Christianity 201

November 7, 2021

Praying for What We’ve Already Been Given

The decade from 2007 to 2016 was a golden age for Christian blogs. One of ones we visited three times year, and linked to many times at Thinking Out Loud was Parking Space 23. Today we went back for a visit and found that they were still active until this spring when this piece by Jason Vaughn appeared. Click the link below to read directly.

Pray for What We Own Already

Paul’s first prayer in Ephesians really intrigues me. Compare what he prays for with commonly heard prayer requests. When I say, how can I pray for you, what do we often respond with? We mention issues, situations, or desired outcomes. This isn’t wrong. To clarify please do not feel guilty for asking for specific issues you want others to pray for. Instead, I propose some additional content to be added to our prayers on behalf of your church family, family, coworkers, and ourselves. Paul’s prayer, inspired by the Holy Spirit, allows us a glimpse into the apostle’s concern.

As Paul writes to the church, he thanks the Lord for this congregation and records how he prays. He says,

ESV.Eph.1.15 “For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you and your love for all the saints, 16 do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers; 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might 20 which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.”

The testimony of the church leads him to give thanks. This is a church exhibiting faith in Christ and love for one another. These two attributes only exist through the work of the Holy Spirit, so thanking our Lord proves appropriate and gives Him the honor He is due. But then he reveals how he constantly prays, “that [our Lord] would give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him . . . the eyes of your heart may be enlightened” (1:17-18). Emphatically Paul asks God for the church to understand the revelation our Lord gives to us. He wants believers to know God. He wants God to grant us understanding of Him.

It is not enough for Paul that we be empowered to just live rightfully, but that we think rightfully too. (Paul doesn’t pit these against each other, ever. Instead he sees them as a married couple holding hands walking together). But what is it we should know? He lists three facts he wants us to understand: 1. To know the hope of His calling 2. the riches of the glory of His inheritance and 3. His surpassing greatness of His power brought about in Christ! (His resurrection, ascension and sovereignty, and headship over the church).

The familiar reader of Ephesians will note Paul addressed the first two points in 1:3-14. Herein lies a key observation. Paul wants the church to know and understand what we already have in Christ. The opening paragraph explains what we have in Christ, “every spiritual blessing.” (1:3) He does not hope we gain these truths nor do these truths only exist if we know or understand them. Instead, whether we understand them or not, if you are a believer, these truth do exist! It’s like buying a used car and you made this choice because of make, model, engine, and reliability, then as you drive the car you start to discover all the cool features, secret cup holders, bluetooth, and other neat features. You already owned them, but you did not know you owned them. This is exactly what Paul prays for. He wants us to understand what is true about us in Christ! It is lamentable to think about how many people have passed away on earth to only discover in the presence of God what he or she really had in Christ. Paul wants us to know this today!

When he says, “You will know the hope of his calling” he really means, He wants us to know and understand what we have in Christ. “The hope of his calling” was already explained in 1:3-14 and should draw us back to remember that amazing introductory paragraph. What is the hope our calling we have in Christ? It can be summarized simply — that we are “in Christ!” But Paul mentions six blessings regarding what it means to be in Christ. These are “the hope of our calling” and the “spiritual blessings” every believer has — not earned!

  1. “That we would be holy and blameless before Him” (1:4) For every believer this is a relief! We know we are sinful, not holy, and cannot save myself. I know that God’s requirement for his children is that I would be holy as He is holy. But unfortunately I cannot do anything to earn or obtain that holiness. But enter God who chose us, His children, to be holy and blameless before the world was even founded!
  2. “Adopted as sons in Jesus Christ” (1:5) Not only have I been made holy, but God adopts me into His family. Believers are children of God, enjoying every promise from God, especially those found in the New Covenant: forgiveness, indwelling Holy Spirit, justified, to know God personally, the hope of the resurrection, and a seat at the banquet table with our Lord Jesus Christ.
  3. “In Him we have redemption” (1:7) God redeemed us, not based on our work, but based on Christ and His work on the cross where God is both just and the justifier. No longer are my sins remembered against me, instead God forgives us. Why? Again, not because we have something that God needs, but rather, “according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us!” (1:7-8). This is humbling, and rightfully so! Hopefully it causes us to give thanks to Him for his mercy and grace!
  4. “He made known to us the mystery of His will” (1:9). This is the right time for our Lord. We know the mystery the prophets looked into, but didn’t know what time Christ would be revealed. Well now, Christ has been revealed and we know the mystery of His will. We live in a great season where Christ has come in the flesh, died, buried, resurrected, and ascended to glory. We no longer have to ask, “When is the Messiah coming.” Instead we already know, He’s come (and will come back again). We walk with a confidence existing only because Christ has conquered death on the cross.
  5. “We were made an inheritance” (1:11). Looking at two sides of the coin. On one side, we are adopted as children. On the other side God made us His inheritance. The covenant keeping Lord made us New Covenant children. We are His chosen ones. We are precious to Him as any good father would be to His children. It’s this truth that allows us to confidently say, “God loves me!”
  6. “You were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise” (1:13). Every believer, each of his children, His inheritance has indwelling him or her, the Holy Spirit. This is a New Covenant promise true for everyone who believes (1:13). The true God, Holy Spirit, indwells us guaranteeing our place in God’s presence around the banquet table!

Every one of these truths is fully true whether we understand them or not. But Paul, with a pastor’s heart wants the church to understand each of these truths. Why? Because there is hope in them! Life can be difficult. Our trials can lead to despondency, despair, and all sorts of difficult emotions. But to live every day understanding these truths are not only true when we have good days, but bad days too, helps us praise and thank our Lord, joining Paul who opens Ephesians with “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!” Nothing in this world compares to what I have in Christ. Remembering this spurs us on to honor, thank, and love others regardless of the context, trials, and hardships we deal with daily.

This hope should serve at the core of our thinking and therefore living. As we seek to love our church family, spouse, kids, and everyone God puts around us, we desire each person to know this same hope. Join Paul’s prayer and make sure you add this content to your prayers on behalf of yourself and others. God wants us to know His gifts given to us through Christ.

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October 17, 2021

Even Better Promises

Only a year ago, I looked at the second half of each of the clauses in the section of Matthew 5 known as “the Beatitudes.” It’s the part we don’t spend as much time with, because in its list of ‘who stands to receive what,‘ we get focused on the who, but often miss the what.

In a way, so we should. The shock value of the sermon is that this is further evidence of the ‘upside-down,’ ‘first-shall-be-last; last-shall-be-first’ Kingdom that Jesus is about to usher in. It continues with the ‘you-have-heard-it-said’ section where Jesus takes conventional ideas about how God would have things work and replaces them with ‘but-I-say-to-you’ statements which up-end those conventions.

But back to the ‘whats.‘ Here is just that part of the text from Matthew 5:

  • theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  • they will be comforted.
  • they will inherit the earth.
  • they will be filled.
  • they will be shown mercy.
  • they will see God.
  • they will be called children of God.

Let’s look at those:

■ What does it mean to be told that yours is the kingdom of heaven; or to receive the kingdom? Later in Matthew, Jesus reiterates this offer when the disciples try to turn away the children.

But Jesus said, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children.” 19:14 NLT

Just a few chapters earlier he says,

And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven (16:19a, NKJV)

The possession of the keys implies a sense of ownership; a sense of legitimate belonging.

■ About the next group he says, they will be comforted. What does it mean to receive comfort? Usually it means that someone comes alongside you and places their arm or arms around you. In his final discourse on the way to face the cross, Jesus says this very thing,

and I will ask the Father, and He will give to you another Comforter, that He may remain with you throughout the age. (John 14:16, Literal Standard Version)

The word used is also advocate, helper, and counselor in other translations.

■ Of the next group he says, they shall inherit the earth. If your theology is all about exiting this earth, and heading for ‘heaven,’ this may not be as meaningful as it is if your eschatology covers the concept of ‘the new earth.’ Exiled to Patmos Island, John wrote,

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. (Rev. 21:1, NIV) (the word ‘sea’ is well-translated, but can be interpreted as ‘there was no longer any chaos;’ in other words, a re-birthed world.)

This is not the earth as you know it, but one you would want to inherit.

Jesus’ words here echoed a verse in Psalms:

But the meek will inherit the land and delight in abundant prosperity (Psalm 37:11, Berean Study Bible) (watch that word, prosperity however, we’ll get to it in a minute!)

■ Of the next group we are told, they will be filled. This reminds me so much of the words spoken at the climax of one of the most important feast times:

Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink.” (John 7:37, NASB)

What, never thirst again? No, never thirst again! (This is an old gospel song lyric I couldn’t resist including!)

His beatitude here echoes the words spoken prophetically

“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare.” (Isaiah 55:1-2, NIV)

■ The ones who fit the next category are told they will be shown mercy. Who would not want receive God’s mercy? This conditional promise will be repeated in the same teaching session, just a chapter later when the disciples ask how to pray, he will tell them to say,

Forgive us the wrongs we have done, as we forgive the wrongs that others have done to us. (Matthew 6:12, GNT)

and then will amplify this two verses later,

“If you forgive others the wrongs they have done to you, your Father in heaven will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive the wrongs you have done.” (6:14-15 GNT)

■ To the next group is the promise, they will see God. A popular hit song in 1971, based on a prayer by 13th-century English bishop Saint Richard of Chichester, includes the lyric “to see thee more clearly.” This should also be an offer you wouldn’t want to refuse.

This was the prayer of Paul,

I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to Him in His death (Philippians 3:10, Berean Study Bible.)

■ There are eight beatitudes, but the promise in the eighth is the same as the first, so the last of the seven groups we’re looking at are told, they will be called children of God.

This reminded me of the words of John,

See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! But the people who belong to this world don’t recognize that we are God’s children because they don’t know him. Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. (I John 3:2, NLT)

Earlier, in his gospel, John wrote,

But to all who did receive him, he gave them the right to be children of God, to those who believe in his name. (John 1:12, CSB)

But wait, there’s more!

These things are what is on offer for those who follow Christ, but I wanted to take this a step further.

Many today subscribe to what is called “the prosperity gospel,” or “the health and wealth gospel.” They believe that earthly riches await those who will simply believe and trust God and then receive these blessings by faith. We often see these people as having great faith; perhaps we think their faith is greater than ours.

But God’s offer is so much better. Who would want a new house, or a new car, or an expensive vacation when, God is so much more than a game show host giving away cash and fabulous prizes?

His promises include the earth; the kingdom, his comfort, fullness, mercy, intimate relationship, identification with him. Why would you settle for things that perish? In the same teaching passage, he says,

“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. (Matthew 6:19, NLT)

So why would he place those short-term, consumable things on offer when he is willing and able to grant you so much more, including the kingdom itself?


The Sermon on the Mount gets the most attention, but it’s but one of four teaching passages or discourses found in Matthew’s gospel. For the other four, use the “Archives” search tab in the blog’s sidebar, and select “August, 2020” and look for four articles appearing August 7, 8, 9, and 10.