The Spirit of Wisdom and Revelation
The Apostle Paul records for us a remarkable prayer in Ephesians 1:15ff. At the heart of this prayer is his request that “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory,” might give to the saints in Ephesus (and you and me as well!) “the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him” (Eph. 1:17). Continue reading . . .
The Apostle Paul records for us a remarkable prayer in Ephesians 1:15ff. At the heart of this prayer is his request that “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory,” might give to the saints in Ephesus (and you and me as well!) “the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him” (Eph. 1:17).
The reason for this request is so that God would act in such a way that they might more fully grasp and understand the implications of the many spiritual blessings with which he has already blessed them (and us) in Christ. Paul doesn’t assume that simply because we have been so richly blessed we need no further understanding or growth or application of these truths.
Let’s not miss the importance of the word, “give” (v. 17b). This is a crucial reminder that the knowledge of God is the gift of God (see Matt. 11:27; 16:17; 1 John 5:20). Human genius cannot account for the knowledge of God. Neither native abilities, education, nor human will power can attain insight into the character and heart of God. God is known by “a divine and supernatural light” (to use the words of Jonathan Edwards). The youngest and lowliest of children can exceed the oldest and most elevated of scientists when it comes to the knowledge of God!
My question for us today, however, is the referent in the word “S/spirit”. Is this the Holy Spirit or the human spirit (cf. Eph. 4:23; Gal. 6:1)? I believe it is the Holy Spirit for which Paul prays. Here is why.
First, the Holy Spirit is the agent of revelation (cf. John 15:26) and illumination (1 John 2:27). Indeed, “revelation” always finds its source in either the Father, Son, or Spirit (see Matt. 11:25,27; 16:17; Rom. 2:5; 8:19; 1 Cor. 1:7; 2:10; Gal. 1:12,16; Eph. 3:5).
Second, one telling argument against taking “spirit” as a reference to the human spirit is the word “revelation” itself. As Gordon Fee notes, “whereas one might be able to understand ‘a spirit of wisdom’ to mean something like ‘a wise disposition’ or ‘a wise spirit,’ to speak that way of ‘revelation’ is to speak near nonsense. What, one wonders, can ‘a spirit of revelation’ possibly mean in any sense in English?” (676).
Third, consider also the Trinitarian structure of Ephesians 1. It seems also to appear here in v. 17 where we find reference to Jesus and the Father. How appropriate, then, that the Spirit should also be in view. In this regard, see especially Isaiah 11:2 where the Holy Spirit is specifically described as “the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might.”
Fourth, we should take note of the parallel in Romans 8:15 where Paul speaks of the “Spirit of adoption” (see also Col. 1:9).
If the “spirit” refers to the Holy Spirit, as I believe it does, we should understand the verb “give” to mean an increased activity or deepening experience or intensified ministry of the Spirit. After all, believers already have the Spirit, as Ephesians 1:13-14 make clear. In the words of Fee, “the prayer is not for some further Spirit reception, but for the indwelling Spirit whom they have already received to give them further wisdom and revelation. The emphasis, therefore, is not in receiving the Spirit as such, but on receiving (or perhaps realizing?) the resident Spirit’s gifts” (676). In summary, Paul’s prayer is that God would grant us his Spirit who in turn will supply the wisdom to understand what he also reveals to us about the character and purposes of God and our role in the latter.
Note that here we have an unmistakable reference to revelation being given to non-apostolic Christians, revelation that is, therefore, non-canonical. Contrary to the cessationist argument, revelation is not restricted to the biblical authors or to the biblical canon. God can and does speak and grant knowledge and insight and illumination and truth to the average believer without such revelatory activity threatening the finality or sufficiency of Scripture!
Above all else we must keep in mind that the purpose of the Spirit’s revelatory activity is to increase our knowledge of God (see Phil. 1:9; Col. 1:9-10; Philem. 6). The request for the Spirit’s heightened and intensified activity in our hearts is that we grow “in the knowledge of him” (v. 17b). How different this is from the standard prayers uttered by believers today, whose primary concern is with health and wealth and ease and comfort.
Quite to the contrary, Paul prays for the Ephesians (and we should in turn pray for ourselves and for others) that God, through the heightened ministry of the Spirit, would enlighten the eyes of our hearts so that we might “know what is the hope to which he has called” us and “what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints” and that we might know, or experience more deeply, “what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe” (vv. 18-19a).
If such were the content and focus of our prayers, how radically different and more Christ-exalting would be our lives!