Thursday, December 11, 2008

Ephesians 3:16-19

16I pray that out of His glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, 17so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19and to know this love that surpasses knowledge--that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Paul comes now to his prayer, and a glorious prayer it is! He is asking God to do something that God has already done. Have you ever asked that? Have you ever asked for forgiveness? Have you ever asked for God to be present with you? Have you asked God to fill you with His Spirit? Sure you have! And God, at the time you asked for those things, for those benefits, had already granted them. Well Paul does the same thing here. Paul teaches us that we pray from blessing for blessing, not from poverty, begging for that blessing. God has already blessed us more than we can estimate.

Furthermore, Paul is praying that God would answer “out of His glorious riches.” God is able. We are never to doubt that. We should not pray, “Lord, if You are able, please do this or that.” Our prayer should be like that of Jesus, “Lord, if You are willing, please do this or that.” Coming to God in prayer is not ever a matter of asking Him if He is able to do something; it is always a matter of coming to Him and aligning our desires with the will that He is able to bring to bear on any and every circumstance. It is never a matter of our manipulating God – if we just have enough faith we can make Him do something. His good and perfect will is always at work in prayer, so that He answers our prayers not as we pray them, but as we would pray them if we were wiser. Paul wants that to be crystal clear to these Ephesians, because what he is about to ask God is staggering; and so when he asks God for this for you, he wants you to remember the riches out of which God is able to answer our prayers. Let’s look at that substance of that prayer: Now, what specifically is Paul asking of God? It’s a threefold prayer for: (1) strength unto faith, (2) power to grasp and to know the love of Christ, (3) the fullness of God. Let’s break it down in detail, beginning with the first prayer for strength unto faith:

(1) First, in v16, Paul wants God to “strengthen you with power.” For Paul, the Christian life is a matter of dependence upon divinely supplied strength. This is absolutely essential for us to understand. There is never a moment in our Christian life when we are not dependent upon God. We need His strength.

Second, this must be done “through His Spirit,” the Holy Spirit. There are many supposedly Christian preachers saying that we need to look within to live the good life. If we can harness the power within, we will be successful. Paul says the opposite. We have no power within, unless the Holy Spirit is it. The work of the Holy Spirit isn’t to do a work in us and then to go away and leave us to keep on doing the best we can. He starts our life as believers, and He’s with us to the end.

Third, this takes place “in your inner being.” Humanity today is far more interested in the dying outer man, the body that is decaying daily (2 Corinthians 4:16). We pray most often for good things to happen to our outer man, for health and peace. But the Spirit does His work in the inner man. Even when that outer man decays away, the inner man, the seat of our character, is still there. From the heart issues the spring of life; our thoughts, words, and deeds are a reflection of what is in our heart. Paul wants a heart, an inner man, the seat of the soul, and the core of our thinking, willing, believing, and action, to be strengthened with power. It’s the health and peace of the inner man that we need, and the power, the strength, for that comes from the Holy Spirit.

Finally, from the very beginning of v17, Paul wants this “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” The Holy Spirit is making your heart a suitable place for Christ to take up habitation. If I could walk into your heart, into your inner man, into your mind, would I say, “This place looks like Jesus; the desires here are Jesus’ desires; the loves here are Jesus’ loves; this heart hates the things that Jesus hates”? The Spirit is doing divine, spiritual home renovation, so that your desires and affections are godly. Vincent Cheung says, “Paul prays that God's power would make their minds strong so that ‘Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.’ As we have previously established, the ‘heart’ is not non-intellectual, but it ‘chiefly means the understanding or intellect’…For Christ to ‘dwell’ in a person, with the meaning being to ‘settle down,’ emphasizes the pervasive and lasting influence of Christ in the person, and implies genuine and permanent conformity to the character of Christ.” Jesus actually lives in your heart through faith. Faith is the channel, the connection, between Jesus Christ and us. The Holy Spirit installs, maintains, and strengthens that connection, powerfully and constantly working back and forth to make that connection a shorter wire, until no wire of faith is needed (at which time we will see). And of course, all of fullness of God dwells in Christ (Colossians 1:9); so the Spirit is making us to be Temples, in which God’s fullness dwells (John 14:23). We’ll talk more about that when we come to v19, point 3 in this outline.

We see immediately that this is a Trinitarian prayer: Paul prays to God for the work of the Holy Spirit that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith. The Trinity is a practical concept; we come to the Father by the Son through the Spirit. That has already happened for these Christians, but that’s Paul’s deep desire, that it would happen and continue to happen, out of the abundance of God’s glorious riches. Do we pray this kind of prayer for ourselves? How about for one another? Surely for our children! In the midst of this fallen world, where the outer man is wasting away, are we praying for one another that God’s mighty power would be displayed through the Spirit in our hearts and minds to conform us to the image of Christ? Perhaps that’s why we don’t know what Jesus looked like. But no person on this earth has ever been more recognized. We know His inner man; we have His mind (1 Corinthians 2:15).

Second, in v17-19a, Paul wants God to give us power to grasp and know the love of Christ. Paul says we are already rooted and established in this love (like a well-planted tree), but we have no idea how BIG it is. This establishment in Christ’s love is a fruit of having Christ dwell in our hearts through faith; it is the fellowship with Christ that results from faith in Christ. In v18, Paul uses measurement terms reminding us of God’s Temple, but pointing out that Christ’s love is to be found in every direction as the core of salvation. Vincent Cheung says, “The language indicates all the dimensions of the love of Christ, a comprehensive knowledge, a deep and wide, profound and extensive, understanding of the things of God.” He says we need power (the Holy Spirit) to grasp that, to know the unknowable, which is also a fruit of Christ dwelling in our hearts. We can’t know the love Christ, because it is unknowable (Philippians 4:7), unless God grants us power (His Spirit) to know that which surpasses knowledge. Paul wants nothing more here than for his audience to actually and personally experience the love of Christ in its immeasurableness, so that they can grow in grace and knowledge and thereby exhibit the fruit of the Spirit in greater measure. When we grasp and know the love of God through the power of experience (by grace through faith), we are permanently changed.

Paul wants that powerful experience to come to us “together with all the saints.” He’s thinking in corporate terms, wanting the Church as a whole to experience the love of Christ for His bride; and with this language, Paul is exalting Christ’s love as inclusive (it falls on every tribe, tongue, people, and nation), exhaustive (it is completely breathed out in such a way that it forever accepts, cleanses, and transforms its objects), and self-sacrificing (it came at the greatest expense, an immeasurable and unknowable expense, that we, by experience, can somehow comprehend to some degree). Paul is calling on the Holy Spirit to work effectually in the Body of Christ, so that the love of God would be experienced and magnified, ultimately, as we’ll see in the final portion of the prayer, so that the fullness of God would fill His people for His glory. It’s experiencing God’s love for us in Christ, which comes oftentimes in the midst of trials that test faith (the connection between Jesus and us), that makes us mature and complete (James 1:2-4).

Third, in v19b, Paul wants God to fill us will all His fullness. Paul’s first prayer, that God would strengthen us with power through His Spirit in our inner being so that Christ would live in our hearts through faith, was complete. Paul is asking for regeneration, for renewal, for genuine, increasing faith wrought by and maintained by and grown by the power of the Holy Spirit. In chapter 4, Paul will speak of Christians corporately; but here, in this first prayer, he is undoubtedly considering individuals. Notice that the Christian faith is both public and private, both a one-on-One relationship between a person and their Creator God, as well as a corporate relationship between God and His people as a whole. And the second prayer of Paul begins to make that transition. Paul’s second prayer is that God would pour out His power, the Holy Spirit, on us – together with all the saints – so that we would grasp and know the limitless love of God to us in Christ through our experience. Paul wants each member of the body of Christ (personal) to experience the power of God and know more fully the love of Christ (corporate). And that brings the third point.

Why does Paul want this? He wants this so that we will “be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Vincent Cheung says, “God’s fullness in us consists in knowledge, not merely the introduction of the Gentiles into the church, but an extensive theology. Ignorant Christians are empty, or nearly empty. It is surprising that so many commentators miss this point.” Paul is asking for maturity and completion, for perfection and glorification, and that comes only through the completed work of the Holy Spirit, building up the Body of Christ (individually and corporately – no Christian left behind) to an experience of the love of God that transforms, ultimately makes faith obsolete, and otherwise, surpasses understanding. He wants us to be able to say, “When I see that person, and when I see that local congregation, and in fact, when I see the whole Body of Christ throughout the world, both on earth and in heaven, I see Christ Himself. I see the moral character of God in this person and in this body. It’s the fullness of God, wrought by His Spirit, right there.” Because Paul knows that is hard for us to imagine, he follows with a doxology, and Lord willing, we'll look at that tomorrow.

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