Paul’s prayer for the church at Ephesus (and really throughout the entire epistle) is an effusion of thankfulness for God’s work amongst a people of faith. “I do not cease to give thanks for you when I remember you in my prayers,” he writes, going on to express his gratitude to God for their faith, love, wisdom, and hope rooted in the resurrection and reign of Christ.
Paul’s prayer for the church in Ephesus is that the Spirit would be at work revealing to them the deep things of God, that they might know God better and may experience the power of God’s indwelling spirit, that they might know that the same power that conquered the grave lives in them.
If you’re following the lectionary, then on this Sunday your community is intentionally looking toward Christ the King, the one who lives and reigns “far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come” (Eph. 1:21).
Let’s remember also when Paul’s audience hears this, they’re thinking of Caesar, the ruler of the entire known world, and many are thinking of the actual masters who they serve, or they’re thinking of the cultish powers represented within the temples all around the city of Ephesus. To say Christ was King and Lord in the first century meant affirming that Christ was more powerful than even those very present realities. To say Christ was King and Lord also meant denying Caesar was King and Lord (leading to prison or even death). Could they really believe God was more powerful than all of this? Could they believe that Christ was King over all this? Can we?
We also know all about this “rule and authority, power and dominion” situation. Maybe the image in your mind of rule/authority/power/dominion is relational—someone held power over you and your voice was unheard, your will was squashed, your options were eliminated. Maybe the image in your mind of rule/authority/power/dominion is systemic—forces outside your control seem to control you and dominate your life and direction. Maybe the image in your mind of rule/authority/power/dominion is internal—something inside you has taken over, preventing the best version of yourself from thriving. Can we believe that God is more powerful than all of this? Can we believe that Christ is King over all this? In the light of God’s Spirit at work in us, we can see those powers for the imposters they are.
This passage assures us that God’s power puts all this other rule and authority, power and dominion business to shame. In raising Christ from the dead, God put on the biggest display of power the world had ever seen. Paul says King Jesus rules the entire cosmos, all-in-all. This isn’t a day dream about the future, but a very present reality. King Jesus is alive and reigns right now, and we, the CHURCH, are his body and agents.
When Paul talks about the eyes of our hearts being enlightened to know this power, he is talking about a hope that is bound together with the life of the risen Christ and made manifest within the Body of Christ. God put this power to work in Christ when God raised Christ from the dead, Paul writes in verse 20. Paul makes clear that Christ, in turn, is putting his power to work in us, and not just for someday, but also here and now.
It can be difficult to preach this kind of message on Christ the King Sunday when we often feel so powerless in the face of a broken world– but also this passage and this Sunday offer a way to acknowledge Christ on the throne and the in-breaking Kingdom of God here and now.
As we we hear Paul’s prayer that these disciples would receive knowledge and power, we confess that sometimes we feel left alone, without knowledge of God, without hope, without inheritance, without power in the world. Often we either feel crushed by the world’s power systems or enticed by the world’s power systems. We are quite unaware of the power of God that Paul says is available to us here and now. In all kinds of ways we try to make up for this lack that we feel—by doing more, reading more, getting more, asserting more… Knowledge is power, we’re told. Busyness, influence, importance is power, we’re told. So we chase after those things. And yet, on this Sunday, we intentionally turn away from those empty power struggles and look toward Christ our King,
As we hear the Paul’s prayer echo back to us the good news of King Jesus, I pray we hear that God can indeed be known—and always known more deeply. This is a process that seems to progress as we journey through the Christian life in community. This knowledge of God also comes only as gift of grace from the Spirit who brings wisdom and revelation. Paul says later, faith is not of our own selves, but the very gift of God (Eph. 2:8).
As we know Christ better, we know more deeply our hope, calling, inheritance, and power. We gain this knowledge not by doing, but by being—being with Christ, becoming convinced in our souls of who we are and whose we are, becoming a people rooted in resurrection power. Because the same power that conquered the grave lives in us, we see power differently. We no longer have to obsess over the world’s power structures. As we know Christ better, we learn that the power of God is available to us here and now. We learn to “be strong in the Lord and the Lord’s mighty power” (Eph. 6:10). Worldly powers have no claim over our souls—because the same power that conquered the grave lives in us.
If you are preaching from Ephesians this week, find ways to affirm the ways your people are living into this power, the ways in which God is already at work in the midst of your congregation. If you haven’t told them lately, remind your congregation that you love them, that you pray for them, that you thank God for their faith, their love, their hope— and name these things in the ways that only you, their pastor, can. Help them catch a glimpse of Christ the King enthroned among them in the way they love one another, care for the sick, feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, include the outsider… In the spirit of Paul, give thanks for their faith in Christ the King and their love for God’s people. God’s power and presence are made known in the faithful community, present in the way we love others. Help your people recognize in themselves the marks of a faithful community, and give thanks for the ways God is enlightening their hearts and empowering to live as resurrection people.
Associate Pastor, Crossroads Community Church Palo-Alto.