What we call the “book” of Ephesians is really a letter written by the Apostle Paul to the church in the ancient city of Ephesus, which is on the coast of modern Turkey. It’s a piece of personal correspondence between a pastor and a church he knows well, and we’ve come to the point in the letter where Paul tells them he’s praying for them. As we read what he has to say, we’ve been learning about prayer ourselves.
We’ve noticed the significance of the timing of this prayer, that it comes after Paul’s passionate, extended praise of God in verses 3-14, which reminds us that what we know and believe about God affects how and what we pray for. In fact, we said three things fueled Paul’s prayers: his theology, which is what he knows about God; his personal experience of and relationship with God, and; his awareness of others and their needs. Theology, experience, and awareness were the catalyst for prayer.
We’ve spent the past two weeks making some general observations about Paul’s prayer and we’ve seen that his main request is that God would give people who were already Christians, like many of us, that he would give Christians an even greater awareness of who He is and what He’s doing. And then he asks that that would happen in three specific ways. We’ll look at the first of them this morning. So read with me if you will:
Eph 1:15 Therefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, 16 do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers: 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, 18 the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling,
“That you may know what is the hope of His calling.” This is the first of Paul’s specific prayers for the Christians in Ephesus. That they would know the hope of God’s calling. And let me remind you, that when you read through the rest of the letter, you discover there’s nothing really ominous going on in Ephesus at the time. Paul wrote some of his letters to churches and people because things were going wrong. Bad things were happening. But there is no indication of anything going wrong in Ephesus.
In fact, he’s thanking God for their faith in the Lord Jesus and [their] love for all the saints. But he still prays that God would open their eyes and help them see and know “what is the hope of His calling.” That’s really important for us to understand, because it tells us that Christians always need an awareness of the hope we have in Christ, even if it’s not one of those moments when it feels like the world is caving in.
You see, we tend to think of the need for hope in the midst of crisis. We look at hope like a life jacket that someone throws us when we’re already in the water. But Paul looks at hope as something to be increased and strengthened before the disaster hits so that when the storms of life come, we’re ready, we’re resilient, and we know what to do, what to believe. He’s praying right now, when they have faith in God and they’re showing love to others, that they would know more of God, and specifically that they would know the hope of His calling.
So, let’s take a minute and ask a basic question: what is hope?
According to the Greek dictionary hope is an anticipation, usually of something pleasurable. It’s an eager expectation of the future, an excitement, an anticipation that something even better is ahead? And a sense of hope can be powerful. It pushes us to dig deeper, hang in longer, go farther, endure more. Hope is the engine of endurance and it can propel us to incredible acts of sacrifice and effort.
There’s this great scene in the latest Star Wars movie where a rag-tag bunch of rebels are facing overwhelming odds as they try to stop the advance of the Empire. The leaders of the Rebel Alliance are gathered together for a briefing when they learn about the Death Star, the most powerful weapon ever made, and one of the ambassadors asks the question: “If the Empire has this kind of power, what chance do we have?” And this sense of dread, this heavy air, fills the room until the lead character, Jyn Erso says, “We have hope. Rebellions are built on hope.”
It’s a great line. It’s compelling, it’s moving, it’s persuasive. But not for everybody. Most of the people in the room wind up voting against her and her idea. As one of my friends was told by his boss: hope is not a strategy. It seems to propel some people, and not others.
Why is that? It’s because hope can be squishy. We don’t think of it as a guarantee, we think of it as a really desirable maybe. We’re all too familiar with phrases like “her hopes were dashed” or “he lost all hope.” Hope doesn’t seem to be something dependable or concrete.
But there’s another side of hope, a side that is anchored in reasonable expectations. In the Bible, hope doesn’t mean you “hope so” like you want something to turn out, it means an “assurance for the future” waiting for a promise, not a maybe.
It’s the hope you experience between receiving a promise and having it fulfilled. It’s the hope of making reservations before an event or the trip. You can’t be 100% sure that things will work out, that’s why they sell vacation insurance, and charge more for refundable tickets, right? But there is a difference in the kind of hope you have once you book some tickets, once you’ve made a reservation. Now looking forward to it in a more serious way.
It’s the same kind of hope you have when you’ve made the All-stars team, or you’ve made a travel team for your sport. You’re full of hope. You’re looking forward to it. You haven’t experienced it yet, you can’t be 100% positive you’ll like it, or that your team will win, but still, you can’t wait for the day to come when you show up for the first practice. You go out and buy your uniform and you’re pumped, this is what you’ve been looking forward to.
That is the sense of hope Paul wants us to have, a hope with a sense of certainty, not just squishy optimism, a hope that is anchored in other facts, like the purchase of a ticket or qualifying for a team. Paul is praying, asking God to help us see what we have coming our way because He’s already called us up to join His team, He’s got a place for us on His roster. He prays that God would help us understand “what is the hope of His calling.”
And you see, that’s very important right there – that’s the source of the distinction between squishy hope and concrete hope: it’s what are putting our hope in?
What do most people put their hope in today? What do most people think will bring a better future, improve their circumstances? What do people think will rescue them or provide them? We look to things like retirement plans and healthcare policies, we trust our employers or our spouses to “take care of us.” We put our hope in relationships.
And those are not bad things. There’s nothing inherently wrong with working hard in a good job and anticipating the rewards. It’s normal and good to hope in your parents or spouse or friends, our relationships should be healthy and supportive. But we also need to look beyond and through those things to the ultimate source of our hope – the calling we have received in Christ.
The apostle Peter says this hope we have as Christians is a living hope. He opens one of his letters by saying:
1 Pe 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, 5 who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
Does that sound iffy to you? Does that sound like a ‘maybe’ to you? It sounds to me like God is making some heavyweight promises to us. It sounds like we have a living hope, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and we’re being kept by the power of God. In other words, this isn’t an abstract, optimistic, upbeat and sun shiny kind of hope, it’s a dependable, durable, concrete hope.
It’s the kind of hope that compelled a British pastor by the name of Edward Mote, to write one of the church’s great hymns:
My hope is built on nothing less
than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
On Christ, the solid rock, I stand;
all other ground is sinking sand,
all other ground is sinking sand.
When darkness veils his lovely face,
I rest on his unchanging grace;
in every high and stormy gale,
my anchor holds within the veil.
His oath, His covenant, His blood
Support me in the whelming flood
When all around my soul gives way
He then is all my hope and stay
There are times when all around my soul gives way, aren’t there? There are times when darkness seems to come crushing in, when our breath has literally been taken away, when we collapse into the moment and all we can do is feel. But the hymn says at moments like that His oath, His covenant, His blood, the things that are eternal and unchanging, give us the hope and the stay, the anchor, the something we need to hold on to.
All of which helps us dissect hope a little more and understand how it works. Here we see the critical difference between squishy hope and concrete hope: it’s what the hope is based on. If your sense of hope is based on trying a little harder, holding in there a little longer, if your sense of hope is built on your ability to forecast what might happen next or what so and so is going to do or say, or what you should do or say next, that’s a fragile hope. If your hope depends on circumstances outside your control or influence, things can be really iffy.
But that’s not the foundation of Christian hope.
Christian hope springs up out of the finished work of Christ – Paul prays that we would know what is the hope of His calling. Our hope is built upon, anchored in, bolted to, and springs up from Jesus’ blood and righteousness, His oath, His covenant, His blood. We don’t look horizontally across this world to find our hope, we look up, with eager expectation, knowing that there is a God who loves us and who has proven that love for us, and that fills us with hope.
In fact, I would encourage you to ask the question – where is the horizon of my hope? Am I looking out, or am I looking up?
The Bible says that as we grow in our understanding of God and His great works, we increase in the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, 18 the eyes of our understanding become enlightened; we begin to know in greater measure, what is the hope of His calling,
So let me ask you, Christian, how are you doing on hope? Do you feel it? Do you sense it? Do you take action based upon it? Can you say, yes, I know the hope of my calling? Does it do anything for you? Does it stir you, move you, excite you, comfort you?
In just a few verses Paul is going to go on to say that this hope is a marker of our salvation. It’s proof, evidence, that God has been at work in our lives. He reminds the Ephesians that there was a time when they were without Christ, they were (Eph 2:12) “strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.”
And so were we, and so are many of the people alive on the earth today. Unless the call of God comes to us and gives us hope in Christ, we have no eternal hope for a better future and we are “without God in the world.” We might tell ourselves differently, we might try to persuade ourselves that things will just work themselves out, but Scripture says if you are without Christ you are without hope, without concrete hope that is. You might be full of squishy, optimistic, ‘I hope it all turns out OK’ hope, but that’s the hope you can’t trust in, you can’t depend on. There’s a very hollow kind of comfort in that hope.
So let me encourage you to take a verse like this and pray over it, ask God to help you see the world through it. What does it mean that people who don’t know Christ, people who have not responded to the call of the gospel are “strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world”?
This is the kind of verse that motivates men and women to quit their jobs and move to remote jungles and islands to make God known. It’s the kind of verse that compels people to go into missions and ministry instead of the corporate world, the kind of verse that compels people to pray for the nations and for their neighbor next door.
Because, what is your life like if you have no hope in a generous, loving, merciful God who pursues you in your sin and calls you back to Himself? What is life like if you have no hope in a God who is holy and just and promises to be your avenger, that even if you are hurt and harmed in this life, He will reward you in the next and will judge the one who harmed you? What is life like if you have no hope of a God who promises to be your mediator, advocate, counselor, comforter, guide, friend, Father?
You can understand if people grow bitter, harsh, unloving, conniving, and selfish, can’t you? What is life like without hope? Miserable, depressing, and difficult.
That’s exactly what the people of Israel were feeling over 2500 years ago. They had drifted from following God, He was no longer the center of their national life. God had been merciful and patient with them, sending them prophets to call them back to Himself, but they kept trending further and further away from Him until finally He allowed them to be taken into captivity in Babylon.
But even in captivity He offered them hope. Some of you know the famous words of Jeremiah the prophet; turn there with me if you would:
Jer 29:11 For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.
Some of you have heard that, you may have memorized it, you might cling to it as a promise from God. But I want you to notice the context of it. He’s speaking to people in captivity.
Verse One says:
Jer 29:1 These are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders of the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.
People who had been rebelling against Him or ignoring or minimizing Him. Notice how the passage continues:
12 Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. 13 And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you, says the LORD, and I will bring you back from your captivity; I will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you, says the LORD, and I will bring you to the place from which I cause you to be carried away captive.
The promise of a future and a hope is given to those who are seeking God, calling upon Him, praying to Him. It’s a promise to those who have heard his call on their lives and responded. Those are the people who have hope in God. But they’re also in a totally different situation than the people in Ephesus. The people in Babylon, the people Jeremiah is writing to, are in crisis, we would say they do need help. But both groups are pointed to the hope offered by God.
So, if you sense a need for hope in your life right now, if you’re in need of strength and comfort to face the future, like the captives in Babylon, let me ask: do you hear God calling, and are you calling back to Him? Do you pray? Do you seek? He says He will hear and that you can find Him. He says He wants to give you a future and a hope.
Christianity is actually built upon the trinity of faith, hope, and love.
So how can we cultivate more hope in our lives? What can we do if the fire of hope seems to be dying out in our lives, if the fire isn’t raging like it used to?
Well, first of all, I think we need to see that this has to be something God does for us. That’s why Paul is praying for the Ephesians, right? He’s asking that the eyes of their understanding would be opened by God. We need God to give us hope, we need Him to get our attention, but there’s nothing wrong with asking Him to do that, for us and for others.
In the book of Romans, Paul prays:
Rom 15:13 Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
It’s a work that God has do. “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.” Our hope begins with Him, is sustained by Him and is fulfilled in Him. So ask Him to open your eyes, ask Him to help you see and stand and trust. Ask God to make you abound in hope, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
You can come to God in desperation. It’s OK. He welcomes you. You can tell God, I need Your help, I can’t do this without You. It’s OK to ask, “where are You?” It’s OK to seek Him, to search after Him with all your heart. Remember, He told Jeremiah that’s how to find Him.
So, when you need hope, seek God, cast yourself in desperation at His feet as the only source of true hope in your life. He’s not going to turn you away. And if you need some reinforcement as you hold on, turn to Scripture where we’re told:
Rom 15:4 For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.
Remind yourself of His oath and His covenants. Friend, God has given you a book full of promises and counsel. He’s offering you guidance and comfort. He’s giving you a foundation to trust in, He’s exposing and revealing Himself to you in the pages of this book, but you need to get back into it so can hear what He is saying and receive the hope He’s offering.
Our great and merciful God extends to us the hope of the calling of God, we have the hope of Christ in us, we have the hope of the power of the Holy Spirit being poured out within us, and we have the Scriptures offering us patience, comfort, and hope. Does it kind of seem like God is going about this from every possible angle, pursuing us diligently with the offer of hope?
There’s no doubt that we are surrounded by difficulties in this world. We face trials and challenges and disappointments on a regular basis. But we have hope. We have an eternal hope. We have a concrete, durable hope, a hope that has sustained the saints throughout the ages, we have a hope that comes from hearing and knowing the voice of God who has called us to His Son.
May He give us the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him,
May 18 the eyes of our understanding be enlightened; and may we know what is the hope of His calling!
Let’s pray. http://www.hymnary.org/text/my_hope_is_built_on_nothing_less