Part Two: God’s Enlightening Detours
Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians should have begun in verse one of Chapter Three. However, in typical Pauline style, the words “For this reason…” quickly turned into a thirteen-verse detour. Perhaps, capturing a glimpse of the sheer magnitude of God’s plan, Paul could not help interrupting himself in the process of praying, by explaining in greater detail the mystery he had mentioned earlier (Ephesians 1:9) and the reconciliation he had just described (Ephesians 2:11-22). It was a mystery not solved by man but revealed by God, a peace not brokered by man but forged by God Himself. God’s “detours” help slow us down long enough to appreciate Him more fully, consider eternal things more passionately and recognize His “open doors” more clearly.
Paul uses ground-breaking terms to describe the profound mystery of something previously unknown and unseen, Jew and Gentile together as one in the Spirit, and a household of God built upon “the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone.” (Ephesians 2:20). Never one to be vague, Paul continues to define the mystery of Christ, saying, “…the Gentiles are fellow-heirs and fellow-members of the body, and fellow-partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” (Ephesians 3:6).
Just prior to returning from that awe-inspiring detour at Verse 14, Paul mentions two things for the Ephesian believers to consider. First, he invokes their direct access to God through faith in Christ. Paul exercises that very same opportunity from faraway Rome, while held as a prisoner, by offering his prayer on their behalf.
Secondly, Paul asks the Ephesian believers “not to lose heart” (Ephesians 3:13) a phrase he used in similar form at least five times in the New Testament. Here, this phrase is a request of Paul’s readers. In other words, the Ephesians had not yet reached the tipping point where their hearts were lost, where they’d be tired and discouraged enough to want to quit and throw in the towel. How close to quitting they were, we don’t know but close enough for Paul to bring it up. You might wonder why Paul tells of, “…my tribulations on your behalf, for they are your glory.” (Ephesians 3:13). Paul again saw the “big picture” here.
Paul’s immediate tribulation was being held prisoner not for crimes committed but instead simply for the sake of Christ. But notice too, Paul writes of tribulation in its plural form. This is just one of many struggles endured by Paul dating back to his conversion from “Saul,” as detailed in Acts Chapter Nine.
God’s enlightening “detour” for Saul happened along the Road to Damascus. God did more than just slow him down a bit. He brought Saul’s entire Pharisaic life to a screeching halt. Oh, Saul made it to Damascus, alright—only not the way he had envisioned. Now deprived of God’s precious gift of eyesight, Saul’s whole life came crashing down. Life as a blind Pharisee didn’t sound good. You might imagine that Saul would be decrying his devastating calamity, but when found by Ananias… he was praying, of all things. God had gotten Saul’s full attention and heard his repentant response.
Despite Ananias’ understandable hesitation regarding the infamous persecutor of Christians, he obeyed the Lord’s command to find the man we know as Paul: “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.” (Acts 9:15-16). And suffer he did… yet with restored sight, refocused vision and repurposed zeal that would not waver until Paul drew his final breath .
This was not the first time Paul was praying for the Ephesians on bended knees. Acts 20:17-38 takes us back to his tearful farewell to Ephesus. There, Paul wrote of “serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials” which came upon him, of “testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ,” knowing that “bonds and afflictions await me” in every city, and that he would never see them again in this life. Acts 20 concludes, “And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. And they began to weep aloud and embraced Paul, and repeatedly kissed him, grieving especially over the word which he had spoken, that they should see his face no more…” (Acts 20:36-38).
Paul’s relationship with the Ephesian believers represented a true love story that spanned time, place and a shared faith in Christ. Paul’s deeply-held love and concern for the Ephesians—and for their spiritual growth—spurred him to pray for them beyond their temporal needs, to the very depths of their faith in Christ.
We are now ready to plunge “head-first” into the opening words of Paul’s prayer:
“For this reason, I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name,” (Ephesians 3:14-15)
Paul’s physical posture of prayer in Verse 14 is consistent with his farewell to the Ephesians (Acts 20:36) and his farewell at Tyre: “…after kneeling down on the beach and praying, we said farewell to one another.” (Acts 21:5). However, as the Pharisee Saul, he witnessed a different kind of farewell… Stephen’s martyrdom… who with his final breath, was on his knees praying, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” (Acts 7:60). Surely, that moment left an indelible impression upon Saul. As Apostle Paul, bowing before the Father was a humbling outward expression of the same inner reconciliation with God, now available to the Gentile Ephesians.
Kneeling before the Lord may help refresh your memories of childlike faith, with folded hands braced by elbows burrowed into a hand-stitched quilt draped over the side of your bed. What joy it brings to God when His children come to Him, in faith, and cry out to Him… no matter their age!
Paul’s expression of where “every family in heaven and on earth derives its name,” acknowledges God’s sovereignty over all His vast creation. Yet, amazingly, God affords individual identity and loving concern for every part of it.
Part Three of this series explores the first two requests made by Paul. Could this be just another laundry list?
All Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible (NASB).
Alan Summers, GBC Elder