Here’s the sermon I’m preaching tomorrow, from Ephesians 1:15-23, titled A Thanksgiving Prayer. Have a wonderful Lord’s Day tomorrow, and a great Thanksgiving season!
A Thanksgiving Prayer
Ephesians 1:15-23 NIV
15For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, 16I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. 17I 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. 18I pray also 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 the saints,19and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, 20which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.22And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.”
What Are You Thankful For?
We always seemed to have trouble developing our own family traditions. When our girls were small, Debbie and I wanted to give them meaningful experiences, and create our own family traditions. One night we decided that we would sing the blessing before supper. Now that sounds like a meaningful moment. Our girls would grow up and tell their children, “When we were little, we used to hold hands around the table and sing our blessing before meals.” At least that was the picture Debbie and I had in our heads.
Our girls grew up about the time the Osmond Family was famous. Donnie and Marie were idolized by our girls, and they would watch “The Donnie and Marie Show” religiously. Oh, and there was The Partridge Family, too. Singing kids with a talented mom, who traveled around the country singing to sellout crowds. And, of course, The Sound of Music with the Singing Von Trapp Family. Amy and Laurie took it all in.
So, it was in that media culture that we found ourselves gathered around our dinner table one night, when I announced, “Tonight we’re going to sing our blessing.” I forget what it was we were actually going to sing, but it didn’t matter. We were not the Osmonds. Or The Partridge Family. Or the Von Trapps. Did I mention that we didn’t have any accompaniment? Well, it didn’t matter. We probably hadn’t gotten more than a few off-key notes out when Amy and Laurie collapsed in laughter, and that was the end of the Warnock family tradition of singing our blessing.
But, we were not deterred by that experience. Debbie and I were still on a quest to make meaning for our kids’ lives. So, on one Thanksgiving I announced, “Today, before we eat, we’re going to each share something that we’re thankful for.” This went over only slightly better than the singing blessing, and was met with cries of “Do we have to?” and “I’m hungry.” But, we plowed our way listlessly through the typical things that we are thankful for — friends, family, and the food. And maybe some other stuff, too, but I don’t remember. We pretty much gave up on the idea of creating family traditions after that.
Thankful for Faith
And, maybe this year at your table, or wherever you are this Thanksgiving, you’ll take time to go around the table and share your reasons for being thankful. And, they will probably be pretty typical, too. Friends, family, enough to eat, God’s blessings, and so on. We tend to give thanks for either “things” or people. And, that’s good — nothing wrong with being thankful for either of those.
But Paul expresses thanks for something rather strange — the faith of the Christians in Ephesus. Paul says,
“For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, 16I have not stopped giving thanks for you,”
Now, what is the big deal about that? Well, remember the story of Paul in Ephesus? Ephesus was a major city in what is now western Turkey. Ephesus was a crossroads of trade and commerce, and it was not a Jewish city; it was a Roman city. You know how cities are known for an outstanding landmark, such as Paris with the Eiffel Tower; Seattle with the Space Needle; Rome and the Coliseum; and, New York with Broadway, Grand Central Station, and the Statue of Liberty. Well, Ephesus had its famous landmark, too — The Temple of Artemis, sometimes referred to as The Temple of Diana.
I have set eyes on the wall of lofty Babylon on which is a road for chariots, and the statue of Zeus by the Alpheus, and the hanging gardens, and the colossus of the Sun, and the huge labour of the high pyramids, and the vast tomb of Mausolus; but when I saw the house of Artemis that mounted to the clouds, those other marvels lost their brilliancy, and I said, “Lo, apart from Olympus, the Sun never looked on aught [anything] so grand”. 
It was in the shadow of the temple to Artemis that Paul began preaching in Ephesus. Now, in Ephesus along with the worship of the pagan goddess Artemis, there were those who practiced witchcraft and sorcery, those who were diviners claiming to speak with the voice of the gods. It was not lack of spirituality that was Ephesus problem, it was the very vibrant spirituality of the dark side, of paganism that permeated the city.
That’s why in Ephesians 6, Paul says, “2For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”
Paul was in a war for the hearts and souls of the people of Ephesus. In the three years Paul spent in Ephesus amazing things happened:
- The first Ephesian Christians experienced their own Pentecost, receiving the Holy Spirit, speaking in tongues, and prophesying. God was validating this Gentile experience as every bit as genuine as the Jewish Pentecostal experience.
- Paul began with a group of about 12 men, not counting women, and from there began to speak in the synagogue, and then in the debating hall of Tyrannus.
- Paul preached there for almost 3 years with astonishing results. Miracles occurred as handkerchiefs and aprons that Paul touched were taken to the sick and they recovered and evil spirits left them.
- Luke says in Acts 19:17 — “the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honor.”
- But opposition came to, most strongly from Demetrius the silversmith who crafted small silver shrines to Artemis, which he sold for a tidy profit — a profit that Paul cut into. A near-riot ensued, with the people shouting, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians” for over 2-hours.
- So, Paul decides to leave Ephesus and as he departs he warns the Ephesian church leaders that others will come in and try to tear the church apart — and some will be from among their own number!
Now, fast forward in time to the last years of Paul’s life, in prison in Rome. Word has reached Paul that this church in Ephesus, where he spent almost three years, that this church is still strong and vibrant, and alive, and thriving, even though it still lives in the shadow of the mighty Temple of Artemis of the Ephesians.
You can see Paul dictating to his amanuensis, his secretary, “Take a letter to the church at Ephesus.” And so Paul begins to pour out his heart to them, telling them of God’s great blessings, and then turning to a personal point.
He has heard of their faith, and he has not stopped giving thanks for them.
- He is thankful that the cult of Artemis has not overwhelmed them.
- He is thankful that they are faithful to Jesus in their daily lives. That they do not go to the temple of Artemis as all their friends and neighbors do. That they stand firm in their conviction.
- He is thankful that after he left that the church had heeded his warnings, had watched out for those who sought to destroy it, and had survived.
- He is thankful for their faith in God, their faithful practice, and their effectiveness because he has heard about them recently.
Paul’s Prayer of Thanksgiving
Which brings us to Paul’s prayer of thanksgiving for them. Paul says “I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.” And here is what he has been praying for them. Here is Paul’s Thanksgiving prayer for the Ephesians:
- That God would give them the spirit of wisdom and revelation so they could know God better;
- That the eyes of their hearts might be enlightened to the hope to which God has called them;
- That they remain aware of the power of the resurrection, not only in Jesus’ life, but in theirs as well;
- That they understand that Christ has all power and authority in the present age, the age to come, in this world and in the church.
In other words, Paul’s Thanksgiving prayer is that they –
- know God better;
- see hope clearly;
- live in resurrection power;
- acknowledge Christ as Lord.
Our Thanksgiving Prayer
Like Paul, we are thankful when we look around at friends and family and our nation and the vitality of the church in other places around the world. We are not that different from ancient Ephesus in that we as believers live in the shadows of the gods of this world — greed, indifference, hatred, violence, selfishness, sensuality, and many, many more. In contrast Jesus calls us to live lives of grace, generosity, hospitality, peace, love, care, and humility. So, when we look around we are gratified that faith is alive and doing good in our world.
When I was in San Diego, I heard J John, a Greek-born Christian who speaks with a British accent. To say that J John is energetic is like saying Bill Gates has money. J John is a bundle of energy and has one of those “you-can’t-help-but-like-him” personalities. He told of flying one day, and seated next to him, a woman began to engage him in conversation. J John
said he usually tries to avoid telling people that he is an evangelist, a preacher, because that tends to shut the conversation down. So, this lady asks him, “What do you do?”
J John said, “I’m work for a global enterprise.”
“Oh, really,” she replied.
“Yes, we have locations all over the world, in almost every country.”
“Amazing,” she replied.
“Yes, we have hospitals, schools, clinics, feeding programs, clothing banks, we do disaster relief, take in countless numbers of orphans, and do more good than I can even remember. We look after people from birth to death and we deal in the area of behavioral alteration.”
“Amazing,” said the woman, “What’s it called?”
“It’s called Christianity,” he said.
“Really!” And then he continued to tell about the rest of their conversation.
But, my point is, and J John’s was, faith is alive and well. We are thankful when we hear about it still existing from modest beginnings in places like Africa, and South America, and Asia, and Europe, and Australia, and on every other continent on the globe. Faith is alive, and for that we should be thankful today.
But, Paul, and we cannot stop with being thankful for hearing about faith, we must continue to support that faith and the faithful with our prayers for –
- Wisdom and revelation so we can know God better. We do know God better even in the last 100 years. We have moved from hatred of fellow Christians who hold differing theological views to a dialogue of siblings in God’s great family. We must know God better in how we govern ourselves and how our nations solve international problems — we cannot continue to turn to war as the first recourse in settling global crises.
- The eyes of our hearts need to be open so that we can see clearly the hope we possess and that we have in Christ for the world. The hope of racial reconciliation, the hope of the end of poverty and hunger, the hope of the incoming of the Kingdom of God. That’s why Paul healed, not because of spiritual mumbo-jumbo, but because the Kingdom of God was breaking in right in front of the Temple of Artemis. The Kingdom of God was displacing the dominion of Diana. In Ephesus, about 300 or so years after Paul writes this letter, John Chrysostom leads a band who finished demolishing what was left of the great temple of Artemis. The Hagia Sophia, the grand ancient church in Turkey, now contains columns from the temple of Artemis. The kingdom of God is the hope of the world, and our eyes need to be open to that hope, the hope we have in Christ.
- The way we live should reflect the resurrection power, the first-fruits of God’s kingdom. The resurrection of Jesus was both God’s way of validating the ministry of Jesus, and God’s defeat of the forces of death and darkness. Those forces were resident in the Temple of Artemis, and it is the resurrection of Jesus that seals their fate.
- We need to pray for our awareness that Jesus is Lord, not Ceasar or Artemis, and that we do indeed serve a living Savior who’s in the world today.
So, this Thanksgiving, be thankful that faith is alive and that we hear of it all across this land. But pray that we will know God better, see hope clearly, live in resurrection power, and acknowledge Christ as Lord of all. That’s a thanksgiving prayer we can all pray this week.