For Enlightenment

March 10, 2024

Book: Ephesians

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It’s very common today for people to be confused about their purpose in life, and to feel powerless to achieve that purpose, even if they knew what it was. Maybe, at times, you’ve wondered what your purpose is. With so many things that compete for your attention in life, perhaps you’ve felt like a blind person just feeling your way through life, and not really knowing exactly where you were going. If you’re like most people, you’ve longed for a greater sense of clarity about your life.

Or maybe you know what your purpose is, but you’ve often felt like you lacked the strength to fulfill it. Like, you know you want to do good in the world, and help others, and show them how much they’re loved, but you constantly feel like you fall short of doing these things. You feel powerless.

In response to many of these kinds of feelings, the goal of several religions is to achieve enlightenment.

In Buddhism, they say the goal of life is to achieve Nirvana in which you feel at peace with everything. In Hinduism, they say the goal is to realize your true nature and the ultimate reality of all things as the liberation from the cycle of birth and death. In Taoism, the goal is to live in accordance with the natural order of things and realize the interconnectedness of all phenomena. All of these goals can be described as striving to achieve enlightenment.

So it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that the Bible addresses the concept of enlightenment as well. But in Christianity, enlightenment isn’t something we must strive for, but something that God gives us as a gift. And it’s not something that we seek in order to finally be at peace with the world, because Jesus has already given us His peace through His sacrifice for us on the cross, but rather enlightenment is something God gives us so that we might be empowered to live powerfully in the world as we see how Jesus has victory over sin and darkness, and therefore we have victory in Him.

So, today, we’re going to be looking at how God enlightens us through the gospel of Jesus, and how this enlightenment ought to completely transform us so that we would live according to the light of God’s glory shown to us.

Ephesians 1:18-19.

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened so that you may know what is the hope of his calling, what is the wealth of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the mighty working of his strength. (Ephesians 1:18-19)

Father, open the eyes of our hearts so that we may see You. Help us to see how good You are, and know how good You’ve been to us, so that we might praise You for working in us and through us according to Your great power. Speak to us this morning and fill us with hope. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

I read a news article online about an incident that happened in Mary Esther, Florida. Here’s what the article said:

A 28-year-old woman was taken to the hospital for evaluation after driving into a Mary Esther house Thursday morning…The Fort Walton Beach woman was traveling eastbound on Marcia Drive when she failed to stop at a stop sign, went through an intersection and into the yard of a home on Miramar Drive. She tried to back out but got stuck in the sand…She was cited for reckless driving with property damage. No one in the house was injured.

The woman told [the sheriff’s office] deputies she was praying at the time and had her eyes closed.

Now, it’s customary to close your eyes while you pray, because it’s good to keep yourself from distractions in order to focus completely on talking with God. But it’s totally okay to pray with your eyes open, and sometimes even absolutely necessary to pray with your eyes open.

In fact, as we’ll see today, sometimes prayer itself opens our eyes to what God has done and is doing in our lives today.

Two weeks ago, we started looking at a prayer that Paul prayed over the church in Ephesus. As we saw, Paul gave thanks for their faith and love, prayed that they would receive wisdom and revelation from God, and in our Scripture passage this morning, Paul continues this prayer that he’s praying over the church in Ephesus. Specifically, Paul prays that the eyes of their hearts may be enlightened.

The word translated “enlighten” in this passage comes from the Greek word ??????, meaning “to light up.” It’s the word from which we get our English word “photo,” because a photograph simply records the light that was present at the moment the picture was taken. In the context of our passage today, ?????? refers to how our hearts begin to truly see because God provides the light to see. In John 8:12, we read:

Jesus spoke to them again: “I am the light of the world. Anyone who follows me will never walk in the darkness but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

John also wrote this in regards to Jesus being the light:

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. (John 1:9)

So even though there are many religions today that claim to be the source of enlightenment, there can only, in reality, be one source of enlightenment, and the Bible says that that light is a person, named Jesus, who came to give His light to everyone.

So Paul was praying that the Ephesians would have more than a head knowledge of the things that God would have them to know, but to have a heart knowledge of these things so that the whole course of our lives would be illuminated, so that we would be completely changed by Jesus.

Paul prayed that they would be enlightened in three ways, so we’re going to look at each of these requests individually.

First, Paul prays in verse 18 that they may know what is the hope of God’s calling.

About 2 years ago, there was a car accident in Idaho that made the papers in which a Buick hit an SUV. The driver of the Buick was transported to a nearby hospital and was treated and released the same day. Thankfully, no one else was injured.

But sadly, during the crash, a dog was ejected from the rear of the SUV and went missing. He was a 2-year-old Border Collie Heeler mix that went by the name “Tilly.”

They searched all over the area where the accident occurred, assuming the dog would want to stay near its owner, but he simply couldn’t be found.

Two days later, Tilly was found on a nearby sheep farm, where he had apparently taken it upon himself to give himself the role of sheep herder. He was standing guard with a herd of sheep, assuring that they remained in their area, and assuring that they were safe from predators.

When Tilly was found herding sheep, I bet everyone looked at him and thought, “Yep, that makes sense. He looks like he’d be good at that.” There are some things you are just born to do! That’s what it means to have a calling.

When God calls us out of darkness, it’s more than just the offer of salvation. That’s the part we often focus on, because it seems like that’s the biggest benefit to us. But along with salvation, we have a calling. We have a new purpose for our lives. We don’t exist merely to live out all our days on this earth however we desire and then die. No, God calls us to live for Him. That’s what we were born to do!

Interestingly, the Bible describes hell as utter darkness, and the Bible also describes our lives before knowing Jesus as living in darkness. And when we receive Jesus as our Savior, we’re saved from the darkness of hell, and we’re saved from the darkness of a sinful life, because we’re called to live in the light.

And this calling isn’t a burden. Paul prays that we would know the hope of our calling. As we begin to follow Jesus, we discover that there’s far more joy in living for God than in living for ourselves. We discover that there’s a peace that surpasses all understanding. We find hope and strength to endure anything life throws at us, because we have God as our Father, Jesus as our Savior, and the Holy Spirit as our Guide everywhere we go.

Our calling is to share the love of Jesus with the whole world. Our calling is to represent Jesus, showing His love, with everyone we meet. And as we live out our calling, we have a greater sense of the hope that we have in Jesus because we begin to see not just that we’re saved, but how God is continuing to save others who were far from Him through taking a step of faith.

So I pray for you right now that the eyes of your heart would be enlightened so that you would know the hope of your calling in Christ.

Second, Paul also prayed in verse 18 that the church in Ephesus would know what is the wealth of God’s glorious inheritance in the saints. In other words, that they would know just how rich they are both in Christ, and even in each other, as the church of God.

We talked a few months back about the inheritance that we have in Christ. We not only have eternal life from Jesus, but we also have Jesus Himself. Jesus is our greatest treasure. God Himself comes to live in us by grace through faith in Him, and if we can wrap our minds around how awesome that is, we would realize how incredibly rich we are, no matter how much we have or don’t have otherwise in life.

It’s kind of like what the actor Jim Carrey has been saying about wealth in recent years. He said:

I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer. -Jim Carrey

Now, as far as I can tell, Jim Carrey is not yet a Christian, but he has discovered that nothing that we can achieve in life can satisfy us. And that lines up exactly with the Bible. Money can’t satisfy us. Success can’t satisfy us. But God can and does give us real, deep, abundant joy as we place our faith in Jesus and see that He truly is the greatest inheritance.

But it’s interesting the thing that Paul prays in this passage about our inheritance is that we would know the wealth of God’s glorious inheritance in the saints. In other words, there’s an often untapped wealth that we receive simply by coming together as a church, as the saints of God. We have a resource in each other, in loving each other, in supporting each other, in being there for each other that can’t be found anywhere else in the world!

Harvard conducted a nearly 80-year long study on what makes people happy, and they found that it’s not money, or fame, or success, or any of the many things we often think will make us happy. One of the most important factors, they found, was interpersonal relationships. When you have a family, and close friends, you’re far more likely to be content in life.

Which means, of course, that it really is in our best interest to love one another as Jesus commanded us. Love is not only the fulfillment of the law, but it’s also a means to experience fulfillment in our own personal lives. As we love God, and experience His love for us, that overflows from our lives so that we love one another.

Church is meant to be far more than coming together to sing and hear a sermon. Church is meant to be our community of faith, even family of faith, in which we grow up together in our relationship with Christ, and in which we serve together, and minister to one another, and minister to our community. In short, our church ought to be a real life example of the wealth of God’s glorious inheritance on the earth. So just as Paul prayed for the church in Ephesus, I pray that the eyes of our hearts would be opened to see just how much God has blessed us in one another.

Third, Paul prayed in verse 19 that the believers in Ephesus would know what is the immeasurable greatness of God’s power toward us who believe, according to the mighty working of God’s strength.

This is really an amazing thing. As Christians, we get a front row seat to witness the power of God, and we even get to be recipients of His powerful acts. Albert Barnes wrote in his Notes on the Bible:

The “power” referred to here as exercised toward believers does not refer to one thing merely. It is the whole series of the acts of power toward Christians which results from the work of the Redeemer. There was power exerted in their conversion. There would be power exerted in keeping them. There would be power in raising them up from the dead, and exalting them with Christ to heaven. -Albert Barnes

And, I would add, that it also refers to the power that God works in us and through us as we serve Him, because even as we do the good things that God has called us to do, we do it by the strength which God Himself supplies. So even as we get to work, as we rejoice, we’re to be in awe of the immeasurable greatness of God’s power being shown to us, resting in His grace.

I read an illustration about a little bird that was trapped in a net, maybe you’ve seen something like this before too. The bird was fluttering about trying to escape, but the net was wrapped around its body, legs, and wings such that the more it struggled, the more it just got more tangled in the net. A couple people noticed the bird, and went over to help it, but when the helpless bird saw them coming, it chirped furiously in panic, thinking that it was in danger.

Even still, they picked up the tiny bird, held it as gently as they could and yet still firmly enough to keep it from entangling itself even more. At this point the bird was obviously tired from trying to escape, for perhaps hours. So they carefully and gently cut the net from around its legs and wings and gently set it on the picnic table, at which point it immediately flew away in freedom.

When God sees us trapped, even wandering about blindly in the darkness of our sin, we often struggle to escape through our own plans, yet we consistently fail until we yield to God’s gentle and gracious power to release us. Only then do we find true freedom. When we finally rest in God’s grace, we’re set free to rejoice in His grace and power as we serve Him in freedom.

You see, God opens the eyes of the blind, enlightening us to His calling, inheritance, and power toward us who believe.

And God begins to do that in you when you begin to believe. Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you’ll be saved.