Love Divine, All Loves Excelling

Series: New Community

Sermon by David Strain on Jul 12, 2015

Ephesians 3:14-21

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Now let me invite you please to take in your hands a copy of God’s holy, inerrant Word and turn with me to Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus, the book of Ephesians, chapter 3. We return again to the prayer of the apostle Paul which we had begun to consider last Lord’s Day in verses 14 through 19 and then God willing next Lord’s Day we’ll consider the doxology with which that prayer concludes. Before we read the Scriptures together, would you bow your heads with me as we pray? Let’s pray.

Lord our God, would You give us ears to hear what the Holy Spirit says to His Church that we may see the light of the knowledge of the glory of God shining in the face of Jesus Christ as Your Word is read and proclaimed, for His sake. Amen.

Ephesians chapter 3 at the fourteenth verse:

“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith - that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all 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 all the fullness of God.

 

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

And we praise God that He has spoken to us in His holy Word.

As I said a moment ago, we began last time to consider this great prayer of the apostle Paul and we are returning to it now focusing particularly on the words of verses 17 through 19. You will remember, if you were with us last week, that Paul’s prayer is a sort of step ladder prayer - each petition, each request builds upon the next, rising to the climactic goal of Paul’s prayer expressed in the final clause of verse 19. Look at verse 19. What is it that Paul is ultimately after? It is that the Ephesians, that we, might “be filled with all the fullness of God,” that we might have as much of Him as we are capable of knowing. And we began to consider the way that Paul prays and how he constructs this prayer with each step along the way mounting toward that great climax. So verse 16, Paul prays first that we would be “strengthened with power through the Holy Spirit in our inner being.” And then in verse 17 he explains what the consequence of this strengthening power of the Holy Spirit will be. It is that “Christ might dwell in our hearts through faith.” Of course the Lord Jesus already dwells within the heart of a Christian. It is the definition of a Christian, that they are in Christ and Christ is in them. But Paul is saying there is more, more of the indwelling Christ to know and enjoy in the Christian life.

Knowing More of the Indwelling Christ

But what is that going to look like to have more of the indwelling Christ in your life? Suppose you give yourself to praying this prayer everyday with passion and longing and faith in Jesus. Suppose you begin to pray, “O God, strengthen me with power through the Holy Spirit in my inner being that Christ might dwell in my heart through faith!” What will it mean for God to begin to answer such a prayer? It’s explaining exactly what it is will mean that is the burden of verses 17 to 19 of Ephesians chapter 3. Look at the text with me, verses 17 to 19. And do you see how the apostle Paul explains this deeper knowledge and experience of the indwelling Christ entirely in terms of love? You see that in the text? He says, “I want Christ to dwell in your hearts through faith - that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend together with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.” To know more of the indwelling Christ in your life means to taste and savor and enjoy more of the experience of His love.

As we prepare ourselves shortly to come to the Lord’s Table and eat the bread and drink the wine we are handling tasting the great emblems of the love of Christ. Isn’t it wonderfully fitting, in the providence of God therefore, that as we come to the Lord’s Table which speaks so eloquently of Jesus whose body was broken and whose blood was shed because He loved us and gave Himself for us, isn’t it marvelous that in God’s wise ordering we should also be here in verses 17 to 19, lingering over and meditating upon the great love of Christ for His people?

I.  Christ’s Love is a Secure Love

I want you to look at the passage with me and notice in particular three things that we are taught here about the love of Christ. And the first of them is that Christ’s love for Christians, for you if you are a believer, is a secure love. It is a secure love.

A Standalone Phrase

Verse 17, he prays about the Ephesians being “rooted and grounded in love.” Now at the risk of losing your attention, I do think we need to deal with a couple of technical matters before we move on so that we are clear on what it is that Paul is saying. That phrase, “rooted and grounded in love,” is constructed in an unusual manner so that it is not at all clear how best to understand what Paul is saying. And commentators and scholars are almost utterly divided about the best way to read the passage. In the original Greek it sort of stands alone. It’s not clear whether it belongs to what’s gone before or what comes after. Our English Standard Versions that we use as our church Bible read it as belonging to the larger request immediately following this phrase that the Ephesians might grasp the love of Christ. Do you see that in verse 17 and 18? Paul prays, in our version, “that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend the love of Christ.”

The problem is, that while that makes good sense and sounds like it reads well in English translation it stretches the normal rules of Greek grammar a little too far. In fact, the phrase, “rooted and grounded in love,” as I’ve said before, grammatically sort of dangles in isolation. We’re not sure where best to connect it so that on balance it is better to understand it as a standalone assertion, a sort of reminder to the Ephesians. A bit like the reminder you see at the end of verse 5 of chapter 2, where right in the middle of his flow of thought Paul bursts out with a reminder to the Ephesians, “by grace you have been saved.” Well here in 3:17 he’s saying to them, “You are rooted and grounded in love.” It’s an important reminder for us that to be a Christian is to have your roots sunk deeply and your foundation built well on the solid Rock of the love of Jesus Christ. Before anything else, Paul wants us to understand our security in the love of Christ. Like a tree with roots, we are rooted in Christ’s love and held secure. Like a house that, though shaken by earthquakes and buffeted by the storms, is build on solid rock and the house on the Rock shall stand firm.

Think about Jim Cantore, you know from the Weather Channel, reporting from the beach fronts, sort of leaning into the wind, screaming into his microphone as the rain comes down horizontally as the latest storm buffets the coast. And over his shoulder, just in frame, there are palm trees bent almost double with their branches shaking violently. And then the next week after the storm is gone we’re back in the scene to see the devastation afterwards - windows smashed, cars broken up; there’s a boat in the middle of the street. But those palm trees are still there. To be a Christian is to be rooted in the love of Christ so that whatever the hurricane storms may begin to buffet your soul, storms of suffering and sickness, storms of sorrow and grief and loss, storms of spiritual attack and shame, whatever the hurricane storms begin to buffet you, you are firm and secure, held by the love of Christ.

His Love Isn’t Yazoo Clay

Or think about the other image Paul uses - grounded in love. When we first moved to Jackson and were looking for a home, we saw lots of houses with foundation troubles. I can tell you’re familiar with the problem! Yazoo clay, right? That’s the big problem. It shifts and moves. Paul says the edifice of your Christian life is build on solid Rock. The love of Jesus isn’t Yazoo clay. It does not shift and move beneath you. You are utterly secure, believer in Jesus. Some of us have only ever known the kind of human love that comes with strings attached, right? On again, off again, manipulative, unstable, abusive, controlling love - not really love at all. And as a result, it may well be that though, at an intellectual level, cerebrally, we believe and affirm that Jesus loves us, there is still festering somewhere deep on our hearts a dread that one day Jesus’ love will run out with regard to us. It will sort of dissolve and melt like ice before the sun. Paul is telling us here that Jesus does not love you like that. His love never runs out, never dissolves, never melts away.

His Love is Unchangeable

Weather forecasters in Britain sometimes use a frustrating expression to describe the weather. I don’t know if you use it here. I was fully anticipating after the early service several people coming to tell me whether they do or not. No one did so it’s your turn! “The forecast for today,” we will be told, “is changeable.” You can never accuse, I guess, you can never accuse those forecasters of getting the forecast wrong with a forecast like that - changeable! Brothers and sisters, the love of Jesus Christ for you is not changeable. It’s not like the weather. It is constant and sure. “Neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation can separate you from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.” Secure love, rooted and grounded, held firm, safe in the love of Christ. Secure love.

II.  Christ’s Love is a Corporate Love

 

Then secondly, Paul says Christ’s love is corporate love. Look at the text again, verse 18. Paul prays that you may have strength to comprehend, together with all the saints, the love of Christ. He wants us to understand the love of Christ, to get more of an awareness and a taste and of the savor of the beauty and glory of the love of Christ and he knows that however sweet the love of Christ may be to your taste on your own as you open the Bible, as you seek Him in prayer, as He showers His blessings upon you, it is much sweeter together. There’s more of the love of Christ when we’re together than we can know when we’re alone. He prays for strength to comprehend together with all the saints the love of Christ.

The Great Benefit of Corporate Worship

David Clarkson, an old English Puritan, in a great sermon on public worship, I think, gets at Paul’s message here really very well. Clarkson says, “The Lord,” wonderfully quaint Puritan language, he says, “The Lord engages Himself to let forth as it were a stream of His comfortable, quickening presence to every particular person that fears Him. But when many of these particulars join together to worship God then the several streams are united and meet in one so that the presence of God which enjoyed in private is but a stream, in public becomes a river, a river that makes glad the city of God. The Lord has a dish for every particular soul that serves Him, but when many particulars meet together there is a variety, a confluence, a multitude of dishes. The presence of the Lord in public worship makes it a spiritual feast.” A spiritual feast.  The love of Christ can be tasted individually like a dish eaten alone, but when the church gathers and the love of Christ to each is shared with the others it becomes a spiritual feast.

Do you want to know more of Jesus’ love in your life? Then put a priority, put a premium on being in the place He has ordained and promised to meet with you and shower His love upon you. Make sure you are in the assembly of the people of God, Lord’s Day by Lord’s Day.” Do not forsake the assembling of yourselves together as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another and all the more as we see the great day approaching.” Make sure that Lord’s Day Morning and, I dare say Evening Worship, where the means of grace are presented, where Christ speaks in His Word, where the Table of the Lord is spread and where the love feast is offered and the Son of Man presides to meet with you in His grace, where these things are available put yourself in the road, in the place where Christ has ordained to shower His love upon His people. The love of Christ is secure but the love of Christ is known corporately together.

III.  Christ’s Love is a Limitless Love

And then thirdly, notice the love of Christ here is a limitless love. A limitless love. Verses 18 and 19 again Paul prays that you “may have strength to comprehend, together with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.” Listen to John Stott explain Paul’s language so very beautifully. Stott says, “The love of Christ is broad enough to encompass all mankind, long enough to last for eternity, deep enough to reach the most degraded sinner, and high enough to exalt Him to heaven.” The love of Christ is an ocean with no shoreline and no bottom. It is a landscape that fills our every horizon. There are no boundaries outside of which we may step to the love of Christ. You will never cease to explore new vistas of His love. Picture yourself having finished the face, dwelling in glory face to face with Emmanuel, the Lord Jesus Christ, seeing Him in His beauty and majesty and splendor. And for millennia in His presence you will still discover new glories in the love of Christ, never fathoming the bottom, the depths, never getting to the edges, the ends of the love of Christ. You may know it truly but you may not know it completely. You may know the love of Christ but it surpasses knowledge. You will never, never cease to discover fresh glories and beauties and wonders in the love of Christ.

Height, Depth, Width, Length

James Montgomery Boice tells the story of an underground prison once used by the Spanish Inquisition, eventually opened by Napoleon’s armies. Inside they found the long-dead remains of a man who had been imprisoned for his faith, the chains still binding his limbs. And on the wall beside him, perhaps with his last ounce of strength, he had scratched a rough cross and above it the Spanish word for “height” and below it the word for “depth” and on either sides the words, “width” and “length.” He has Paul’s passage here in view and he knows that Christ crucified for sinners is an inexhaustible fountain of endless love and it sustained him. It sustained him in unspeakable suffering. It sustained him through the darkest depths. The love of Christ - unfailing, unceasing, secure, and glorious.

Do you know the love of Christ? Do you know the love of Christ? However deep you might have sunk in sin and rebellion, Paul says here Christ’s love is deep enough to reach you and save you and make you a new creature. And however far you may have wandered away from Him, backslidden Christian, the love of Christ is wide enough to find you, to bring you home like a prodigal to a joyous welcome. And however far you may still have to climb, weary Christian, on the long, uphill journey of the Christian life, Christ’s love is high enough to lead you all the way to the heavenly summit. We sing, don’t we, “O the deep, deep love of Jesus! Vast, unmeasured, boundless, free. Rolling as a mighty ocean, in its fullness over me. Underneath me, all around me, is the current of Thy love. Leading onward, leading homeward, to Thy glorious rest above!” Christ’s love for you is secure. You can trust it. You can trust yourself to it. The love of Christ is best known, known most fully this side of heaven when we are together under the preached Word around the Lord’s Table accessing the means of grace and encouraging each other in the things of God. And it is a limitless love. However far you may yet have traveled in the Christian life, however mature, however much you may know of your Savior there’s much, much, much more yet to know in the glories of His love.

And as we turn our attention to the Table of the Lord, I want you to see in the bread and the wine the great display of the Father’s love of you. God has demonstrated His love in this: while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us - His body torn, His blood poured out. Here at the Lord’s Table is the love of Christ in the Gospel baked and fermented, tangible, edible. Christ is coming to you and He’s saying to you, “Weak Christian, guilty and ashamed Christian, world-weary Christian, I love you still. I love you still. I will sustain you. I give Myself to you and I love you still.” The love of Christ is a secure love. It is love known together. It is a corporate love. And it is a limitless love that will nourish and satisfy your soul here and hereafter and forever. Let’s pray together.

Father, thank You that Jesus loves sinners like us. Help us as we turn from our sin to receive His love, clinging only to Him. Help us to see that every other love will never satisfy the longing You have worked in our hearts for infinite love and instead to come to the only fountain of love - the Lord Jesus Christ, crucified for sinners, and risen to be their Savior. Meet with us as we come to Your Table, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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