The Promise of God's Power (Ephesians 3:14-21)
Topic: Ephesians Passage: Ephesians 3:14–3:21
The Spirit of Promise
The Promise of God's Power
February 15th, 2009
Way of Grace Church
I. A Quest for Personal Power
Power is a priceless commodity in our world. I'm not talking about the kind of power that we receive from a hydroelectric generator or a solar panel. I'm thinking of that power which we long to possess personally, that power to create what is not already, and to change that which already is.
The thousands of volumes that have been written under the heading, "self-help", are all concerned with this kind of power. One self-help writer put it this way:
"Above all, personal power is the ability to achieve what you want. More than anything else, it is personal power that brings you success and happiness."
Isn't this what so many of us want to hear? Isn't this the very thing that so many of us want: personal power to create, power to change? Power to heal that sick friend. Power to fix our finances. Power to know the future. Power to change people's opinions. Power to land the job of our choice. Power to make our children obey. Power to change our spouse. Power to prove that we were right. Power to make someone suffer. Power to be successful, and secure, and satisfied.
Couldn't we, in some sense, describe human history as one long quest for personal power?
Where are you looking for power this morning? In what ways are you trying to be empowered? Why are you looking for power? What's not right? What do you want? What needs to be changed?
This morning, God himself has given us an opportunity to do something extraordinary. He has provided us with an opportunity to hear the His voice; to hear Him, the Maker of all things, as he describes who He is and what He wants.
In fact, we have that opportunity every time we open this book we call the Bible. Turn with me there to Ephesians 3. We're going to spend time this morning in Ephesians 3:14-21.
You may remember that Ephesians is the same letter we looked at last week as we continued our month-long study of the Holy Spirit. In the past two weeks, we have been trying to understand the work of the Holy Spirit. The Scriptures teach us that the Holy Spirit is fully God. But how does His work differ from that of the Father and the Son?
Last week, we learned that the Spirit of God has been given to those who trust in Christ as a first installment of all that God has for us, for all eternity, in Jesus. Paul told us in chapter one of this letter that we have been sealed with the Spirit, that is, we have been marked as God's very own possession. Thus we are not only sealed, we are secured for the day when God will complete the work He has begun in us.
Let's continue to look together at what Paul tells us in this letter about the work of the Spirit of God.
III. The Passage: "Strengthened with Power" (3:14-21)
Let me read from Ephesians 3, verses 14 through 21:
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith-that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. 20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
In this passage, Paul comes to the end of the first half of the letter, where he has opened up an incredible vista on the purposes of God in Jesus Christ. A work that began before the foundation of the world, a work that is working in His listener's lives, a work that will one day changes the universe as all things are summed up, are united in Jesus.
In the next three chapters of the letter, chapters 4-6, Paul will challenge to live differently in light of this fresh view of reality.
To understand this incredible passage, let's take a closer look by breaking this section down into three parts.
A. An Unabashed Prayer for Power (3:14-16)
As Paul tells us explicitly, the first section here, verses 14-16, make it clear that this is Paul's pray for his readers. But notice that it is an unabashed prayer for power. Paul is praying for power, not for himself, but for his listeners.
Even how he addresses the prayer connects us with the idea of power:
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named...
The idea that Paul is touching on here is the fact that God is the creator of every creature in heaven and on earth. They all, we all, find our source in Him.
And because of God's position as Creator over us, Paul can say:
that according to the riches of his glory [that's the total riches and perfect glory of the Creator...that according to His riches...] he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being,
So the power for Paul prays is a power that strengthens us through the work of the Holy Spirit. Now, since Paul was a learned Jew, this prayer is not surprising. The Old Testament is filled with references to the power of the Spirit of God to create and effect change through individuals. When the power of God's Spirit would "come upon" or "clothe" and individual, they would speak words of power, or perform deeds of power because of the Spirit.
Even before this point in Ephesians Paul has spoken of this same power, but without naming the Spirit by which it comes:
He prays in the first chapter that God would enable them "to know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places..." (1:18-20)
In chapter three, Paul writes: Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God's grace, which was given me by the working of his power. (3:7)
And notice that this power is not something that merely "comes upon" God's people, as in the days of the former covenant. It is not simply heavenly power that puts angels at our disposal, or equips us to do miraculous acts. No, it is strength for our "inner being". It is power for our person. It is personal power.
Paul prays that the power of Almighty God be at work in the lives of his readers; that their strength be the strength of God's all-powerful Spirit. Isn't that astonishing?
B. Paul's Prayer for Jesus in Your Heart (3:17-19)
But look at where Paul goes next in verses 17-19. He goes on to describe the purpose of such incomparable strength. No doubt, such power could change any of our circumstances. Such power could fix and heal and shame and prove and persuade and conquer any situation or person.
But Paul prays very specifically here for power through the Holy Spirit...(v. 17)...
so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith...
Now, we're used to hearing prayers that involve Jesus in our heart. "Accept Jesus in your heart". Or, "Open your heart to Jesus." Or ask Jesus to come into "your heart". And all of these are prayers related to the moment someone first believes the good news about Jesus Christ.
But here, in the only passage in the Bible that speaks of Jesus dwelling in our hearts, here Paul is praying for believers, not unbelievers. He is not leading them in a "sinner's prayer". So what exactly is he praying for when he ask that "Christ may dwell in [their] hearts through faith"? Isn't Christ already in them?
He goes on to explain. Listen...
...so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith-that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
This is a prayer for true power. This is a prayer for the power of God's Spirit to be at work in us through faith, so that our life is radically shaped by the love of God.
You see, the power of the Holy Spirit, the power of God, the Almighty, that power is not first and foremost given to those who believe in order that they might create and change people and circumstances outside of them. No, that power is given first and foremost to accomplish what should always be ranked as the greatest of all miracles: it is power to change your heart.
Specifically, it is through the power, the strengthening of the Holy Spirit, that Jesus Christ lives his life out through ours.
"But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. (John 15:26)
Just before this Jesus speaks of the Holy Spirit, the Helper, in that last supper with His disciples, he told them this:
"Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. (John 14:12)
Greater works? Really? Greater than calming a storm? Greater than banishing a legion of demons? Greater than walking on water or feeding thousands of hungry people? Greater than raising people from the dead?
The greater works that Jesus is referring to here are possible because He is "going to the Father". These works are not simply the signs and wonders that God performed through the hands of many in the early church. No, these greater works are the works of new life made possible by the death and resurrection of Jesus, AND the sending of the Holy Spirit.
The greatest work is the very work that Jesus died to make possible: the work of changing your heart; the work of reconciling us to God. This was the message entrusted to the early church, the message, that if received in faith, would accomplish these "greater works" of calming the storm of sin within us...of feeding our hearts with the bread of life...of raising us from spiritual death to newness of life.
Paul reminded the Corinthians church of this very truth in regard to the power of God's Spirit:
Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (I Corinthians 6:9-11)
Listen to how the 19th century English pastor Charles Spurgeon spoke of the Spirit's power to change us:
Now...go to a household in this city-and we could guide you to many where the father is a drunkard; he has been the most desperate of characters; see him in his madness, and you might just as well meet an unchained tiger as to meet such a man. He seems as if he could tear a man to pieces who would offend him. Note his wife. She, too, has a spirit in her, and when he treats her badly she can resist him; many fights have been seen in that house, and often has the neighborhood been disturbed by the noise created there. As for the poor little children-see them in their rags and nakedness, poor untaught little ones. Untaught, did I say? They are taught and well taught in the devil's school and are growing up to be the heirs of damnation. But then someone whom God has blessed by his Spirit is guided to the house. Perhaps, he may only be a humble city missionary but he speaks to the wicked man: "Sir," he says, "come and listen to the voice of God." Whether it is his own witnessing, or a minister's preaching, the Word, which is quick and powerful, cuts to the sinner's heart. The tears run down his cheeks such as never been seen before. He shakes and shudders. The strong man bows down-the mighty man trembles-and those knees that never shook begin to knock together. That heart which never trembled before, now begins to shake before the power of the Holy Spirit. He bends his knees, while his lips utter a child's prayer, but, although it is a child's prayer, a prayer of a child of God. He becomes a new creation...Now, you will not hear at midnight the drunken shout; but should there be a noise, it will be the sound of the solemn hymn of praise to God. And, now, let me ask you, is there such a thing as the power of the Holy Spirit? (Spurgeon)
There most certainly is, and it is that very power, the power that, if you belong to Christ, turned your heart of stone into a heart of flesh; it is that power that Paul is praying will strengthen the hearts of listeners here in Ephesians 3:17-19. And his prayer is that such power will make it possible for the Lord Jesus Christ to dwell in their hearts through faith.
And what does it look like when Jesus is inhabiting our hearts, that deep place from which our life flows? It means that we will be "rooted and grounded in love". It means that will have power, strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth...of what?...he tells us in the next verse...of "the love of Christ".
But Paul is quick to add, "Not only that you would comprehend this love with your minds, but that you would know [with your hearts] the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge...that you would know in your life, that you would personally experience the love of Jesus Christ.
And the result of this rooting and grounding and comprehension of and intimate knowledge of love is what? It is (v.19) to be filled with all the fullness of God.
You know, having seen people move in and out of houses all my life, I can say with certainty that a person may move into a house, but you might never know they actually lived there. But when someone really inhabits a home, it becomes clear on the outside doesn't it? New plants might appear. The outside fixtures might change. New decorations might go up. Friends and family begin to come and go. Others are welcomed in.
Paul knows that Christ might be in them through His Spirit, but he doesn't fail to pray that Christ will truly inhabit them; that Christ will truly live, not only in, but also through them by the power of the Holy Spirit. Christ dwelling in their hearts means that they are filled to overflowing with all the fullness of God, that is, that Christ is living through them; that Christ's life is seen in their lives.
And that kind of life is marked first and foremost by love. How can you know if you are being strengthened in your inner person by the Spirit of God? How can you know if Christ is dwelling in your heart through faith? By the effects of the love of Christ, in you and through you.
That's why Paul tells the Galatians: But the fruit of the Spirit [the hallmark, the evidence of the Spirit within you] is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus [notice again how Jesus and the Spirit are linked together..those who belong to Christ Jesus...] have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. [Or as Paul puts in Ephesians 3: "If Jesus is in you, let Him dwell in your heart".
Is the power of God's Spirit showcasing through you a life of love? Is that what people think of when they think of you? Is the power of God's Spirit revealing through you the life of Jesus Christ?
C. Unimaginable Power to the Glory of God (3:20, 21)
Notice how Paul concludes this prayer. He uses what we would call a benediction or a doxology that points us to the ultimate goal of the work of God's Spirit in us:
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
Did you see how Trinitarian this passage is? I mean by that, do you see how all the persons who exist in the being of our great God (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit) do you see how all of them are working perfect unity to accomplish God's purpose?
God the Father is glorified when we are empowered by His Spirit to live a life in which His Son is made known. And it is a life that is not hampered by or hindered by or boxed-in by our often feeble requests or faint-hearted imaginations.
The power at work within us is unimaginable power, isn't it? But remember, the "far more" here is defined by this whole context. Paul is saying God can abundantly cause Jesus Christ and His love to so permeate your life that, for His glory, unimaginable transformation will take place in you and through you.
Do you really, really believe that?
IV. Do Not Grieve...But Be Filled
Is this prayer, prayed by Paul, a prayer that we are praying for one another? But what does it practically mean that the Christian life, this life of following Jesus, is only possible through the Spirit's power? Does that mean we simply "let go and let God"? That we sit back and wait for God's Spirit to move us to do this or that?
Well, first of all, the very reality of the power of the Holy Spirit should be an incredible encouragement to us because He makes possible that which is impossible by our own strength.
But Paul actually goes on in the next two chapters to describe tow responses that we might have to this reality. Listen to what he says in the next chapter:
Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. 26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil. 28 Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. 29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:25-32)
He then goes on in chapter 5 to write:
And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit... (5:18)
Notice that in both of these passages, Paul is talking about being "imitators of God" (5:1). He is talking about Christ living His life out through us. And we either respond to this calling by living according to the ways of the world in faithlessness, or by obeying God by as we step out in faith.
When we live in deception and anger and corruption and bitterness and unforgiveness, we are grieving the Holy Spirit who wants to strengthen us to put away these things. But when we step out in love, when we choose to speak words of encouragement, when we are others-focused, we are filled with the Spirit. When we step out in faith, His power is there to make our obedience possible. This is what Paul, in Romans 8, calls being "led by the Spirit":
So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. (Romans 8:12-14)
There is personal power available to us. But is power that belongs to the person of the Holy Spirit. And His power is intended to work in us personally, and yes, in order to create and change. But not first our circumstances. Not first the people around us. He wants to create in us the life of Christ and change us more and more, everyday, into the likeness of Jesus. Such power is first meant to fix and heal and shame and prove and persuade and conquer our hearts.
The reality of this power should drive us to not only worship God and give thanks to Him, but it should drive us to step out, not reluctantly, but in full assurance of faith. For there is power available to us. Will we grieve God's Spirit with our doubt, or be filled with the Spirit through faith?
In the end, we know all of it, even our faith, is possible because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We know of all it, even our faith, is possible only because of the Spirit.
In his comments on Ephesians 3, the 16th century French pastor John Calvin write this:
This strengthening, he tells us, is the work of the Spirit; so that it does not proceed from man's own ability. The increase, as well as the commencement, of everything good in us, comes from the Holy Spirit. That it is the gift of Divine grace, is evident from the expression used, that he would give to you...But let us unite with Paul in acknowledging that it is the "gift" of the grace of God, not only that we have begun to run well, but that we advance; not only that we have been born again, but that we grow from day to day. (Calvin)
More in The Spirit of Promise
February 22, 2009The Promise of God's Perspective (I Corinthians 2:1-16)
February 8, 2009The Promise of God's Purchase (Ephesians 1:13, 14)
February 1, 2009The Promise of God's Purpose (John 15:26, 27)