Ephesians Study, Part 24: The "Foolishness" of God vs. the "Wisdom" of Man


Last week, we concluded with Ephesians 3:10.    Reading this whole sentence:

In verse 10 we learned that through God's relationship with us as believers he is making known even to the Angels what his plan is.  We mentioned that he is showing this probably both to fallen Angels as well as the heavenly Angels.  And we talked about other verses in the New Testament where we are told that the Angels are watching what's going on here on earth and how they learn from that and how they celebrate when each sinner is redeemed. 

Today's Study: The "Foolishness" of God vs. the "Wisdom" of Man

But there's a lot more be learned in verse 10, so let's go deeper into that verse. 

What is God's manifold wisdom?   Well, you could say it's

By the way, the Greek word translated as "manifold" is polupoikilos, which means very variegated.  It is a similar word in Hebrew that talks about the coat of many colors that Joseph was given that caused all the troubles for him.  The thought is one of intricate beauty and embroidered pattern.  You can check that in Genesis 37:3 if you want.  Of course Genesis was written in Hebrew and Ephesians is written in Greek, but the words used contain a similar concept. 

It is interesting that it's manifold in that sense and yet it's foolishness to the unsaved, this incredible demonstration of God's program that is laid out here for the instruction on the Angels.  This is God's demonstration of his wisdom to the Angels.  Not the only purpose, but one of his many purposes.   And yet it is foolishness to a certain group of people.  Turn to First Corinthians 1:18.  It is a very familiar verse, but let's put it in focus one more time.  Paul has just told us that the wisdom of God is being unfolded to the universe through us, the angels themselves are watching.  Incredible.  Yet in verse 18 of First Corinthians Chapter 1, we find:

It is really fascinating as you begin to fathom the incredible mysteries of God's program.  But on the other hand to those who are perishing it is foolishness.  Now one of the most important aspects of verse 18 is that you should notice that the entire universe is divided into two parts.  That's the two kinds of people.  Those who think it's foolishness and those who think it's the power of God.  Who thinks it's foolishness?   Those who are perishing.  Everyone in this room is in one of those two categories.  You're either perishing and you regard this is foolishness, privately hopefully, but still you consider this foolishness.  Yet to those of us who are believers it is the power of God.  And why does God do this?  He tells us in verse 19:

Verse 25 is a great verse.  It is perhaps the ultimate oxymoron.  (Of course, an oxymoron is a self-contradictory phrase like "jumbo shrimp" or "military intelligence" or "an interesting engineer" or "a thinking liberal"). 

"The foolishness of God:" -- What a strange phrase!  If you stop and think about it, from Genesis 1 through Revelation, God seems to go out of his way to adopt weird ways of doing things.  He decides to erase the whole world and save 8 people by building a boat.  That's a strange thing to do.  Or he has Sampson killing Philistines with the jawbone of an ass.  You can go through the whole Bible and you'll see that God continues to use weird procedures, things that seem foolish to man.  And what is the ultimate foolishness of God?   Of all of the bizarre things that God has chosen, what is the weirdest one?   Well that's the one that is mentioned in verse 18.  The word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing.  What is the ultimate foolishness?  That he would measure the entire universe by someone crucified on a cross in Judea about 2000 years ago.  That is the central event of the entire universe.  The central event all of all history.  It's strange.  Why did he do that?   So that no flesh shall boast.  We discovered that before. 

Now let's go back to the text with verse eleven:

The great truth concerning the church is that it is not an afterthought.  It is part of God's eternal purpose.  He programmed all of this with his son before Adam was ever created, let alone when he fell.  Now to ignore that is to sin against the God who planned it or the son that died to make it possible or the spirit who today seeks to work in our lives to accomplish what God has planned for you.  God has a plan for you.  But he won't invade your sovereignty.  Your compliance, you're fulfillment, your response to that plan is your choice.  But the power he makes available to you to fulfill his plan is staggering.  That is what Paul is going to try to get across.  So God's foreknowledge, his counter-strategy to all that Satan would do, was the incarnation, the death, the resurrection, the ascension and the glorification of Jesus.

That is one of the most incredible things.  We read these simple words "boldness" and "access".  If you've ever spent any time in the corporate world or in the political world you have to understand the limitations on access.  The idea that there is a throne room or a center of power for the universe is really something.  There is a throne of power with Somebody sitting on it.  If you think about God and heaven and you think in terms of these ephemeral concepts, you can start of throw together a lot of fancy words to hide the fact that you really don't know what you are talking about.  It's quite another thing to realize that literally there is a throne room, there is a locality, there really is a throne and the most amazing thing is that there is a Man sitting on a throne.  And his nail-pierced hands are on the control levers.  Now here is the most wild part of all.  We've talked about this before.  If you wanted to go visit to the president of General Motors you have to have a lot of pull.  You'd have to have a lot of people get you through a lot of clearances to do that.  If you'd want to go see President Bush, that is something you just don't do, or if you have a lot of clout and a lot of pull with a lot of fanfare in preparation and security clearance you might be able to get a couple of minutes.  It is staggering.  We take it so incidentally that you and I can approach the Ruler of the universe without appointment.  He is so anxious to hear from you that he is ready at any moment.  We did it as we started the class.  We'll do it as we end the class.  You may do it on the way home.  Tonight, tomorrow morning, whenever you think about it you can check in.  With less effort than it takes to connect to the Internet.  And you can do it boldly, Paul says, without any fear of being scolded.  "With boldness and confidence," Paul says. 

Paul then closes his mental and verbal divergence with verse 13.

Paul now puts his current condition, his imprisonment in Rome in perspective.  With all that he has just discussed and the fact that he and we as believers are spiritual billionaires, his imprisonment is nothing to be discouraged about.  In fact his imprisonment is because of this and because of these new believers and what he was teaching them.  Paul's tribulations literally showed how important these new believers were and brought glory to them.

Verse 13 ends Paul's gap, the interruption in his thought.  This has all been a diversion, or digression if you will, from the thought that Paul started in verse 1, telling us about these conditions that exist for us here, now, in the church age.

Paul's Second Prayer:

Now we're going to encounter the second prayer in this epistle, starting with verse 14.  We talked about an earlier prayer in Ephesians.  The first prayer we've talked about was a prayer for our enlightenment.  This next prayer is in effect a preamble in a sense to the next three chapters of the book of Ephesians.  It is a prayer for our enablement.  He assumes that we now have a grasp of that so he is now praying for our enablement.  Paul in effect is saying, I want you to get a handle on your wealth, realize how vast it is and start to use it.  That's what Paul is really saying.  He went to God in this prayer, asking that these great truths that he has covered in Chapters 1 and 2 and the first part of Chapter 3, would become realities in your life.  Not just theological concepts, not answers to questions on some theoretical exam but would become reality, moment by moment in your life.

So let's examine this.  In Chapters 4, 5 and 6 remaining, Paul will change his focus rather dramatically; and will be far more practically oriented.  Still dramatic, still breathtaking but more practical. 

In verse 14 Paul continues:

Let's stop here and look at a question raised by this verse.  I do not believe that there is any biblically mandated format or bodily position for prayer.  I pray standing, I pray seated, I pray when driving and I pray when I am laying down.  There are all kinds of positions to pray in, and all kinds of times to pray.  If you go through a biblical study on this matter you'll find that:

It is not the condition or position on your body that matters, it's the condition of your heart.  That's the critical condition.  I think we all recognize that.  But I have to also admit to you, in my life there have been occasions when I have become so consumed with some issue or concern or spiritual awakening on some issue, in the privacy of my home or my office I have gotten down on my knees.  There are times when it just happens, when you feel the need to take a very humble position physically.  It just seems appropriate.  It's got nothing to do with the efficacy of your prayer, whether God will somehow hear it better or honor the request better.  But there are times when you can't deny that there is something special about getting on your knees literally rather than just figuratively.  I just mention that.  I am not suggesting a preferred position for prayer and I'm certainly not suggesting that there be something ritual about it.  God does not have rules like that for us as believers in Jesus.  He's beyond that in his relationship with man.  Just remember that it's the posture of the heart that is important. 

Something I'll mention here while were talking about prayer.  Have you ever noticed that most biblical prayers are brief?  It's amazing how brief they are.

That doesn't prove that prayers need to be abbreviated or that God has a short attention span.  Jesus spent all-night in prayer on several occasions.  For example:

So your position when you pray, or how long or short a time spent praying is not the test.  God already knew what you needed anyway, and often what you really need and what you pray for are not the same anyway. The issue is the condition of your heart and your willingness to depend on him, as evidenced by your prayerful request.


Next week we will pick up the text with Ephesians 3:15 and continue to study what Paul was praying about in this Second Prayer.