When we read Ephesians 3, we can hear Paul’s love for the church at Ephesus soaring beyond the written texts on the page. Paul points out his various roles in his relationship with Christ Jesus as a prisoner for the Gospel (3.1), as an administrator of God’s grace (3.2-6), as an obedient servant (3.7), as a close companion who knows all the secrets (3.8-13), and humble lover of God (3.14-21). Paul moves through his testimony from point to point until he reaches the climax of deep prayer upon his knees. Chapter 3 is the climax of Paul’s testimony to the Ephesians. Paul knows what he believes – Creation, Covenant, Christ, Church, and Consummation. And, he knows whom he believes in – Jesus and the indwelling Spirit of Jesus, the Holy Spirit (Acts 16.7 and Phil. 1.19).
It is here in the first verse of Ephesians 3 that Paul makes explicit reference to the fact that he is in prison for the cause of Christ. Paul is a “prisoner” for Christ. He is incarcerated for the Gospel. He is suffering from a lack of freedom in his everyday walking around life in exchange for sharing the freedom that comes through a relationship with Christ. Paul points to his relationship with Jesus as a willing captive for the sake of the Gospel.
In the second verse there is a unique word translated “administrator.” In Paul’s culture an administrator was one who managed an estate and followed the wishes of the owner. Paul is instructing the Ephesians that he is only the one who is following his leader, Christ Jesus. Paul is a caregiver and a caretaker of the estate of Christ. Paul points to his relationship with Jesus as someone who comes under the direction of the owner.
The mystery of Christ, the Grand Plan of the Creator, can only be understood by revelation according to Paul. We must remember that Ephesus was a place of great worship of the false god Artemis. Paul is advising his hearers to remember that the God of the Universe cannot be understood by the human heart apart from revelation by faith through the grace of God’s amazing love. Paul invites the hearer to understand the way of salvation has been opened to all people no matter their ethnicity or previous religious affiliation. Paul wishes the hearer to understand that he has this revelation because of Jesus, and he wants others to partake in this revelation.
Paul further explains that his life is in service to God and neighbor only through God’s grace. Paul describes himself as a “servant” under the orders of a master.
And, Paul finally explains his relationship with Christ as one of bold friendship. When Paul describes our ability to approach God with freedom and confidence, Paul is referring to the open frankness and candidness that comes with knowing someone closely. This language that Paul uses for freedom or boldness implies that there are no secrets being kept – everything is out in the open. Paul wants his hearer to completely understand that with Jesus there are no hidden agendas. Paul is a close “companion” of Christ.
Paul has set us up to hear his prayer as a prisoner of the Gospel, as an administrator of God’s great love, as servant of his master obeying his orders, and as one who is a close friend of God who keeps no secrets from his companions. And, as we approach the text for today we hear Paul’s words differently as he says, “I kneel before the Father… (Eph. 3.14)”
Paul draws our attention to the humble position of “kneeling” as an important posture of leadership. In order for us to understand the importance of leadership on bended knee let us look at the situation in which Paul is praying. Paul has been taken captive because he has preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Most likely he is imprisoned (house arrest) because he returned to Jerusalem where he was taken into custody. From Jerusalem he is taken to Rome and continues his imprisonment there incarcerated in his own rented home.
We witness Paul’s first encounter with the Ephesians after his stay in Corinth (Acts 18). Paul leaves Priscilla and Aquila, a married couple serving together in ministry at Ephesus. Apollos also was teaching in Ephesus. But he was not teaching the full Gospel message, particularly the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Paul spent about three years teaching in Ephesus (Acts 20.31). After spending time in Ephesus, Paul was compelled by the Lord to return to Jerusalem (Acts 19.21) knowing that he would be eventually make his way to Rome.
At Ephesus there was a great temple to the goddess Artemis, and there were many silversmiths who made their living by creating art pieces for the worship of the goddess. Apparently, Paul and his followers had such an influence in the community that the great goddess Artemis was going out of business. Paul wanted to appear before assembly in the theater serving some 25,000 people in order to speak to the people. Because the riot was so intense his fellow companions refused to let him go into the theater to speak. Paul was able to escape the great riot, and soon continued his missionary work in the cities around the Mediterranean Sea basin (Acts 20).
After some time has passed, Paul returned to the area but skirted Ephesus to avoid the city. But he called the elders to himself in a nearby town, Miletus. There at Miletus Paul declares that he will never see the Ephesians again. At Miletus he encourages their faithful walk with God, offers prayers for them, and tells them a bit about the vision God has given him for his future in Jerusalem and Rome. And, at the end of his final visit with the Ephesians he kneels down with them to pray (Acts 20.36) and they are overcome with emotions.
In our passage today Paul is on his knees again. When Paul kneels before God to pray for his beloved church family in Ephesus, the scene from his last encounter with the church leaders comes to mind. While Paul is being lead on his final mission to Jerusalem and then on to Rome, his heart aches for his church family at Ephesus. He sends for the elders to meet with him, and the leaders weep over him urging him not to go to Jerusalem – knowing full well that the Spirit of God compels Paul to go onward to his trial and imprisonment in Rome.
The Church at Ephesus is spoken of several times in the Pauline writings of the New Testament. In Acts 18-20 Paul founds and instructs the church then in 1 Corinthians 15-16 where Paul reports that he fought wild beasts at Ephesus and writes what we number as the first letter to the Corinthians, and again in the letters to young Timothy whom Paul appoints to the church at Ephesus to remind the leaders not to teach false doctrine. We also know that Paul sent Tychicus to Ephesus (2 Tim. 4.12) to strengthen the church there. And, finally Ephesus is one of the churches in John’s Revelation (Rev. 1-2). The church at Ephesus eventually would loose her first love and her favor with God was threatened. John’s letter to Ephesus reminds the church to rekindle her first love – to change their hearts and lives doing the things they did at first.
Paul’s posture of “kneeling” prayer for the Ephesians – a place of humility for others. Paul cries out for the church in prayer that they might grasp the depth and width of God’s love for them. Paul understands this deep affection that God has for sinners because he was what he calls the “chief sinner.” Paul had murdered the most innocent of people such as Stephen (Acts 7-8.1). Paul had encountered the living God on the road to Damascus – struck down with physical blindness that very much reflected his inward spiritual blindness. Historically, kneeling before someone was a sign of respect and honor. Paul found himself kneeling on the beach as he poured out his heart in prayer with the leaders at Ephesus.
In the passage today Paul has dropped to his knees in love for his God and for his church family. Paul urges his brethren not to become discouraged by what he is suffering. Paul teaches his brethren that God has always had a plan and that plan was Jesus. God has accomplished his plan through Jesus. Through Jesus we now have bold and confident access to God through our faith in Jesus. All of history turns upon this man called Jesus who has fulfilled the role of the Christ. The plan has always been to include the Gentile believers.
Paul prays for (1) strength within through the Spirit (2) Christ will live in your hearts through faith (3) strong roots of love that grow deep and wide (4) supernatural knowledge of Christ’s love that cannot be obtained naturally (5) filled up with the fullness of God (6) revelation that God is able to do more than we could ask or imagine (7) awareness that God’s power at work within us is able (8) this love is for the church for all generations who hide themselves in the work of Christ Jesus (9) the result of this great gift to humanity brings glory – opinion, glory; root for doxology. The glory is the manifest presence of God that becomes reciprocal in the life of the believer.
Paul is not praying for new converts but for seasoned Christians to become more mature in their relationship with Christ Jesus. Paul desires for his church family to experience Christ reigning over every area of their lives pushing back every stronghold that holds them captive. Paul knows that believers need great strength within to resist sin of the world, the flesh, and the devil himself. Paul knows that the tension of persecution is increasing in the global world, and Paul desires to encourage their hearts by praying for more power of the Spirit to live within each of them so that they would remain faithful to the task of both believing the Gospel and sharing the Good News.
No one on the face of the earth is excluded from our responsibility and privilege to pray. When we pray for others, we call that intercession. When Paul wrote his first letter to young Timothy, he instructed him to intercede for everyone because it pleases God (1 Tim. 2.1-3). Intercession is bringing a person, group of people, or situation to God in prayer. When we intercede, we observe the gap between what God wants and the way things are. Jesus was able to see the gap between God’s people and God himself then offering himself as the bridge across the great divide.
When we think about the gaps in life, it’s up to us as God’s people to form the bridge between heaven and earth through Jesus. An intercessor is a person who brings other people to God in prayer. Intercessors are good listeners to the Holy Spirit who is the paraclete or intercessor here on earth on behalf of Jesus. Our greatest place of influence in our lives is in our local community where we live and work. That’s our “sphere of influence” and that’s the area we need to be more intentional about our prayers. Jesus taught his disciples to pray using a model of honoring God, surrendering our will, praying for daily needs, asking for forgiveness and protection from evil.
In Wesley’s Sermons on Several Occasional entitled “Means of Grace,” Wesley teaches his people that prayer is the chief vehicle by which God pours out himself and his goodness upon his people. Wesley in his Explanatory Notes invites us to understand that what Paul is praying for the Ephesians is greater things that we could even imagine, and yet we are invited to pray even bigger things. God will give to us beyond our imaginations. But the key ingredient is often in the asking upon our knees.
What was it like when you discovered your first love? How/when did you become a Christian? What led you to become a Christian? How have you experienced God working in your life? How has being a Christian changed your heart and life? Have you lost your first love?