John frequently focuses on a topic and emphasizes certain key words like love, perfect unity, and in. Paul, on the other hand, writes in long, flowing sentences with many subordinate clauses. One sentence from Paul can fill half a page! What happens unfortunately is that the important statements can get lost in a sea of words and become difficult to see. One idea is often lifted out by preachers, and they ignore the concepts that are more difficult to grasp, are counter-intuitive, or are controversial.
In this discussion of Ephesians 1:17-20 I will emphasize two things. The first is what Paul prays for, the second is why he thinks these things are so important. I will reproduce the passage at the end of the post.
The Spirit of Wisdom
Paul prays that God would give us the Spirit of wisdom and revelation so that we may know him better. My first question is why is that Spirit of wisdom and revelation necessary to know God better. In the book of Proverbs I observe four levels of ethical development, beginning with knowledge, which proceeds to insight, then to understanding, and ending with wisdom. The knowledge includes knowledge from all areas: personal observation, learning from the people around us, reading the scriptures, and testing everything (everything!) in order to hold onto what is good.
Becoming wise is a time-consuming process and discipline. We patiently amass various sorts of knowledge, and as we notice patterns in that knowledge, we have insights. Accumulate enough of those insights and you begin to understand things more deeply. Finally, when enough time passes, you may finally become a wise person, who not only knows a lot and understands stuff, but can act wisely. This all takes time, especially when it comes to “understanding” God! There is an implicit patience and focus that inheres in the Spirit of wisdom. (And this says nothing of the personification of Wisdom itself in Proverbs 8, who many people believe represents God.)
Many people presume to say a great many things about God, when in reality they only have the remnants of what they learned in Sunday school. So when Paul prays that God would give us a Spirit of wisdom, I assume that this refers at least in part to the ability to think about God for oneself, moving beyond childish notions and move into adult thinking.
The Spirit of Revelation
Revelation, as I understand it, includes what God tells us directly, apart from human intermediaries. For this I rely on two passages in scripture. The first is Peter’s understanding that Jesus is the Anointed One, the Son of the Living God. Jesus replies, “Blessed are you, Simon bar Jonah, because you don’t know this from any flesh and blood human being, but it was revealed to you by God.” That word “revealed” has the same root as “revelation.” Then in Paul’s description of how Christian gatherings should proceed, he says that prophets should speak one by one. And when a revelation comes to someone sitting down, the one who is speaking should sit down and give the other prophet opportunity to speak. (I Corinthians 14:26-31)
Receiving the Spirit of revelation in order to understand God better is logical, but one must wonder what it is that must be revealed to us directly by God. The Bible certainly points us in the right direction, but I believe it is safe to say that this knowledge of God must surpass anything that can be taught in words by flesh-and-blood human beings. We could call it “knowing God,” but it must transcend mere words or, in my opinion, emotions.
The Spirit of Wisdom and Revelation are Necessary for Three Things
He also prays that the eyes of our heart may be enlightened to know three things: 1) the hope to which he has called us, 2) the riches of Jesus’ glorious inheritance in the saints, and God’s incomparably great power for us who believe.
This sounds to me like a description of the experience of revelation, having “the eyes of your heart enlightened” by God. I’d like to point out that that the word “your” is plural, while the word “heart” is singular. This means that we share a single heart, and this revelation should (or can) come to all of us.
What our Hope Probably is Not
What is the hope to which he has called us? I think I can rule out some of the things it does not include, simply based on the prerequisite of revelation from God. Some things are just too ordinary to require God’s direct revelation to us. The worst example is, of course, plucking harps in the clouds. That is, of course, a straw man. But other things that are in the category of childish things (I Corinthians 13:11) include singing praises around the celestial throne for eternity and wandering around meeting all our favorite Bible characters and asking them questions, or hanging out in idyllic bliss in a wonderful pastoral landscape. The fact that these are all so easily imaginable suggests that they don’t require any “special measures” to impart to us.
Jesus’ Glorious Inheritance in the Saints
Next comes what I believe is one of the most important parts of this passage. The second thing that Paul wants to be revealed to the eyes of our hearts are “the riches of Jesus’ glorious inheritance in the saints.” Basically this is about what Jesus gets when he gets us. He gets “riches,” we are, and have within us, a “glorious inheritance.”
We are not barely developed pond scum, we are not Jesus’ army of pet spaniels who keep him company in heaven, we are not an enormous crowd of Jesus groupies singing seven-eleven songs praising God forever and ever and ever and ever.
We are Jesus’ Bride (Revelation 19:7; 21:2,9; 2:17). All the gospel accounts of the groomsman and the brides maids refer to this, as do the many mentions of parties and feasting. Remember in Genesis how God created a partner suitable for him. Nothing less than an equal partner of the same species, the same seed, would do for Adam. The same is true of Christ and the Church. Just as many of us yearn for a partner who is appropriate for us, Jesus (fully God and fully human) desired a partner who was appropriate for him.
There are numerous equivalencies between Jesus and his brothers and sisters, The one that I want to briefly discuss is the Jesus’ so-called “dual nature.” He is both fully divine and fully human. A helpmeet suitable for him needs to be both fully divine and fully human, otherwise Jesus has an inferior being as his eternal mate. When we want a lifelong partner, do we look for a chimp among the exotic animals, or find a pure bred Lab? I think not. No matter how difficult the search, we look for an equal partner among the humans.
Anticipated Objections to the Bride’s Full Equality with Her Husband
I know all sorts of alarms will go off as many people read this. Some will criticize me for taking literally what was meant as metaphor. Others will accuse me of heresy, of denying the Trinity. Some will say that I am oversimplifying a very complicated subject, and have not provided enough caveats, provisos, and qualifications. I do have a number of scripture passages that will provide qualifications to this. There are undoubtedly more concerns than these few.
Simply put, our perfect unity with one another and with the Father and Jesus carries with it some very plain and logical implications. Nevertheless, the teaching is clearly present in the Greek scriptures and needs at least one more examination.
False Foundations for Our Unity
The idea that we should become perfectly one with one another and with the Father and Jesus seems so enormous as to be impossible. Much of this depends on whether we see the basis of our unity to be based on love and on the Spirit of God, or on doctrinal agreement and institutional membership. We are instructed to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, Furthermore, Paul tells us to put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity (Colossians 3:14).
Friends, this is sound doctrine, that love is the perfect bond of unity. Nowhere in scripture are we told that agreement on the “Christian worldview” or on the tenets of our particular faith , or on Bible interpretation, is the basis of our unity. In fact, Paul strongly warns us against quibbling and arguing over words. The belief of many people that doctrinal conformity assures our unity is one of the major causes of divisions in the Body of Christ. Anyone emphasizing “denominational distinctives” is actually parroting the excuses and rationalizations that justify a divided Body, which contradicts the express desire of our head.
The Power of God Perfects our One-ness
Finally, Paul wants the eyes of our hearts to be enlightened to what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. Why does the fact of God’s power in all this need to be enlightened to us? After understanding this perfect union of Jesus and the Bride for most of my adult life, I think this is relatively simple to answer.
It all seems just too impossible. Or, if we accept this union, we reserve it for the sweet by and by, something that will be realized once we’re dead. It seems that there is just no way that it can be a reality in this life. First there is the sheer orneriness of other people. Second are the institutional barriers which permanently separate us from one another in order to provide hierarchical structures for people who want to be in charge. Third are the people who delight in being “careful” in their theology, which is their preferred method for demonstrating their superiority over other people. Fourth is the potential abuse of believing such “nonsense.”
That’s where the reality of God’s immeasurably great power comes in. Remember that there is no limit to the greatness of God’s power at work in us. When it comes to walking in the reality of the Godhead, it cannot be done in our own natural power. This is something that can only be realized, can only be made an experienced reality, in the power of God. The event to which Paul refers as the ultimate demonstration of God’s power is the resurrection of Jesus.
People who denied the resurrection denied the possibility of resurrection from the dead. Most Christians now take the resurrection for granted. There is nothing preposterous or outrageous or foolish about the resurrection. We are taught the resurrection from our first days in Sunday school.
Yet despite the widespread acceptance of the notion of resurrection, very few acknowledge the reality of that power as the power to believe in the Deity of the Church through our union with Jesus and the Father.
The Bible warns us about holding a form of godliness but denying its power. Paul says to avoid such people. (II Timothy 3:5)
The Big “So What?”
It is reasonable to ask what difference this makes. Before I go there, however, I need to be sure to demonstrate that this teaching is not based on a handful of verses, but is broadly taught in the Greek scriptures. Rest assured that I will answer the question, “What difference does it make?”
I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead. (Ephesians 1:17-20a)
To Read More in this Series, click on The Bride of Christ is God.