Thanks for Nothing! (Ephesians 1:15-23)
It’s Thanksgiving week. Time to count your blessings. If you have food in the refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof overhead, and a place to sleep, you are richer than 75 percent of those in this world of ours. If you have money in the bank, cash in your wallet, and spare change in a dish someplace, you are among the top 8 percent of the Earth’s wealthiest people. If you woke up this morning with more health than illness, you are more fortunate than the million who will not survive this week. If you have never experienced the danger of battle, the loneliness of imprisonment, the agony of torture or the pangs of starvation, you are ahead of 500 million people in the world. If you can attend this worship service without fear of harassment, arrest, torture, or death, you are fortunate. Billions in the world cannot.
It’s not hard for us to count our blessings, is it? Most of us could quickly and easily jot down a rather lengthy list, including thanks for family, for friends, for food, for clothing, for cars, for a home, for a job, for health, for freedom, for opportunity, and so on. But think about this. If we follow this logic, then it means that if we lack these things, we cannot give thanks—if I don’t have much food in the refrigerator, if I don’t have any money in my wallet, if I’m so unhealthy I’m about to leave this world, or if I’m tortured for my faith, according to this logic, I don’t have any reason to give thanks. However, the Apostle Paul encourages us to give thanks for nothing. In fact, he offers us the example of his own thanksgiving for nothing at all—not one physical, material, tangible thing.
Instead Paul gives constant thanks for things which are not things: Faith in the Lord Jesus, love toward the saints, and a spirit of wisdom and revelation. None of these blessings can be seen, touched, purchased, or possessed—like food, clothing, cards, boats, or homes. To give thanks for the intangibles or in the midst of despair and suffering is what the Scriptures call praise. Praise is the recognition that it is all about God and not about me.
In the classic French work The Little Prince, the fox character is saying goodbye to the little prince, and as he leaves he says, “And now here’s my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” “What is essential is invisible to the eye,” the little prince repeats, so that he will be sure to remember.
In this morning’s text, Paul tells us of the essentials which are invisible to the eye: Faith in Jesus, love toward our brethren, and a spirit of wisdom and revelation. This morning, we’ll explore those intangibles that we might understand the things which are truly important.
Faith in Jesus, v 15
Ever since Paul had heard of the Ephesians’ faith in Jesus, he had not stopped giving thanks to God.
Why would Paul give thanks to God for the Ephesians’ faith? Some say that faith is a direct gift of God. Advocates of that view often point to Ephesians 2:8-9: “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works.” But, grammatically, the gift likely refers to the whole process of salvation.
If God gave faith as a direct gift, he would make a distinction between people. He would be saying, “I’ll give you faith and save you, but I won’t give you faith, and I won’t save you.” We know God does not operate in such a manner: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right” (Acts 10:34-35).
Faith cannot be a direct gift from God, for it is something we do. “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent” (Jn 6:29). When the jailer in Philippi asked what he needed to do to be saved, Paul and Silas told him, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household” (Acts 16:31).
But it does seem to me that faith is an indirect gift of God.
Faith is not something God bestows on certain men and withholds from others, but it is God who has made it possible for us to believe. “What may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse” (Rom 1:19-20).
But, of course, the Creation is inadequate to bring us to proper faith in Christ: “Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ” (Rom 10:17). Romans 10:14-15.
How grateful we ought to be that we have had the privilege of coming to faith in Christ! Many of us were raised in godly homes where the Scriptures were valued and taught, and how grateful we ought to be for the faith that produced in us! Others of us married individuals who had great faith and who brought us into contact with the Scriptures which produced our faith and how grateful we ought to be for that faith! Others of us were searching for truth when someone came to us and presented the Gospel to us and we believed. How grateful we ought to be for that faith!
Love Toward All the Saints, v 15
Paul knew firsthand the love the Ephesians had toward all the saints, for they had demonstrated such love to him—Acts 20:36-38.
Love is such an important quality among Christians. “A new command I give you: Love one another. AS I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (Jn 13:34-35). “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you” (1 Thess 3:12). “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart” (1 Pet 1:22).
Why be grateful when brethren love one another? How many of us would want to face a life-threatening illness in a congregation where no one cared if we lived or died? Who among us would want to attempt to put away the sin in our lives and do so in a congregation where no one was concerned enough to help us? Who among us would want to face financial difficulties and realize that no one was willing to help?
How grateful we need to be for the love in this congregation! So many of you exhibit your concern in your compassion for the sick among us—I cannot tell you how often I go to see someone in the hospital and he or she will say, “So-and-so just left” or “So-and-so just called.” When someone in our church family passes away, so many of you do whatever you can—taking food to the family or visiting the funeral home. So many of you send an abundance of cards or bring items for the pantry or demonstrate your love in other ways too numerous to mention.
In Chicago several years ago, a little boy attended a Sunday school. When his parents moved to another part of the city, the little fellow still attended the same Sunday school, although it means a long, tiresome walk each way.
A friend asked him why he went so far and told him that there were plenty of other churches just as good nearer his home. “They may be as good for others, but not for me,” was the little boy’s reply. “Why not?” his friend asked. “Because they love a little fellow over there,” he said.
May we ever be a congregation where people say of us, “They love a fellow over there!”
A Spirit of Wisdom and Revelation, vv 17-20
Paul thanks God for giving the Ephesians faith and for the love they had toward all the saints; he then prayed for God to grant them a spirit of wisdom and revelation.
We see in this text two distinct and important parts of prayer: thanksgiving and requests. Far too often we make our requests known to God, but we never stop to thank him for answering those requests. I find the way Paul structures this prayer for the Ephesians quite illustrative. We often pray to God for what we need, and then we’ll attach some thanksgiving to the end of the prayer. Paul does things in reverse order: he thanks God first and then he asks God for some requests.
There is no set order of prayer in Scripture and we dare not take this as some set order, but Paul does show us the importance of thanking God as we approach him in prayer.
I know that the New International Version reads “the Spirit” with “Spirit” capitalized; the King James Version also reads “the spirit,” but “spirit” is not capitalized. Honestly, neither translation accurately portrays the original. In the Greek, the word “spirit” occurs without any article before it; therefore, seeing this as the Holy Spirit, as does the New International Version, is terribly inaccurate. But because of the Greek, the King James Version doesn’t do a good job here either when the translations inserts “the” before spirit without any reason.
The best translation is what occurs in the Revised Standard Version: “That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him.” Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians is that God would give them a level or attitude of knowledge and revelation. We use the term “spirit” in the same way when we say, “I would like a spirit of wisdom” or when we say, “I liked the spirit that the team displayed on the football field.”
One other note on these four verses. Paul wrote these verses as one extremely long sentence, but the New International Version, from which many of you are reading, breaks these verses down into several independent sentences. Breaking this passage into several sentences makes Paul say far more than he actually does. He prays that the Ephesians might have a spirit f wisdom and revelation; he then goes on in this sentence to explain what he means by a spirit of wisdom and revelation. The New International Version reads as though Paul is praying for these items individually and in isolation from one another. Let us keep this sentence intact and see what Paul meant by a spirit of wisdom and understanding.
The spirit of wisdom and understanding would open the Ephesians’ eyes to know the hope to which God had called them.
This is a world in desperate need of hope. It seems that every day we wake up to hear about violence, brutality, and murder. Just this past week a man took hostages in a pharmacy not far from where we’re meeting.
Where can we find hope in such an uncertain and frightening world? God gives hope to those who are his. “We wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (Tit 2:13). “We who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (Heb 6:18-19).
What a great hope we have in Christ! No matter how uncertain this world gets, God sits upon his throne and all will answer to him. No matter how weak and sick my body gets, I have a home which no disease can ever take from me.
This spirit of wisdom and understanding also gives us insight into the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.
We seek wealth in this nation. How many times are you in a hurry at the gas station and have to stand behind someone buying lottery tickets? How many families have been torn apart because Daddy has been trying to climb the corporate ladder in a futile search for his piece of the American pie?
We don’t need to look for riches any further than the Lord Jesus Christ. We may never be materially wealthy, but God has given us an abundance of spiritual riches through his Son. Paul told the Ephesians: “Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace [Paul’s apostleship] was given me: to preach to the Gentile the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph 3:8). Moses “regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward” (Heb 11:26).
Do you know this very morning the unsearchable riches of Christ?
This spirit of wisdom and understanding also gives us knowledge of God’s incomparably great power for us who believe.
We long for power in this country. So many position themselves every four years to be President of the United States. Many husbands are abusive in order that they may feel some sense of power over their wives.
God has great power for us. This power is the same power he used to raise Jesus Christ from the dead (v 19). God has great, great power. The psalmist declared: “One thing God has spoken, two things have I heard: that you, O God, are strong” (Ps 62:11). When asked how a rich man could enter heaven, Jesus answered, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matt 19:26).
We have access to the great power of God when we pray. Do we need to pray about someone’s health? We have access to God’s power through Christ. Do we need to pray for God’s strength to overcome some temptation? We have access to God’s strength through Christ. How thankful we need to be for the great riches we have in Christ!
In the second act of Hamlet, William Shakespeare wrote, “Beggar that I am, I am even poor in thanks.” How well do we do at expressing our thanks to God? God has been so very good to us. Are we beggars even in thanks?
This sermon was originally preached by Dr. Justin Imel, Sr., at the Alum Creek church of Christ in Alum Creek, West Virginia.