A Prayer for Christ’s Church
Ephesians 3:14 – 21
A Prayer for Christ’s People
Dundonald Church 6:30 Weekend Away 2020 :: Talk 3
Don’t get caught by the familiar, this is an especially earnest prayer (v 14 – 15)
Over the years I’ve spent lot of time training church planters, and church leaders, and teams who are preparing to start new churches.
And as I talk to these men and women who are in the process of thinking through what church is going to look like,
How are we going to reach people in this new area?,
Or even “how are can our existing church better connect with people around us?”,
It quickly becomes apparent that lots of what we do in church, is totally strange and foreign to new people.
You know, think about some of the stuff we do in church;,
Besides when you were at the football, when was the last time you stood up with a crowd all facing the same way, and sung a song together?
In what other context would someone read sentences written more or less simultaneously in Greek and Latin 17 hundred years ago? As they do if they say the Apostles’ Creed on a Sunday.
It’s all very odd if you’ve never come across it before!
But we’re all so familiar with it and don’t see the gap it creates, so when I’m training these planting teams and church leaders, I send them out on their own, to some place that they’ve never been before.
So they visit a betting shop,
Or a tailor,
A children’s play café,
Ikea, for those who have never been there.
You get the idea!
The point is that they get to experience the feeling of being new and unfamiliar, and not sure what you’re supposed to do, which is exactly the experience of everyone who walks through the door of St Andrew’s, new to our church.
Just as an aside, if you think that would be a useful experience for you, or for your Welcoming Team, as you welcome people into our church, come and see me afterwards and I’ll give you the worksheets and we’ll sort it out!
But one of the things that Christian people sometimes do, is kneel down when they pray.
We tend not to do it much, but lots of Christians do, and St Andrew’s even has kneelers, those rectangular cushions to make it slightly more comfortable.
And in fact when the old Dundonald 7 PM service met in St Andrew’s in the days before the Factory, there was always a bit of a competition to find the seat with the kneeler that’s crocheted with the team colours of Wimbledon FC!
But, the point is, Christians often kneel to pray.
We probably know that.
And in verse 14, getting back to where he started before he went off on his tangent, Paul says he kneels in prayer.
And we’re all familiar with Christian people kneeling to pray, and so we kind of gloss over that.
But Paul mentions his posture deliberately.
It wasn’t unheard of, for God’s people in the first century to kneel to pray, but ordinarily someone like Paul would stand.
And what we find in the Scriptures, is that when people kneel to pray, they do it to demonstrate a real earnestness in their praying.
So King Solomon knelt, when he prayed at the dedication of the temple, 1 Kings 8.
Jesus knelt to pray in Gethsemane, Luke 22.
We’re told the posture on those occasions so we understand the deliberate demonstration of submission to God,
People earnestly asking God to fulfil his purposes, through their prayers.
It’s not that God hears your prayer more if you kneel, but it’s a mark of humility and submission.
And our familiarity, can mean we miss the emotion, the earnestness, the submission, of Paul’s prayer.
He wants the Ephesians to know this is a big deal, “Your church, is at the very top of my prayer list.”
I wonder if you’ve ever said the same thing about your church?
May you be strengthened ... (v 16)
Well, not only does Paul tell his readers how he’s praying for them, he also tells them exactly what he’s praying for them.
And if you’ve wondered how you could pray for your church, for our church, this is going to be a pretty good starting point.
Maybe, actually, it’s never occurred to you to pray for our church,
But think about our church, the 6:30 in particular,
What sorts of things should we be asking God, for our church?
What do we want God to do among us, and for us?
Well, it’s great to pray for immediate needs, isn’t it?,
That God will raise up leaders for our church,
That he’ll provide finances,
We pray for healing and restoration of relationships and those kinds of things for members within the church,
But what about prayers that aren’t tied to an immediate need,
What about prayers that we can pray any day, day after day, even year after year,
If this weekend were to mark the beginning of a prayer habit, of praying for our church, that were to mark the rest of your life,
What might those prayers be?
And this matters.
The 19th Century London preacher Charles Spurgeon put it like this:,
If God is near a church, it must pray. And if He is not there, one of the first tokens of his absence will be a slothfulness in prayer!”
So let’s consider from Paul’s prayer, how we can pray for our church.
In chapter 1 he’s already told the Ephesians some of the things he’s praying for them, but now he does it again, telling them that he prays they’ll be strengthened.
Verse 16, 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being,
We saw in the previous section how God uses the church to demonstrates his wisdom into the heavenly realms, but the Ephesians, are at risk of feeling not quite up for the task, especially with Paul in prison, and so he prays that God will strengthen them for this astounding task before them.
What a thing to pray for our church!
We also are at risk of becoming discouraged, I think.
As Christianity is seen no longer as a positive influence in society, but a threat,
As it becomes increasingly difficult to uphold biblical patterns of behaviour on matters like sexual morality, and ethics around the beginning and end of life,
It’s harder and harder to have conversations with our friends about Jesus,
Maybe our friends don’t respond to any of our invitations to come to events,
Perhaps we see brothers and sisters from the 6:30 becoming less regular and drifting.
It’s easy to be discouraged.
We absolutely need to be strengthened, for the task that God has set before us.
Please pray that for yourselves,
For each other,
And for our leaders.
Pray that those of us who speak publicly on behalf of the church will be strengthened for that task, regardless of the opposition.
... 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 Ephesian church.
And there’s not even a shadow of a doubt in Paul’s mind, is there, that God might not be quite up to the task?!
Verse 16, 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being,
It seems like a bit of a mixed metaphor, glorious riches, as the source for strengthening.
Literally Paul speaks of strengthening coming to the Ephesian church, according to the riches of God’s glory,
And God’s glory in the Bible, you may know, conveys what we might call God’s Godness.
The weightiness of who he is.
To speak of God’s glory is to be reminded that God always acts, for good.
And so for a church to be strengthened out of God’s glorious riches, means for God to act in accordance with his character, for us as his people.
So let me ask you, are you convinced that this is how God acts for his church at Dundonald?,
Always for good?
As I said, literally Paul speaks about being strengthened according to God’s glorious riches, which is how the ESV translates it, rather than out of God’s glorious riches.
So imagine you know someone who is exceedingly wealthy.
And you ask them if they’d like to make a donation to our church.
You explain the benefits of giving to gospel work at Dundonald;,
The nations come to London,
People get converted and trained for ministry,
Churches get planted,
And so this multi-millionaire says, “Yep, I’m in, here’s 20 pounds.”
What have they done?
They’ve given out of their riches.
But if, when they hear about this great gospel opportunity, they write a cheque for 10 million pounds, they’ve given according to their riches.
And that better captures what Paul is praying for here, and what we could be praying for our church.
That God will act, 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.
God does provide for our church through money, and buildings, and skills,
That’s just not what’s happening here.
This is a prayer for God’s own strength, to come to his church,
According to the riches of his glory,
Through his own Spirit.
God far away?
God removed from the weakness and discouragement of his people?
God himself equips his people and strengthens them for the task he gives them.
And since we know that the primary tool of the Spirit of God is the Word of God,
If we want our church strengthened, our church needs to be fed from the Scriptures.
There’s no point praying, “please God, strengthen us”, but I’ve got no time to read your Word”,
Or “why do the sermons have to be so long”,
Or “I can’t really be bothered making the effort to get to KG.”
If we want these things for our church, that Paul prays for the Ephesians, then our church has to be one where we hear, and proclaim, and obey the Word of God.
And some of those things are done by our leaders,
And some of them;, hearing, and obeying, are done by us.
We can be part of the answer to our own prayer.
Because we know exactly how God wants to strengthen us.
It’s worth noting that Paul already spoken about power in this letter.
God’s power is on view in chapter 1 verse 19, the incomparably great power for us who believe, which is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms,
Will you pray that God will strengthen our church, with resurrection power!
Friends of mine have just moved from Namibia to South Africa as missionaries in theological education.
One part of life they’re adapting to is “load shedding.” The electricity company doesn’t have enough power for everyone, so there’s a rotation of suburbs being switched off, to share the power around.
Don’t ever think of God’s power for our strengthening like that. God’s ability to bring this change within us, is proven by the fact that he was able to raise Christ from the dead.
The very purpose of the church is to be the announcement of God’s wisdom into the heavenly realms,
So when the Ephesians, or when we are at risk of feeling discouraged, conscious of our weakness, Paul doesn’t give an instruction:, “be strong.”
Instead, he prays that that God would use his infinite resources to strengthen this people for the task at hand.
Simply to say “be strong”, that’s the secular motivational poster, isn’t it?, The picture of the cat hanging onto a branch for dear life, “don’t give up”
Friends, that’s not Christian encouragement.
Ignore the motivational 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 seeking to live for Jesus in London today you will face opposition,
If our church seeks to hold out the hope of the gospel of Jesus to our city, we will face opposition,
Stuff will be said in the papers,
There’ll be stuff online, as there is already!
So friends, ignore the Instagram meme that tells you to “be strong”, as if that’s what equips a church for the task before it in 21st Century London, demonstrating God’s wisdom in the heavenly realms.
So, let me ask, how might this be reflected in our prayers, for God’s people? Not just our prayers for strengthening, but all our prayers.
Here is confidence that God is able,
That God will answer,
And even a taste of how Paul believes God will act in answering the prayer.
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, numbers of people around our church have 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’ve been praying 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 on our church, if this was how we prayed for one another.
... so that Christ may dwell in your hearts ( v 17).
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 it’s 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 he’d send the Holy Spirit to them.
And in fact, the Spirit’s presence would mean that both Jesus and his Father would make their home with the disciples, that was the promise, John 14:23.
So to have the Spirit at work in your inner being, is the same thing 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 Jesus into their heart., 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 in his language.
One means to dwell temporarily, think of Abraham, dwelling temporarily in the Land of Promise. We could say it’s like a UK Temporary Worker visa, you’re here, but not forever!
The other Greek 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, do the loft conversion, paint the house, make it your own, 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, Colossians 1:19.
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,
Doing the loft conversion,
Moving the furniture,
Painting the house,
Making it just the way he wants.
Will you pray that for those in your small group?
Will you ask others here to pray that for you?
Which will mean Christ rules in our hearts
I’ve spent a bit of time in Singapore over the years. And in the early Colonial days, when Singapore was, really just an outpost of London, the person appointed by the British to rule the Island, was called a resident!
It sounds innocuous enough, but they didn’t just reside, they ruled!
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.
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 those in our church, then you’ll see the driving out of other things that cannot co-habitate with him;
What a great thing to be praying for our church family.
Of course, it raises the question, if we’re to pray this for our church and 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?
What would be different at the 6:30, if this prayer was answered in all of us?
In terms of how we prepare to come to church?
The shape of our conversations,
How we engage in what’s being led from the front?
How we respond to what we hear and are taught,
Imagine the 6:30, and not just the event on a Sunday night, but the community of the 6:30, with Christ ruling more and more in the lives of all of us.
That would be a compelling and attractive community to be a part of, wouldn’t it?
May you grasp the limitless dimensions of Christ’s love ( v 18),
And so 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,
Here’s a reminder for us, that the Christian is always growing, learning and understanding more.
They already know something of Christ’s love.
They’re rooted and established in love.
But Paul says, “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 fall into the trap of thinking that whenever the Bible speaks about power, it’s promising us dramatic, kind of superhuman stuff.
When I worked in university ministry, these guys used to come onto campus, bending steel bars in their teeth, all, apparently 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 marker of value, and so I need to see those other things pale into insignificance.
Perhaps we need God’s power to grasp the immeasurable love of Christ, because what our society labels love, is not even on the same page, not even in the same book, as what love is according to Jesus.
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,
But if we grasp the costly,
Other person centred love of Christ Jesus,
I mean, Imagine all of us at the 6:30 grasping that, loving like that!
Our non-Christian friends would be banging down the door to get in if that’s how we loved each other, wouldn’t they?
If we loved like this, we wouldn’t be our door-knocking, we’d be telling our friends to form an orderly queue at the door. They would want to know what on earth is going on.
This isn’t just an intellectual exercise, though, is it?
Simply knowing about love, is not knowing love.
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 it’s a good question.
We want to get our definitions right! What is love?
What is this love of Christ, that his church must know and understand?
Well, of course, the place where we see Christ’s love most clearly is the cross.
There is no knowing of Christ’s love apart from God making it known in the Scriptures, as they speak to us of Jsus and his death.
Plenty of Christian people, Christian leaders even, speak of the love of Christ as some kind of amorphous, warm fuzzy affirmation of anything you want to do.
“God loves you so, it doesn’t matter what you do, or how you think of God,
Or how you respond to Jesus”,
But any concept of the love of Christ that leaves out the price for sin being paid,
That leaves out Jesus standing as a willing substitute for rebels and enemies of God,
It’s faulty, and incomplete.
I wonder what unit of measure you could 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 is the internet-agreed unit of measure for love!
Of course Paul doesn’t expect that as Christians we’ll 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.
This language is 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”
That is, we’ll never get to this point where we stop praying this prayer for each other.
When it comes to knowing the love of Christ, you might get a long way down the track, but there’s still more,
There’s always more!
The oldest member of our congregation, I guess that might be the amazing Don Ford,
Or he person who’s been a Christian the longest,
The person with the most theological training,
They still need us to pray this prayer for them,
Just like we pray it for those who have just come out of Something Better, and have started in Connect.
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,
This is a growing in understanding that happens in community, among the body of Christ.
This prayer will not be answered if you are not among your church family.
... to reach true Christian maturity (v 19) ...
But this knowledge, which can never be fully known, isn’t an end in itself, is it?
Verse 19, 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, that is, it’s God who’s doing all the work.
Just have a look at chapter 1 some time, and all the different works and actions that are attributed to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Spirit. It’s a tremendously Trinitarian passage.
And that sense God’s agency continues through the letter.
And here is no exception. It’s not “so you can fill yourselves up to maturity.”
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 notice what we’re praying people are filled with;,
Not the fullness of knowledge even,
The fullness of God.
That is, to be like Christ, to be truly mature.
If I asked you “What do you think a mature Christian looks like?”, I wonder what you might say?
But if Paul were to answer that question, he would say, a mature Christian is someone who has a deep understanding of the limitless dimensions of Christ’s love,
That’s what it is to be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
So, think of our church, and our gathering at the 6:30;, 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 immeasurable love of Christ, we’ll become more and more the people that God would have us be.
Again, a community of people, more and more like Jesus, that is going to be so utterly compelling to our friends and neighbours,
A mate of mine says, and please excuse his language, “I think Jesus is OK, but his bride’s a bitch.”
And I’m sure you know people, hurt by the church, or with perceptions about the church,
Imagine the opportunities for gospel conversations that will arise, when we become more and more like Jesus.
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 the Scriptures and the cross have to be at the heart of everything we do, if this prayer is to be answered.
You can see that, can’t you? We need accountability with each other;,
“What is God teaching you in his Word,
“How is the love of Christ shaping your decision making, about where you work,
Where you live?
Without a deliberate ordering of our shared life around the Word of God,
We will not be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
The church of Christ at the 6:30 will not be as spiritually mature as God longs for us to be.
... for the glory of the God who loves to give (v 20 – 21)
And lest we conclude that we could pray these things simply for our own benefit,
This is in fact all for the glory of God.
Verse 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.
Well, if somehow we were still lacking motivation to pray for our church, not sure if God is able to give what we ask, 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!
Friends, let’s make sure we understand this;,
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.
And let me tell you, I can imagine a lot! But do you believe that?
I mean really believe that? Of course this is in context of the prayer for fullness, to become like Christ.
But Paul is throwing the gates pretty wide isn’t he?
There are, I think, 21 doxologies in the New Testament, depending a bit on what you count. These little hymns of praise, or prayers for God’s glory. 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 seen.
Well, the church is God’s trophy cabinet.
It’s the place where God’s glory can be seen, 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.
I hope and pray that Ephesians 3 will give us a fresh sense of the monumental work of which our church is a part.
And if you look around the crowd on a Sunday evening, and wonder what difference you make, amongst so many,
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.
I wonder if you remember back at the Rio Olympics in 2016.
Lots of photos did the rounds, of lifeguards at swimming events?
The pool is filled with the most able swimmers on the planet, but because of an, entirely reasonable Brazilian law that any pool larger than 6 metres has to be patrolled by life guards, throughout the Olympics, there are 4 lifeguards on duty at every pool, yellow t-shirt, whistle, life-preserver and all.
In all the photos that were published, they are bored out of their brains!
They feel entirely useless! Even if there was an incident, there are hundreds of people who are better swimmers than they are, ready to jump in, or already in the pool.
Sometimes, as Christian people, we can feel like that.
“There are plenty of people better than me God can use,
Plenty of people who haven’t made the mistakes I’ve made."
And yet God says to us “You’re the one I want to use,
You’re not the best swimmer in the Olympic pool, but you’re the one I’ve called for this task.”
You can serve,
And you can pray.
And perhaps one day in glory, we’ll see, all the good that’s been accomplished,
The many coming to faith in Jesus,
The evidence of the maturity and Christ-likeness of his people, that God has brought about, through answering your prayers, for Christ’s church.