened” also appears in —
(Eph 3:8-10 ESV) 8 To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, 10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.
Here, “bring to light” means to reveal the gospel, the very work of a missionary. In 1:18, Paul is saying much the same thing, praying that his readers will begin to deeply understand the “hope” that God has promised in Christ.
Paul speaks, again, in Kingdom language. “Inheritance” is found numerous times in the Law and Prophets as a reference to the Promised Land. In Paul, “inheritance” refers to the new heavens and new earth that the saints — Jews and Gentiles — will inherit.
It’s “glorious” because it’s in the very presence of God, where his Glory shines forth most brightly.
In short, Paul is praying that his readers will begin to appreciate what they will receive when they die, because he sees our inheritance as far more real and far more valuable than the present.
The immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might
Paul pulls out all his rhetorical stops to make clear that not only is God on our side, he is working with all his might on our side.
“Might” is used hundreds of times in the scriptures to refer to God’s grandest miracles.
(Deu 3:24 ESV) 24 ‘O Lord GOD, you have only begun to show your servant your greatness and your mighty hand. For what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do such works and mighty acts as yours?
Near the end of Ephesians, Paul says,
(Eph 6:10 ESV) 10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.
And so Paul tells us that the same might that made the heavens and the earth, the same might that parted the sea, the same might that resurrected Jesus is working for us. We can be strong because God works in us.