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Blessings That Won't Be Restricted: Fellow Believers

 
James Burstow | March 1st 2021

In the past few months we’ve been reminded that so many of the blessings we take for granted are not guaranteed. They are blessings that can be given, and can be taken away. 

But, as Christians, we receive some blessings that are untouchable. Ephesians 1 v 3 calls these “spiritual blessings.” They can’t be restricted, regulated or removed. Join me each week for an encouraging reflection on these everlasting spiritual blessings.

Blessing 6: Fellow Believers

We started this series thinking about how Paul, stuck in a prison cell and far more isolated and socially distanced than any of us have experienced even during this pandemic, remained positive and thankful to God in spite of his circumstances. We’ve seen how he focused on the spiritual blessings of election, adoption, redemption, revelation and preservation—wonderful, mind-blowing doctrines which remain true whatever is going on in our lives.

But in the last section of Ephesians 1, there is something else that encourages Paul and prompts him to thank God: people. Other believers in Christ. Here’s Ephesians 1 v 15-19a:

“For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.”

You can almost feel the passion and excitement flowing out of Paul as he thinks about the believers he is writing to. And that’s not just the case in this letter. It's the same in Philippians, and Colossians, and 1 Thessalonians, and all the rest.

Paul thinks about people a lot. And the thought of them encourages him, keeps him going, brings him joy and prompts him to thank and praise God.

We should be honest about the flip side. It is certainly true that people can be a discouragement, too. We are reeling at the moment with news of the unfaithfulness of Ravi Zacharias, Jonathan Fletcher and others. And many of us will know at a personal level what it feels like to be let down and hurt by other Christians. But Paul knew that experience too. He was let down in very serious ways, and he suffered greatly because of it. Yet on balance he still found other Christians to be a source of joy, encouragement and thanksgiving.

In this particular paragraph in his letter to the Ephesians, Paul mentions two specific things that he's thankful for and two things that he is praying for them.

"It is the Holy Spirit who changes hearts, but in God's kindness, he uses our small and meager efforts to draw people to himself."

1. Paul is Thankful for The Faith of Other Believers

Paul is thankful for the believers’ faith in the Lord Jesus. This is fundamental, isn't it? Paul was an evangelist—he spent his life sharing the gospel with friends and strangers alike in the hope that they might repent and believe. And when they did, what an encouragement it was for him! 

Jesus says in Luke 15 that there is joy in heaven over every sinner who repents—and Paul was joining in with that party. Maybe you know what that feels like too. Maybe you've been blessed with playing some small part in someone putting their faith in Jesus. It's amazing. It is a huge blessing and a huge encouragement to keep going, to soldier on through the toil and struggle for that moment when somebody says "I believe". 

We are just a link in the chain. So is everyone else. It is the Holy Spirit who changes hearts, but in God's kindness, he uses our small and meager efforts to draw people to himself. We are all in gospel ministry, not just at home and in our churches but at work and in friendships too, and there is no greater encouragement for us in that than to think about people putting their faith in the Lord Jesus.

2. Paul is Thankful for Love Between Believers

Paul is also thankful for the love that the Ephesians have for God's people. They are not just fulfilling the first of the two great commandments Jesus gave us—to love God—but they are also fulfilling the second—to love their neighbour. That was as unusual then as it is now!

It was evidence of the Holy Spirit at work in their lives, making them more like Jesus, so that they no longer gratified the cravings of their flesh, or drew divisions between Jew and Gentile, or were arrogant and selfish and impatient. Of course they weren't perfect—that was one of the reasons that Paul was writing to them—but Paul could see progress in them as they were sanctified by the Spirit, and he drew great encouragement from that and thanked God. It can be the same for us.

In a recent TGBC prayer meeting, one of my colleagues, Robin Fairbairn, prayed, “We are not yet what we will be, but by God's grace we are not what we were.” God is changing us and making us more like Jesus, day by day, little by little. What a wonderful encouragement it is when we see that change in people that we love.

"If you know God as your Heavenly Father and you remember the glorious inheritance that he has promised all who believe, then you can face any trial—lockdown, imprisonment, even death itself."

Two Things to Pray for Other Believers

In this passage, there are two things which Paul prays for the fellow believers he is thankful for.

First, he prays that they will know God better. The amazing spiritual blessings that we've looked at over the past 5 weeks all illustrate the love and kindness and compassion and grace and power and patience and sheer generosity of our Heavenly Father and of his Son the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul knows that the more they focus on God, the stronger their faith will be and the greater their joy at being his chosen, adopted, redeemed children.

Second, Paul prays that the eyes of their heart will be enlightened so that they may know the hope to which they have been called: the glorious inheritance that is guaranteed for all of God's people and his incomparably great power for all who believe. If they can remember that, they can face anything. Paul knows that, because it has worked for him already.

These are great prayers for us to pray for the people we love. My instinct is always to pray for a resolution to the problem. For a return to normality. For the trial to go away and the trouble-free times to resume. Of course, there's nothing wrong with bringing specific issues and problems before the Lord and asking for relief. But that's not all we should pray. It might not even be the main thing we should pray. The truth is, even as one problem is solved, another appears—that's how life often goes. But if you know God as your Heavenly Father and you remember the glorious inheritance that he has promised all who believe, then you can face any trial—lockdown, imprisonment, even death itself.

It is no surprise that many of us are finding it so hard at the moment to encourage each other and spur one another one on. But Paul shows us that we can still be thankful for the faith and love of other believers, and we can still pray for them to know God better and to remember the hope to which they are called—even as they pray the same thing for us.

One final hymn verse to finish: it’s another song from Keith and Kristyn Getty, called Come People of the Risen King:

Over all the world, his people sing

Shore to shore we hear them call

The truth that cries through every age:

“Our God is all in all.”

Rejoice! Rejoice! Let every tongue rejoice!

One heart, one voice, O Church of Christ, rejoice!

Amen.

James Burstow

James' role as Commercial Director encompasses marketing, sales and customer service. Before joining TGBC he spent time in Chile and Japan teaching English before becoming a fundraiser for Great Ormond Street Hospital. He is the senior elder at Grace Church Worcester Park.