March 17 - 23
Prayers for the Church: Paul
ROME, A.D. 62. THE TYRANT NERO IS ON THE THRONE. The palace seethes with vice, intrigue, and murder. Not far away is a house where a prisoner sits chained to a palace guard. Friends and visitors come and go, encouraging him, listening to his instructions, and bearing letters from him to believers in other parts of the empire.
If we were to visit, we might expect to see a man sitting in the gloom, pondering his fate, agonizing over whether he will be executed or released. Instead, he is writing to other Christians about being alive and joyful in Christ. He also is praying for them that they will apply Christ's salvation-His immeasurable grace-to their lives. What kind of experience is this? How can we learn more about it?
Paul's prayers for the church in Ephesians 1:15-23 and 3:14-20 will explain.
THE WEEK AT A GLANCE:
I. The Church-Real and Ideal (Eph. 1:1-14).
II. A Vision of the Church (Eph. 1:15-23).
III. God's Power in Christ (Eph. 1:19-23).
IV. God's Power in Us (Eph. 2:1-10).
V. Filled With All the Fullness of God (Eph. 3:14-21).
MEMORY TEXT: "God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 2:6, 7, NIV).
Some people think the Christian church in the days of the apostles was ideal. Actually, it was not all that different from our churches today. The church at Ephesus, for example, had its problems. Paul's letters to Timothy indicate that the church contained false teachers, apostates, idlers, and busybodies (1 Tim. 1:6, 7, 20; 5:13). He warned the elders of Ephesus that "grievous wolves" would infiltrate the church, drawing away disciples after themselves (Acts 20:29, 30). The church of Ephesus then rooted out heresy so vigorously that it became a loveless congregation (Rev. 2:1, 2, 4, 6). Such experiences are typical of the real church. In his letter to the Ephesians, however, Paul shows a view of the ideal church that astonishes us.
What were Paul's circumstances when he wrote the book of Ephesians? See the SDA Bible Dictionary, p. 333, "Ephesians, Epistle to the."
Acts 28:16, 30, 31 ________________________________________________________________
Eph. 3:1; 6:19, 20 ____________________________________________________________
After being arrested and kept in custody for two years, Paul appealed to Caesar for justice and was sent to Rome as a prisoner. For two more years, he was under house arrest, chained to a soldier-a trying time for the aged apostle (Philem. 9, 10). He was tried before Nero and acquitted but later re-arrested, confined to a dungeon, and then beheaded. (See the article "Paul" in the SDA Bible Dictionary.)
What is Paul's mood as he writes this letter? List the blessings he specifies. Eph. 1:3-10.
In the midst of persecution with the prospect of execution, Paul still looks beyond his earthly circumstances to the heavenly realms in Christ. Instead of worrying over his fate, he is reveling in blessings he describes in exceptional terms-riches that God lavishes on those who accept Him.
God predestines that all should accept Him. He "desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim. 2:4, NRSV; see also 2 Pet. 3:9; Ezek. 33:11; Matt. 11:28; Rev. 22:17; John 3:16).
Paul has caught a vision not only of the rich blessings God has lavished on His people (vss. 3-10) but also of how richly blessed God's people themselves are. He tries to explain this in verses 15-23.
Upon hearing of their faith in Christ and their love for one another, Paul expresses exuberant thanks for the saints in Ephesus (vss. 15, 16). He remembers them daily in prayer, no doubt asking God to help them continue their spiritual growth. For only as any person in any age draws closer and closer to the Savior can that person become more and more like Him.
Paul's concept of the church is so magnificent we need special help to comprehend it. What does he pray God will do for us to help us understand?
Eph. 1:17, 18 _______________________________________________________________
Look at the three things that Paul prays we will especially understand. Eph. 1:18, 19.
1. "The hope to which he has called you" (v. 18, NIV). Colossians 1:27, written about the same time, sheds light on his thought. "The hope of glory" is "Christ in you." Having Christ in our lives now is a foretaste of the glory of the future.
2. "The riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints" is the literal translation. Paul mentions two inheritances in Ephesians, ours and God's (1:14). Our inheritance is all the blessings Paul lists in 1:3-14. Conversely, we are God's possession (1:14) and Jesus' inheritance (vs. 18). Jesus looks at us and recognizes that we are "the riches of His glorious inheritance." Are we, though, all that glorious? Paul's next point explains.
3. "His incomparably great power for us who believe" (NIV). "God's mighty power is displayed in the transformation of a sinner into a saint. This remarkable change is not accomplished by psychology, education, or good works; it is an act of divine grace and power."The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 6, p. 1004:19, "Power."
How does one explain the gap between the great promises given the church and the reality of the church as it exists? How does one explain the gap between the great promises given individuals and the reality that often exists? We know where the fault lies. The question is, How do we remedy it?
God's power to work in our lives is tremendous and immeasurable
19). To demonstrate how great that power is, Paul shows what it accomplished
in the life of Christ.
1. God raised Him from the dead.
2. God seated Him at His right hand in heavenly places.
Christ's resurrection proves that no matter what humans may do, they cannot prevent God's purpose from being fulfilled. In our frantic and frenzied world, we can remain calm knowing that God is in control.
How high did God raise Jesus? Eph. 1:20, 22.
Psalm 110:1 foretold this event: " 'Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet' "(NIV). Compare 1 Corinthians 15:24, 25; Hebrews 1:3. The principalities, powers, dominions, and names that Paul mentions include His enemies, the forces of evil, both earthly and satanic (Eph. 6:12). Paul was suffering from the tyranny of Rome, but Jesus was above Rome. The name of Nero that made armies tremble was a "paper tiger" compared to the name of Jesus.
What significance does Jesus' exaltation have for the church? Eph. 1:21-23.
God gave Jesus, as head over all things, to the church, which is His body (literal translation). When Christ is exalted, His body, the church, is exalted, too. When Christ is seated in heavenly places, His body, the church, is seated in heavenly places with Him. Paul adds the staggering statement that the church is the fullness of Christ! (Eph. 1:23). No wonder we need a special revelation to comprehend the glory of the church! (vss. 17-19).
How can you use these wonderful promises to help those struggling with sin or with addictions?
|How can you help a person make these promises real and personal? What is the key to latching hold of these promises and making them work changes in your life?|
Compare God's power in Christ with God's power in you, using the following chart:
God's Power in Christ
God's Power in You
|Eph. 2:1-3||Christ was dead.|
|Eph. 2:4, 5||God raised Christ.|
|Eph. 2:6||God seated Christ in heavenly places.|
The life lived apart from Christ is ugly indeed. It took the same resurrection power to raise us from death in sin as it did to raise Christ from death on account of our sins. Raised from death, we become "a new creation" (2 Cor. 5:17).
What does it mean to be seated in heavenly places with Christ Jesus? Is this not a future privilege reserved for eternity when we will sit with Him on His throne? (Rev. 3:21). Here is another example of "present eschatology," when the blessings of the future invade the present in spiritual form. (Review lesson 10.) Bodily, Paul was in prison awaiting trial by a cruel tyrant. Mentally, he was praising God for every spiritual blessing in heavenly places (Eph. 1:3).
Paul is amazed that God would raise fallen sinners and exalt them so high. How does he describe God's grace in verses 4-9?
When a friend gives you a gift, you do not ask that person how much you owe him or her. Yet many Christians, when they receive the gift of Christ's salvation, feel or believe that there is still something they must do to earn that gift. Paul talks about "the incomparable riches" (2:7, NIV) of God's grace. Nothing we could ever do would equal such a gift. We are to do with it what we would do with any giftaccept it gracefully, enjoy it to the fullest, and share it with others through traditional witnessing activities and acts of service.
|How do you explain to someone just what "grace" is? What analogies can you use to show how futile salvation by works is and that salvation must be a gift, unmerited and unearned?|
Paul concludes his vision of the ideal church with one of the most sublime prayers in the Bible. After describing God's family (Eph. 2:11-22), he pours out his soul, asking Him to do stupendous things for themHis church.
"For this reason I kneel before the Father" (3:14, NIV). Normally, the Jewish attitude of prayer was standing with hands outstretched and palms upward (Mark 11:25). However, Paul's prayer is not the ordinary, incidental prayer inspired by a passing feeling or thought. His desire for the church is so deliberate and passionate that He kneels before God in solemn humility and pleads with Him to grant his request.
Paul proceeds to pray for the Ephesians to receive power through Christ's Holy Spirit. For what reasons does Paul desire the Ephesians to have this power?
Eph. 3:17 _________________________________________________________________________
Eph. 3:17, 18 ______________________________________________________________________
Eph. 3:19 ___________________________________________________________________
Paul speaks of the Spirit and of Jesus coming to make their home with us as Jesus promised in John 14:16-18 and 23. Though the power of God is constantly at work in every breath and heartbeat of our lives, Paul wants the Spirit to penetrate further into the "inner being" of our minds. Then we will be "strengthened with power."
To receive this power, we must first have deep roots (like a tree) and a firm foundation (like a building) based on love (Eph. 3:17). Second, we must experience this power "with all the saints." We cannot fully grasp it on our own. It comes to the church as a body.
Once we have the Holy Spirit's power, we can begin to know something that surpasses knowledge-the width, length, height, and depth of Christ's love.
"God so loved the world" is the breadth of His love. "That He gave His only begotten Son" is the length of it. "That whosoever [the lowest sinner] believeth in Him" is the depth of it. "Should . . . have everlasting life" is the height of it (John 3:16).
|What does prayer do to us that allows these promises to become real in our lives?|
FURTHER STUDY: Read the closing to Paul's prayer in Ephesians 3:20, 21.
Paul's prayer staggers the imagination. It is a field for deep and prolonged meditation. Notice all that God wants us to take into our inner beings: His power, His Spirit, Jesus, the four dimensions of Jesus' love, and the fullness of God.
The conclusion is no less astounding. After making such boundless requests, he says that God is able to do "immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine"! (NIV). There is no limit to what His power can do for us. This is Paul's vision of "glory in the church and in Christ Jesus" forever and ever! (vs. 21).
After Paul's trip into the heights of the glory of the ideal church (Eph. 1-3), Paul descends to the real church in the world below. Read chapters 4 through 6 to see how living in heavenly places translates into life in this world. Jot down the counsels that are relevant to your life.
SUMMARY: Paul's great prayers, as recorded in the letter to the Ephesians, teach us that the church is the body of Christ, a part of His being, infused with His blood and breath and life. To be a part of it is the greatest privilege and honor given to human beings.
J. H. Zachary
INDIAPastor Jesurathnam Baka was assigned to work in a remote area of India north of Madras (Chennai). As he walked from village to village, young people crowded around him, curious about a stranger who had come to visit them.
But when Pastor Baka told them that he had come to bring them Jesus Christ, the villagers answered, "We already have three village gods. There is no place for your God in our village." Still the people were curious about this stranger. "Please tell us a story," they begged.
The stories Pastor Baka told them about Jesus touched their hearts, and they asked him to stay. Pastor Baka stayed in the village for 20 days and taught the people about Jesus. The stories led to Bible studies and seasons of prayer.
Pastor Baka walked to the next village, where he found a group of children playing marbles under a tamarind tree. He bent over and joined them in their game until a village man saw him. "What are you doing here?" the man asked.
"I have come to bring Jesus Christ to your village," he answered.
The village man told Pastor Baka, "If Jesus is a God, we have no place for Him here. You should leave at once." As Pastor Baka silently prayed for wisdom, one boy said, "Wait! Samuel worships your God. I will go call him!" The boy ran off to find Samuel.
Soon Samuel arrived. "Sir, this is a wonderful day!" Samuel said. "I have prayed for five years that God would send someone to teach us about Jesus. The people here worship a man-god. How can we tell them about the living God?"
Pastor Baka asked Samuel to invite the villagers to a worship service that evening. At sunset a crowd of curious villagers gathered to see the stranger and learn how Christians worship their God. Children scooted close for a better view. Pastor Baka talked about God and His love for them. Then he announced that he would hold public meetings.
Nearly two hundred people came night after night to study and learn about God. When the pastor invited those who wanted to follow Jesus to prepare for baptism, several came forward.
However, Satan was determined that these people who had lived in darkness for so long would not escape to Christ without a struggle.
(continued next week)
J. H. Zachary is coordinator of international evangelism for The Quiet Hour and a special consultant for the General Conference Ministerial Association.
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