Ephesians 1:15-23 –  A Prayer for the Ephesians to have Discernment and to Understand the Glories of Belonging to a Church


Ephesians 1:15-23


After praising and highlighting the Trinitarian nature of God, the author of Ephesians prays for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on church members to experience a revelation of understanding the glories of membership in the church as well as embodying godliness in daily living. 


As in other letters, Ephesians begins with prayer by the Apostle Paul (many of the Christian churches in the Global South believe that Ephesians was indeed written by the Apostle Paul and as such, I will take the liberty to use him as the embedded writer in this analysis). Paul starts his prayerful message with a heart filled with thanksgiving for the members’ testament of faith and manifestations of God’s work among believers. Like a father to a dear daughter or son, Paul gives personal praise of God’s glory on behalf of the body of Christ. While thanksgiving seems to be the focus of the prayer, it also highlights the theme of revelation, praying that the Christians in Ephesus may receive the wisdom and insight that can only come to them through the power of the Holy Spirit. The lesson for Christians in the 21st century is that they should also pray with thanksgiving when they hear that God is at work in other parts of the world. Christianity as a global spiritual movement should bring joy to all Christians when it flourishes in other parts of the world. 

Paul commits to praying for a community of believers with the understanding that prayer is essential in reviving and revitalizing the church. Paul had learned to pray; his encouragement to the Ephesians to do the same came out of his conviction that when believers pray, God shows forth in miracles and responds in God’s own time (1:16-17). The text echoes a Pauline theme also found in 1 Corinthians 2:9-10 emphasizing that experiences of God’s blessings and knowledge of salvation are not the work of humanity but are sorely based on God’s revelation through the power of the Holy Spirit, the Third person of the Trinity. In the next verses, Paul prays that the Ephesians understand the truth of the Gospel as the fountain of Wisdom through which believers gain insight into the hidden truths about God. Ephesians seems to draw much from the teachings of the Torah, especially Proverbs and the entire wisdom literature. Several wisdom teachings are echoed in this passage, including synonyms such as being wise, having the ability to know and to perceive, and having knowledge. These biblical truths are embedded or enshrined in the definitions of what wisdom entails, does, and functions in and through believers who have faith, trust, and obedience to God (Jeremiah 18:18; Proverbs 1:20-21; 22:17; 24:23). 

In a familiar Pauline teaching, the passage reiterates the depth and width of the Holy Spirit in leading, guiding, and forming Christian believers. Essentially and providentially, the Holy Spirit did not simply work in the early Jesus movement, but even the present and future Christian generation is infused by the same Spirit. The Holy Spirit gave insights to the early Christian followers and continues to faithfully form global 21st-century believers. As Wisdom, the Holy Spirit gives new eyes to the church and gives them perception to understand the coming judgment of God (1:18). Readers are told that they belong to God and that they are part of the “Israel of God,” as Paul teaches in Romans 9-11 and Galatians 6:16. Addressing Gentile believers, and consequently all global Christians, Paul informs his readers that the church is constituted by human imperfections and as such, God is the one who makes all things work. The church’s mission is done under the auspices of God’s power. This teaching and exhortation are part of the prayer to the Gentile believers (1:11-19). 

In the last verses of this section, the passage summarizes all that God has done and continues to do in the church. The passage calls on believers to see the power of God in resurrecting Jesus Christ from the dead and exalting him above all forms of cosmic powers. God’s power made Jesus Christ the head of the created world; the same risen Christ fills the church with his presence, miracles, and power. Thus, the body of Christ is a foreshadowing of what the world will be in the Parousia or second coming of Jesus, and when God restores the world, as well as ushers in God’s justice (1:22-23; Revelation 21:1-8). Living out its heavenly meaning, the earthly church is defined by its ministry of reconciliation, love, worship, mission, evangelism, and proclamation of the Gospel. The passage ends by affirming that the love of God already present in the body of Christ will be manifested in God’s coming to establish a New World and this God will dwell among believers. This is the wisdom and insight that Paul prays for, that believers will experience the risen Christ and miracles in their communities of faith (1:8-9; 2:20-22; 3:3-5).