Trinitarian Prayer, 1.3.21
I’ve missed you, dear brothers and sisters. It’s been so long since I’ve seen you. Last time I saw you was last year. Happy New Year to everyone. What a year 2020 was. A year that we all want to forget. Praise the Lord for a new year, a new year of his grace, mercy, kindness, and power. We do not know what 2021 holds, but we know who holds 2021 in their hand. That is the Lord God, who reigns forever and ever. Praise the Lord.
Thank you, brother Kevin for your introduction and prayer. You are godly man. I and this church are thankful for you and for your service to this body.
Along with your other prayers for this body, please do be praying for Pastor Jesse. He and his family are on vacation. Jesse is a tireless pastor. Pastor Jesse is a faithful brother. Be praying for his trip. Pray that his trip is refreshing, rejuvenating, and filled with fun. Thank you, Pastor Jesse, for your faithful service to our body. We pray for your time away from our church body, that it would be a blessing to you, Katie, and your children.
With a new year, we begin a new sermon series. We begin this morning our study on prayer. The goal that I have in mind for this study is that our own personal prayer lives would improve. That we would pray more often, more passionately, more biblically, and more fervently. Prayer is essential to the Christian faith. You cannot be a Christian and not pray. Prayerlessness is a mark of ungodliness. The godlier you are the more you will prayer. Prayer is so, so, so important. We all need more prayer in our personal lives. Also, I want us to improve more in our prayer as a corporate body. I want us to improve in our prayer lives as individuals and also as a church. I want us as a body to gather together and to pray together. To pray as brothers and sisters in Christ who’s only hope is the Lord Jesus Christ. To beseech God together for help, for aid, to give him thanks, praise, and honor. To do this together.
To aid us in this endeavor, the elders have discussed having a church-wide prayer meeting. We have not specified the date, but towards the end of this series we are planning on having this prayer meeting. We plan to have this to be a reoccurring meeting. Possibly a quarterly prayer meeting. Something like that. As we come to a greater consensus what we have planned, I will share those details with you.
To begin this prayer series this morning, I want to start with some theological foundations. This morning, as the title of the sermon suggests, we will investigate the trinitarian theological foundations of prayer. The Trinity is central to our confession of faith. Absolutely central. Who is God? God is Triune. There is one God, and God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. You cannot have Christianity without this confession. Who God is ought to factor into everything we do as Christians. Specifically, the goal of this morning’s sermon is to investigate how each person of the Trinity relates to our prayers. The passage that we will use to answer this question is Eph 3:14–19. Let’s go ahead and turn their together; or, if you are using an electronic device, go ahead and click on this passage.
Reading along the passage together,
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
The way I am going to treat this passage is not going to be a word-by-word exposition. We won’t investigate every word, clause, and statement in this passage, as I would usually do. Rather, we are going to look at this passage as something of a template for how we should pray. We will dive into this passage, but not every detail. Instead, what I want us to investigate about this passage is the way that Paul speaks of each person of the Trinity. We’re looking for a theological, trinitarian pattern to how Paul prays in this passage. This will not be an exposition of this passage but more of a theological investigation of how Paul speaks of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in this passage.
What we have here is a prayer from Paul. Verse 14 specifies this. Paul here kneels to pray. In his prayer, the three persons of the Trinity occur—the Father in v. 14 and in v. 19, the Spirit in v. 16, and the Son in v. 17–19. Paul prays a Trinitarian prayer here. And what I want to argue for this morning is this idea. This is the large idea. Prayer should be directed to the Father, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit. We are going to break this big idea down into three smaller, bite-size points.
To God the Father
For our first point, write this. “To God the Father.” Prayer should be directed to God the Father. What I want us to see from this point is what is generally the case in the NT is that prayer is directed to God the Father. This is what is generally the case. This is not always the case but it is generally the case. Paul does that here. He offers his prayer to God the Father.
The Father Addressed
Now looking at the text. Eph 3:14–16 says this,
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being.
A couple of observations here about Paul’s prayer in relation to the Father. What I want you to observe three matters in this passage regarding Paul and praying to the Father. First, notice in v. 14 that Paul “bows his knee before the Father.” Paul acknowledges that it is to the Father specifically to whom he is prayer. Paul here is not praying to the Son or to the Spirit. Paul’s prayer is directed towards the Father. Paul gives the priority of who his prayer is directed towards to the Father.
The Father Acts Fatherly
Second, notice the theology that is spoken of in v. 3:15. Paul says, that it is from the Father
from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named
What does this mean? Once again as I’ve said before in our interpretation of Scripture it is so helpful to see what is not there; to observe in this passage what it is that Paul does not say. Notice how Paul does not specify this work naming of all families to the Son or the Spirit. Paul specifies that it is the Father, not the Son or the Spirit, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is names. This quality is only attributed to the Father. That is what the text does not say.
What does the text say? I’ve already mentioned this. This act of naming every family in heaven and on earth is attributed to the Father. What we see here is we see a similarity between earthly fathers and our heavenly Fathers. Fathers name their children. In conjunction with their wives, a father will create a child and give that child a name. Within the Trinity, it is the Father who is attributed with the work of fatherhood. God the Father is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. As the Father, God the Father creates and names all earthly families. This does not mean that the Son and the Spirit do not also participate in this. They do. In every action in which the Holy Trinity engages in, all persons are active and involved. None the less they each have unique roles to play. The Father is uniquely fatherly. He creates in a unique sense and names the families of earth in a unique sense. The Father is the person of the Trinity in whom divine actions originate. Whether it be creation, naming families, or answering prayer. The Father is the person of the Trinity in whom divine actions originates—like creating and naming.
The Father Answers Prayer
And we see his role in answering prayer in v. 16. Paul writes,
that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened
So God the Father is the person of the Trinity to whom Paul addresses and God the Father in a unique sense creates and names every earthly family. This verse specifies that God the Father is the person of the Trinity who Paul expects to grant his request. Paul says, “He may grant you to be strengthened.” The “he” here is God the Father.
Now, dear friends, I have said that praying to God the Father is general rule that this passage teaches, as well as all of Scripture. However, Sometimes in the NT you can find prayers to Jesus Christ. Revelation 2:20 says this,
He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
This is just one example of prayers being directed towards Jesus. There are more. I don’t believe Jesus’ main job is to answer prayers. Rather, Jesus’ main job in prayer is to serve as the mediator of our access to God the Father. We will explore this in our second point. I don’t believe that there are any occurrences in Scripture of prayer being directed to the Holy Spirit. This is not an indication that the Spirit is not God. Rather, I take it, it is an indication that the Holy Spirit’s job is not to answer prayers. Rather, the Spirit’s job, as we will see, is to empower the Christian to pray.
The Father Does Not Pray
Besides this analysis of this text regarding the Father and prayer, I’d like to point out one other observation about the Father found in Scripture concerning his role in prayer. I’m going out on a limb here. I have not seen anyone put this into print, so I say it cautiously. Nowhere in Scripture is it recorded that the Father prays. The Father is never recorded praying to Jesus or to the Spirit. However, you do have instances in Scripture where Jesus prays to the Father (this happened in Jesus’ earthly ministry and he intercedes now for the saints) and where the Spirit prays to the Father (in Rom 8; which we will study in two weeks). The Bible never records God the Father praying, but it does record the Son and the Spirit praying.
What’s all this mean? Bringing together the analysis of this passage in Eph 3 and this broader analysis regarding the observation that Scripture never mentions the Father praying. This is what I am saying with this point. Generally, the pattern of prayer found in Scripture is that Christians pray to God the Father. All divine acts begin and end with Him. He ordains that we pray and he is the One who ordains the answers to our prayers. Or, in other words, generally we should pray to the One who does not pray. Pray to the One to whom is uniquely responsible for granting and answering prayer. Pray to the One to whom is the unique role to grant answers to prayer.
In the Spirit
Now, dear friends, we investigate the Spirit’s role in Paul’s prayer in order to understand what role the Spirit should play in our prayer lives. This is my second point. Write this, “In the Spirit.” First point was “to the Father,” that is, prayer should be directed to the Father. Second point is, “In the Spirit,” which I will explain to mean that we prayer in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Looking at the text. The Spirit shows up in v. 16. We already explored the first part of v. 16, which dealt with the Father grant the answers to our prayers. Now let’s explore the second part of v. 16. Reading the whole verse, Paul writes,
that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being,
Paul prays to God the Father that out of the Father’s “riches of glory” that he would strengthen the Ephesians with power. We all need this type of prayer from time to time. I regularly pray that God would show me his power. That God with strengthen me with his power. That the power of God all mighty would fuel and empower my life. That is a wonderful prayer to pray. Pray that prayer often.
Paul mentions that it is “through his Spirit” that he prays this prayer. So Paul wants God to strength the Ephesians, and Paul requests that this plea be accomplished “through the Holy Spirit.” What’s this mean? It means that it is the Spirit is the agent who God the Father uses to accomplish this empowering of the Ephesians. The Spirit of God is God the Father’s and God the Son’s personal agent for accomplishing the work of redemption.
Let me explain with an illustration. As a dad there are often responsibilities that I need to fulfill but that my children can be the ones who do these tasks for me. I have responsibilities that I need to fulfill that my children do for me. They can and do become my “agents” in accomplishing these tasks. So a real specific example. As we approached the Christmas season, my kids more and more looked forward to the mail coming every day. They want to see what type of gifts or treats they might get. You know, just excited about Christmas. What a joyous excitement they had. So the mail comes every day and it needs to be checked every day. Well maybe not everyday but often. So it’s Kathryn and I’s responsibility to check the mail. If a bill comes in the mail and we don’t check the mail and don’t pay the bill, we’re responsible. So we are the ones who are charged with checking the mail. But out of our love for our kids and our desire for them to be excited, we will bid them to go check the mail. Hey, Aubrey, Hudson (Ethan’s a little small to check the mail right now), go check the mail for us. So they’ll put on the clothes, their shoes, go check the mail, and bring it back. We gave them the directive. They went were the “agents” the “means” how we checked the mail. They accomplished our bidding.
The Holy Spirit is in some sense like that. The Holy Spirit’s job is to accomplish the decree of God the Father and to apply the salvific work of Christ in the live of a believer. The Holy Spirit is the one who accomplishes the decrees of God and who applies the work of Christ.
So how do we receive the power of God, the forgiveness of the Lord Jesus Christ? How does we become empowered in our prayer lives? Who is it specifically who works in us the power, the conviction, the desire, and the passion to pray? It is uniquely the work of the Holy Spirit.
When we pray, we pray in the power of the Holy Spirit. We are not instructed to pray to Him but to pray to God the Father in light of the Spirit’s empowering presence in the life of a believer. The Spirit provides the believer what it is the believer needs to pray. If you feel empowered to pray, convicted to pray it is because the Spirit is accomplishing in you God the Father’s decree and Christ the Lord’s salvation in your life. The Spirit makes concrete in your life what God the Father and God the Son have for you. He makes it concrete.
Now, dear friends, we go to investigate what role Jesus plays in Paul’s prayer in order to investigate what role Jesus should pray in our prayer lives. This is my second point. Write this, “through Jesus.” First point was prayer is directed to God the Father.” Second point is prayer is directed through Jesus Christ.”
Looking at the text, Jesus shows up in vv. 17 through 19. Let’s read those passages together. Paul writes,
so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge
What we have here regarding Christ, the point that is accentuated in this passage is Jesus’ love for the believer. Paul’s prayer is that God the Father would strengthen the believer in power through the Spirit so that the believer would know the love of Christ more. I take that to be the basic idea of the prayer. The believer’s growth in their knowledge of the love of Christ is how Paul specifies Jesus’ role in this prayer.
What Paul is bringing out here with Jesus is his love. Paul wants the Ephesians to grow in their understanding of Christ’s love. Now, dear friends, what is first and foremost what Jesus has done for us to show forth that love for us? He has died for us. Jesus shows us his love through his life, death, and resurrection for us. This love that Paul wants the Ephesians to grow in is a better understanding of Jesus’ work for them.
Jesus’ love is not only what Paul wants the Ephesians to grow in their knowledge of. Also, it is Jesus’ love that makes Paul’s prayer possible. When we come to God the Father in prayer, we come to him in the power of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit empowers us to come to the Father. We need that empowerment to pray. The Spirit provides that. We also, though, need a right standing before God when we come and pray to him. To have access to our heavenly Father, we must come before him cleansed of our sins. This cleansing, dear Christian, comes by means of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is by means of Jesus sacrifice that we can come to God. We do not come to the Father based on our own goodness and righteous. We do not have that right. We are sinners. We are in desperate need for Jesus’ work in our lives. And it is Jesus work, through his work, that we can come to God the Father.
Jesus makes prayer possible. He is the mediator between God and man. Jesus is who makes it possible for us to pray to God and for God to hear our prayers. Jesus, 1 Timothy states, is the mediator between God and man. Prayer is not possible without Jesus’ mediation. We pray through him, because of Jesus’ mediation.
Paul prays for the Ephesians greater sense of the love of Christ, and it is through the love of Christ that Paul comes to the Father through. A goal of prayer is for us to grow in our understanding of the love of Christ, and the way we come to God in prayer is through the love of Christ—through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection for us.
This is what it means to pray “in the name of Jesus.” When we end our prayer by saying “in the name of Jesus Christ,” that’s not some magical incantation to add to the end of a prayer. Rather, that is the basis, the foundation in which prayer is possible. We cannot prayer without Jesus sacrifice for our sins. God is opposed to us outside of the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. His love is a goal of prayer and his love is the basis of prayer.
As we end this morning, let me conclude with this thought to drive home the importance of this topic. The doctrine of the Trinity matters. Imagine if I taught that God the Father died on the cross for your sins. How bad is that? That’s really bad. That’s bad, dear friends. That is not true and it teaches a false notion of salvation. Theology matters. And a theology of prayer matters, too.
God desires us to grow in prayer. He wants us to pray more fervently, more passionately, more faithfully. Amen to all of that. God also wants us to grow in our understanding of the theology of prayer. It is by means of a correct knowledge of God that we can live rightly and pray rightly. We should not pray in a haphazard way. We should not pray prayers that are undisciplined theologically. This dishonors God. Praying to God the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit is the pattern that makes sense of the revelation that God has given us. Are there exceptions? Yes. Is it okay to not pray with this pattern in mind? Yes. But this pattern makes best sense of the data.
So here’s the application. Read the Scriptures to see if this pattern fits. Don’t take my word for it. See if this pattern, this framework makes good sense of all the biblical data. Examine these things for yourself. And then if you are convinced that this is a true and helpful pattern, pray this way. Be thoughtful regarding how you pray. Don’t approach prayer haphazardly theologically. And teach others to do the same.