A Prayer for Christ’s People
Ephesians 3:14 – 21
A Prayer for Christ’s People
Don’t get caught by the familiar!
One of the things that we try to keep reminding each other of here at Trinity, 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 people who are amongst us.
It’s very easy to forget that sending your children upstairs to Kids’ Church, or standing up and singing at the top of your voice!
It’s all very odd if you’ve never come across it before!
So much so, that when we started this church, and when we started Trinity South Coast, We sent our starter groups out into places they’d never been before, the TAB, Ikea, the Play Café, so that they’d all have the experience of being new and unfamiliar, not sure what they’re supposed to do when.
Can I say, if you’re new with us this morning please don’t be anxious at not knowing what you’re supposed to do next!
Just follow the people around you, because that’s exactly what most of them are doing anyway!
But one of the things that Christian people sometimes do, is kneel down when they pray. And we see here, the Apostle Paul is writing to Christians in Ephesus in the first Century AD, and he kneels down to say his prayers.
See there at verse 14, For this reason, Paul says, that is, in the light of God’s amazing plans to unify everything, including Jews and Gentiles under Jesus Christ, as we’ve been seeing in recent weeks, for this reason, I kneel before the Father, and he prays.
And if we’re, familiar with Christian things, we can just kind of gloss over that, and not actually see what’s going on here.
Paul kneels when he prays. Big deal. Lots of Christians do that.
And our familiarity has tripped us up.
Because this is unusual for a first century Jew. Someone like Paul would ordinarily stand to pray.
Actually, what we find in the Bible is that when people kneel to pray, they do it to demonstrate a real earnestness, a deliberateness to their praying.
So King Solomon knelt, when he prayed at the dedication of God’s temple in Jerusalem,
Jesus knelt to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane.
And we see also when people kneel to pray, perhaps not surprisingly, it’s an expression their submission to God,
They’re asking that God will fulfil his purposes, through their prayers.
See if we happen to be quite familiar with how Christian people pray today, we can miss the emotion, the earnestness, the submission, that Paul demonstrates in his prayer.
Paul’s saying, “This is a big deal,
You Ephesians are at the top of my prayer list.”
May you be strengthened, (v 16)
So not only does Paul tell his readers how he’s praying for them, and therefore give them an insight into the reverence and emotion of his prayers, he also tells them exactly what he prays.
This is the second occasion in this letter that he’s done it, but here he begins with a prayer for strength.
For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches, he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being
Paul has just been saying how God uses the church, to demonstrates his wisdom into the heavenly realms, but the Ephesians, we know, chapter 3 verse 13, are at risk of being discouraged 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 himself to bring his resources to bear on the lives of the Ephesians.
And there’s no way, not even a shadow of a doubt in the back of 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 the ideas of God’s character,
All of those things, in their perfection.
To speak of God’s glory is to be reminded that God always acts, for the benefit of his people.
To be strengthened out of or according to God’s glorious riches, means for God to act in accordance with his character, for his people,
For God to act, in proportion to his glorious riches, for his people.
For God to give strength, as only God can.
And this strength comes to God’s people, through his Spirit in your inner being
Paul’s praying that God himself will be at work in people, by his Spirit, the same Spirit we saw a few weeks ago in chapter 1, brings wisdom and God’s revelation of himself.
So notice that this isn’t some external source of power that God merely provides, but God giving strength, according to the riches of his glory, through his own Spirit, which is at work in your inner being.
God far away? No.
God removed from the weakness and discouragement of his people? No.
Paul prays that the Ephesians will be strengthened, by God himself, at work in them, working according to his character, always for the good of his people.
That is some prayer for strength!
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 offers a prayer that God would use his infinite resources so that they will be strengthened for the task at hand.
Simply to say “be strong”, that’s the message of a secular motivational poster, not Ephesians 3.
Actually, later on, in chapter 6, Paul does say “be strong”, but even then, it echoes this idea here, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power
Ignore the motivation poster, or the Facebook meme that tells you to “be strong”, as if somewhere inside of you is the strength required to not be discouraged in the face of opposition,
Or the strength to be one those through whom God’s wisdom is demonstrated in the heavenly realms.
Here is a prayer for strength, in which we see Paul’s confidence, not only that God will answer, but he tells us actually how he believes God will act to answer the prayer.
And so I wondered this week, how we might reflect this kind of praying in our prayers. Not just our prayers for strengthening,
But Paul’s pattern for prayer more broadly, how might it shape our prayers?
And so I thought that when I pray for people,
I can not only tell them that I am praying for them,
But, taking a leaf out of Paul’s book, I can tell them what I’m praying, what I long for God to do for them.
But even more than that, in the light of this prayer, this week I’ve also tried to tell people, what it is about God, that gives me the confidence to pray for them in the first place!
So a few Christian friends has lost loved ones recently.
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’m 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 not only shows confidence that God will answer, but also makes known a God who acts for his people, as only he can.
, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts.
But Paul’s prayer that the Ephesians will be strengthened, it looks like, that’s step one, and then step 2, is Christ coming to dwell in their hearts. That’s how it seems to read, doesn’t it? 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.
But this is not so much step 1 and step 2, as two sides of the same coin.
Let’s think about what we know is perhaps one of the most basic, the most fundamental roles of the Spirit of God.
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.
Perhaps more than anything else, the ministry of the Spirit of God to Christian people, is to make known the presence and power of the risen and ascended Jesus.
To have the Spirit at work in your inner being, is the same as having Christ dwell in your heart.
Paul, writing in first Century Greek has 2 words for dwell to choose from.
One means to dwell temporarily, like Abraham, dwelling in the Land of Promise, though he never actually took possession of it. 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 the Apostle 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.
This prayer for the Ephesians, is that they might be so strengthened by the Spirit of God, that Jesus might, if you like, settle down in their hearts, and take possession of them, as the rightful owner.
And like we might imagine our hearts to be the centre of our emotions,
The centre of our personality,
The core of our very being,
That’s exactly what Paul has in mind.
Which will mean Christ rules in our hearts
So if we think about praying this prayer ourselves, if Christ has taken possession and settled down in our heart, then our personality,
And our emotions,
And everything to do with our being, is Christ’s, and under his rule.
For the great task and the difficult circumstance, Paul prays for strength, and this strengthening comes through the Spirit,
Which means that more and more, our hearts become the place of Christ’s residence, under his rule,
And the more that our hearts are brought under Christ’s rule, the more our lives will look like the life of Jesus, which is a theme that Paul’s going to expand on, later in the letter.
So far, that’s quite a prayer to pray, isn’t it?
A prayer for strength, that will be answered by the work of the Spirit in the heart of person who has faith, a work that also sees Christ’s residency and rule growing and expanding within us.
Of course, it raises the question, what does it look like, for Christ to dwell in our hearts? , this kind of dwelling, not the 457 visa temporary dwelling, but the making himself at home, rearranging the furniture , kind of dwelling.
What does it look like for the Spirit to empower us, such that we become more and more like Jesus?
Well, what did we say comes out of the heart?
The very essence of who we are,
How will our priorities?,
Our actions, our preferences, change, as Christ exercises his rule over more and more of our person?
The late Welsh Preacher Martyn Lloyd Jones once pointed out that if Christ is in our hearts, than certain other things cannot be!
You’ve got the card with this prayer on it, maybe this week, we could pray this for ourselves and for each other,
For strength from the Spirit of God, that Christ might more and more make his home in our hearts, driving out those things that ought not be there.
If you’re not a Christian, we’re so pleased to have you with us today, If you’ve come here because you’re trying to find out what Christianity is all about, here’s part of an answer to your question.
Christianity isn’t about an on-again-off-again relationship with Jesus, but a permanent relationship, that comes to shape every aspect of your life.
If Christ dwells in our hearts, we don’t leave him behind sometimes. He is at the centre of everything that we do.
May you grasp the limitless dimensions of Christ’s love,
Paul goes on to pray, 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,
Once again Paul surely isn’t saying that they don’t know the love of Christ. He’s writing to Christian people who have come to know and experience the love of Christ seen most clearly at the cross, where Jesus dies for people who are rebelling against God.
But remember those terrible television ads from the 90s? Advertising some gadget that you didn’t need, but you’d watch through to the end anyway, and then the guy would say, “But wait, there’s more!”
Take out the sales pitch, and that’s Paul’s thinking!
They’ve been rooted and established in love.
They’ve come to know Christ’s love,
“But wait”, Paul says, “There’s more!
There’s more there for you to grasp!”
I wonder if we’ve ever thought that we need to grasp more fully the dimensions of Christ’s love.
Notice that once again, this is something that Paul things we need to be given power in order to do. Power to grasp how wide, and long, and high, and deep is the love of Christ
Sometimes Christian people have fallen into the trap of thinking that whenever the Bible speaks about power, it’s promising us dramatic feats of superhuman strength, like the guys at uni who I mentioned a few weeks ago, who use to bend steel bars with their teeth, and that kind of thing.
The power that Paul prays for here, doesn’t lead to the flexing of muscles does it? But something infinitely greater,
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.
Now, we might not think that grasping something takes much power, particularly grasping love.
But Paul thinks differently! The word he chooses for grasp is the word that in his day described a soldier climbing up an outcrop to a city on a hill, and ransacking it!
Take hold of,
Comprehend, the limitless dimensions of the love of Christ.
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,
To grasp the love of Christ would then mean seeing other things in which I might seek value and significance 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 his letter. 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 not a mere intellectual exercise.
Love in its very nature is experiential, isn’t it?
Simply knowing about love, is not knowing love.
Paul doesn’t pray that Christian people will be able to write an essay on Christ’s love, or even that they’ll be able to preach a sermon on Christ’s, no, he prays that they will grasp how wide, and long, and high, and deep, is the love of Christ,
Let me say, before we have a think about these dimensions , maybe you’re not quite sure what it is to know, to be established in Christ’s love.
A couple of months ago, it was Alistair and Chanelle McLean’s wedding, and they chose a passage about Christ’s love for us to hear on the day. As the preacher, I fiercely resisted the urge, to burst out in Foreigner’s song, “I want to know what love is!”
Once again I’m going to resist the urge!
But maybe that’s your question.
What is this love of Christ?
Well, the place we turn to see it, most clearly, is at 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.
Because of that love they’d been saved,
Reconciled, to God and to each other.
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.
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 picture of the love of Christ that is divorced from the revelation of Christ in the Bible is faulty, and incomplete.
Although, let’s not think to highly of ourselves! Even the understanding and experience of Christ’s love that Paul prays for, even that has to be incomplete doesn’t it?
It’s obvious! Paul’s used an impossible metaphor, followed by a paradox!
What unit of measure would one use to measure Christ’s love?
Not surprisingly, the Internet is filled with people who have asked that very question: “What is the unit of measure for love?”
The best answer I found actually, is that the unit of measure is “oodles.” Maybe you’ve heard people say, “I love you oodles and oodles!” So that’s what it is!
Of course Paul doesn’t expect that the Ephesians, or we who read his letter much later, will actually arrive at a 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, and to know this love
We can’t escape the fact, that Paul thinks, and prays, and expects, that this growing in knowledge, happens within the community of God’s people, the body, as he calls the church in this letter.
Paul doesn’t imagine that Christian people kind of reach peaks of knowledge all on their own, but that God will give this greater and greater knowledge, for the benefit all his people.
, 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
Paul’s prays that the Ephesians will grasp the limitless dimensions of Christ’s love, in order that they will be mature, filled with all the fullness of God.
We keep noticing, all the way through Ephesians, God’s agency, God’s hand at work.
I pray that you will know this so you can fill yourselves up?
No 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 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.
In God, Church and Me, our 4 week course for new members of TMB, we ask a question in the Bible study groups, “What do you think a mature Christian looks like?
Well, if Paul were to join our church, and do God, Church and Me, can you imagine!! 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.
Sometimes Christians describe this tension by saying Paul wants us to become, what we are.
And that makes perfect sense of this. As we, the Lord’s holy people grasp more deeply the measureless love of Christ, we will become more and more the people that God would have us be.
And conversely, until we grasp more deeply, the measureless love of Christ, we will not be the people that God would have us be.
We will not be as spiritually mature as God longs for us to be, unless we have received from God the power to grasp the measureless love of Christ.
If, as we’ve seen, the love of Christ is revealed most clearly in the Scriptures, and demonstrated most clearly at the cross, than unless we dwell on those things, we will not be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God will we?
Unless we point ourselves to those things, we will not become as spiritually mature as God longs for us to be.
If, as we’ve seen, this grasping of the love of Christ happens not in some mystical isolation, but among the Lord’s holy people, then if we cut ourselves off from the body of Christ, we will not be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God will we?
If we isolate ourselves, we will not become as spiritually mature as God longs for us to be.
The British pastor John Stott once said, “It needs the whole people of God, to understand the whole love of God.”
This might not be the path to Christian maturity that we imagine, and yet Paul is very clear, isn’t he?
Christ-likeness, the fullness of God, is given when we, together with all the Lord’s holy people, grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and, know this love that surpasses knowledge
, 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 Ephesians,
Or even for the benefit of Christ’s church,
We see Paul’s over-arching goal, 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 the answers to our prayers are within the scope of God’s ability, 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?
Of course the train of thought that has led Paul to this point is the prayer for fullness, to become like Christ, through grasping hold of his limitless love. That’s the immediate context behind the promise here.
But Paul is throwing the gates pretty wide isn’t he?
Can I say, If you’re not a Christian, if you’re wondering, what kind of things could I pray about?
This is a pretty good answer, isn’t it?!
If you are a Christian, and your prayer life has stalled.
If you’re struggling to pray for anything, let alone Christ-likeness and fullness, please remember, this God, who loves to give.
Maybe that’s the facet of the nature of God that will help you get started again.
The card on your seat, with the words of this prayer,
Please take it with you,
Maybe that will help you get started.
Wouldn’t it be great, if all of us took the card, and this week, used this prayer, to shape our prayers.
The Apostle Paul knows that God will be glorified in Christ, and maybe, a little surprisingly to us, in the church.
Why don’t I pray that God might use this part of his word, to help us become what we are, for his glory.