Strengthened (Eph. 4:14-21)
Strengthened (Eph. 3:14-21)(1.15.23 PM)
Intro & Setup (v.14-15).
Have you said a prayer for the new year? At this point, we are exactly halfway through the first month of the year, but it isn’t too late. What’s your prayer for the New Year? Is it something personal in nature (i.e. New Years Resolutions)? Is it something to do with the world around us and the leaders that govern it? Is it for your family and loved ones? Is it that worries will be lifted, health will be good?
Have you prayed for the Church in this New Year? For growth? For vision? For wisdom? For strength?
In Eph. 3:14-21, Paul shares for the second time, a prayer for the Christians in Ephesus and others who would read this letter. If you recall, at the end of chapter 1, Paul shares that he prays with thanksgiving for the church in Ephesus and also prays for their deeper wisdom and knowledge of Him and the hope that he offers us. Now, in chapter 3, he once again shares a prayer that he has for them. Verse 14 begins, “for this reason…” Back in verse 1, this coordinating thought begins when he says the same words (“For this reason…”). So, this address is connected to what was just spoken of at the end of chapter 2. Chapter 2 addressed the unity that we have in Christ. We have all been saved by grace through faith, Jew and Gentile. And we are called to be one unified body, working for the head over all things, being built into a holy temple, a dwelling place, for God.
So, Paul says, “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father…” The posture is important. This signifies humility and intense emotion. Have you prayed like that? I recall one instance while in Indiana going to visit a member who was in the hospital. She was a fairly new Christian, and had dealt with many medical struggles throughout the years prior. After visiting, I ended our visit with a prayer on her behalf. Typically when I would visit someone in the hospital, I would kneel beside their bedside. I did this especially to get at their level, and also in attempt to show more care in what I was praying. I also did so because I remembered one of my professors, Kirk Brothers, who would always end class with a prayer and would always kneel with his hand on the desk. I remembered thinking how his doing this was not for spectacle, but out of love for the class and humility for the Father. Later, I had another member who had often visited with this woman tell me, “she really appreciated that you knelt beside her bed in prayer. She said too often people pray or say they are praying for you, but that act of prayer showed her real love and care.” This is what this posture is telling the church in Ephesus as well. Paul cares for them deeply, and it shows in his words and actions.
He also acknowledges the recipient of the the prayer, saying, “I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named. This prayer is to the God who is ruler over all, who has the power even to name all things. He is where we receive our identity. It is not from physical attributes or cultural background, but from God Himself. In this address from Paul, there is respect, there is adoration, and there is understanding of who the Father is. This is also one further reminder that they are one; one family with one Father.
Paul then enters into his second prayer for them.
II. Strength from the Spirit
Verse 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,” Paul’s prayer is that the church might be strengthened. Strengthened by what? With power of through the Spirit.
Maybe you have a goal this year of getting stronger spiritually. In fairness, this should always be our goal. But to truly grow spiritually we have to look beyond what we do and towards what God can do. Paul shares with us in Ephesians 1 that the Holy Spirit is our seal, our down payment for the inheritance that we will one day take full possession of. He then prays that they might grow in wisdom of what we have in Christ. And, in chapter 2, he shares that we are created, not just to know the things that God gives us, but to use them as His workmanship. Now, He prays that those in Christ might be strengthened through the Spirit.
This is a powerful prayer. The God by whom every family is named, that he might strengthen us with power through the Spirit in our inner being.
Two focusses here: 1) How: Through the Spirit 2. Where: In our inner being
How are we strengthened through the Spirit? By being in communion with the Spirit through prayer and study.
My kids all have water bottles that they take to school and they use around the house. Inevitably, the get misplaced on almost a daily basis. One evening, Addison was sitting at the counter in our kitchen wondering where her water was. She was fairly certain it was upstairs in her room, but had not gone to check. So she said, “I’m going to pray about it.” Immediately, she closed her eyes and prayed, “God, is my water bottle upstairs? In Jesus’s name, amen!” She then grabbed a Bible that was sitting right in front of her, opened it and said, “It says it is.”
Though the Bible most certainly didn’t tell her that her water was in her room, Addison was onto something. This is how we communicate with God through the Spirit. If we want to be strengthened through the Spirit, we need to have a good prayer life, speaking to the Father by the Spirit. And if we want to know what God wants for our lives, we need to consult His Word often and let the Spirit speak into our lives by It. The more we spend time in the Word of God, the better we will make Spirit-guided decisions, and the more that our inner man will be strengthened. Even when our body grows weak, our inner self can be renewed day by day (2 Cor. 4:16).
In our basement, we have a small home gym. A bike, some weights, and a few other things. I’m sad to say that there have been times that I have gone down to exercise and use these free weights and realize there are spiderwebs on them. You know what that’s telling me, right? I’ve let them set useless for too long.
It’s not enough to have the equipment. We have to use it. The Word of God is living and active (Heb. 4:12).” But is it if we don’t use it? It may be living and active, but are we allowing it to be living and active in our lives? Paul’s prayer in Eph. 1:19 was that we might “know the immeasurable greatness of His power toward us who believe.” If we know that power that we can have if we believe in Him, then let us believe in the power of the Spirit that can strengthen our inner being.
Not only does Paul pray for the Spirit to dwell in Christians, but that Christ might dwell in the hearts of Christians through faith. At the top of the list of fruits of the Spirit in Gal. 5:23, we find “love.”Love is the foremost fruit of the Spirit. It was the greatest commandment in the Law to love God and love your neighbor. If the Spirit dwells in us, than the love of Christ must dwell in our hearts. If He dwells in our hearts, we will be rooted and grounded in love. Chapter 2 concluded with the imagery of a building being built off of the cornerstone, who is Jesus Christ. The cornerstone is the brick by which every other brick is laid. The roots are where the organism gets life. If you’ve ever pulled weeds, there is nothing more frustrating that pulling a weed that has roots too deep to pull out by hand. They’re deep or the branch out in so many different directions that simple pressure won’t be enough to uproot it. If we are rooted in love, simple wrongdoings won’t push us away from displaying the love of God in faith. The roots run too deep. The roots of love strengthen us and motivate us to love like Him. To our children, it motivates us to show love through unconditional care. To our parents and elders, it motivates us to show love through respect and obedience. To our spouses, it motivates us to show the love between Christ and His church that puts the other’s needs above your own. To our neighbor, it motivates us to serve without question. Jesus lives in us and loves through us.
The more we are strengthened by the Spirit through prayer and His Word, the deeper the roots of love will run and the stronger our faith will be.
So first, the prayer is for strength from the Spirit that builds up our faith and allows the root of Christ’s love to run deep in our lives. This leads to the second aspect of this prayer of strength: The strength of the mind.
III. Strength of the Mind
If we are rooted and grounded in love, if Christ dwells in our hearts, and if the power of the Spirit is working in our inner self, then we can be further strengthened in our mind. Paul’s prayer is that, if all these things are so, we might have strength of the mind. Specifically, he says that we “may have strength to comprehend with the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with the fullness of God.”
Now, there’s a couple of peculiar things about these two verses. First of all, what exactly is Paul referring to when he says the “breadth and length and height and depth”? What are we supposed to comprehend? People disagree on what he’s saying. Many, myself included, believe it has something to do with the love of God. Others claim differently, especially because the second part of this section specifically talks of knowing the love of God. Some have said it’s referring to the power of the cross, or simply the riches of God. Others have said it’s referring to the church. I like how James Coffman worded his conclusion. He said, “Of all the things mentioned as the possible object of these words, men are unable to know the infinite dimensions of them; but Christ in our hearts can help us to understand how infinitely above men are the things of God.” Family, the more we bask in the things of God, the greater we can comprehend his limitless nature.
But it’s not enough to just sit in it. The limitless glory of God gives us strength to display His loving nature in our lives, having been strengthened in our inner being and changed more and more into His image..
And this greater comprehension of God’s limitless nature is done in the church. “That you may have strength to comprehend with all the saints…” As we love and receive love from each other, we grow to understand God a little better. Jesus told his disciples shortly before His death, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:34-35).” John 4:11 says, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” See, there is continuity in God’s love. When Christ dwells in our hearts, God’s love is displayed in us. And when we display the love of God to each other, we can better grasp who He is and whom we serve. When you are hurting and a brother or sister serves you, do you not grasp the love of God better? When you forgive or are forgiven by another, do you now feel closer to the God who makes forgiveness possible?
So, in the church we can greater come to know the higher things of God. But what about that second part? “To know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge? Almost sounds contradictory, doesn’t it? So, what does it mean?
God’s love can never be fully understood. We will never be able to put in good enough words why God loves us like He does. Throughout the narrative of scripture, we see plenty of reasons to argue why God should hate us, but he doesn’t. We can’t grasp the extent of amazing love of Christ. Here, Paul does not argue that we can grasp it, but he’s saying “I want you to try. I want you to give the comprehension of His love your best shot.” Why? Because the more we try to know the love of Christ, the better we can understand it. No, we won’t fully grasp it, but the more we experience and share His love, the more we will be effected by His love and power.
Paul showed us what this looked like in his own life. In Philippians 3:10-11, Paul says that he counts everything as loss “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” Paul already knew about the power of His resurrection. But now he’s saying, “I want to know Him more!
The more we know Him and the more we grasp how much we can’t grasp the power and love of God, the more we will adore and glorify Him. Through our knowledge of who He is and as God works on us, we become more and more conformed to the image of His Son, more “filled with the fullness of God.”
IV. Strength in Him (v.20-21)
The prayer here ends with a moment of praise, but it’s also one more glimpse into the character of God. Paul says, “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think…”
At different points in our lives, we’ve all seen the amazing power and might of God. We’ve seen the beauty of God’s creation. He’s done incredible and unbelievable things. Yet, the things that we have seen aren’t even a fraction of what God is capable of. If you can, Think of the most incredible thing that God could do. Test the limits of your imagination! That does not even scratch the surface of the God’s abilities. That’s power! That’s humbling. I don’t know how one could read this and not want to be moved to praise.
I heard a story of a group of men at a men’s retreat where one got injured in an activity. The injury was not incredibly serious, but it still required him to be taken to the hospital. At the retreat, one of the men suggested that they pray for him. But one man who ran the campsite said, “Well, at this point, it’s in the doctor’s hands.” Remember! God can do far more than we can ask or think. First of all, there’s still plenty that would could pray for in that instance. But also, let your prayer life go beyond what you think.
We shouldn’t limit God with our limited understanding. Phil. 4:6-7 touches on this when it says “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. God goes beyond what we need and understand! Where I am limited, He is limitless. Where I am weak, He is strong. Our weaknesses show our limitations. But God’s strength displays his limitlessness.
But the adoration of His power doesn’t in there. The limitless power that He has, Paul says, “God is able to do more than we ask or think according to the power at work in us.” Don’t miss that! The power that we can’t fully comprehend, it works in us. It is for that reason that Paul likewise was able to pray in 2 Cor. 12:10, “Where I am weak, He is strong.” If we truly want spiritual strength, we need to seek the limitless strength that God offers.
Later on in this book, in chapter 6, we will read about all of the opponents we are up against. Not flesh and blood, like we would often think about. We are up against rulers, authorities, cosmic powers, and spiritual forces of evil. The odds are not in our favor. But when we have the power of the Lord working in us, we can overcome all that we will be up against. God’s limitless power should motivate us in those battles to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might (Eph. 6:10).” If God is for us, who can be against us?!
And even in this concluding thought, Paul remembers, once again, the church. Ephesians is a book about the unity of the church, and the power that we have in her. And so Paul concludes this prayer for strength, “To him be glory in the church (it is in the church that we glorify Him in our works and words of love) and in Christ Jesus (to whom deserves the glory and by whom we receive glory) throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”
Not just in the year 2023, but in our lives, let us share this prayer of strength that Paul had for the Christians in Ephesus; a prayer that extends to us today. Let us be strong in the Spirit, devoting time to prayer and study so that we might be stronger in our inner being, letting Christ dwell in our hearts through faith. Let us strive to understand more fully the limitless love of God, and let that love shine through us. And let us never limit God with our limited thinking, but instead trust Him to work amazing things in us.
Take Home Message: Let us be strong in the Spirit, let us strive to know Him more, and let us never limit God with our limited thinking