Hetty Green died at the age of 81 in New York City on July 3, 1916. There are differing estimates of Hetty’s finances when she died. Estimates of her net worth vary somewhere between $100-200 million. Her biographer, Charles Slack, says that Hetty was worth $200 million, which is about $4 billion in today’s money. She was worth more money than she could have spent during her lifetime, but Hetty, the Wonder Woman of Wall Street was one of the most miserly people of her day.
Hetty Green was arguably the wealthiest woman in the world. Hetty was a genius when it came to business. She invested mostly in real estate and railroads and she also loaned money. You might think that a woman living at the turn of the century would be a target for others to take advantage of in the lending industry—you would be dead wrong if you made that assumption about Hetty. The story is told that she would travel thousands of miles – alone, in an era when few women would dare travel unescorted – to collect a debt of a few hundred dollars. Hetty didn’t just lend money to individuals. The City of New York came to Hetty in need of loans to keep the city afloat on several occasions, most particularly during the Panic of 1907; she wrote a check for $1.1 million and took her payment in short-term revenue bonds. She was also one of the most tight-fisted business people ever. She didn’t want to pay money for an office so she conducted much of her business in the lobby of the Seaboard National Bank in New York.
She wasn’t just tight-fisted in her business life, Hetty was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the “Miserly First Female Tycoon.” She had so much money and yet she never turned on the heat or used hot water in her home. She wore one old black dress every day, until it was worn out, and then she would get another black dress to wear. It was because of that black dress that she wore every day that was given the nickname, “The Witch of Wall Street,” by her colleagues on Wall Street. She didn’t wash her hands. She rode around in an old carriage. Her diet consisted mostly of cheap pies that cost 15 cents each. The story was told that Hetty one time spent half a night searching her old carriage for a lost stamp that was worth 2 cents.
With all of her money, Hetty lived like a pauper. One time, her son Ned broke his leg when he was a child. Hetty tried everything she could to get Ned admitted in a free clinic for the poor. When Hetty was recognized she stormed off and said that she would treat her son’s wounds herself. Hetty did finally take Ned to a doctor when her home remedies didn’t work, but years later the damage that was done to Ned’s leg led to it having to be amputated.
Later in life, when Hetty’s children left home, she moved repeatedly from small apartment to small apartment in Brooklyn Heights and Hoboken, New Jersey, mainly to avoid establishing a permanent residence so that the tax officials couldn’t track her. She suffered from a bad hernia, but she refused to have surgery because it would cost her $150. She suffered many strokes and had to rely on a wheelchair, but she didn’t want to spend the money on medical treatment.
Hetty Green lived like a pauper and died like a pauper. She had more financial resources than she would have ever spent, but she, and those she loved, suffered unnecessarily because of Hetty’s tight-fisted ways. There are many followers of Jesus today who are living as spiritual paupers, suffering unnecessarily because we are not using the spiritual resources that have been made available to us. I believe, that for many of us, we are unlike Hetty in this way—we don’t know the vast spiritual resources that are there for us to use. Hetty knew the enormous resources she had at her disposal and simply chose not to use them. It is my prayer that this morning you and I can become aware of the immense spiritual resources that God has made available to all of us who are followers of Jesus. Let’s read our Scripture for today and we’ll get started.
15 For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, 16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. 17 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. 18 I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, 20 which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. (Ephesians 1:15-23 NIV)
This is our eighth study of Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus. We spent the first seven weeks taking a look at the first thirteen verses of Ephesians 1. All of the studies we’ve done so far can be placed under the heading, “Paul’s Praise for God’s Mighty Acts.” This morning, as we begin to look at Ephesians 1:15-23, we can notice a shift in Paul’s frame of mind. Paul shifts from “praise” to “prayer.” He begins to pray for his brothers and sisters in Ephesus. Paul’s prayers are focused. His desire is for the folks in Ephesus to know God better and to understand the great spiritual blessings and resources that God has made available to them.
There is something that has precipitated Paul’s prayer. Paul has heard about the folks in Ephesus. He has heard about their faith in the Lord and their love for all of their brothers and sisters in Ephesus. Take a look at verses 15-16 with me.
15 For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, 16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. (Ephesians 1:15-16 NIV)
You have to remember, Paul was more than familiar with the church in Ephesus. Many believe that he founded the church. We know for sure that he visited the church at least twice. On his second visit he spent nearly three years teaching the people in Ephesus. By the time he wrote his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul had been gone for some time, probably about four years. You know that he had to have wondered what had happened since he had last seen them? Had they grown in their walk with the Lord? Were they continuing to teach the Good News and share their faith in Jesus with their friends and neighbors? Or, had their faith grown cold? Had their friends, who were not believers, influenced them in a negative way and led them away from the Lord? Had they gotten preoccupied with the temptations of life? Had they abandoned the gathering of believers and gone back to the pagan gods who were so popular in their city? It had to have been such an encouragement when Paul got the report of their strong faith and their devotion to one another.
This past week I’ve spent some time thinking about these two characteristics, “faith in the Lord Jesus” and “love for their brothers and sisters,” that Paul mentions about the church in Ephesus. These really are two strong tests of the vitality and life of a church are they not? We can even apply these tests to Britton Christian Church. Are we a church that is founded on our faith in Jesus? I don’t mean do we say that we believe in Jesus. What I mean is this: Do the decisions and the actions of those who call Britton Christian Church “home” reflect a strong devotion and passion for the heart of our Savior? Do “outsiders,” those in our community and those who come to visit us, recognize that Jesus is present and active here at Britton Christian Church? That is a question that can’t be answered once for all time, but it is a question that must constantly be asked and answered each day. Secondly, at Britton Christian Church, is there an unbreakable bond between us as brothers and sisters in Christ? Do disagreements divide or are they an opportunity to allow God to work to bring about unity? When relationships are broken are they abandoned or do we allow God to work reconciliation so that what has been broken becomes reconciled and healed? Are we willing to go out of our way to help one another out when the need arises? These are important questions that each of us must constantly ask ourselves as we seek to be Christ-like members of His Body.
The good report that Paul received about the folks in Ephesus caused him to continuously pray for them. He praised God for what He was doing among the Ephesians, but he didn’t stop there—Paul wanted them to continue to grow. In verse 17, Paul says,
17 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. (Ephesians 1:17 NIV)
Paul asks God to give the folks in Ephesus “the Spirit of wisdom and revelation…” There is some discussion among Bible teachers about whose “spirit” Paul is referring to in this passage. The word “the” doesn’t appear in the Greek text so some wonder if Paul is praying for God to fill the “spirits” of the believers in Ephesus with wisdom and revelation or whether he is asking for God’s “Spirit” to impart His wisdom and revelation to the folks in Ephesus. Either way, I don’t think it is too tough to understand the focus of Paul’s prayer. His desire is that God will give the people His wisdom, that He will reveal Himself to them, so that they might know Him better.
Paul is not nearly as concerned that the folks in Ephesus gain a quality education at some institution of higher learning as he is that they gain the wisdom of Almighty God. Dr. David Darnell wrote,
We realize how possible it is for people to go through the halls of higher education, and remain completely ignorant of the kind of wisdom, revelation, and knowledge of which Paul speaks here. We also realize how many humble people, with very little formal education, have been filled with the Spirit of God, which has imparted to them great and powerful gifts of wisdom, revelation, and knowledge—surpassing that of those trained for years in the most prestigious schools and universities. (David Darnell)
There is a difference between the wisdom that the world values and the wisdom that is spoken of in the Bible. There are at least a couple of different kinds of wisdom that our society values. The most popular kind of wisdom in our society is “conventional” wisdom. Conventional wisdom is a term used to describe ideas or explanations that are generally accepted as true by the public or by experts in a field. Let me give you just a couple of examples of conventional wisdom. When I was born fifty years ago, it was generally accepted that smoking had no negative impact on a person’s health. After all, doctors even said so. As a matter of fact, my family’s doctor in Duncan would light up while he was examining us in his office. Conventional wisdom has changed through the years and now most people believe that smoking is very harmful to our health. Here is another idea fostered by conventional wisdom. Young folks, those in their teens and twenties are supposed to sow their wild oats. It is almost expected that young people will be irresponsible and immature in a wide array of ways.
The tragedy of conventional wisdom is two-fold. One, it is based on our perception, what we think. Secondly, it fails to looks out into the future. I have many friends who sowed their wild oats while they were young and now they are reaping a lifetime of heartache because of the choices they made.
Godly wisdom differs from conventional wisdom. Godly wisdom is based upon what God says. God is the foundation, the center of godly wisdom, and therefore godly wisdom never changes whereas conventional wisdom changes all the time. Conventional wisdom may say, “Whatever feels good—do it,” but godly wisdom tells us that our bodies are not our own. They are not to be used in any way that we want. Paul wrote,
19 Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20 NIV)
Godly wisdom urges the young, not to be irresponsible and sow their wild oats, but to set a Christ-like example for those around them. Paul wrote to a young man named Timothy and said,
12 Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity. (1 Timothy 4:12 NIV)
There is another kind of wisdom that is greatly valued in our society and it is intellectual wisdom, knowledge of the kind that you gain in the halls of higher learning. Those who have high IQ’s, those who hold advanced degrees in cerebral studies of every sort are held up as authorities, sought for advice, and honored in our society. The Bible is not anti-intellectual, but it makes no bones about the difference between godly wisdom and the wisdom of the erudite scholars. Just because a person has more degrees than a thermometer doesn’t mean that the person possesses godly wisdom. As a matter of fact, our arrogance about how smart we are can easily become a barrier that prevents us from being willing to learn godly wisdom. Remember, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” (1 Corinthians 8:1 NIV) Paul wrote about the incompetence of the wise in knowing God’s ways when he wrote to the folks in Corinth.
18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” 20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18-24 NIV)
In Paul’s day, the people were drawn to the wisdom, the lofty thoughts, and intellectual ideas of the Greeks. The Greeks had a long history of producing great thinkers. Long before Paul ever arrived on the scene Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle had left their mark. During Paul’s day, Greek philosophy was still popular, some of the greatest thinkers, philosophers, came from Greece. Keeping this in mind, Paul prays for the folks in Ephesus that they would receive “wisdom and revelation” from God.
The Greek work that Paul uses, which is translated, “wisdom,” is the word, “?????” (Sophia) and it means, “Wisdom, broad and full of intelligence, used of the knowledge of very diverse matters.” One of the definitions of the word is, “The knowledge and practice of the requisites for godly and upright living.” Now let me show you something really amazing.
When Alexander the Great conquered the known world he told the Hebrews that they had to speak Greek. The Jewish scholars got busy translating the Hebrew Bible into Greek. That translation is called the Septuagint. In the Septuagint, the word “?????” is used to translate a well known Hebrew word, “???????” (chokmah) in the Old Testament. Basically the word means “wisdom.” The word is used in the opening verses of Proverbs, the wisdom book of Israel that was used to teach and train their young. Listen to this.
1 The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel: 2 for attaining wisdom and discipline; for understanding words of insight; 3 for acquiring a disciplined and prudent life, doing what is right and just and fair; 4 for giving prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the young– 5 let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance– 6 for understanding proverbs and parables, the sayings and riddles of the wise. 7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline. (Proverbs 1:1-7 NIV)
Now, remember the Greek word that I told you about? The word, “?????” is found twice in these seven verses that we just read. It is found in verse 2 where we read, “for attaining wisdom and discipline;” It is also found in verse 7 where we read, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.” Here it is used to translate “knowledge.” Now, you may be wondering, “And what does this have to do with my life?” That is always our main question isn’t it? What does this have to do with me? Well, let me explain. The kind of “wisdom” and “knowledge” that come from God will enable you to draw intimately near to the Father, it will preserve your life, keep you from destroying yourself, and will lead you through this life in a Christ-like way in everything you do. That is amazing! And, if you refuse to seek godly wisdom and knowledge, then there are consequences attached to that decision. Proverbs 1:29-33 tells us.
29 Since they hated knowledge and did not choose to fear the LORD, 30 since they would not accept my advice and spurned my rebuke, 31 they will eat the fruit of their ways and be filled with the fruit of their schemes. 32 For the waywardness of the simple will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them; 33 but whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm.” (Proverbs 1:29-33 NIV)
That is a powerful promise isn’t it? If you refuse God’s wisdom then prepare yourself for the destruction that will come by your own doing. We will reap what we sow and our waywardness will destroy us.
Paul prays for revelation as well as wisdom for the folks in Ephesus. We talked last week about how it is impossible for us to know God without Him revealing Himself to us. We are not only dependent on God to reveal Himself to us in order for us to know Him, but we are also dependent upon the work of the Holy Spirit to “open” His Word, to give us understanding about Scripture. Dr. J.I. Packer wrote,
The work of the Spirit in imparting this knowledge is called “illumination,” or enlightening. It is not a giving of new revelation, but a work within us that enables us to grasp and to love the revelation that is there before us in the biblical text as heard and read, and as explained by teachers and writers. Sin in our mental and moral system clouds our minds and wills so that we miss and resist the force of Scripture. God seems to us remote to the point of unreality, and in the face of God’s truth we are dull and apathetic. The Spirit, however, opens and unveils our minds and attunes our hearts so that we understand (Eph. 1:17-18; 3:18-19; 2 Cor. 3:14-16; 4:6). As by inspiration he provided Scripture truth for us, so now by illumination he interprets it to us. Illumination is thus the applying of God’s revealed truth to our hearts, so that we grasp as reality for ourselves what the sacred text sets forth. (Packer, J.I. Illumination:
The Holy Spirit Gives Spiritual Understanding. http://tinyurl.com/7n6owme)
By the work of the Holy Spirit our minds are “illuminated,” we are given revelation, understanding, and the Word of God becomes to us more than simply words on a page. God’s Word is a “lamp to our feet and a light to our path.” (Psalm 119:105)
Remember, Paul is praying that God will give the folks in Ephesus wisdom and revelation for a reason. Do you remember the reason? Let me read it to you again.
17 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. (Ephesians 1:17 NIV)
Paul prays so that God would so work in their lives that they might know Him better. They already know God don’t they? Of course they do. Paul had taught them and he taught them well, but knowing God is not a course that enroll in and one day complete. Knowing God is a continual pursuit, a daily passion, an ever-growing grace.
The best way I can explain it to you is by using my own life. I first knew Connie when we were 20 years old. The more I got to know her the more I liked her. My knowledge of her blossomed into a wonderful love that made me want to spend the rest of my life with her. The day came when we had kids and I learned even more about Connie. As time has rolled on I have gotten to know Connie better and better. We’ve shared so many life experiences together. As we’ve gone through each and every one I’ve gotten to know different facets of who Connie is, what makes her such a special person. We’ve been married almost 29 years and I want to know her more. As a matter of fact, if the Lord gives us another 29 years to be married I will still be getting to know Connie.
This has been my experience with getting to know the Lord. I know Him better than I did when I first heard of Him. I know Him better than I did when I first prayed to accept Him as Lord and Savior of my life. I know Him better today than I did ten years ago, but I want to know Him more. There is so much more for me to know and experience about the Lord.
Even more important than me knowing more about Him is the fact that He has revealed to me that He knows me. He knows me through and through and yet He still loves me. He is with me through it all. J.I. Packer wrote, in his book, Knowing God,
What matters supremely is not, in the last analysis, the fact that I know God, but the larger fact which underlies it–the fact that he knows me. I am graven on the palms of his hands. I am never out of his mind. All my knowledge of him depends on his sustained initiative in knowing me. I know him because he first knew me, and continues to know me. He knows me as a friend, one who loves me; and there is not a moment when his eye is off me, or his attention distracted from me, and no moment, therefore, when his care falters. This is momentous knowledge. There is unspeakable comfort–the sort of comfort that energizes, be it said, not enervates–in knowing that God is constantly taking knowledge of me in love and watching over me for my good. There is tremendous relief in knowing that his love to me is utterly realistic, based at every point on prior knowledge of the worst about me, so that no discovery now can disillusion him about me, in the way I am so often disillusioned about myself, and quench his determination to bless me. (Packer, J.I. Knowing God. pg. 41-42)
What an amazing revelation! It is my prayer that Paul’s prayer for the people of Ephesus will be realized in your life and mine. May the Lord, by His Spirit, give to each of us the wisdom and revelation needed so that we might know Him better.
Is this your heart’s desire? Do you want to know God? Do you desire to know His ways and follow His ways through the rest of your life? It all begins with Jesus. If you have never asked Jesus to forgive you of your wayward ways and take over the reins of your life then won’t you do that this morning?
Britton Christian Church
November 27, 2011