|Series Theme: Meditations in Ephesians|
Meditation No. 25
Meditation Title: A Prisoner Encourages
Eph 3:13-17 I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory. For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.
To take in the context and meaning of these verses, we need to remind ourselves of the beginning of the chapter where Paul had begun, “For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles…..” (3:1) and had then sidestepped to talk about his ministry. From verse 2 to verse 12 he had spoken about the revelation that produced the ministry that he had, delivering the Gospel which had been a mystery until the coming of Christ. There is a sense in those verses of Paul marvelling at the privilege that had been his and so when we come in verse 13 to the end of that ‘sidestepping' and says, “I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you”, it's like he is saying, “So you see you don't have to feel sorry for me when you hear of any sufferings that I am going through because that is the very small price I pay for the wonderful privilege that is mine.”
Now the talk of sufferings may be a reference to him being in literal prison or it may just be the general opposition that he so often received. Elsewhere he listed some of the things he suffered: “I have…. been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have laboured and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.” (2 Cor 11:23 -28).
Now having mentioned his own sufferings, he says they “are your glory.” Now that is strange. They are not God's glory or his glory but their glory. What does that mean? Perhaps another way he might have said it was, “they are for your blessing and your honour.” i.e. they bring honour to you. How? In the same way that anyone with high reputation adds to the glory of the body. Paul's reputation would bring glory to the whole body. He's aware of that and is blessed for them. He is a prisoner of Christ and suffers for him, but he counts that as nothing for the privilege that is his. (Can we think like that?)
As he moves on, it is as if he steps back to where he had started out in verse 1 where, as we've just seen, he began, “For this reason…” and now he picks that up again and goes to speak about his prayer for them: “For this reason I kneel before the Father.” When we looked at verse 1 we suggested that he was referring to the outworking of the Gospel of grace and the bringing about of a community of God's people that he has just been speaking about previously. Of course in verses 2 to 12 he had then spoken about his role in bringing the Gospel to them and it is because of this relationship that he has with them that he now prays for them, but his prayer comes out of a sense of awe and thankfulness, for that is what kneeling probably refers to here, for men stood to pray in his day, but bowed to worship. It is the wonder of what God has done that makes Paul bow down before the Lord and which then motivates him to pray.
Before we note what he prays, let's note how he describes the Lord. See what he said: “I kneel before the Father from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name.” He refers to God's whole family in heaven and on earth – all the believers past and present. God has revealed Himself as our Father and therefore when we refer to the church as God's family or His household, it is because He has fathered us and brought us into being. We can call ourselves ‘children of God' because God is indeed our Father.
It is then that he moves into the subject of his prayer but we will leave verse 16 onwards until the next meditation. Let's conclude by just observing the heart of this incredible man. He sees himself as a prisoner of Jesus (he may have been a literal prisoner then, for the book of Acts tells us he was several times) but his concern is not for himself. It is for his readers. If he had been like many modern comfort-concerned Christians, he would have been full of concern for himself, but instead he is just concerned to encourage and bless these believers with explanations of what has happened to them and the wonder of the Gospel. Self concern is not for Paul; just concern for others to be built up and strengthened. May we be more like that!