Whenever we read Scripture, we should attempt to determine as much as possible about the original context and purpose of the particular passage of study. This practice gives us a guide to interpretation and keeps us from going off into fanciful interpretations or from reading our own opinions into the text. Generally speaking, it is easiest to determine the purpose of each of the New Testament epistles because the apostle refers to specific problems in the congregation. For example, Paul’s purpose in writing Galatians is clear—to expose the false gospel preached by the Judaizers and unfold the gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone (Gal. 1:6–10; 2:11–21).
Ephesians, however, presents us with some difficulty because Paul does not mention any specific problems troubling the church at the time he wrote. Yet since the letter covers a whole host of basic Christian doctrinal and ethical principles, we can surmise that the pressing need of the believers in Ephesus and the surrounding regions was instruction in doctrine and living so that they might mature in the faith. Today’s passage helps confirm this, as Paul prays for “a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him” (Eph. 1:17).
Commentators agree that the “spirit” is God the Holy Spirit, the One present in all believers at the moment of conversion to seal them as the Lord’s possession and assure them of salvation (vv. 13–14). Paul is not asking the Father to give the Ephesian Christians the Holy Spirit as if the Spirit were not already ministering to them, but is asking for the Spirit, who is present with the Ephesians, to grant them fuller understanding of God and His grace. The goal of wisdom and revelation is “knowledge of him”—the Creator who has revealed Himself in Christ Jesus the Lord (Phil. 2:5–11).
John Calvin writes, “Till the Lord opens them, the eyes of our heart are blind. Till the Spirit has become our instructor, all that we know is folly and ignorance. Till the Spirit of God has made it known to us by a secret revelation, the knowledge of our divine calling exceeds the capacity of our own minds.” At regeneration, the Holy Spirit opens our eyes so that we can see who God is and who we are for the very first time. But after conversion, He continues to work to give us insight into His revealed Word and to deepen our personal relationship with Him (John 16:13; Gal. 5:16).