A Prayer for Christ’s People – BCSA Commencement Conference
Ephesians 3:14 – 21
A Prayer for Christ’s People - Bible College SA Commencement Conference 2016
Don’t get caught by the familiar!
One of the things that we try to keep reminding our people of at Trinity Mount Barker, is that much of what Christian people do when they gather together is totally familiar to those of us who are Christians, but totally strange and foreign to new people.
You know, sending your children out to Kid’s Church,
Standing up to sing,
Taking a collection,
All saying a creed together.
It’s all very odd if you’ve never come across it before!
So much so, that when we started our church and when we started our new church at Victor Harbor, I sent our starter groups out into places they’d never been before;, the TAB, Ikea, a Play Café, so that they’d all have the experience of being new and unfamiliar, and not knowing what you’re supposed to do.
But one of the things that Christian people sometimes do, is kneel down when they pray. And we see here that Paul says he kneels in prayer.
Verse 14, getting back to where he started before he went off on his tangent, For this reason I kneel before the Father etc etc.
And we’re all familiar with Christian people kneeling to pray, and so we can kind of gloss over that.
But Paul mentions his posture deliberately.
Now, it wasn’t unheard of, for God’s people in the first century to kneel to pray, but ordinarily someone like Paul would stand to pray.
And what we find in the Scriptures, is that when people kneel to pray, they demonstrate a real earnestness in their praying.
So King Solomon knelt, when he prayed at the dedication of the temple,
Jesus knelt to pray in Gethsemane.
We look at those kinds of examples and see a great demonstration of submission to God,
People earnestly asking God to fulfil his purposes, through their prayers.
Our familiarity, can mean we miss the emotion, the earnestness, the submission, that Paul demonstrates in his prayer.
He wants them to know it’s a big deal, “You Ephesians are at the top of my prayer list.”
May you be strengthened, (v 16)
But not only does Paul tell his readers how he’s praying for them, he also tells them exactly what he’s praying for them.
He’s done it once before in Ephesians, but this time he says he’s praying for strength.
16 I pray that out of his glorious riches, he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being
We saw this morning how God uses the church to demonstrates his wisdom into the heavenly realms, but the Ephesians, are at risk of being discouraged, especially by Paul’s imprisonment, and so Paul prays that God will strengthen them for this astounding task before them.
, by God’s himself,
And so this prayer for strength, is a prayer for God to bring his resources to bear on the lives of the Ephesians.
And there’s not even a shadow of a doubt in Paul’s mind that God might not be quite up to the task, is there?!
Verse 16, I pray that out of his glorious riches, he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit
It seems like a bit of a mixed metaphor, glorious riches, as the source for strengthening.
Literally Paul speaks of the riches of God’s glory, and God’s glory in the Bible conveys, what we might call God’s Godness.
To speak of God’s glory is to be reminded that God always acts, for good.
And so to be strengthened out of God’s glorious riches, means for God to act in accordance with his character, for his people,
But I think that the ESV and the HCSB and some of those others capture it slightly better when they speak of being strengthened according to God’s glorious riches.
Imagine there’s someone in your congregation who’s exceedingly wealthy, and you ask them to make a donation to support the Bible College. You explain the benefits to gospel ministry in Adelaide and the world for generations to come, if they say “Yes, I hear what you’re saying, here’s $50.” They’ve given out of their riches.
But if, when they hear about this great gospel opportunity, they write a cheque for a million dollars, they’ve given according to their riches.
God acts, in proportion to his glorious riches, for the strengthening of his people.
And this strength comes to God’s people, through his Spirit in your inner being
So notice that this isn’t some external source of power that God merely provides, rather it’s God giving strength,
According to the riches of his glory,
Through his own Spirit.
God far away? No.
God removed from the weakness and discouragement of his people? No.
God himself equips his people and strengthens them for the task he gives them.
The Ephesians are concerned and discouraged at Paul’s imprisonment, and yet they are to be the announcement of God’s wisdom into the heavenly realms, so Paul doesn’t give them an instruction: , “be strong.”
Instead, he prays that that God would use his infinite resources so that they’ll be strengthened for the task at hand.
Simply to say “be strong”, that’s the secular motivational poster, the picture of the cat hanging onto the branch for dear life,
That’s not Christian encouragement.
Ignore the motivation poster, as if somewhere inside of you is the strength required to not be discouraged in the face of opposition, because let’s face it, if you’re in Christian ministry you will face opposition.
Ignore the Facebook meme that tells you to “be strong”, as if that can equip you to take your place among those through whom God’s wisdom is demonstrated in the heavenly realms.
So Paul’s prayer not only demonstrates his confidence that God will answer, but he also tells us how he believes God will act to answer the prayer.
So how might this be reflected in our prayers, for God’s people? Not just our prayers for strengthening, but all our prayers.
See, when I think about my prayers in the light of this, I’m encouraged not only to tell people that I’m praying for them, this also makes me think, “why don’t I tell people what it is I’m asking God to do for them?”
But even more than that, I’ve also been telling people, what it is about their God, that gives me the confidence to pray for them in the first place!
So a few Christian friends has lost loved ones recently.
And instead of saying, “I’ll pray for you”, I’ve been trying to say, “I’m praying that God will comfort you in this time of sadness and loss.”
And even further than that, I’ve been trying to say, “I pray that God will comfort you through the body of Christ of which you’re a part, and through the work of his Spirit which he has given you, who is a deposit guaranteeing the good things that we long for as Christ’s people, Ephesians 1:14 ”
OK, so it doesn’t roll of the tongue quite as easily as “I’ll pray for you.”
And yet, what a great example this is of very confident prayer, that also makes known a God who acts for his people, as only he can.
Imagine the impact, if this was how we prayed for people.
, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts.
But Paul’s prayer that the Ephesians will be strengthened, it looks a bit like that’s step one, and then step 2 is Christ coming to dwell in their hearts. Verse 16, he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.
But this is not so much step 1 and step 2, as two sides of the same coin.
When Jesus left his disciples, he promised that he’d be with them forever, because the Holy Spirit would be sent to them.
And in fact the Spirit’s presence would mean that both Jesus and his Father would make their home with the disciples.
And at the end of Ephesians 2, Paul spoke of God coming to dwell in his people by the Spirit.
So to have the Spirit at work in your inner being, is the same as having Christ dwell in your heart.
This is the only occasion that I could find in the Bible where Christ dwells in the heart. There’s mentions of Christ in you, and that kind of thing, but as far as I can tell, this is the only place where it’s the heart, which I mention really just out of interest, because of the vast Christian vocabulary about Christ dwelling in our hearts,
People inviting Christ into their hearts, and all of that.
But of course here Paul is not speaking of non-Christians inviting Christ into their hearts, but of Christ dwelling more deeply in the hearts of Christian people.
Paul has 2 words for dwell to choose from.
One means to dwell temporarily, think of Abraham, dwelling temporarily in the Land of Promise. We could say it’s the 457 Visa kind of dwelling. Temporary.
The other word, means to dwell permanently.
No prizes for guessing which of these 2 words Paul thinks best describes the dwelling of Christ in the heart of believers.
The permanent one.
The move in and take up residence one.
The move in, take up residence, start moving the furniture around and knocking down internal walls word for dwelling.
It’s the word, in fact, that Paul uses when he wants to speak of all the fullness of the godhead , dwelling in Christ Jesus.
I wonder if we pray for the people among whom we serve, that they will be so strengthened by the Spirit of God, that Jesus might, if you like, settle down in their hearts, and take complete possession of them, as the rightful owner.
Which will mean Christ rules in our hearts
I’ve been reading a book on the history of Singapore, and in the early colonial days, the person appointed by the British to rule this distant outpost, was called a resident!
The title sounds innocuous enough, but they don’t just reside, they rule!
For the great task before the church, and the difficult circumstances they face, Paul prays for strength which comes through the Spirit, and which means that more and more, our hearts become the place of Christ’s residence, under his rule.
Of course, it raises the question, if we’re to pray this for the people among whom we serve, or for ourselves, what will it look like for Christ to dwell in our hearts?
What does it look like for the Spirit to empower us, such that we become more and more like Jesus?
How will our priorities?,
Our actions, our preferences, change, as Christ exercises his rule over more and more of our person?
The famous Welsh Preacher Martyn Lloyd Jones once pointed out that if Christ is in our hearts, than certain other things cannot be!
Christ’s residency must shape every aspect of our lives.
If Christ dwells in the hearts of the people we serve, then you’ll see the driving out of other things that cannot co-habitate with him;
What a great thing to be praying for your people.
May you grasp the limitless dimensions of Christ’s love,
But Paul continues, praying also that the Ephesians will grasp the limitless dimensions of God’s love.
Look with me from the second half of verse 17, 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,
Remember those terrible television ads from the 90s? “But wait, there’s more!”
Take out the sales pitch, and that’s Paul’s thinking!
His readers have already understood something of Christ’s love.
They’re rooted and established in love.
“But wait”, Paul says, “There’s more!
There’s more love for you to grasp!”
And notice that once again, this is something that Paul thinks we need to be given power in order to do. Power to grasp how wide, and long, and high, and deep
Sometimes Christians have fallen into the trap of thinking that whenever the Bible speaks about power, it’s promising us dramatic, kind of superhuman stuff. These guys used to come through uni when I was working there, bending steel bars with their teeth, in the name of Jesus!
But this power, that Paul prays the Ephesians will experience, and actually, notice he prays it for all the Lord’s holy people, this is a prayer for us today, this power enables us to grasp the greatness of the love of Christ.
Paul’s word for grasp, is the word that in his day described a soldier climbing up to a city on a rocky outcrop to ransack it!
Take hold of,
Comprehend, the limitless dimensions of the love of Christ.
And perhaps Paul uses this very strong language, because to understand more and more of Christ’s love, is to see more and more clearly, my own un-loveliness.
Perhaps we need God’s power to grasp the love of Christ, because we so easily put other things in place of the love of Christ as a source of value and significance, and so I need to see those other things pale into insignificance.
Perhaps we need God’s power to grasp the limitless love of Christ, because that love necessarily works out, expresses itself in our love for others, as Paul goes on to say in chapter 5.
And that loving others as Christ loved us, well, that can be hard,
, That can be , costly,
When we try to put Christ’s love for us, into action in our love for others, well, if you’re anything like me, that’s where you start to wish that Christ’s love wasn’t quite so wide,
Grasping the dimensions of Christ’s love is no mere intellectual exercise.
Love in its very nature is experiential, isn’t it?
Simply knowing about love, is not knowing love.
The people you serve do not need to be able to write an essay on Christ’s love,
They don’t even need to be able to preach a sermon on Christ’s love,
But if you are to shepherd them, you must long that they grasp how wide, and long, and high, and deep, is the love of Christ,
Some of you are old enough to remember Foreigner’s song “I want to know what love is!” I’m not going to sing it! But we want to get our definition’s right! What is love?
What is this love of Christ, that his church must know and understand?
Well, of course, the place we turn to see Christ’s love most clearly is the cross. Paul’s already said to the Ephesians in chapter 2, that it was because of God’s love for us in Christ Jesus, that Jesus died.
In fact, there is no knowing of Christ’s love apart from God making it known in the Scriptures, and apart from God making it known at the cross.
Plenty of Christian people, Christian leaders, speak of the love of Christ as some kind of amorphous, warm fuzzy affirmation of anything you want to do.
But any concept of the love of Christ that leaves out the price of sin being paid,
That leaves out Jesus standing as a willing substitute for rebels and enemies of God,
Any definition of the love of Christ that is divorced from the revelation of Christ in the Bible is faulty, and incomplete.
Let me ask you, what unit of measure would one use to measure Christ’s love?
Not surprisingly, the Internet is filled with people who have asked the question, “What is the unit of measure for love?”
And the answer is, “oodles.” Maybe you’ve heard people say, “I love you oodles and oodles!” So that’s the unit of measure for love!
Of course Paul doesn’t expect that Christian people will actually arrive at specific measurements;
Christ’s love measures 24 oodles,
By 76 oodles,
By 309 oodles,
By 213 oodles!
It’s an impossible metaphor,
Christ’s love cannot be measured.
It’s supposed to make us think of something vast and immense, and of course, the twist in the tail, the paradox that he tacks onto the end, is that the love of Christ is so immense, that although Paul wants all Christian people to know it, it can’t actually be known. Christ’s love, verse 19, surpasses knowledge
“I pray that you know, this love that can’t be known”
Now, if your personality is anything like mine, the thought of wanting to know something that can’t be known, just makes you want to give up before you even start!
But clearly Paul’s not saying, “Don’t even bother!”
He’s saying, “When it comes to knowing the love of Christ, you might get a long way down the track, but wait! , There’s more!”
There’s always more.
And let’s remember where this started, I pray that you, verse 18, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide, and long, and high, and deep,
Clearly Paul expects that this growing in knowledge, happens within the community of God’s people, the body of Christ.
, to reach true Christian maturity,
But this knowledge, which can never be fully known, isn’t an end in itself is it? I’m sure you noticed, verse 19 continues, to know this love that surpasses knowledge —, that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God
All through Ephesians Paul emphasises God’s agency, and this here is no exception. It’s not “so you can fill yourselves up”
It’s be filled, isn’t it?
It’s God who does this filling, just as God enables us to grasp the limitless dimensions of Christ’s love.
And it is with all the fullness of God, that God fills his people, as they come to grasp the love of Christ,
Not the fullness of self,
Not the fullness of knowledge even,
The fullness of God.
That is, to be like Christ, to be truly mature.
We have a course for new members at TMB, that’s running at the moment, and one of the discussion questions is “What do you think a mature Christian looks like?
Well, if Paul were to sit in that course, he would say, a mature Christian is someone who has a deep understanding of the limitless dimensions of Christ’s love,
Someone who knows this love that surpasses knowledge.
That’s how we become filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Paul’s already said that the church is filled with the fullness of God, and yet now he suggests there’s something still to come, something still to be received.
Think of your church, the people whom God has gathered as a visible, concrete manifestation of the gathering around Christ in the heavenlies, as , the Lord’s holy people grasp more deeply the measureless love of Christ, they’ll become more and more the people that God would have them be.
And conversely, until they grasp more deeply, the measureless love of Christ, they won’t be as spiritually mature as God longs for them to be, unless they’ve received from God, the power to grasp the measureless love of Christ.
And so, if, as we’ve seen, the love of Christ is revealed most clearly in the Scriptures, and demonstrated most clearly at the cross, then unless you take your people to the Scriptures and to the cross,
Unless you lead them there, and dwell there, with them , and among them, they will not be, filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Without a cross-centred ministry of the Word, the church of Christ whom you serve will not be as spiritually mature as God longs for them to be.
This might not be the path to Christian maturity that sells books or fills conferences, but Paul is very clear, isn’t he?
, for the glory of the God who loves to give
And lest we conclude that Paul is praying all these things simply for the benefit of the church, we see his over-arching goal is to bring glory to God.
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.
Well, if somehow we were still lacking motivation to pray, not sure if God is able to give what we ask, well Paul demolishes that particular blockage to prayer, doesn’t he?
God is able to do immeasurably , more, than all we ask,
But not only that, immeasurably more, even than we can imagine!
There is no good thing, that you might ask for in prayer, that is beyond God’s power to give.
There is no good thing, that you can even imagine, that is beyond God’s power to give.
Do you believe that?
I mean really believe that?
When you pray for the people among whom you serve, and I hope you do, and I hope Ephesians 3 encourages you to do so, when you pray for your people, do you believe that there is no good thing you can imagine, that is beyond God’s ability to give?
Of course the train of thought that has led Paul to this point is the prayer for fullness, to become like Christ.
That’s the immediate context of the promise here.
But Paul is throwing the gates pretty wide isn’t he?
God loves to give.
And it’s this God who loves to give, whom Paul longs to see glorified. There are , I think, 21 doxologies in the New Testament, depends a bit what you count. This is the only one where God is glorified in the church.
Some of you, who are more successful at sport than I am, will have a trophy cabinet, or a trophy shelf, where your glory can be see.
Well, the church is God’s trophy cabinet.
It’s the place where God’s glory can be see, as the church declares into the heavenly realms, the technicolour wisdom of God.
And in this privileged role of bringing glory to God, the church stands alongside her bridegroom, who in his triumph, brings glory to his heavenly Father.
As you begin a new college year, and a new year of ministry, I pray that Ephesians 3 might give you a fresh sense of the monumental work of which you are a part,
And if you wonder what difference you make,
If ever your prayers waver,
If there are times when you wonder if the high , personal cost of ministry is worth it, I pray the Apostle Paul will lift your eyes to the eternal fruit, the eternal glory, of your labours in Christ’s church.
Thanks so much, for letting me share with you today.