Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 1:18 Introduction
If you investigate a man’s prayers, you see deep within his essence. Paul was a man intimate with God. The contents of his intercessory prayer for the Ephesians reveals what mattered most to this mighty man of God. First and foremost, he desired for his readers an humble spirit which would make them seek wisdom in God’s revelation, resulting in a closer walk with God. This must ever be the starting point in all our spiritual endeavours, because everything in Christianity emanates from relationship with God.
Our primary interest must always be intimacy with God. Is this your first concern when you read your Bible? Are you above all else seeking to be drawn nearer to His “precious, bleeding side”? We often come to Holy Writ primarily for personal comfort or encouragement. These are worthy reasons, but we must view them as secondary goals of our Bible reading.
If, in coming to Holy Writ, our first objective is something other than a closer walk with God, we find ourselves acting like the husband who calls home from his office and says to his wife, “Honey, I called for only one reason–to say I love you. By the way, remember to take out the garbage, and don’t forget to iron my shirt.” The man obviously did not call primarily for the sake of love. I fear we often approach Bible reading the same way. We have other motives than love for God at the forefront.
When we come to the Bible with the right motivation, when love for God is upper-most in our thoughts, many secondary benefits accrue to us from our reading. As we come seeking a closer walk with Jesus, something happens in addition to an improved relationship with Him. We not only know God better, but also begin to understand better various elements of the salvation He has provided. We gain a clearer understanding of Biblical truth and theology. In his intercessory prayer for the Ephesians, Paul now turns his attention to these “extra” benefits.
Eph. 1:18 “The eyes of your understanding. . .”
“Understanding” would be better translated “heart.” The word refers to man’s inmost self, the center of his personality. “The eyes of your heart” is a way of describing the ability to perceive the great truths of God. A marvelous part of conversion is the opening of one’s spiritual eyes.
This faculty of spiritual sight is totally lacking in the unregenerate. They are spiritually blind, powerless to perceive spiritual truths. “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 C 2:14). A lost man is spiritually dead, and the only message a corpse can respond to is the command, “Live!” A man spiritually dead can be resurrected through the new birth, but until this happens, he is spiritually blind, unable to understand spiritual truths. Do not argue much with a lost man about Biblical truths. He is in no position to understand. Keep talking to him about Jesus and salvation. This is his only hope.
Only regeneration can open a person’s inner eyes. At Philippi, Paul shared the Gospel with a ladies prayer group which met on the Sabbath by the riverside. One of the listeners was a seller of purple, Lydia, “whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul” (AC 16:14). In the new birth, God opens the heart’s eyes.
Eph. 1:18b “. . .being enlightened;. . .”
Once God opens “the eyes of your heart,” He ever continues to enlighten them. This precious work of the Holy Spirit is referred to as the doctrine of illumination. It is a teaching much neglected in many circles today.
Three things are essential for a believer to receive a significant truth from God–revelation, inspiration, and illumination. Revelation and inspiration are external testimonies of the Spirit, illumination is internal. Revelation and inspiration are past events, illumination is ongoing.
Revelation is the disclosure by God of realities men could not know otherwise. The incarnation was “the” era of abundant revelations. John, Jesus’ dear friend, wrote, “There are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written” (JN 21:25).
Inspiration is the means the Holy Spirit used to preserve forever, in written form, those revelations all believers in all ages would need. While divinely kept from error, witnesses recorded select revelations, and properly interpreted them, for posterity. The product of this inspiration is the Bible.
Illumination, the object of our present text, describes the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit which allows a believer to find the true spiritual meaning of a Bible passage. The Spirit helps us understand what He wrote. Illumination enables us to profit from the revelation recorded by inspiration.
After a person receives spiritual sight, he must continue to depend upon God, that the eyes of the heart may be more and more observant. Remember, Paul offered this prayer for believers, for people who already had faith in Jesus, and love for all the saints (1:15). We must never think we have “arrived.” At best we are little children paddling on the edge of a vast sea. Even those who see most clearly still need to have their vision im-proved, for oceans of God’s truth are yet to be beheld.
As long as we are on earth, we will need this work of the Holy Spirit. Our repeated backsliding and coldness in affection for Christ makes us ever need greater enlightment. It is something we must ever have renewed within us. We can never live on a reserve we have accumulated. We must come to Holy Writ, ever acknowledging anew our need of the Holy Spirit.
Ever ask for more spiritual eye-salve, for better understanding of God’s truth. Pray with the Psalmist, “Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law” (119:18).
Our need for this ongoing ministry of the Holy Spirit is perfectly illustrated in a story related by Martin Lloyd-Jones. One of history’s preeminent statesmen was William Wilberforce, a born again member of Parliament who pioneered the movement for the abolition of slavery. His dear friend William Pitt the younger was at best a nominal Christian who attended church only on special occasions. Wilberforce was worried about Pitt’s spiritual life and finally succeeded in getting his friend to accompany him to hear the powerful preacher, Richard Cecil. Wilberforce had heard Cecil preach many times, but felt the minister had never done a better job than the day on which Pitt came to hear him. Wilberforce felt he had been raptured to heaven, and was left speechless by the message, but as they left, Pitt said, “You know, Wilberforce, I did my very best to concentrate with the whole of my power upon what that man was saying, but I have not the slightest idea as to what he has been talking about.” From the human standpoint, Pitt was a greater man than Wilberforce. Pitt had more ability, a keener mind and wit. But the truth of God was hidden to him.
It is possible for a Christian to hear the word of God proclaimed and not profit thereby. Believers sometimes read the Bible, but find nothing in it, and actually deem it boring. How are these tragedies possible? Sometimes it is because we come with the wrong motive, other times because we have forgotten to yield ourselves to the Holy Spirit’s illumination.
The Spirit’s illumination has been an unspeakable blessing in my own life. I always believed sin was terrible, but can remember when the Holy Spirit illuminated my heart on this matter. He turned head-knowledge into truth which burned deep within me. I was preparing a sermon in my office at Gosnell. In studying James 2:10, “Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all,” I was overwhelmed by its truth. I had read or heard this verse scores of times, but on that day the Holy Spirit sensitized my heart to what it really meant. I had never in my life felt such a sense of the sinfulness of sin. I fell from my chair and prostrated myself face down on the floor, pouring out my soul to God.
I always believed in the victorious Christian life, but vividly remember when victory became a real, vibrant possibility in my life. After preaching through Romans 6, I never again viewed any particular sin in my life the same way. Since being illuminated by the Spirit, I have always approached my battles with sins from the position of strength and victory.
The doctrine of eternal security has always been precious to me, but a study of Romans 8:28-39 years ago drove the doctrine into the very warp and woof of my life. When the Spirit illuminated me on this matter, eternal security became a doctrine I not only believed, but also one so intertwined with my spirit that I could hardly live without it.
At one time, I did not believe in the resurrection of our physical bodies, but a decade ago the Spirit illuminated me from Daniel 12. The doctrine of imputation was driven into my soul in Romans 4. A proper understanding of faith came to me in Hebrews 10-11. On and on I could go.
As long as we live, let’s take advantage of this ministry of illumination the Holy Spirit provides. Allow Him to continue giving us fresh and new insights from His Word along our pilgrim way.
Let me summarize this matter in a very practical way. All the truth we need to know is contained in the Bible, and the Holy Spirit gives us the ability to apprehend, appropriate, and apply this truth. We do not need more revelations or better truth (the latter is impossible). We simply need our spiritual eyes enlightened to the truths already recorded in Scripture.