God's Plan Series
  • We live in a culture that constantly tells us that our identity is found in what we have or have not done; what job we have or what career we are hoping for; how we have succeeded or how we have failed. This however is not God's plan for our lives. The Gospel says that the identity we all need is one that cannot be taken away by our failure or circumstances. The identity that we need is found only in Christ.
2. Hopeful Life: God's Plan Understood (Ephesians 1:15-23)
  • God wants us to understand His plan and purpose.
Sermon Preparation Guide
  • Importance – What are the central ideas of the text?
  • God gives us an understanding of Himself and His will. (Ephesians 1:17)
  • God wants us to understand that our calling is wrapped up in Him. (Ephesians 1:18)
  • God's power is effected toward His people and is best exemplified in Jesus’ resurrection and exaltation. (Ephesians 1:19 & 20)
  • Implications – What questions should the listener be asking?
  • How do we and can we know God and His plan? (Ephesians 1:17 & 18)
  • What does it mean to be “in Christ” as the Church?
  • What does it mean for the Church that Jesus is head over everything to the Church?
Talk it Over Discussion Guide
  • Interpretation – What is the text telling/showing us?
  • Why does Paul pray for the believers to whom he is writing?
  • What is God’s prayer for the Church and believers in the Church?
  • What does it mean to have a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him? (Ephesians 1:17)
  • What is the hope of our calling? What are the riches of his glorious inheritance?
  • Describe God’s power. What is the best example of God’s power at work?
  • What is the exaltation of Jesus? What is the effect and impact of Jesus’ exaltation?
  • What does it mean to say that Jesus is above every name that is named?
  • What does it mean that all things are in subjection to Jesus and “under his feet?”
  • What is the implication of Jesus being head of the Church and Him being given as head to the Church?
  • Implementation – What should the listener’s response be?
  • How can you have a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him?
  • Why is it important that the eyes of your heart be enlightened?
  • What is the hope to which He has called you?
  • What is of his glorious inheritance in the saints?
  • How do you understand and view God’s power? How would you describe God’s power?
  • What is the extent of Jesus’ power and His dominion?
  • What is the effect of God’s gift to the Church of Jesus’ headship and dominion?
Sermon Teaching Notes (as prepared by Pastor Dick Murphy)
  • Investigation – What’s generally going on in this area of Scripture?
In the last Notes, we saw that God has a “grand plan” to make a people for Himself in Christ from all people of any and every background and culture, all for His glory (Ephesians 1:10, 14). That people is the Church. God has revealed this plan – let us in on His secret – out of His grace and as part of His will (Ephesians 1:9-11). And His plan covers eternity; it began before time (Ephesians 1:4), and will continue into its fulfillment in the future (Ephesians 1:10, 14). Quite the big picture!

In verses 15-23, we see that God wants us to understand His plan, and in so doing, understand and know Him. In setting this forth, Paul, as he often does in his letters, prays for the believers to whom he is writing. In this prayer we see Paul as pastor (literally, as shepherd) as he is thankful for his flock, cares for his flock, desires to feed his flock, loves his flock and intercedes for his flock. It seems that he knows at least some of his audience personally (he has “heard of” their faith), “remembering“ them in his prayers, which suggests that he prays for them by name, and keeps on doing so (“I do not cease ...” Ephesians 1:16). The essence of his prayer is the point we are making, namely that God wants us to understand His plan and to know Him. Paul asks that the Father give them (and us) a “spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him” and have “the eyes of [their] hearts enlightened.” (Ephesians 1:17) In other words, God wants us to have insight into Him in the core of our being, and to see what He has uncovered to us (His plan). God doesn't want us to be in the dark, and He therefore has revealed His plan as we have described it so that we can serve Him effectively in doing our part to carry out His purposes. Does God let us in on everything, on every detail? Of course not; but He has opened the door more than sufficiently that we can know His plan and Him.

And what of God does Paul pray that we come to know? Three things: one, “the hope to which he has called” us; two, “what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints;” and three, “what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe.” (Ephesians 1:18 & 19) What are these three things? The “hope” referred to is not a cross your fingers with a wish that you might have or get something. Rather, it is the sure reality of who God is (cf. Romans 15:13), the relationship we have with Him (Romans 15:4, 13; II Corinthians 1:10), and the expectation of what we will receive from Him in the future (cf. Romans 8:20; Galatians 5:5). We have been “called” into this relationship with the King (II Timothy 1:9) and with His future (Titus 2:13) to be His people and do His work (Ephesians 2:10; I Thessalonians 2:12). Thus, God wants us to understand, and be assured, that we have been placed by God “in Christ” (our hope) to do His work (our calling). God also wants us to understand that this inheritance we have in Christ (Ephesians 1:11, 14, 18) comes out of His abundance and in fact is His abundance; we need to appropriate the reality of the riches of our possession (i.e., our relationship with and position in Him) and the riches of simply Him and who He is, and then live accordingly. And finally, God wants us to understand, and live in the understanding of, His power. The readers of Paul's letter thought they knew power; but they knew it only in earthly terms such as the power of the Roman emperor, and the (supposed) power of magic and the occult. In describing God's power, and contrasting it to those earthly notions of power, Paul uses a series of words (what one commentator calls the “vocabulary of divine power”) in verse 19 to indicated that God's power is incomparable, miraculous, beyond measurement, limitless, effective and inexorable; it is something that God has, that He uses, that He controls, and that He exerts; it is unimaginable; it is effective; it is operational; it is real; and it is inexhaustible. And that power has been and is extended “toward us who believe” (Ephesians 1:19) which means that God exercised His power to make us into His people and continues to exercise His power to keep us as His people.

As if to put a topper on the concept of how great God's power is, Paul gives the paramount example of the working of God's power, namely the resurrection of Jesus from the dead and His exaltation to the place of authority over everything (Ephesians 1:20). In Jesus' resurrection, Satan, death and evil were defeated once for all; the greatest victory of all creation was achieved as part of God's purpose to show who He is and in the process bring a people to Him in Christ. And how high was Jesus exalted? His dominion and rule is above – no, 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.” (Ephesians 1:21) Jesus Christ is, in a word, superior (cf. Philippians 2:9 & 10; Hebrews 1:4; 3:3; 5:4, 10) to anything and everything, no matter where it is, no matter what it is, no matter who it is, no matter when it is. There is no designation of rank or honor, there is no title, that is above Jesus in the present time and age, and in that time which is to come, and in all eternity. The other side of Jesus' dominion, that is, the opposite of exaltation, is subjection; Jesus is over everything (Ephesians 1:22), having been put in that position by God in the exertion of his power. Thus, Jesus is “head over all things.” (Ephesians 1:22. See also Colossians 1:15-18. Note that as the second Person of the Godhead, everything was already under Jesus' dominion. However, He laid aside the privilege of that position in becoming a human being, and took it up again upon His resurrection. In that latter sense, then, God has placed all things under Jesus' feet. See John 10:18)

But beyond being head of all things, including the Church, Ephesians 1:22 tells us that God “gave him as head over all things to the church.” In other words, Jesus’ headship over everything is a gift to the Church for the Church, for its benefit, its protection, and its empowering. Since Jesus is head over everything, then truly the gates of hell not only shall not but cannot overpower the Church (Matthew16:18 & 19). The power of the Church, and thus its ability to carry out its calling as witness to the world of the gospel and the Kingdom of God, is therefore not from its programs or its people, but is from the person of Jesus as its head and the head over all. What a source of encouragement as the Church lives out its calling; it does so in the power of the risen Jesus! We need to know that, but more so, to understand that as it is the source of the effectiveness of the Church and the basis of its ministry and service. Moreover, the Church is in fact the body of Jesus Christ in the world; it is an organic, functioning thing in vital union with Him whereby He directs us, controls us and uses us for His purposes. The individual members of the Church are organically tied together as His body for effecting His purposes such that the actions of the individual members taken together are collectively the means of God’s carrying out His will on earth. In that way, the Church is “the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:23) which means that at the same time the Church is His fullness and is being filled by Christ with His life, His attributes and power, for the outworking of His purposes under His direction and control as Head. One commentator puts it this way: “Christ is at once immanent within the church and transcendent over it, as he is both within and above the cosmos,” and as His body, the Church “manifests him to the world, but it can only do so as he fills it with himself and with all the grace-gifts he bestows.” (Ephesians, by Skevington Wood, in The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Volume 11 at p. 32).

That God has revealed His plan to us is remarkable; but even more remarkable is that we can understand His plan. While this understanding is not complete in the sense that we can understand fully, it is sufficient for us to be enabled to carry out His purposes, and to grow deeper in knowing Him. Our prayer should thus be that we know Him better and more fully to the end that we can serve Him more faithfully. Our hope should thus be that the risen Lord Jesus is over all for the benefit of His Church. And our encouragement should thus be that who we are in Him and what we have in Him is for all eternity and for His praise. As we said in the prior Notes, what a way to live!