Ephesians 1: 15-19
2 Peter 1: 1-11
I read this passage in Peter this afternoon and was tested by the two references in it to the knowledge of divine Persons. The first one is in verse 2 of 2 Peter 1, “Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord”, and the second one is in verse 8, “as regards the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ”. Now, if you look at the note to knowledge, you will see what made me feel tested, ’full knowledge’, ’personal recognition’. How is it possible to have that ’full knowledge’, ’personal recognition’ “of God and of Jesus our Lord”, “the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ”? I believe that that is what God has in mind for every one of us, dear brethren. It is testing. The word of God, which this is, always comes to us in love which is what makes it so attractive, but it always addresses the conscience. We sometimes read the scripture and it is either so familiar to us, or we are not paying enough attention to it, but if it does not touch the conscience at some point, then we are not allowing it to work. Yet it is always in love. God speaks in tones of faithful love and He would do so tonight.
I read first of all in Ephesians because Peter describes the way to that knowledge, but Paul in Ephesians speaks of the same idea, and he gives it a fullness in verse 17, “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, would give you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the full knowledge of him, being enlightened in the eyes of your heart, so that ye should know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints”. We are to know these things. That is not theoretical knowledge, and neither is it merely the knowledge that comes of paying attention to what others say, although that is a very important way to learn. But I think that Paul, in speaking to the Ephesians here, and Peter, in addressing his epistle “to them that have received like precious faith with us”, were pointing to the importance of this. It has raised the question with me, as maybe it does with you, how do we get this knowledge? The knowledge of Scripture itself is a wonderful thing and yet it is not enough. I often say in the preaching, and maybe I have said it here, but I once had to work very closely and intensively with a lawyer in Glasgow who had been brought up as a son of the manse, as we say in Scotland. That upbringing had embedded itself so much in his habits than when he brought up his family, he read the Scriptures with them every morning, and yet he was not a believer. This was his practice and habit. I said to him, ’What do you make of them?’ ’Oh’, he said, ’I find them riddled with logical inconsistencies. I want to pick up my pen and score out this verse because it is inconsistent with this one’. That man knew the Scriptures but he did not know them as the Word of God speaking to him. I felt very tested about that, and maybe you do too. Because of our upbringing, which is something we should be very, very thankful for, we do know the Scriptures, but do we know them as the living Word of God? Do we know them as a means to arriving at this knowledge of God, this ’full knowledge’, this ’personal recognition’? How great a part speaking plays in personal recognition. We know it from our own everyday experience. Listening to someone’s voice, hearing someone speak to us, is a very great part of ’personal recognition’. So that when God speaks to us, we may not always listen, but He would speak to us anyway. He does so through the page of Scripture, or it may be something that is said to us, it may be an impression that comes to us in the night. All of these things God uses to speak to us, and the knowledge of God comes from experience.
Really that is what Peter is saying to us, but Paul here sets it out. He thanks God for the love which these Ephesian saints have towards all the saints. He prays for them that God would give them “the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the full knowledge of him”, and that they might be enlightened in the eyes of their heart. That is a wonderful thing, “being enlightened in the eyes of your heart”, to see something in a different light. I think the Holy Spirit is part of that process of enlightening the eyes of the heart. The “full knowledge of him” brings in the affections of the believer, because God in His nature - we will come to that in Peter - is love, and that love is shining out and that affects us. It must do. If we are not affected by the revelation of the nature of God, then we cannot really say that we know God at all. We may know about Him, but we do not know Him. Here Paul is thanking God for the knowledge that these Ephesian saints had and praying that it might increase, that they might be given the “spirit of wisdom and revelation in the full knowledge of him, being enlightened in the eyes of your heart”.
Then he goes on to speak about “the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints”. Well, what a wonderful thing that is too! Here we are tonight, just a few of us in this city of half a million souls or so. There are just a few of us gathered, but what this represents is God’s inheritance in the saints, and what a wonderful thing it is. He goes on to speak of other very wonderful things. Paul, if you like, is setting out the divine standard. He goes on in chapter 3 to speak of “the breadth and length and depth and height; and to know the love of the Christ which surpasses knowledge”, v 18-19. That is something that my lawyer acquaintance would have put his pen through right away. How can you know something that “surpasses knowledge”? Well, in divine things you can do that. The love of God surpasses human knowledge. What reason was there for God to love us? But He loved us. As that quotation has it, ‘We were saints in purpose before we were sinners in practice’. Why was that? Because of the love of God. The ways of God with each one of us in experience, in tribulation, whatever it might be, are to the end that there might be more for Him, and that comes through a greater and deeper knowledge of Him. And so in chapter 3 of Ephesians it speaks of being “fully able to apprehend ... the breadth and length and depth and height”. What a wonderful sphere that is, and we would be lost in it apart from the love of God.
Well, Peter is speaking “to them that have received like precious faith”. He broadens out from his first epistle. His first epistle is addressed to those of the dispersion - that is the Jews who were thrown out of Palestine by the Romans and ended up all over the then known world, in little communities. You think what that would mean. You might suddenly be told by the authorities that you and your family have to go to Lithuania or something like that, a place you have never heard of and never been to, and you cannot come back again. That is what literally happened to these Jewish believers, and to all of the Jews in fact. The believers were not excepted from the harshness of what Rome did: these persons were dispersed. Nowadays we speak about ethnic cleansing, and really that is what happened to these people. But Peter here is broadening out now. He had written his first letter to these saints who had been the subjects of that awful dispersion, and now he is broadening out. He is writing “to them that have received like precious faith with us through the righteousness of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ”. Well, we owe it all to Him. He then brings in these references that I have already touched on. I read the whole section to get the context of it, but one thing that often strikes me is the end of verse 4, that God “has given to us the greatest and precious promises, that through these ye may become partakers of the divine nature”.
What a wonderful thing that is, divine love expressed in persons like you and me! What a wonderful thing it is, dear brethren, that you and I can know in ourselves the love of God. That is how God is served. That word shines out and the divine nature has been expressed in Jesus. It was expressed at the cross. Every preacher has this in principle in his heart as he preaches, and we all do when we come together. Why do we come here night after night, the same people to talk about what, you might say, are the same things? It is because there is something here that cannot be got anywhere else. It is sharing this wonderful thing that we have; “partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust”. Well, I do not want to speak about that, but we see it all around us, the horrible darkness that is encroaching in every country of the world, “the corruption that is in the world through lust. But for this very reason also ...”. Then Peter brings in this sequence of things. They are all important, because he says in verse 8, “for these things existing and abounding in you make you to be neither idle nor unfruitful as regards the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ”. How do we get that knowledge? How do we enjoy it? How do we “become partakers of the divine nature”? We begin with faith. Everyone here, I am sure, has faith. But then it goes on, and it is very testing; virtue, knowledge, temperance - the note tells us that that is self control. You see men all around us given up to what is intemperate, the wholesale giving of themselves to things that they should not be giving themselves to. But by the Holy Spirit self control can be exercised. Some of these things here are spiritual things, like godliness and faith, and some of them are practical things, and they are all woven together; so that temperance comes into the list along with faith and godliness, endurance, and then brotherly love. How sweet are these bonds that bind us together, and yet there is something greater than that; “in brotherly love, love”. That is the divine nature.
Well these are just a few thoughts. I felt the edge of it. How well do I know the heart of God? It was expressed fully at the cross. It was expressed in the writings of these dear apostles that have been preserved to us. How we should value them. “For these things existing and abounding in you make you to be neither idle nor unfruitful”. What there is to go in for! How much there is to commit ourselves to “as regards the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ”. And then Peter speaks again of diligence, “for thus shall the entrance into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ be richly furnished unto you”.
May the Lord just use these few words for our encouragement, to see that the outshining of the divine nature is to have an answer in the hearts of those like you and like me who have been affected by it. We learn God through His love, and through these things, endurance, all of these things in that list, which lead to the knowledge of God and to a greater and fuller response to Him from hearts that have been brought to know Him.
May the Lord bless the word.
14th October 2008