We’re about halfway through our series in Ephesians and we come to perhaps the most incredible prayer in the New Testament. One that we could not go far wrong in praying for ourselves and for each other. Before we dive into the prayer, it’s worth exploring how this passage begins, how he introduces this prayer.
[Please get out your Ephesians Scripture journal if you have it with you]
The passage begins in verse 14, “For this reason I kneel before the Father.” It’s worth reminding us of what goes before, because this lets us know the reason for his prayer.
If you remember, last week, Paul has been getting very excited – it builds and builds as he talks about an incredible mystery – he’s like a conjurer who’s left his most breathtaking trick until last – and, as part of the audience we need to imagine ourselves. gasping as this trick is revealed,
The mystery is that “through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.” (v.
There are lots of promises that believers in Jesus are given … perhaps the one on our hearts at the moment is the promise of eternal life with Jesus. We cling to the hope of resurrection – for us and those we love.
No, here, there is a specific promise … the promise in Christ Jesus – if you’ve got your Scripture journal with you, you might want to underline these words.
Ok, you may be wondering why; after all, we don’t even know what Paul means – he’s been speaking about a mystery and he’s leaving us none the wiser.
And he’s clearly excited about this, because he also goes on about it in Colossians –
26 the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. 27 To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is [drumnroll please] Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:26-27).
So, we have the promise in Christ Jesus in Ephesians – and Christ in you the hope of glory in Colossians. Both are descrived rto be this extraordinary mystery – the whole purpose of his ministry.
What do these two sentences have in common? The word “in” – in Christ, Christ in you.
There are two reasons why this is amazing – they concern eternity and day to day.
Let’s talk eternity. We are in Jesus. This means we have total and utter security. Let’s illustrate this. Here’s some Tupperware – We’re locked in and secure – and no matter how much we’re shaken around, we will remain in Christ – and nothing – no measure of suffering, illness, death, even, will stop us from being in Christ. We are in Christ – forever. Held by him and he will never let us go.
So, there’s an eternal reason why this is amazing, but there’s also a day to day reason.
Many of us have this idea of it being us and God, like partners and companions. God is by our side. He’ll help us when we really need it, like Sam helps Frodo in Lord of the Rings.
No, it’s not Jesus and me, it’s Jesus in me. Me in Jesus.
The difference is that Jesus doesn’t offer to do a little bit of help here and then, no, he’s offering to come and live inside of us and he asks us to surrender our lives to him, allow him to live in us – whatever we do, whatever we face, we do thinking about Christ in us – Christ working in us. What he can do, he does in us. He invites us to surrender to him in this moment. So, we still work for Jesus, give everything for him, working with the power he gives us. This is the Holy Spirit who comes to live and dwell in us – and this is permanent. Sealed up in us – just like the Tupperware. The gift of the Holy Spirit is given to every person who believes – and Gentiles have just as much right to receive this in God’s eyes as the Jews – and this, as I explained a few weeks ago, is extraordinary! God makes no distinction between us.
It’s like a homeless person who begs for money outside the gates of Buckingham Palace being ushered in, clothed with all the richest clothing, seated on the throne and then being told that they’re being made a prince, with the same rights as the monarch’s other children. In fact, it’s more scandalous, more incredible than that.
But that’s not all, as Carolyne explored with us last week, God has chosen to reveal his wisdom not to the powers and authorities, not to the cleverest, most powerful people, but to the church – which, in that time was made up of those seen as foolish and weak in the world’s eyes. And through the church God has chosen to make his wisdom known to the whole world …
and finally, there’s the wonderful statement that, “In Jesus and through faith in Jesus we may approach God with freedom and confidence.” – isn’t that just the most beautiful thing – and he concludes, “I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you.” Paul worries for them – he knows that they see that he’s been put in prison, because of his determination to preach the Gospel – that their salvation has come at the cost of his freedom – and he seeks to reassure them – don’t be discouraged, he says – it’s ok – it’s worth it!..
Let’s be honest here. It’s still relatively easy to be a Christian in this country. We may get teased and face the odd piece of discrimination for holding to what we believe are orthodox beliefs around marriage, abortion, etc, but we have liberty to worship and to proclaim the Gospel. In other parts of the world it’s positively dangerous to be a Christian. According to Open Doors, over 360 million Christians across large parts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia, suffer persecution and discrimination. They face imprisonment and even death for their faith. Only recently Rev William Siraj, a Pastor in Pakistan, was shot dead outside his church. This is part of an escalation of violence and intimidation in that country, especially in the Peshawar region, which borders Afghanistan.
If you were a Christian in Pakistan at the moment, how would you be feeling? Pretty shaken? Of course you would. And it’s into this context that Paul prays this most extraordinary prayer in Ephesians 3:14-21 – in our Bibles and in our Bible journals it’s headlined, “A prayer for the Ephesians, but we might call it a prayer for those feeling wobbly” – which, after the couple of years we’ve had and after the last couple of weeks of us, is probably all of us!
And this is his prayer …
16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge —that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Once again, there’s so much to grasp here … but we can summarise by saying that Paul is asking God for power and love … firstly, power
16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.
We’ve already seen how the holy spirit is given to every believer. Christ through his Spirit already dwells in us. Why then, is he asking that Christ dwells in our hearts? Simply, because we leak and we get weak.
“What Paul asks for his readers is that they may be ‘fortified, braced, invigorated’, that they may ‘know the strength of
the Spirit’s inner reinforcement’ (JBP), and may lay hold ever more firmly ‘by faith’ of this divine strength, this divine indwelling. … Paul prays to the Father that Christ by his Spirit will be allowed to settle down in their hearts, and from his throne there both control and strengthen them.” (John Stott)
So, he asks God to give his readers power – but why? Why do we need this power?
We need this power so that we may be strengthened to love …
“I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge —that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”
If you remember, Paul has been speaking about this new community in which we’ve been called to be members together – a new humanity, where we are brothers and sisters together who love God and love each other. Sounds great, doesn’t it – on paper – in reality, we need help. We get on each other’s nerves; we say thoughtless and hurtful things. We are each imperfect. We need God’s power to help us to love one another.
And in order to fulfil this command, to live in this way, we need to have, depending on whether we prefer trees or buildings, deep roots or deep foundations – in love. It’s love that makes us stable.
Love is to be the soil in which their life is to be rooted; love is to be the foundation on which their life is built.
So, we need to be strengthened to love, but in turn we need to be given power to comprehend just how much Jesus loves us.
“The love of Christ is ‘broad’ enough to encompass all mankind (especially Jews and Gentiles, the theme of these chapters), ‘long’ enough to last for eternity, ‘deep’ enough to reach the most degraded sinner, and ‘high’ enough to exalt him to heaven.”
Of course, we could spend the whole of our lives and we’d never get to the bottom of Christ’s love for us – we’ll have the whole of eternity to do that – but even if we got a glimpse of that love, it could change us.
He loves you. Do you know that? Do you really know that?
The final part of his prayer is that we may experience God’s love in a new way – that we may be filled in God’s fullness. In other words, if we begin to grasp this love for us, live out this love for others, then we will be living out more and more of God’s ultimate purpose for us, which is that we would become more like Jesus – being secure in the love God has for us, and allowing that love to overflow to others.
Of course, we will never be perfect, but we can expect that over time, as the grace of Jesus works in us, that we would become more and more Christlike.
“For God expects us to be growing daily towards that final fullness, as we are being transformed by the Holy Spirit into Christ’s image from one degree of glory to another.”
Are you more like Jesus than you were last year? Ten years ago? Before you became a Christian?
It’s food for thought, isn’t it!
It’s a big prayer, Paul prays, isn’t it?
He prays that his readers may be given the strength of the Spirit and the ruling presence of Christ, the rooting of their lives in
love, the knowledge of Christ’s love in all its dimensions, and the fullness of God himself. These are bold petitions. (John Stott).
On our own, left to our own devices, what Paul asks us is impossible. But, thank God, we’re not on our own. We don’t have to rely on our own power, as Paul reminds us at the end of this prayer.
20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
So, God is active – he is able to do.
God is able to do what we ask – he hears and answers prayer
He can even read our thoughts – he knows what we imagine, what we dare not speak out.
He can do all of it.
In fact, he can do immeasurably more, he is a God of abundance … there are no limits to what God can do.
“The infinite ability of God to work beyond our prayers, thoughts and dreams is by the power at work within us, within us individually (Christ dwelling in our hearts by faith) and within us as a people (who are the dwelling place of God by his Spirit). It is the power of the resurrection, the power which raised Christ from the dead, enthroned him in the heavenlies, and then raised and enthroned us there with him. That is the power which is at work within the Christian and the church.
Paul’s prayer relates to the fulfilment of his vision for God’s new society of love. He asks that its members may be strengthened to love and to know the love of Christ, though this surpasses knowledge. But then he turns from the love of God past knowing to the power of God past imagining, from limitless love to limitless power. For he is convinced, as we must be, that only divine power can generate divine love in the divine society.
To add anything more would be inappropriate, except the doxology. To him be glory, Paul exclaims, to this God of resurrection power who alone can make the dream come true. The power comes from him; the glory must go to him. To him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus together, in the body and in the Head, in the bride and in the Bridegroom, in the community of peace and in the Peacemaker, to all generations (in history), for ever and ever (in eternity), Amen.