Growing in the Knowledge of Christ (Ephesians 1:15-23)


2012-05-27


Ephesians 1:15-23 15 For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, 16  I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17  that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18  having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19  and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20  that he worked 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 above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things 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.

Growing in the Knowledge of Christ | Ephesians 1:15-23

Growing in the Knowledge of God in Christ

 

Notes and Outline

  1. What we know of Christ
  2. How we learn of Christ
  3. How we grow in Christ

In our spiritual lives, knowing should lead to learning and learning should lead to growing. It’s not enough to simply accumulate facts from the Bible, as one does for a game of Jeopardy or Trivial Pursuit. Those facts must be learned –internalized by both our reason and the Holy Spirit – and finally, what we are learning should be met with faith so that we continue to grow.

This passage tells us three things about growing in Christ,

What we should know of Christ,

How we should learn of Christ,

How we should grow in Christ.

Even as a 12 year old child, we read in Luke that Jesus was growing not only physically but spiritually. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man. (Luk 2:52 ESV) Likewise, everyone who is born of God should grow in faith.

Today we’re going to look at the process of spiritual growth that is taking place in our new lives in Christ. In our natural lives, we expect a baby to grow and change over the course of time. In our spiritual lives, we expect a baby Christian to grow and change over the course of time as well.

But how does that take place? How do you grow in your faith, and how do you know you’re growing in faith? It’s similar to physical growth, but not quite as simple. When you measure physical growth you back up to a wall and your mom or dad puts a ruler on your head and marks your height with a pencil. Then you compare it to the mark that was made a year ago with your name next to it, and say, wow, I’ve grown two inches since last year!

How do you measure spiritual growth? Scripture tells us that those who are in Christ are becoming more and more like him in every way. For those whom he aforeknew he also bpredestined cto be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be dthe firstborn among many brothers. (Rom 8:29 ESV) But how do we know when it’s happening?

You know you’re growing spiritually when you compare your current thoughts, feelings and behaviors with those of the past and find yourself thinking, feeling and behaving more like Christ than you did back then. Sometimes others help you to know you’re growing spiritually. Isn’t it encouraging to hear from someone else that they can see a marked change in you from a year or five years ago?

Once we are born again, the process of spiritual growth begins with knowledge, proceeds to learning and then to growing. They are inseparable steps, that often work together, but let’s look at each step in turn. First, let’s look at

  1. WHAT WE KNOW OF CHRIST – the content of our knowledge

What do we need to know in order to grow in Christ? We have already spoken in this series of our calling and our inheritance in Christ so we will not spend much time on these. Suffice it to say, these represent the beginning and the end of the benefits of our salvation in Christ.

 

[The hope of God’s call to you, The glory of God’s inheritance in you]

The work of God in Christ on our behalf began in eternity past when he chose us before the foundation of the world. We see that in verse 18

18  …that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you,

And we look forward in the future to an eternal inheritance kept in heaven for us in Christ.

18  …that you may know…what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,

18  …that you may know…what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,

[The greatness of God’s power toward you – the same power]

What we haven’t seen before, and what Paul spends considerable time on here, is the greatness of God’s power working toward us or in us who believe.  This represents what God is doing in Christ for in you here and now in your everyday lives.

 

19  and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places.

 

What we should notice here is that the same power of God that worked to raise Christ from the dead and to exalt him in heaven is the same power that works in us to accomplish God’s purpose in our daily lives. Wow! One pastor of ours used to call it “resurrection power.” God is working in you with the same resurrection power that he used to raise Christ from the dead. I would add to that that God is working in you with the same exaltation power he used to cause Christ to ascend to heaven and be exalted over every name that is named.

Do we have power to live the Christian life day in and day out? We certainly do. “Because we are one with Christ, not only was Christ’s resurrection the first fruits of our future resurrection (1 Cor 15.20, 23), we can walk right now in newness of life (Rom 6.4). The Spirit who gives us the hope of a future resurrection (Rom 8.11) also gives us the power to live daily as people who have died with Christ and have been raised with him (Rom 6.6-11; 8:12-14). Col 2:20 reminds us that if we have died with Christ, we have been raised with Christ (2:20; 3:1).” (from FF Bruce’s commentary on Ephesians.)

In the course of  his prayer for the Ephesians Paul tells them and us not only what we should know intellectually, but how we are to learn, to internalize experientially the blessings we have received in Christ.

  1. [HOW WE LEARN OF CHRIST – the acquisition of our knowledge]

We learn by examining the evidence of Scripture and by the enlightening of the Holy Spirit.

 

[By the evidence of Scripture]

 

The Scriptures give us evidence to hear and examine. The Scripture says, “So afaith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Rom 10:17 ESV) We must hear in order to learn and believe. Not only are we to listen to the preaching and teaching of the word, we are to study the word of God for ourselves. “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved,1 a worker awho has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. (2Ti 2:15 ESV) So one aspect of learning is hearing and studying the word of God.

[By the enlightenment of the Spirit]

The other means to learning found here is in vv 17 and 18. We learn by the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit.

Paul prays, 17  that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18  having the eyes of your hearts enlightened,

 

The Spirit of wisdom and of revelation imparts knowledge of God by enlightening our hearts.

This is how bare facts become experiential knowledge. Before we are born again, our hearts are dark toward God, we cannot see, we cannot understand, we cannot know in a life-giving way until our hearts are given light by means of the Spirit. The Spirit brings enlightens our darkened hearts and eyes and minds, enabling us to see and understand God’s word.

We learn of Christ by hearing and studying God’s word, and we learn of God in Christ by means of the Spirit. But how does learning become growing?

We grow in Christ by exercising our faith based on what we are learning.

  1. [HOW WE GROW IN CHRIST – exercising our faith based on knowledge esp trusting in his power]

Vv 18 and 19 tell us

  • that you may know…19 what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe …

The verb “believe” here indicates a continuing action. It means continue to believe or continuing to believe. We believe, but we must also continue to believe. Just as in other passages where the action is continuous – ask and keep on asking, and it shall be given to you; be filled and keep being filled with the Holy Spirit.

Continuing to believe results in spiritual growth. It’s not enough to believe once and for all in the saving death, resurrection and exaltation of Christ. The new birth causes us to believe the first time, but we must continue to believe enabled by the Spirit.

A few years ago I saw a photograph of body-builder, actor and former Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzeneger. I was surprised to see him looking very flabby, not “ripped” at all. The caption explained that he had gotten out of shape in recent years because he had not kept up his weight lifting regimen.

Similarly, we cannot expect to stay in shape spiritually if we neglect the exercise of our “spiritual muscles” so to speak. No matter how spiritually fit we were at one time, if we neglect the continuing exercise of our faith, we will become “flabby,” and fail to grow spiritually.

When was the last time you stepped out in faith and really took a chance and found that God came alongside and gave you the strength or courage or ability you needed to make it through  the project or action or mission or conversation with your neighbor about the gospel?

It’s much easier to coast along in our own strength, than to take on a fresh challenge in the Lord. But if we coast, we will not continue to grow in faith. We will be simply resting on the faith of the past and we will become flabby.

How do we grow in Christ? This passage gives us three examples. The first is

By resting in Christ’s control as sovereign over creation

In v20 and 21 we are told that Christ was given sovereign control over creation.

 

20 God…seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21  far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.

This is similar to what we read earlier in Psalm 2, For the Lord declares, “I have placed my chosen king on the throne in Jerusalem, on my holy mountain.”  “The LORD said to me, ‘You are my son. Today I have become your Father.  Only ask, and I will give you the nations as your inheritance, the whole earth as your possession.  You will break them with an iron rod and smash them like clay pots.'”

The nations are Christ’s inheritance, the whole earth his possession. If Christ is truly in the position of sovereign control over all creation and we are in Christ, why do we stay upset when our candidate doesn’t get elected? If Christ is truly in control and we are in Christ, why do we fear what men can say about us or what Satan can do to us? If Christ is truly in control, why do we stay upset about what is happening in the stock market or about world affairs?

Notice I’m saying “stay upset.” Stuff upsets us. That’s natural, but the point is we don’t have to stay upset. We know we’re growing spiritually when more and more we don’t stay upset or fearful about situations in the universe over which we have no control. Since Christ is in control of the entire creation, we can REST in his sovereign control.

When you are driving the car, you have to watch the road, watch the other drivers, watch the weather, a multitude of things. But if you let someone else drive, you can relax and enjoy the view or sleep or read or whatever. Jesus is driving the car, so to speak, in the universe. He’s carefully watching everything. And because we are in Christ, he will make sure we arrive safely at our appointed destination.

The second example of how we can grow in Christ is

By submitting to Christ’s authority as head of the church

Christ is not only in control of the entire universe, he’s also in a position of authority especially over the church. V22 says,

22 and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body,

He functions much like a human head functions in relation to the body. The head is the control center from which everything operates. The brain, which is connected to the rest of the body by the spinal cord, sends electric signals through the spinal cord to control the different parts of the body. Likewise, Christ controls the different parts of the body of Christ. He organizes it, he governs it, he guides it, he cares for it, he causes all the parts to work together for the good of the whole, and he determines its next move.

If Christ is truly head of the church, we should submit to his authority because he knows best. Only he can see the big picture of what is happening in the entire body, so by submitting to his authority, simply doing our part and leaving the rest to him, we will continue to grow in Christ.

It’s hard not to meddle in other the lives of other members of the body of Christ! We may think we know better than they do and we can fix their problems. After all, we’ve had the same problem in the past. Surely God wants us to help them with it. But God may be doing something different in them even though they have the same problem you did. No one likes unsolicited advice, and few respond positively to it.

But if they ask you for help, that’s different. Then you should help them if you can. But if they don’t ask you for help, simply pray for them that God will help them or use someone else to help them. God may have helped you to overcome that problem simply to sensitize you in order to pray for others with the same issue.

It’s hard not to think or speak disparagingly of other churches in the body of Christ. We may think our theology or our worship style is truest to the biblical teaching and practice and we wonder how anyone could do theology or worship differently and still be a genuine church. Again, we may wish to “fix” their theology or worship practice by offering unsolicited advice, but that rarely helps.  However, if someone from another church asks to hear what you believe or how you practice your faith, that’s different. Help them if you can. Jesus only spoke strong words against the Pharisees when they were trying to trap or trick him. But those who were truly seeking his help as Nicodemus, did, he offered words of help and hope.

Similarly, we may wish to protect our own flock or family by speaking rashly against those who do not believe or practice their faith exactly as we do, railing against them. However, using a harsh tone or railing words rarely works to warn people away. It merely demonstrates that you have uncontrolled anger over some other issue in your life, and a judgmental attitude that flows out of some unresolved insecurity. You’re simply an angry bully looking for a fight with a weak or absent victim.

However, speaking assertively but carefully to those in your flock or family can be very effective to warn them away from heretical or immoral teachings of others. That’s what Paul did in many of his letters to the churches, and that’s what Jesus did in private with his disciples. Instead of being distracted by your ranting and raving, when you carefully, but assertively explain your well thought out reasons for avoiding such teachings or practices, the members of your flock are much more likely listen and respond properly.

We grow in Christ by continuing to submit to Jesus as head of the church by avoiding meddling in one another’s lives and judging other churches, and instead, minding our own business unless asked and allowing Christ to mind the business of his the church. If Christ is truly the head of his body the church, he can fix or change anyone he wishes and he can shut up or shut down any church that has gone astray without our help. We are simply stewards of whatever portion he has granted us and should leave the big picture to him.

The last example of how we can grow in Christ is

By depending on Christ’s presence as the source of your life

Verse 23 says Christ is

23 the fullness of him who fills all in all.

The word used here is pleroma, meaning fullness. The best interpretation of this phrase is that Christ is immanent or present with his church as its source for our daily spiritual lives. In the previous section we said he is transcendent over the church. Here we see that he is immanent or present within his church as our source of life.

Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers…(Joh 15:5-6 ESV) Without the vine there are no branches. Without remaining attached to the vine, from which life flows, the branch withers and dies.

Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.  (Joh 6:48-51 ESV) “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (Joh 8:12 ESV)

“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live. (Joh 11:25-26 ESV)

All these tell us that Jesus is our source of spiritual life. Apart from him we can do nothing. Apart from him we will wither and die spiritually. Jesus fills his body, the church, you and me, with his life-giving immanent presence. He is our daily source of life.

We grow in Christ by continuing to depend on Christ’s presence as our source of life.

However, it’s much easier to fill ourselves with other things instead of Christ, things of the world or the flesh or the devil. They are a ready and willing source seeking to fill us up with themselves so there is no room in us for Christ. For all that is in the world–the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life–is not from the Father but is from the world. (1Jo 2:16 ESV)

Pornography, for example, whether in print or on the internet, is a false substitute for true intimacy. A person may seek false comfort in it when feeling stressed or depressed or frustrated or tired instead of seeking true comfort in Christ who says, “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.” Peter tells us to “cast… all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (1Pe 5:7 ESV) Or instead of seeking help from other Christians as Paul encourages us when he writes, Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. (2Co 1:3-4 ESV)

Rather than seeking comfort from the false substitute of intimacy in pornography, we should continue to depend on Christ’s presence as our source of life and comfort. What is it you fall back on when you are feeling stressed or depressed or frustrated or tired or empty? Do you fill yourself up with false substitutes, or do you fill yourself up with Christ, the fullness of him who fills all in all? He is present with us to meet even our intimate needs.

We grow in Christ by exercising our faith, based on what we know and what we have learned.

We grow in Christ by continuing to rest in Christ’s control over the universe.

We grow in Christ by continuing to submit to Christ’s headship over the church. And

We grow in Christ by continuing to depend on Christ’s presence as our source of life.

When Jesus ascended, leaving his disciples behind, he gave them a command that would stretch their faith to the limit, but it was surrounded by two promises, the assurance of his total control over the universe and the comfort of his immanent presence.

Listen to what he said, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth.  Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:16-20 (NLT)

Let us join with the disciples as we continue to step out in faith in our daily lives so that we might each fulfill the purpose to which he has called us.

2 Peter 1:5-7 (NLT) In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge,  and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness,  and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone.

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