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Praying For the Person Who Has Everything - Part 2

Tom Pennington • Ephesians 1:15-23

  • 2007-11-04 AM
  • Ephesians
  • Sermons


Last week we began to study from Ephesians 1, as we continue our study of this great letter, Paul's prayer for the Ephesians. Last Saturday morning, I was looking over my notes and finishing up my preparation for last week's message on this great passage. And the truth of what I was studying was punctuated to me in very clear and graphic terms: the importance of illumination. Because it was last Saturday morning as I was in my study at home that the doorbell rang, and I went to the door to discover that there were two middle-aged ladies there, and they quickly introduced themselves and said they wanted to do a Bible survey. And I, as I often do, asked them point blank, what church, what denomination they represent. And they were quick to tell me that they were Jehovah's Witnesses.

We had a very interesting discussion, and I showed them from the Scripture Jesus' unequivocal claims to be God, which of course, they reject. I pointed out to them that they are in fact following the ancient heresy of Arianism. I warned them as lovingly and graciously as I could that they had embraced damning error, that they had embraced a different Jesus, and that if they refused to repent and turn from their sin and embrace the Jesus Christ who is one with the Father, that they would spend eternity separated from Jehovah, and from His Son. At the end of our conversation, one of the ladies, the one who was being trained, was obviously shaken by our conversation. The trainer was angry with me and the conversation that we had, but they both left stubbornly refusing to believe the truth about Jesus Christ. They were blind to the truth. After they left, a couple of my family members that were there and had heard the exchange, we prayed together for them that God would open their eyes to the truth about Jesus Christ.

But my discussion with them last Saturday morning was a vivid reminder of the depravity of the unregenerate mind. Apart from the intervention of the Spirit of God, the mind is blind to the truth. It's blind for a couple of reasons. First John 2:11 says that the sinner is blinded by the darkness of his own sin. But Paul tells us another reason that there is blindness in the hearts of those who don't know God. Second Corinthians 4:3. Paul, after attesting to his own ministry of the gospel, says, "And even if our gospel is veiled, [or hidden] it is veiled to those who are perishing…."

But the immediate question is veiled by whom? Who's lowered the veil? Verse 4, "in whose case, the god of this world [a clear reference to Satan] has blinded the minds of the unbelieving … [in order] that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

The unbelieving mind has been blinded to the truth. What that means is that for anyone, including those ladies I talked with last Saturday morning, to respond to the gospel requires a work of the Spirit to turn on the light of the word, to illumine the gospel so that they see it and understand it for what it is.

And surprisingly, unbelievingly, sinners do respond to the light of the gospel. Paul, in 1Thessalonians 2 says the Thessalonians "… received the word of God which … [they heard from him and they] accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God."

Now how does that happen? How do you go from 2 Corinthians 4 to 1 Thessalonians 2? How do you go from being spiritually blind, to the gospel being what you receive as the word of God? Well, look at 2 Corinthians 4 again. Notice verse 6. "For God, who said, 'Light shall shine out of darkness,' is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of [Jesus] Christ."

Now that is a remarkable verse. What Paul is saying is this: if you go back to the very beginning, back to creation, you remember how God spoke the light into existence out of the darkness. He said, "let there be light," and there what, was light. It takes that same miracle of God to bring light to a blinded heart. That's what Paul is saying. The same God who said to the creation "let there be light and there was light" is the God who has to speak into every heart and say "let there be light," and only then will there be light. Only then will the glory of the gospel, the knowledge of the glory of the gospel of Christ, shine in the heart. So, the Christian life begins with the ultimate work of illumination. As you go from being spiritually blind to seeing the blazing light of the gospel of Jesus Christ in a moment of time, from being apathetic to Jesus, or perhaps even hostile, to seeing Him as infinitely more valuable than everything else. So, the Christian life begins with the ultimate act of illumination.

But not only does our Christian life begin with the work of illumination, and this is very important to understand, the Christian life is strengthened and progresses because of the Spirit's work of illumination. This is how we grow. And it's for this reason that Paul prays what he prays in Ephesians 1. Turn there with me as we look again at this great text. Ephesians 1, let me read it for you beginning in verse 15. Paul writes:

For this reason, I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you and your love for all the saints, do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers: [and here's what I pray] that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.

In the Greek text, that's one very long Greek sentence, and the theme of this sentence, or this paragraph, better in English, is how to pray for the spiritual growth of others. That's what Paul is doing here, praying for the spiritual growth of others. And Paul's prayer here serves as a model for our prayers for the spiritual progress of others as well as praying for our own spiritual progress. This is how we should do it. In these verses Paul teaches us three aspects of intercessory prayer, that is, interceding for someone else. Three aspects.

First of all, the first aspect is the reasons for intercessory prayer, the reasons for intercessory prayer. In verse 15 he gives us two of them. First of all, because of shared spiritual blessings. Notice verse 15 begins "For this reason…." He's just gone through all of the spiritual blessings that are ours in Christ, beginning at verse 3 and running down through verse 14, and he says because of all of those spiritual blessings that we share together, I pray that you'll come to understand them.

The other reason that he gives for praying this prayer is because they were genuine Christians, because of a genuine profession. Notice he says, "having heard of your faith in Jesus, and your love for the saints,"

You're the real deal. Not only do you profess faith in Christ, but that profession is proven by your love for the saints, so you're the real thing. So, I pray for you, Paul says, because of the spiritual blessings you have that you don't fully understand that you have, and because you are, in fact, my brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ. Those are the reasons we should pray for others as well.

The second aspect of intercessory prayer that he unfolds for us here, that we saw last week, is the pattern of intercessory prayer, the pattern of intercessory prayer. Notice verse 16: "I do not cease giving thanks for you while making mention of you in my prayers."

Here's the pattern of Paul's prayer, and it teaches us how to pray, and there are several qualities here of Paul's prayer. We noted that it's individual, "I pray." It's persistent, "I do not cease to pray." It's balanced between worship and petition. "I give thanks for you and I make mention of you in my prayers." It's unselfish. Verse 16 says, "I do not cease mention of you." "I give thanks for you." Sometimes our prayers are all about us, but Paul's prayers were about others, and he shows a pattern in that for us to follow. Another quality of the pattern of his prayer is that it was regular. "I don't cease making mention of you in my prayers." The implication is that this was a regular cycle of his life. In fact, we know, as a devout Jew, at least three times a day Paul would have set aside specific times to pray. And so, his prayers were regular. That's the pattern. So, we've seen the reasons, we've seen the pattern of intercessory prayer.

The third aspect of intercessory prayer that we began to look at last time is the content of intercessory prayer. Beginning in verse 17, and running all the way down through verse 23, the rest of this chapter demonstrates the content of what our prayer for others should look like. Notice verse 17. He says here's what I pray for you "that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him."

Here's what Paul prayed for the Ephesians. Here's what we should pray for the others in our lives that we're concerned about. Here's what we should pray for ourselves when it comes to our spiritual growth. Notice the heart of it. He says, here's really what I'm praying for, that God would give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation. We looked at that in detail last time. Let me just briefly remind you. He's talking here, when he says a spirit or disposition of wisdom, he's saying, my prayer is that God would give you wisdom to understand God's activity in Christ, all those blessings that are yours. And revelation means to unveil or to disclose something that's hidden. When you take that phrase together, a spirit of wisdom and revelation, if you had to reduce what Paul was praying for to a single word, the word theologians use is illumination, illumination. You see, the Holy Spirit has already revealed the truth to us. We've already been told all that's ours in Christ. That's revelation.

But we need to grasp its full significance and to live in light of it. That is illumination. And that's what Paul is praying for here in verse 17, illumination. J. I. Packer, as I shared with you last time describes illumination like this: "It is not a giving of new revelation, but a work within us that enables us to grasp and to love the revelation that is there before us in the biblical text. Illumination is thus the applying of God's revealed truth to our hearts so that we grasp as reality for ourselves what the sacred text sets forth" That's exactly what the Psalmist prayed for in Psalm 119:18 when he says, "Open my eyes that I may behold wonderful things from your law."

As I shared with you last week, the illustration that helps me most is thinking of a stained-glass window. If you were to see a beautiful stained glass window in the dark, you can still make out the images. You can still see the colors. You understand what's going on. You see the story that it illustrates, but that dark stained glass window makes no impact on you personally. But if you walk in and see that same window as the full light of the morning sun comes streaming through it, that stained glass window and the images there suddenly come to life with blazing glory. It comes alive. It becomes real and beautiful and attractive. That's what the Spirit does in illumining the word to us. He turns on the light behind the page, as it were, and God's word suddenly becomes real and beautiful and attractive and desirable. We get it, and we love it.

Now there have been many times in my own life and experience when this has happened. Several years ago I was reading through Romans 3, and I came to that great section, verses 21 to 25 on justification, the heart of the gospel. Now, I had read Romans many times before, having been a Christian since 1978. I'd read it many, many times, and yet, that day, as I read the truth of justification from those verses, it gripped my own soul. I understood it in a way I'd never understood it before, and I can tell you that I've never been the same since that day, when it comes to the truth of justification. I have a passion about it, an understanding of it. It grips my soul. It moves me. It motivates me to serve Christ. That was illumination. Now, illumination is not always that dramatic. Sometimes it's just a quiet realization of what God meant in that text you're studying. And it dawns on you in a way that changes your thinking or your behavior. How many times has something like that happened to you? You heard a message, or you read a passage, and it's about a truth you've dealt with many times before, but at that moment, you got it in a way that you had never before. Whether it's quiet or whether it's dramatic, illumination always leaves a deep imprint of the truth of God on the heart. And that's what Paul was praying for the Ephesians.

Now, I've taken a little longer this morning than I normally do for review, but I did so because we're really not familiar with this issue. Most Christians are not very familiar with illumination. They don't know how important this is. And so, I wanted to take a little more time to fill out those concepts that we examined together last time. Do you understand that when Paul finishes describing all of the spiritual blessings that are ours in Christ, the very first thing he prays for the Ephesians, this congregation that he ministered to for almost three years, the very first thing he prays for them is that they would get it? That the Holy Spirit would turn on the light, that they would understand it more profoundly? Now if Paul felt that was so important for these people that he loved so much, then how important is it for us? We have got to have the Spirit turn on the light so that the truth grips us in a life changing way.

Now today, I want us to go a little deeper into what Paul says here. But before we continue Ephesians 1, hold your finger there and turn over to 1 Corinthians 2. Here, we learn why illumination is so crucial. Now, this passage is somewhat complicated, but we can still track with Paul. Let me just briefly lead you through it. Really, the paragraph begins in 1 Corinthians 2:6 and runs all the way through the end of chapter 2. He begins in verses 6 through 9 by explaining that the gospel he preaches, Christ crucified, was God's secret wisdom. It's a wisdom that none of the earthly wise knew. Verse 8, he says, this wisdom that we are speaking about Christ, none of the rulers of this age has understood, for if they'd understood it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. So, God has this incredibly wise plan, the gospel, that nobody could come to on their own. That's his point in verses 6 through 9. In verse 10, notice he says, "[but] … to us, God [has] revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God."

Paul says, listen, the way that I came to know this wisdom of Christ crucified, of the gospel, was that God revealed it to me by the Spirit. That's what theologians call revelation. God revealed the truth to Paul and to the apostles. Now, that moves us to verse 11. He explains the reason that the Spirit can reveal the mind of God to him is because the Spirit is God, and therefore He knows the mind of God. So, you've got God wanting to reveal His truth to Paul, and the Spirit does that, and the Spirit can do that, verse 11 says, because He's God. He knows the mind of God. In verses 12 through 13, Paul says it was this Spirit, who knows the mind of God, that taught Paul these thoughts of God. Notice verse 12.

"Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words."

In other words, Paul is saying, not only did the Spirit give us the thoughts of God, this wisdom, the gospel that nobody would have ever understood, but He even gave us the words with which to communicate that truth. This is what theologians call inspiration, God working through holy men to give us His word, to reveal to us His word. That brings us to verses 14 to 16. So, there's the revelation of God through the apostles, through the Spirit He's made known His word, but can we understand it? Verse 14,

But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised [or examined] But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one.

What Paul is saying here in essence is this. A person has to have the Spirit who revealed the truth to understand the word. So, the Spirit understands God, reveals His truth to the apostles. He teaches the apostles how to write that truth even in the right words they ought to write it. Now we have the revelation here, but to understand it requires the very same Spirit of God that revealed it to the apostles. Paul's point is that both the thoughts and the words the authors of Scripture used were ultimately not the human author's thoughts and words, but the thoughts and words of the Spirit of God. And that to truly understand them in their spiritual richness requires the illuminating work of the Spirit. That's why Paul prays for these dear people in Ephesus that they would have illumination.

Turn back now to Ephesians 1. Paul does not pray that they would get more spiritual resources. He's just told them all the spiritual resources they have. They don't need more resources. But in Ephesians 1 and later in Ephesians 3 as we will see in a few months, he prays that God will give these people, through the Spirit, a deeper and fuller understanding of the resources that they already have in Jesus Christ. And that's what we need as well. You don't need anything else from God. God has given you everything you need. What you and I need is to understand what we've received more deeply, where it grips our hearts and changes our thinking and our lives. He prays that they will experience illumination. But Paul doesn't leave his request for illumination in general terms. If you look at his prayer for illumination here, he makes it very specific. Notice he prays that the Spirit will illumine our minds in two very specific ways. Notice verse 17 is the general prayer for illumination: to give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation. And then he says, I want you to have illumination in the knowledge of Him, that is, in the knowledge of God Himself. That's the first specific way he wants us to have illumination, in the knowledge of God Himself.

Verse 18, he goes to a second specific way he wants us to have this illumination, not only in the knowledge of God Himself, but in the knowledge of God's will and God's work. Notice verse 18. I pray not only that you'll have this illumination in knowing God, but

that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of … His inheritance … and what is the surpassing greatness of His power

So, do you see these two specific ways Paul wants the people in Ephesus to have illumination? He says I want the Spirit to grant you illumination so that you will grow in your knowledge of God, and so that you will grow in your knowledge of God's work in your life.

Now, in the time that we have remaining this morning, I want us to look just at the first of these specific ways he seeks illumination. Paul prays for the Ephesians and for us that the Spirit would so illumine our minds to the truth of God's word, that we would grow in our knowledge of God Himself. Paul says I'm praying that God will, through His Spirit, give you illumination to grow so that you will know God better. Now, this is a huge biblical priority. Turn over to the parallel passage in Colossians 1. This was another of Paul's prison letters. It was written around the same time as Ephesians from the prison in Rome, and he shares this same concept in slightly different words. Notice Colossians 1:9. Here again is his prayer, this time for the church in Colossae, and he says,

For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you [and here's what we ask] that you will be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding. [And then he adds] so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work [and watch the end of verse 10] and increasing in the knowledge of God.

Now in this parallel passage, written around the same time, notice that the specific requests for illumination are here also. In verse 9 he prays for a knowledge of God's work, God's will, God's ways. And in verse 10 he prays for an increasing knowledge of God Himself. This is a huge priority. Illumination, then, is for the purpose of increasing in our real knowledge of God.

The word for knowledge, both in Ephesians 1 and here in Colossians 1 is a very interesting word. Many commentators and scholars believe that this word describes a full, complete, deep sort of knowledge. You see the normal Greek word for personal knowledge in the New Testament is "gnosis." You probably recognize the word "Gnostic,""those who have knowledge." But this word is "epignosis." It's the same word but with a preposition added that intensifies it, that makes it a deeper, richer, fuller kind of this knowledge. Paul wants the Ephesians to have illumination so that as they study the Bible they might come to have a real, deep, thorough knowledge of God. You see, illumination is not the end. It is a means to an end. Learning and knowing the Bible is not an end. It is a means to an end. Knowing the God of the Bible is the end.

Now, this shouldn't surprise us, because Scripture everywhere highlights the importance of the knowledge of God. So, that Paul prays that we would have illumination so that we would grow in our knowledge of God, should not surprise us. Some of the greatest scriptural indictments of fallen man have to do with the fact that he has failed to know God. There are so many of them, but let me just take you to a couple that are really quite profound. Turn to Hosea, the Old Testament prophet Hosea, as Hosea writes to rebellious Israel, .idolatrous unbelieving Israel, notice what he says in Hosea 4:1. He says: "Listen to the word of the LORD, O sons of Israel, For [JHWH] the Lord has a case" [Now this is an interesting Hebrew word. It literally means God has a court case against you. God is indicting you. And here's what He's indicting you with.] "… there is no faithfulness or kindness Or knowledge of God in the land." [You don't know God, and God holds you guilty for that.

Verse 6, "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge." And it's not because they didn't have it. It's because they rejected it. God has revealed Himself in His word, and they chose to reject it. Chapter 5:4 of Hosea. It says, "Their deeds will not allow them To return to their God. For a spirit of harlotry [of prostitution] is within them, [spiritual prostitution] And they do not know the LORD." Chapter 6:6, God says, look, I'm sick of all of your religious actions. "… I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice, And in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings,"

So, there was an ultimate problem with Israel. God's indictment against Israel was that she had failed to truly know God. When you come to the New Testament, Jesus Christ makes the same indictment against Israel. Turn to John 8. In John 8:55, He says to the religious leaders of the time, He says, listen, I have been sent to you, and I don't glorify Myself. The Father glorifies Me. John 8:55, "and you have not come to know Him, but I know Him; and if I say that I do not know Him, I will be a liar like you, but I do know Him and I keep His word."

Jesus says, listen, the problem with you, the indictment I have against you is the same that was against idolatrous Israel in the Old Testament. You don't know Me. In Romans 1 this is Paul's great indictment against fallen man, in that great chapter where he outlines God's problem with man, the reason the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against man, he says, in verse 28: "… they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer.…"

You know what that literally says in the Greek text? In your NAS there may be a marginal reading that shows you. Verse 28 literally says, 'they did not see fit to have God in their knowledge.' This is God's indictment against fallen man.

But not only does the Scripture indict unbelievers for a failure to know God, but it also holds up the knowledge of God as the one thing that we should pursue more than anything else. In Jeremiah, turning back to the Old Testament again. In Jeremiah 9, a passage you're probably very familiar with if you've been a Christian any time at all. Jeremiah 9 as Jeremiah tells the people of his time what they desperately need, he says in Jeremiah 9:23,

Thus says the Lord, "Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises loving kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for I delight in these things, declares the LORD."

God says, Israel, your only solution is to come to truly know Me. In the same book, Jeremiah 24:7 he says it in a different way to the children of Israel. Chapter 24:7 he says there's going to come a time when, "I will give them a heart to know me, for I am the LORD and they will be My people, and I will be their God for they will return to Me with their whole heart." God says, when I really work in them, the result is going to be that they know Me. In Jeremiah 31, in the great prophecy of the New Covenant, Jeremiah 31:33 he says,

"… this is the covenant that I will make with the house if Israel after those days," declares the LORD. "I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they will be my people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying Know the Lord, for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them," … [And] "… I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more."

God says part of the new covenant promise is that the people are going to know Me. If you're a Christian, you're part of the new covenant. And God has promised that, as part of that new covenant, you would know Him. In John 17:3 our Lord makes this same point, that this is the heart of what it means to be a Christian. John 17:3, in that great high-priestly prayer, He says, "This is eternal life," Here's a definition, you want to know what eternal life is? It's not just life that lasts forever. Unbelievers will live forever. This is eternal life, "that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent."

The apostle John makes this same point in the last chapter of his first epistle, his first letter. He says in 1, John 5:20, "We know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true;"

It's why Christ came: so that we can know God. And if you're a Christian this morning, you have come to know God. But, we are to grow in our knowledge of God. We are not born as Christians with a full complete knowledge of God. We are to grow in our knowledge. Ephesians 1:17 is a prayer for that, isn't it? God, help them to understand the truth so that they will increase in their knowledge of You. In Ephesians 4:13 Paul says, listen, gifted men have been given to equip the saints, and when the saints do the work of service, then here's what happens. They attain to a full and complete knowledge of the Son of God. We are on a mission. Christian, you are on a mission. Don't ever be content with your knowledge of God. We are to be increasing in that knowledge. In Colossians 1:10, I read it to you earlier. Paul's prayer is that we would increase in the knowledge of God. Peter, in 2 Peter 3:18 says grow in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. That's how he finishes his second letter. If you're a Christian, you know God, but the goal is to grow in that knowledge.

But what does that mean? What does it mean to grow in the knowledge of God? When Paul says I want you to increase in the knowledge of God, what does he mean? Well, understand that there are a couple of elements to knowing God. There is obviously a factual element to knowing God. Knowing God begins with knowing what He has revealed about Himself both in His attributes and in His actions. You have to know facts about God in order to know God, but that's not all there is to knowing God. The religious leaders of the first century, that Jesus was constantly rebuking, knew the Old Testament revelation about God, but they didn't truly know God, Jesus said.

So, in addition to that factual element, there is also an experiential element to knowing God. Knowing God means this, that we have entered a relationship with God that can mature and develop over time. That's what it means to know God. We have entered into a relationship with God that matures and develops over time. That relationship began at the moment of salvation. The way Paul describes it in Ephesians 2 is, there was a time before we became Christians, that we were without God, and that we were far off, is how he describes it. But now, by the blood of Jesus, he says, we've been brought near. Or as he describes it in 1:5, we have been adopted by God. We have entered into a relationship with God. So, knowing God isn't just knowing about God. It involves a relationship, and the deepening and maturing of that relationship.

As most of you know, I have two great pastoral heroes. One of them is Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and the other is John MacArthur. I have read a great deal about both of these men. I've read most of their writings. I've listened to many of their sermons. I can say that in the factual sense, I know both men. But as much as I may know about Martyn Lloyd-Jones, I never had the privilege in this life of meeting him. So, in biblical terms, especially in Paul's thinking, I don't know him.

I do know John both in a factual sense and in an experiential sense. By God's graciousness to me we had the opportunity to serve alongside each other for sixteen years. We had many meals together. He's been in my home, and I've been in his. We've traveled throughout the world together. So, I can say that I know in the biblical sense, John. That's what Paul means when he says we should know God. His view of the knowledge of God is informed by the Old Testament in those passages that we read together. And when the Old Testament speaks of knowing God, it's speaking of personal and intimate relationship. In fact, the Hebrew word for "know" is often used in context like this: Adam knew Eve, his wife, and she conceived and bore a son.

So, when Paul wants the Spirit to illumine our understanding of Scripture so that we can grow in our knowledge of God, he is referring both to the factual sense, we need to learn more about God, and who He is, and what He's done, and the experiential sense. Now, to help you further understand this, there's a passage that gives us incredible insight into what this growth looks like. We're all at different levels and stages of growth.

Turn to 1 John 2, because John paints this picture the most clearly for us of any writer in the New Testament, First John 2. He gives us here in verses 12 through 14 three stages of growth in our knowledge of God. Growing spiritually is a lot like growing physically: growing up, maturing. And here, he gives us three stages. He mentions each stage twice. You see in verse 12 he mentions little children. At the end of verse 13 he mentions children again. Then he mentions young men in the middle of verse 13 and again in verse 14 he mentions young men in the middle of the verse. And he mentions fathers in verse 13 and again in verse 14 he mentions fathers. So, you've got these three stages of spiritual growth and development: children, young men, and fathers, spiritual fathers. Now notice how he marks each of those stages of growth. How do you know what stage you're in? Well, he describes them for us.

Verse 12, little children, he says, I'm writing to you because your sins have been forgiven you for His name's sake. You simply know that your sins have been forgiven. There is this new awareness that you have entered into a relationship with God, because your sins have been forgiven. He describes them again in verse 13 as, you've simply entered into a relationship with the Father. I've written to you children because you know the Father. So, the first stage in this spiritual development of knowing God is simply knowing that you have a relationship with God and knowing that there is forgiveness for your sins, that you have been delivered from your sins and their penalty. That's the first stage in spiritual development.

So, what's the second stage? It's young manhood, young womanhood. Notice how it's described in verse 13. I am writing to you young men because you have overcome the evil one. There is a measure of spiritual victory, of living a life of obedience. Notice verse 14. It's described a little further. I have written to you, young men, because you are strong. The word of God abides in you and you have overcome the evil one. So, the next step in spiritual maturity and the knowledge of God is a deeper and richer knowledge of the Scripture that enables you to begin to overcome the sinful patterns in your life, and to live in an increasing level of righteousness, and a descending and decreasing pattern of sin. That's the next level of spiritual maturity, knowing the Scripture, being able to live in obedience to the Scripture.

But then, there's a third stage of spiritual maturity. He speaks of fathers, spiritual fathers. Verse 13. I am writing to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. Verse 14, "I have written to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. He says, listen, spiritual fathers not only know that their sins are forgiven, that they've entered into a relationship with God, they not only understand the word of God and have experienced a measure of increasing obedience to God, but they actually have come to know God in a real and intimate and personal way through His word. Those are the levels of spiritual maturity. Where do you fall?

Now if those are the levels of spiritual growth and maturity in our knowledge of God, how do we grow to the next stage? While knowing God is experiential, that is a subjective experience in one sense, that experience is only legitimate as it interacts or intersects with the Scripture. There is no legitimate personal knowledge of God outside of a biblical knowledge of God. So that means, if you and I are going to grow in our subjective experience of knowing God, we must first grow in our objective knowledge of God. We must better understand what He has revealed about Himself and His attributes and what He does. That's what John says here in 1 John 2. He says, Young men, those who have progressed beyond spiritual infancy are those who have come to understand God and His truth. They understand the Bible. They get it. And because they get it, they've seen a decreasing pattern of sin in their lives and an increasing pattern of righteousness and obedience. So, the Word of God is the key.

Let me give you several practical suggestions for growing in your knowledge of God, for leaving whatever stage you're at now and growing beyond that. And if you're already a spiritual father, who has a deep intimate relationship with God, then you can progress in that as well. Several practical suggestions.

Number one. Read some good books about God by men who know God. Books like A.W. Tozer's Knowledge of the Holy, A.W. Pink The Attributes of God, or if you really willing to bite off a heavy chunk, Stephen Charnok's The Existence and Attributes of God. Read about God. These men teach you about God from the Scripture. And you will learn who He is, and that's crucial to growing in a true knowledge of God.

And in the same vein, let me encourage you to listen 'to the Sunday night series that we did on the attributes of God. Over many weeks we looked at each of the attributes in great detail, and their personal application to our lives. It's all online. You can get it and listen to it.

Thirdly, read, study, meditate on the Scripture every day. That's the key. That's how you grow in your knowledge of God. It's when you come to the Scripture. And let me tell you this. When you come to the Scripture, don't think of the Bible as a manual. Don't think of the Bible as a book filled with spiritual principles to help you live your best life now. The problem with that kind of approach is that it's man-centered, not God-centered.

E. W. Bullinger describes the sad condition of many Christians who are more self-absorbed than God-absorbed. Listen to what he writes. "Instead of breathing this life-giving air of heaven, [that is, looking for God,] their windows are closed, their doors are shut, and they are asphyxiated with their own exhalation. They are breathing over again and again their own breath from which all vitality is gone." [That is a powerful description of where most Christians live. Completely self-absorbed. The doors locked, the windows shut, simply thinking and meditating on themselves.]

The Bible is not intended to be a manual. It is God's self-revelation. When you come to the Bible, and you must, look at God. When you read a passage, you should always be trying to do two things: understand it in its context, and look for God. What does that passage say God is? And what does that passage say God does? And as you study, and as you read, like Paul, pray that God would give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in a deepening knowledge of God Himself.

Let's pray together.

Our Father, we thank you for Paul. We thank you for his great example to us.

Help us to learn how important this is, Father. Illumine our understanding even about the importance of illumination. Father, help us to pray and to seek You in the Scripture. I pray that You would deepen each of us who know You in our real knowledge of You. Don't let us be content with where we are. Father, don't let us live a meandering life, an aimless life. Help us instead to target the next stage of spiritual development and maturity in the knowledge of You.

Father, there are people here today who don't know You. They have never entered into relationship with You, and I pray that today You would illumine their minds that the blindness that's been there to the gospel would be removed, and today they would see the glory of Christ and find Him so infinitely beautiful and attractive that they would be willing to give up everything else to get Christ.

Father, there are others here today who are spiritual infants. May they commit themselves, Father, to grow into spiritual youth, where they know the Scripture and are growing in their obedience to it.

And Father, there are many here today who live as spiritual young people, and I pray that You would help all of us to grow into spiritual fatherhood, when we can truly say that we know You in a real and deep and intimate way.

But Father, wherever we find ourselves today, don't let us ever be content. Give us a consuming passion to know You better. We pray in Jesus name. Amen.