As the pastor read Paul’s prayer for the people in Ephesians 1:15-17 out of the NIV, I followed along in the New English translation. I typically carry a different translation from what I expect the pastor to use because the small differences in word choices cause me to think and question in a manner that draws me into God’s word in a deeper way. In the NIV, Ephesians 1:15-17 reads like this:
For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.
As is often the case, I found interesting differences warranting further study. One of the differences I noted was that the NIV indicated the ‘purpose’ or end result of Paul’s prayer was ‘so that’ the Ephesians might grow in knowledge of God. In fact, much of the pastor’s sermon focused on this purpose aspect of Paul’s prayer. Since the New English translation’s word choices didn’t seem to suggest an element of purpose at all, I knew my follow-up study would be immediate (or at least right after I finished Sunday lunch).
Years ago, I recognized the importance of the little and often unnoticed words in language when I discerned the deep difference between two Greek words, ἵνα (so that) and ὅτι (that). Generally speaking, ἵνα has to do with direction forward in purpose or time; in other words, something happens in order that something else will happen as a result. ὅτι, on the other hand, has to do with direction backward in terms of cause; in this case, something has, is or will happen because of something that has already occurred.
Because of the purpose aspect of the NIV translation of verse 17, I would have expected to see the word ἵνα, but didn’t. Instead, the original language for this passage uses the word, ἐν, which is a word that has to do with position or place and is most frequently translated as ‘in.’ The Greek dictionary defines the word as a place or position of rest; a midpoint between two Greek words, eiς indicating the point reached or entered, and ἐk, denoting the point whence motion or action originated. In other words, Paul is praying they might be at rest in their knowledge of and position in God.
To illustrate the possible impact of the difference between gaining a better knowledge of God and resting in the knowledge of who God is, my daughter and I received copies of about 50 letters my grandfather had written from 1894 until his death in 1915. In reading them, I discovered he did not have any peace or rest concerning his relationship with God. He wrote his brother of his “hopes of being a Christian that is my only object in the future.” He seemed to long to be a Christian but, in his language choices, it appeared to always be distant from him. I think it is the longing of a soul to be united with its maker/creator that is the reason for Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians. In other words, Paul wants them to know God in such a way that they rest in Him and are not merely in the process of either moving out of or moving into some ill-defined or merely hoped-for relationship with God.
Paul’s statement to the Ephesians is that he gives thanks for them in prayer so that (ἵνα) God would give them a spirit of wisdom and revelation in (not ἵνα) the knowledge of Him. Our position in God is not based on hope or faith or even in evidences from a life well lived (generally referred to as good works), but this position in God is based on knowledge of everything about who He is: maker, creator, sustainer, savior, redeemer and judge.
The end result of a life lived as an answer to Paul’s prayer for us would be that we could, with assurance, joy and rest, sing the song taken from 2 Timothy 1:12:
I know whom I have believed
And am persuaded
That He is able
To keep that which I’ve committed
Unto Him against that Day.