For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named…
This passage of Ephesians has one of the most profound prayers of Scripture, one that we often refer to for encouragement, insight, wisdom, perspective, and knowledge. Because of teh preimmence in Christian thought of this prayer we will take a few days to examine it in detail.
“For this reason” refers to what he wrote before and we are safer, I believe, when a specific and narrow interpretation is not clarified, to take a broader understanding. Paul referred, I believe, to the discussion of the grace of God equally distributed upon the Gentiles and the Jews alike, together, united as one. That thought of the unity of all Christians, regardless of ethnic or pre-Christian experiential backgrounds, is the driving force of this eruption in prayer.
“i bow my knees” – a typical Jewish expression of prayer, a euphemism, using the concrete posture to describe a humble, reverential attitude before the Lord. This is not a command that we must always bow our knees when we pray – God is more interested in the condition of our heart than of our bodies – but it does depict the usual way, we may assume, that Paul prayed, and it commends its style to all of us.
But there is something else also found in this thought. Paul, as a former Pharisee, had come 180 degrees from where he had previously stood in these matters, and had now accepted the gospel truth of the inclusion of the Gentiles in God’s family. His reaction was one of humility, worship, and awe. He bowed, in this setting, not as a former Jewish theologian brought kicking and screaming to the acceptance of Gentile inclusion. He had been that before, but now he has come to humbly accept the wisdom and plan and grace of God. He bows before the Father. He is like the older brother of the returned Prodigal, who accepts his brother on the basis of the love of the Father for him.
Do we struggle with others in the church whom we might consider less of a Christian than ourselves? Does their immaturity, or their doctrinal confusion, or their pre-Christian background disturb us? Then we should start our acceptance of them by bowing before the Father. We love them because He loves them and we accept them because He accepts them through Christ.
“The Father … is named” – The point of Paul, and, more importantly, of the Spirit who inspired him, is that all believers of every dispensation or covenant have only one Father, and one Lord, namely Jesus Christ, and are of one family. John wrote a generation after Paul, “No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also” (1 John 2:23). People at different ages, under different covenants, did not hear of the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary, but they did have a witness into their lives by God’s word and through His Spirit, and responded through repentance and faith. Only through Christ is the sin of the world dealt with. In Colossians we read, “And through him [Christ] to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (Col. 1:20). We of this Christian generation bear the name of Jesus on earth, but those of other dispensations in heaven are now bearing the name of Jesus in heaven.His death paid for the sins of all believers, and only through His death is sin paid for: “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Heb 10:14).
In beginning this prayer this way, Paul was bowing before the wisdom and plan of God. This is the correct attitude in prayer, to begin by acknowledging the wisdom and workings of God in our world. We are privileged to be invited to join His work and His family, and this should be the overriding thought in our minds when we pray. This realization speaks peace to our hearts. Our problems seem to become smaller automatically when this truth is accepted.
Someone said that worry does not keep bad things from happening, it only keeps us from enjoying the good things that God is doing. How much more blessed are we to begin our expressions of concerns and requests to God by acknowledging in our hearts and in our minds that He has a plan and that His grace will uphold us.
Lord, thank You for Your grace and for Your eternal plan for us who believe in Christ. There are many things on this earth that disturb us, but none of these can remove us from Your hands or change Your intentions toward us. We thank You that You are always with us on earth and that You promise to take us to heaven when we die. Amen.
An additional word for the exegesis of this passage:
If you look at the King James Version you will note the additional line, “of our Lord Jesus Christ,” a phrase which newer translations mostly omit. Without delving into a long scholarly discussion as to the advantage of one Greek text over another, let me simply say that from the most recent scholarly research, the United Bible Societies have determined that those words were not part of the original, so they have now omitted them. The point of their research is always to find the purest, most original copy of the biblical text. They are not seeking to take things out of the Bible that were there to begin with, but rather to keep the Scriptures as pure as humanly possible.
Why was it added in the first place? It would appear that in the prayer Paul was focusing on the providential plan of God for Gentile inclusion and church unity, that the name of the Father was no less a Gentile’s than a Jewish Christian’s heritage. But from a theological perspective, it might have been confusing for someone, somewhere across the Christian centuries, who thought to clarify that the Greek word translated “is being named” must refer to Christ the Son and not God the Father. So they put on the margin an explanation, which eventually found its way into the text. But notice that none of this changes theology. There is no theological advantage or disadvantage to either reading. The Father and the Son work in complete agreement with one another.
“Every family in heaven and on earth” – Again, we are caught up in whether to translate the word pasa as “every” or as “the whole.” If we take “every family” then we would take it like J.B. Phillips, who translates or paraphrases this, “When I think of the greatness of this great plan I fall on my knees before God the Father (from whom all fatherhood, earthly or heavenly, derives its name)” and that is one interpretation. Paul referred to the awesome plan of God the Father.
If we take it to mean the “whole family of God,” then it refers both to those in heaven who are redeemed under previous covenants of God and to those who are living on earth under the current covenant of grace through Jesus Christ.
Whatever may be understood of this phrase, what is clear is that Paul was not presenting some sort of universalism, that all religions have the same God as their father, so they are, in the end all the same. He was pinpointing the result of the doctrine of God’s grace in Christ was that all believers were of the same rank and status.