God's New Family: An Exposition of Ephesians: Praying to Our Father

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on January 8, 2006

Ephesians 3:14-16a

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The Lord’s Day

January 8, 2006

Communion Sunday


“Praying to
Our Father”

Dr. J. Ligon
Duncan III

Amen. If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with
me to Ephesians 3 as we continue to make our way through this great letter of
the Apostle Paul. We’re going to be looking at verses 14-16 today, but I’d ask
you to look at verse 1 first, because we’ve said all along that the Apostle Paul
began this chapter getting ready to pray for the Ephesians. He had started off
with the words, “For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the
sake of you Gentiles…” and then suddenly this long parenthesis comes from
verse 2 through verse 13, in which he seeks to encourage these Ephesian

They were discouraged by the persecution that
Paul was enduring.
They were confused by what was going on. Paul was God’s
apostle: he was the chosen messenger of the Lord to bring the truth of salvation
in Jesus Christ to the Gentiles and it was deeply troubling to them that he
would be imprisoned, and that he would be the object of Roman persecution, and
that he was being restrained from going here and there throughout the land to
preach the glad tiding of salvation in Jesus Christ; and they were concerned for
him deeply. And so before Paul even gets to the point of praying this beautiful
prayer in verses 16-19 for them, he pauses to give them encouragement so that
they might not be disconsolate, that they might not be discouraged by what he
was enduring.

He reminds them of God’s plan for them and God’s
purposes for His people, and for all those reasons he encourages them not to be
discouraged. But then in verse 14, he goes right back to where he had intended
to go in verse 1. Notice again the repetition: “For this reason, I bow my
knees….” Now we’ve finally gotten to the prayer! He had started to pray in
verse 1. There was something important that he needed to say. Now he’s going
back to that prayer that he had almost started in verse 1.

We’re going to study that prayer together closely
over the next few weeks, but today I want to emphasize we’re not even going to
get into the content of the prayer proper. We’re going to look at the
introduction, as it were, to the prayer; we’re going to look at what Paul prays
in light of; we’re going to look at these things which set the framework for the
specific requests of this prayer in proper focus. (You’ll see why that’s so
important in a few moments.) In fact, when we read, we’re not even going to read
all the way through verse 16. We’re going to stop right in the middle of the
sentence, right in the middle of the verse, because what I want you to see today
is why Paul prays this prayer, and I want you to see to whom Paul prays this
prayer, and I want you to see how Paul prays the prayer — in what manner he
prays the prayer — and I want you to see in light of what great reality Paul
prays this prayer, because understanding the why and the who and the how, and
then the ‘in light of what,’ will help you appreciate the glory of the substance
of this prayer, and give you confidence in God’s answer to the substance of this
prayer – not simply for the Ephesian Christians, but for you as you are
trusting in Jesus Christ. And so it’s very important that we understand the
framework in which these requests are made. That’s what we’re going to look at
today.Let’s look to God in prayer and ask for His help and blessing as
we do so.

Lord God, this is Your word, and we need Your
help to understand Your word, and we need Your Spirit to apply Your word to our
hearts and enable us to believe and live it. So, O God, by Your Spirit, open our
eyes to behold wonderful things from Your word. We ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Hear the word of God.

“For this reason, I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in
heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the
riches of His glory….”

Amen. And thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired,
and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon your hearts.

I really did mean to end right there. You see, at
the end of that phrase in verse 16 we begin the specific petitions. Paul begins
to rattle off the things that are in the depths of his heart that are part of
his heart’s desire, not simply for these Ephesian Christians huddled in this
house-church on one Lord’s Day morning in Ephesus, but for all Christians around
the world and for you and for me here gathered today. And I want us to see
the prologue, the introduction, to these petitions so that we can appreciate the
glory of these petitions themselves.

I. Why does Paul pray?

And I want to
start in verse 14 with “The Why” of Paul’s prayer: Why is it that Paul prays?
He’s said twice now in verse 1 and in verse 14, “For this reason…I pray; For
this reason…I pray.” What reason? What reason impels Paul to pray?
What reason compels Paul to pray? Well, the answer is found in
Ephesians 1 and 2.

First of all, he is absolutely gob-smacked about
God’s eternal plan of redemption,
whereby, through the blood of Jesus
Christ, He has redeemed to Himself people from every tribe and tongue and
nation; and all for the glory of Christ, in whom all things are summed up under
His headship. And that’s Ephesians 1.

And he is absolutely bowled over by the reality
that God has for the church.
As a faithful, Bible-believing Jew, Paul had
certainly looked forward to the day when the Messiah would sit on the throne of
His people, when the people of Israel would be ruled justly by David’s Son –
David’s greater Son; and Paul no doubt would have looked forward to the day the
prophets described when the nations would stream to Jerusalem.

But now that God’s revelation has come clearly in
Jesus Christ and the Day of Pentecost has come, Paul realizes that God has done
something that he never imagined: God has not brought the nations, as it were,
to Jerusalem; God has brought the nations to Christ. And He’s not brought the
Gentiles to Jerusalem to obey the ceremonial code; He’s brought the Gentiles to
Christ by faith on the same basis He has brought believing Jews in the Messiah,
so that there are no longer two types of believers in this world with a middle
wall of partition driven between them, but there is one kind of believer in this
world: a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, whether Jew or Greek or slave or
free, male or female, all are one in Jesus Christ, and the Apostle Paul is
amazed that God has not brought these believers to a rebuilt Solomonic temple,
but He is making them to be the temple of God. Just as we said in the
Call to Worship today, He’s making them to be the holy city, He’s making
them to be the holy mountain, He’s making them His family, them His temple, them
His building.

The Apostle Paul is boggled by this! This is one of
the things he had been most offended by in Christianity…not only the
declaration of this crucified hoodlum as the Messiah of Israel, but this
proclamation of the good news to Gentiles. And here the Apostle Paul is saying
that that’s exactly what God has done. He’s brought together Jew and Gentile in
one body, and “For this reason,” he says, ‘my friends, I am compelled to pray
these petitions for you. I’m longing to pray these petitions for you.’

You know, what we pray reveals what really
matters to us.
When your husband or wife is diagnosed with cancer, or a
child is hanging by a string to life, or a friend is in dire need, or your
family is falling apart, or whatever dire situation has come into your
experience, you are urgent and earnest in prayer because what you’re praying
about really matters to you.

Behold what matters to the Apostle Paul. When we
look at these petitions you’ll get a glimpse of his heart, of what really
matters to him, but even here in the introduction you can tell what really
matters to the Apostle Paul is the saving gospel of Jesus Christ, wherein the
person and work of Christ is set forth as the One whom God the Father has sent
into the world, who has lived and preached, and died and been buried, and raised
again from the dead for our salvation so that He might unite all Jew and
Gentiles into His church, His people, His family, by faith, and that we together
might magnify the name of the Lord and glorify Him and enjoy Him forever. And
the Apostle Paul begins at the very outset of this prayer saying ‘that impels me
to pray, that motivates me to pray. For this reason I pray.’

But I want you to also see that the Apostle Paul
prays out of this sense of the overflowing bounty of God’s grace and love to
He realizes that he and the Ephesians are the recipients of
unfathomable blessings; and, my friends, that is absolutely crucial for us when
we pray…when we pray our petitions, to realize that we are not coming to God
as beggars, as paupers for whom God has never done anything and never given
anything, and to whom God has not given a rich bounty. No, we come to God
asking for help and aid and blessing in our need, having already received an
unfathomable bounty from God. It’s so important for us to remember. Yes, we
come to God in a genuine sense of need and pray. That is true, that is reality,
and it’s right! We ought to pray out of a sense of our need, but in our need we
should not forget that He has already given us a rich bounty, and so we come
asking for blessing, having received a blessing. We do not come asking for
blessing out of abject poverty, never having received anything from God.

The Apostle Paul says ‘My dear friends in Ephesus,
the things I’m getting ready to pray for you, I pray because of what God has
already done for you and me and which I’ve described in excruciating detail in
chapters 1 and 2, because it’s so important for us when we come to God asking
for His help and blessing to remember, to realize, what He has already done for
us in Jesus Christ.’

Paul elsewhere puts it like this, doesn’t he: “He
who spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not
with Him freely give us all things?” If He has given us His Son, anything,
everything, else we ask of Him is superfluous to that bounty. All other things
that He could give us could not equal what He has already given us in His Son,
and that sense of the enrichment that God has already given us is absolutely
vital to a proper balance in our petitions in coming to God. We’re not coming to
a stingy heavenly Father who’s parceling out grace in tiny little increments:
‘Oh, I’ll give you just a little bit…I’ll give you just a little bit….’
We’re coming to a heavenly Father who has given us more already than we could
ever ask or think!

Some of you have been following that heartbreaking
story coming out of West Virginia in these last seven or ten days, and you’ve
see the anguish of those people — an hour of false hope in which they thought
all thirteen are alive — and you’ve seen the brokenheartedness of people: one of
the thirteen has been saved, and he hangs by a thread. And maybe you saw the
meeting in the church as the word went out, and maybe you heard the cry of one
of the miners, one of the colleagues, when someone was exhorting them in the
midst of their loss, their pain, their bereavement, to trust in God; and he
shouted out with anger, “What in hell has God ever done for us?”

My friends, the Christian has an answer to his
question. We’ve sung that answer, we’re going to say that answer in The
Apostle’s Creed
. What in hell has God ever done for us? He’s sent His Son!
His only Son, Jesus, whom He loved before the foundation of the world, to taste
the pains of hell on our behalf! That’s what He’s done in hell for us! The
Christian says when he or she comes to his heavenly Father with whatever dire
event ‘O God, You have already given Your Son, who has tasted hell for me; and
though this prayer that I pray is urgent and it is earnest, and it is the desire
of my heart that You answer it, I realize that You have already given me bounty
that I would not have dared to ask!’ Who of us would have said ‘O God,
give Your Son for me’? And He has already done that, and He has consigned His
Son to the flames of hell on our behalf.

And so, when we come, we come with the sense of the
bounty that God has already given us in Jesus Christ, and that’s why Paul is
saying ‘For this reason I pray….He’s already given me this. He’s
already given you this. I’m praying out of a sense of the greatness of God’s
already gift to us in Jesus Christ, the gift of bringing us into His family, the
gift of adopting us as children, the gift of justifying us by grace, the gift of
eternal communion with God. He’s given us this, and so I come asking for
blessing from blessing. I’ve already received blessing from God.’

And, my friends, doesn’t that put into perspective
every prayer that we pray, no matter how deep the need? I want to say, by the
way, in passing…young people, that is why those words that came out of that
poor anguished miner’s mouth ought never to come out of our mouths. Even Job, in
the loss of his own family–you remember, his wife would say ‘Oh, Job, curse God
and die.’ ‘Will I do such a thing? NO! I will not!’ because he realized God’s
bounty. “Shall I accept good from the Lord and not ill?”

No, you see, the Christian is always aware of the
greatness of what God has already done for him or her, no matter what the
reality of the struggle that we’re in now that impels us to prayer. And so the
first thing that Paul teaches us in the ‘why’ of his prayer is that we pray
blessing for blessing, not from poverty begging for that
blessing. He’s already blessed us more than we can ask or think.

II. To Whom Paul prays.

And Paul goes on, and you see he focuses your
heart, your mind, on the One to whom he is praying; not only why he is praying,
but to whom Paul prays. You see this at the end of verse 14 and all through
verse 15: “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom
every family in heaven and on earth derives its name….” Maybe that
translation is better “from whom the whole family of believers in heaven and on
earth derives its name.” There’s a play on words, there’s a rhyming pattern in
sounds in that song that makes it hard for the translator to render it fully,
but the idea is this: when Paul comes to pray, he comes to pray to his heavenly

Jesus had told His disciples ‘When you pray, you
pray ‘Our Father.’’ And the Apostle Paul wasn’t with Jesus in His earthly
ministry when He gave that instruction, but surely he had heard it from His
other disciples; and the Apostle Paul, commissioned by the Lord Jesus Himself on
the road to Damascus, surely knew this was the truth; and here he is commending
the same thing that Jesus had said: When I pray, I pray to our Father.
Yes, He’s the sovereign God of the universe; yes, He’s the Lord of time; yes,
He’s the Lord of hosts; yes, He’s God Almighty; yes, He’s the Lord of armies:
but He is our Father.

And not only our Father, but the Father who has
given the name, His name, to every one of the whole of the family of God in
heaven and on earth.
You remember in the Old Testament, when God wanted to
signify how close He was to His people He would sometimes change their names,
and in the changing of their names He often took names that were less honorable
and replaced them with names that contained His name in them: ‘Jacob–grasper,
usurper, deceiver! You are now Israel, prince of God.’ Did you notice el
there at the end of Israel? That’s God’s name. ‘Prince of God, that’s
who you are now.’

God gives His name to His people to show His
nearness, and here the Apostle Paul is saying ‘God…if you are a believer in
the Lord Jesus Christ, Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female…if you are
a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, God has given you His name. Your name
comes from Him. He’s your heavenly Father. He’s adopted you as His
child. You’re a part of His family. You’re made joint heirs with Jesus Christ.
You remember that when somebody calls you a Christ-ian. Just another
testimony: God’s given you His name. You bear His name.’

The Apostle Paul says ‘I remember that, Ephesians,
when I come into God’s presence. I remember that I’m praying–yes, to the
Almighty God; yes, to the Lord of hosts–I’m praying to my heavenly
Father, and I only have the privilege of praying that prayer to my
heavenly Father because of God’s grace.’

Don’t ever forget that, parents, when you’re
kneeling at night to pray with your children and you’re encouraging them to pray
to their heavenly Father. That is not a privilege to be taken lightly: that is a
gift of God, that He would call Himself our Father and that He would call us His

And Paul says ‘That’s who I pray to. I pray to the
heavenly Father from whom the whole family of believers in heaven and on earth
is named.’

III. How Paul prays.

And then, look at how Paul prays. You
see it right smack-dab in the middle of verse 14: “I bow my knees….” What’s
that? It’s a lot, because what was the usual posture of a Jew praying?
Standing! When Jesus tells the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector, and
they’re in the temple praying — one praying a very self-righteous prayer, one
praying an importunate prayer of repentance — how are they praying? They were
in the temple to pray. That’s the normal way that a Jewish believer
prayed. When Moses was praying for the great armies, how did he pray? He prayed
standing with his arms upraised. That’s one reason we’ll begin the worship
service like this, praying the Invocation. It’s the normal pattern of worship.
Our Scottish Presbyterian friends still practice that. If you want to get an
entire congregation of Scottish Presbyterians to stand, you only have to say
three words: “Let us pray.” They’ll be up off their seats and on their feet!
That’s how they do it.

But in the Old Testament also, from time to time we
see people…how? Bowing their knees, and even on their face before God. Those
are times of great earnestness in prayer, great importunacy in prayer, great
wrestling in prayer. They are times which indicate the greatness of our need –
our acknowledgement of our own dependence on God. Think of Jesus in the garden
prostrate before the Lord praying, “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass
from me; nevertheless, not My will but Your will be done.” And here the Apostle
Paul is saying to the Ephesians and to you and me ‘I’m on my face before the
heavenly Father with these petitions because I realize my utter dependence on
Him. I realize this is so urgent, what I’m about to pray, and I realize the
greatness of my God. I bow before Him.’

My friends, that’s so important for us today. We
live in a time when man the creature is BIG in the church, and God the Creator
is small. And for the Apostle Paul, man the creature is small, and God the
Creator and Redeemer is BIG, and so he bows before Him even though He’s his
heavenly Father. He reverences Him, and he casts himself in utter dependence
upon Him, and he prays with earnestness for us. This is how important what Paul
is about to pray for you is to him.

IV. In light of What Paul

One last thing: In light of what does Paul
pray? What reality controls these petitions he’s about to pray for you? Well,
look at verse 16 —

“…that He would grant you according to the
riches of His glory….”

In other words, before Paul even gets a petition out of his
mouth, he wants you to understand that he is asking God to answer this prayer
out of His measureless bounty, His limitless resources, His glorious abundant
riches. In other words, Paul wants it fixed in your mind that God’s answers to
these prayers are not a question of His ability. God is able to do far above
and beyond all that we can ask or think. It is a matter of His will.

Coming to God in prayer is not ever a matter of
asking Him if He is able to do something: it is always a matter of coming to Him
and aligning our desires with the will that He is able to bring to bear on any
and every circumstance.
That’s why Jesus’ prayer, “Not My will, but Thy will
be done” is the model Christian prayer, because the great question in the answer
to prayer is not God’s ability, but what God’s good and perfect will is for us,
and there is a mighty lesson for us in that, my friends. It reminds us that
prayers which are answered by “Wait” or by “No” or by seeming silence are not a
matter of God’s inability to answer that prayer, but they are a matter for every
believer of God’s good purposes for you. And so that “No” may be ‘I have a great
plan for blessing in the answer of ‘no’ to you, My child.’ Think again, my
friends, of the Lord Jesus Christ, who never sinned and never prayed a wrong
prayer, praying, “Father, if it is possible let this cup pass.” And you know
what the heavenly answer is: “No!” And by that “no!” a multitude of men and
women and boys and girls from every tribe and tongue and people and nation will
rejoice and give praise to Jesus Christ and glory to God for eternity, because
the answer was, “No!”

So, my friends, in prayer it is never a matter of
God’s ability, nor is it a matter of our manipulating Him — if we just have
enough faith we can ‘make’ Him do something. No. His good and perfect will is
always at work in prayer, so that God answers our prayers not as we pray them,
but as we would pray them if we were wiser. And the Apostle Paul wants that to
be crystal clear to these Ephesians, because what he is about to ask God is
staggering; and so when he asks God for this for you, he wants you to know that
he means business, and he wants you to know the reality of why he’s praying this
prayer, and to whom he’s praying this prayer, and he wants you to see his
dependence on God in how he prays this prayer, and he wants you to remember the
riches out of which God is able to answer our prayers. And we’ll look at that
substance – the content, the stuff, the matter – of that prayer when we come
together next week, but now we come to His table where we feast on the ‘all’
that God has already given us in Jesus Christ. Let’s pray.

O Lord, this is Your word. Bless it for Christ’s
sake. Amen.

Take your hymnals out, and let us sing to God’s
praise in preparation for coming to the Lord’s Table, No. 378. Many of you know
that for years and years this hymn was always sung, when Reed Miller was the
pastor of this church, on communion Sunday. Let’s sing to God’s praise.

hymn: Here, O My Lord, I See Thee Face to Face]

Please be seated.

As we come to the Lord’s table, let us attend to the
words of institution of this sacrament spoken by our Lord Jesus Christ and given
by Him to the Apostle Paul:

“For this I received from the Lord, that which I also delivered to
you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and
when He had given thanks, He broke it, and said, ‘This is My body, which is
given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ In the same way He took the cup
also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this,
as often as you drink, it in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat the
bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. Therefore
whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner shall
be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But a man must examine
himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he
who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself, if he does not judge
the body rightly.”

Amen. This is God’s word.

This Table, this Supper, is a sacrament. It’s a
sign, a covenant sign – that is, a sign of a promise of God given to believers
in His word. It serves to confirm God’s word of promise and to strengthen our
faith in that word of promise. It’s appointed by God as a means of grace. We
just sang ‘here we would get a firmer grasp’ on that grace which is offered in
Jesus Christ: that’s exactly what a sacrament does. It is a firmer grasp upon
the promise that God has held forth in His word. As such, when we come to the
Lord’s Table, the ultimate focus of these signs is Christ Himself. We’re going
to sing the words of C. H. Spurgeon in a moment, and he will remind us that when
we look at the sacraments what we’re really wanting to see is Christ. We feed on
Him by faith.

So, this is the Lord’s Table. It’s a table for
those who are trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ, and so on behalf of the elders
of this church I want to invite to the Lord’s Table all of you who trust in the
Lord Jesus Christ for salvation as He is offered in the gospel and who have
joined yourselves to a church, the body of Christ.

If you’re not a believer in the Lord Jesus
Christ…you’re not a believer who has identified himself or herself with your
church, don’t come to the Table; rather, wait and think, and pray, and repent
and believe the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, and then when we come again to
this Table, come as one of our brothers or sisters.

Let’s set apart these common elements to a holy use
in prayer. Let’s pray.

O Lord, You give us these earthly things so that
we might see and touch and taste Your grace, which we hear in Your word. Lord
God, by faith grant that we would rest and trust in Jesus Christ. Strengthen our
faith, even as You confirm Your grace at this table. Meet with us. We give You
thanks for Jesus Christ. Apart from Him, we could not come to this His Table,
but in Him we feast at the Table He has spread for us through His own death.
These prayers we ask in His name. Amen.

Since the Lord’s Table is for professing believers,
it’s only appropriate that we confess our faith in Jesus Christ coming to this
Lord’s Table; and, so, I would invite you to do that by saying The Apostles’
Let’s stand as we say The Apostles’ Creed together.

Christian, what do you believe?

I believe in God the Father
Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth;

And in Jesus Christ, His only
Son, our Lord,

Who was conceived by the Holy

Born of the virgin Mary,

Suffered under Pontius Pilate;
was crucified, dead, and buried.

He descended into hell.

The third day He rose again
from the dead.

He ascended into heaven,

And sitteth on the right hand
of God the Father Almighty.

From thence He shall come to
judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Ghost;
the holy catholic church;

The communion of the saints;
the forgiveness of sins;

The resurrection of the body;

And the life everlasting.


Remain standing. It’s also wholly appropriate that we say
The Ten Commandments as we come to this Table. Saying The Ten
reminds us of the sin that we needed to be forgiven by Jesus
Christ’s death. It reminds us that Jesus Christ kept those commandments in our
place for us, and took the penalty of our breaking of those commandments on
Himself, and it reminds us that He has regenerated us and renewed us so that we
would be like Him, and say with the psalmist, “How [we] love Your Law, O God.”
So let us say together The Ten Commandments:

You shall have no other gods
before Me.

You shall not make for
yourself an idol. You shall not worship them or serve them.

You shall not take the name of
the Lord your God in vain.

Remember the sabbath day, to
keep it holy.

Honor your father and your

You shall not murder.

You shall not commit adultery.

You shall not steal.

You shall not bear false
witness against your neighbor.

You shall not covet.

Please be seated.

Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night He was betrayed
took bread, and He broke it and He gave it to His disciples, as I now,
ministering in His name, give it to you. And He said to them, “Take, eat. This
is My body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.”

[Tape ends.]

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