Sunday, May 5, 2019

TRUE HOPE LIES ONLY IN EYES THAT CAN SEE

After his long introductory sentence (1:3-14), the apostle Paul now begins to address the people of the church at Ephesus. “For this reason,” Paul tells them, “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” (Ephesians 1:15 ESV).

We will remember that Paul concluded that introductory sentence by speaking of the how the people of the Ephesian church had come to belief in Christ, and how they were given the Holy Spirit as a pledge of their eventual redemption. All of this, he said, was “to the praise of the glory of God.”


Now, in this next sentence (which incidentally, is another very long one), Paul tells the Ephesians that it is for these reasons that he gives thanks for them and is praying for them.

There are two more specific motives that Paul mentions for giving thanks. First, he was thankful for the faith that the Ephesians had placed in the Lord Jesus; and second, he was thankful for the fact that they demonstrated love toward all the saints, that is, for other Christians. In all of his writings, Paul continually had these two aspects of the life of the church in his mind.

I had earlier mentioned that Paul had spent a great deal of time in the city of Ephesus. Although he no doubt personally knew many of the people who would read this letter, Paul also says that he “had heard” of the faith of the believers and of their love for the saints. The way in which Paul states this must mean that there were many others whom he had not before met and who had come to believe after he had left.

Indeed, during his two year stay in the hall of Tyrannus of the city of Ephesus, word of his teaching spread to “all the residents of Asia.” (Acts 19:10). Many of these Paul had not met while he was there. In addition, there were no doubt others who through the first Christians, also came to belief after Paul’s departure. Upon hearing of these new converts, Paul wrote this letter intending that they also would receive it so they would know that he prayed also for them. He wanted them to know that he praised God for all of them. 

Wisdom and Revelation

But Paul’s prayers for the Ephesian Christians was not only to give thanks for them. He also had some specific things for which he prayed on behalf of these believers. Here is what he told them: “I pray that… the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him” (Ephesians 1:17 NAS).

When Paul talks about a spirit of wisdom, it should be understood that he is primarily talking about wisdom of a spiritual nature. There is, of course, also such a thing as worldly wisdom. Worldly wisdom is when understanding and insight are acquired through learning about and experiencing the social, political and economic systems of the world. Worldly wisdom can be either positive or negative, depending upon where and how one acquires it and what one does with the wisdom he or she has attained.

Spiritual wisdom likewise can either be positive or negative, and for the same reasons. It depends upon where one acquires it and what one does with it. Like worldly wisdom, spiritual wisdom in its own sphere is often acquired by learning about and experiencing the more spiritual aspects of our existence. There are great dangers in gaining spiritual wisdom in this way, for there are many sources of very harmful spiritual teachings available in the world. Every one of these teachings is Satan’s attempt to deceive and manipulate us.

But if the spiritual source of the teaching is sound, gaining wisdom will have great benefits. It all depends upon the source. Because of this, it is important for us to read the entire phrase of what Paul is praying for the Ephesians. He says that he prays that they would be given a “spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him.”

Spiritual wisdom that is positive can only come by way of revelation from God. We gain knowledge by learning spiritual truths that God gives to us. We can attain to this knowledge by no other means. We cannot, by our own efforts, “experiment” with the spiritual world, trying this and that, until by our own efforts we grow to the knowledge of God.

Rather, it is as Paul says, the Father of glory “gives” us this spirit of wisdom. He does it by way of revealing himself to us so that we may know him.

How is this done? The most common means of revelation that God gives to us is the Holy Scriptures. In the Bible, God has revealed himself to us in ways that we could learn in no other manner.

Nevertheless, even in reading the Scriptures, many do not come to see what God is revealing, nor do they see his wisdom. They fail to understand. There are also many, of course, who not only do not see, but also flatly reject the wisdom of God without even trying to see.

However, it is because of the many who would accept the revelation if they could only see it clearly, or because of those who do not understand it, that Paul continues his prayer. 

To See with Eyes of the Heart

As Paul continues to tell the Ephesians of his prayer, he says, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe” (Ephesians 1:18-19a NAS).

Although the phrase “the eyes of your heart” is meaningless in a physical sense, it is not difficult for us to understand what Paul intends to say. In contrast to physical truths that we can see with our physical eyes, spiritual truths must be discerned by other means.

Paul writes to the church at Corinth in much the same way when he talks about the fact that the things of the Spirit of God seem like foolishness to the “natural man.”  These people, using only their natural senses and human intellect, are not able to see and to understand those things of the Spirit. This is because, as Paul tells them, these things are “spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). That is, these are the things that are seen with the sight given by the eyes of the heart. 

Striking Blind the Physical Eyes

This ministry of opening the eyes of the hearts of people was specifically given to Paul when he was first called into service as he fell before the great light on the Damascus road. At that time, Paul was not a follower of Jesus Christ. He was, in fact, a persecutor of the church of Christ. He was on his way to the city of Damascus armed with the authority to throw the Christians there into prison

However, as Paul approached the city, he was struck blind in his eyes by a bright light that suddenly flashed from out of the sky. So overwhelming was the shock of the light that it threw Paul to the ground. The whole account is recorded for us in the biblical book of Acts.

The way that Luke, the author of the book of Acts, describes Paul’s condition at that event is interesting when it is compared with how Paul himself describes the experience. Luke writes that when Paul rose from the ground, “although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing” (Acts 9:8).

This was the perspective of someone else observing what was happening to Paul at the time. Paul was blind, and like any blind man, he could not see anything. 

Opening the Spiritual Eyes

However, Paul had a somewhat different description of what happened to him. Some years later, in telling about the event, Paul said that it was during the time when he was struck blind in his eyes that God had told him, “‘Get up and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you(Acts 26:16 NAS).

The comparison in the two accounts of the event is significant. While Luke only noted Paul’s physical blindness and how he could see nothing, Paul says that it was precisely at this time when God appeared to him. It was during the time of Paul’s physical blindness that he actually had a vision of God.

In fact, it is interesting to see that in this statement of Paul’s, a word relating to vision is mentioned by God three times; “I have appeared to you…the things which you have seen…I will appear to you.”

This is what it means to see with the eyes of one’s heart. Physical sight means little in these times. What is important is seeing God and hearing what he says to you. 

The Ministry of Opening Eyes

As God continued to speak to Paul during this time of physical blindness, the thrust of God’s words continues to be about sight instead of about blindness. In all of this, God gives Paul spiritual awareness. This spiritual awareness always involves the eyes of the heart.

In God’s statement, he told Paul that he was sending him to the Jewish people and the Gentiles “To open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God” (Acts 26:18 NAS).

Again, in this period of physical blindness, there is no talk of darkness and the inability to see, but “to open one’s eyes and to turn to the light.”  

An Old Testament Illustration of Seeing with the Eyes of the Heart

During the time of the Old Testament prophet Elisha, the king of Syria had grown furious with the prophet, because Elisha would tell the enemy of the king about the movements of the Syrian army. The enemy of the king of Syria was the king of Israel.

This Elisha was able to do not because of any espionage work, but because the Lord God told him. To eliminate further leaking of this information, the king of Syria decided to send an assassination force to the town where Elisha was staying, a town by the name of Dothan.

The Syrian army went down at night and surrounded the city. When Elisha’s servant arose early the next morning, he saw the army and became afraid. He knew that the army had come for his master. The servant said to Elisha, “Alas master, what shall we do?”

The prophet tried to allay the fears of his servant and told him, “Do not fear. Those who are with us are greater than those who are with them.”

The servant apparently did not know exactly what Elisha meant by this statement, so Elisha prayed, “Lord, open his eyes that he may see.”

Elisha was speaking not about the servant’s physical eyes, which evidently could see very well. However, with those physical eyes he only saw the Syrians. But when the Lord opened his spiritual eyes, he saw the army of the Lord consisting of horses and chariots of fire filling the mountains around the city. This is what he saw with the eyes that the Lord had opened (2 Kings 6:13-17). 

Within Sight of the Heart

This incident of the experience of Elisha and his servant is an illustration of eyes that were opened to see the spiritual realities that our physical eyes cannot see. The eyes of the heart that Paul speaks about in his letter to the Ephesians also give vision to spiritual realities.

What is it that we should expect to see with our eyes when they are opened?

Will we see horses and chariots of fire?
Will we have a vision of Jesus, as did Paul?What comes with seeing with the eyes of one’s heart?


Although I would never put any limitations on what God will reveal to someone with thier spiritual eyes, Paul is not really talking here about seeing angels or other spiritual beings. Rather, he is talking about matters which involve our eternal inheritance.

Here is how Paul continues to the Ephesian church: “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” (Ephesians 1:18-19 ESV).

Again, we find ourselves overwhelmed by so many meaningful phrases, that we may be inclined to read through them rather unthinkingly and group them together with a whole list of other “nice things.” This we could do, just as we might walk through a meadow full of wild flowers and other plants, and simply enjoy the stroll. But on occasion, it is nice to bend down and inspect the individual flowers and plants. In this way we come to appreciate the significance of each one.

If we stop a moment to bend down and inspect the first phrase, we may have to admit that we cannot even really understand what Paul is saying. What does it mean to know the hope of God’s calling?

Well… we get a little better understanding of this later in the letter, where Paul lists some of the different aspects of the hope of our calling. In Ephesians 4:4-6, Paul writes, “…You were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” 

Steps in Achieving Hope

We will look at all of these specifics the hope that Paul is talking about at a later point, but before we do, it is important to talk a little about the way in which Paul uses the word hope.

He does not mean it in the same sense that we often use the word. We use it to express what is only a desire. For instance, when we are in the midst of a drought and looking up into an almost cloudless sky, we may say, “I hope we get some rain today.” What we really mean is, “It probably is not going to rain but I wish it would.”

In our use of the word today, we are usually disappointed in the things we hope for, since so often our hopes are not realized. We usually do not even expect them to be realized.

This is not the sense of the word which Paul uses. In contrast to the way we use the word hope, Paul uses it to speak of something that is secure and lasting.

It is more accurate to say that Paul uses it more in the sense of an inevitable goal. We can see this especially in some words that he wrote to the Roman church: “Hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5:5).

In fact, if we go back a few verses in this chapter of Romans, we will see that the attainment of hope is a final stage of the process of a believer’s dedication to Christ: 

Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:1-2 NAS) 

Here we see that Paul is actually talking about a process involved with Christian growth, all of it built upon faith. Once justified with God, we also have peace with him. This same faith helps us to understand the riches of the grace of God. Then, once these are also known, only then do we see the hope of the glory of God. Only through this process do we achieve the security of hope.

Do we see that this is in some ways the opposite of how we apply hope in this world? In the things of this life, hope often comes first. We hope to achieve something and work at it until the hope is realized. We hope to complete the doctorate program and then work and study until we graduate.

But Paul is telling us that in the spiritual sense, hope is actually the last step of the process. It is the goal that has been promised to us by God. Besides this, spiritual hope is not the result of our own efforts. It is instead the result of a process sustained by the grace of God.

The hope of God can only come about when we properly understand his justification, his peace and his grace. It is only after we are living in all of these truths that we will see the sure and eternal hope of God.

We will look at some of the specifics of this hope in the next installment.

No comments:

Post a Comment