Power for the Powerless

Sermon by Gabe Fluhrer on Aug 28, 2016

Ephesians 3:14-19

If you have your Bibles, please take them and turn to the book of Ephesians. You’ll find the passage we’re reading on page 977 if you’re using a pew Bible. Ephesians chapter 3 and verses 14 to 19, are what we will be studying this morning. Again, if you’re a visitor, good to have you with us; glad you’re here. Look forward to meeting you after the service. Ephesians 3:14-19, and before we read that together, let’s go to the Lord in prayer.

Lord, we just sang, “For us, for us, for us.” Those are two lovely words but they will not penetrate our hearts deeply like they ought from this passage, “Christ for us,” unless You work. Again, we admit our helplessness, our blindness. We need to do what David read to from Your Word, we need You to do that for us right now. We need our eyes opened to see Jesus. Help us. Come to us. Meet with us now, we pray in His name. Amen.

Ephesians 3 beginning at verse 14. This is God’s Word:

“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.”

The grass withers, the flowers fall, but the Word of our God shall stand forever.

Ravi Zacharias is a Christian apologist who comes from India. He tells a story from his homeland called, “The Wealth is Nearer Than You Realized!” It’s an old story from India and it goes like this. There was a wealthy merchant who went out on a trip and he took all of his most precious valuables with him, specifically a lot of jewels. So he’s out on this trip and there’s a guy who meets him to pretends that it’s a chance meeting and really he has designs on stealing the rich man’s possessions, and the rich man, the merchant, knows it right away. But they take on together and they go along and as was custom in the country at this time, you stayed at various homes. And when they went to each home that they stayed to every night on their journey, they were issued a pillow, a mat, and a washbasin. Well, quickly the merchant devised a plan. He knew they had to wash separately each night before they went to bed so he let his traveling companion go first. And every night when his friend would go to wash, he would take the precious stones and valuables and hide them under his friend’s pillow. And every night when he would go out to wash, the companion would come back and start ransacking the room, looking for what all the treasure he knew that was there. Well this went on for several nights and the man ended up, the thief ended up, very frustrated. And on the last day of their journey, the merchant looked at him and said, “I know what you’ve been up to all along! I know what you’re after. And if you’d only realized, the wealth was nearer than you realized. It was right under your pillow the whole time.” The man’s face fell as he realized what had happened to him.

And I want to put it like this. I was thinking about this, this week. Aren’t we so often like that? Isn’t it so often that we crave things, and they’re closer to us than we realize is Paul’s point this morning. And one of the things he’s after, to tell us that it’s closer than we realize, what we crave is power. This whole section of Ephesians is about power. These were people who were acquainted with spells and books of spells – read about it in the book of Acts, chapter 19 – for power. And Paul’s point in this section for us is so often this week we have been after power, and Paul wants to recalibrate for us, reimagine for us what true power is. That’s what he’s up to in this section of Ephesians.

Let me set the context for you briefly. If you go back to verse 1 of chapter 3, you’ll notice it has the identical phrase of verse 14, “for this reason.” And then Paul goes off in the next few verses up to verse 14, verses 1 through 13 of chapter 3, on this kind of parenthesis. He defends his ministry; tells them a little bit more about his apostolic call and then he picks back up with this prayer he meant to pray back in verse 1, here in verse 14. And the little phrase there, “for this reason,” raises that question, “For what reason?” And the answer is the previous two chapters, which are among some of the richest in the New Testament on the teaching of God’s power and His love and His grace. And Paul is overcome with that, overcome with His love and His grace and he starts rattling off these different things. It’s like he’s got so much to tell us, he’s so excited about what God has done for us, that he has to have all these parentheses. And he finally gets to this prayer and kind of throws up his hands and goes, “Let me just pray for us!” That’s what he’s doing in verses 14 to 19.

And the main idea here this morning is this. Paul prays for us to experience God’s immeasurable love in a powerful, transforming way. Paul prays for us to experience God’s immeasurable love for us in a powerful, transforming way. And we’ll look at the text under two headings. In the first place, in verses 14 to the first part of 17, Paul prays for powerful faith; he prays for us to have powerful faith. And then in the second half of verse 17 to verse 19, Paul prays for us to know powerful love. So four words – powerful faith; powerful love.

Powerful Faith

Look at verse 14 again. “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…” Paul starts here with a Trinitarian prayer. He does this three times in Ephesians. He goes to the Trinity. And most of us, the Trinity is one of those things like you know you’ve got to get it right; it’s like a mathematical kind of weird thing. “Like, three persons, one God, I get it but I don’t understand it but I don’t want to be a heretic so I’ll believe it but I have no idea what it does for me on Monday morning!” Like the Trinity, we have to affirm it, and most of us go, “Okay, I get it, but I don’t know what it does on the weekdays.” And Paul tells us here. He says, “I’m going to pray a specific, Trinitarian prayer that’s going to land,” he hopes and prays for us, “about how the Trinity – God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit – invests in us, takes us by the hand, grabs our hearts in daily life.”

Why Paul Bowed the Knee

And he’s overcome. And we know this because he says, “I bow my knees.” Now if you read through the rest of the New Testament, you realize Paul was a rabbi. He says, “I was a Pharisee of the Pharisees,” meaning he was not just kind of a wimpy rabbi; he was the real deal. He was all in. And he tells us that and we realize that Jewish rabbis from this time only prayed in a few positions. They would either stand, kneel, or fall face down. And when a rabbi knelt, it meant that they were overcome with awe, with wonder, with the sheer God-ness of God. And that’s what Paul is saying here. “I’m overcome!” And why? Because he says, “I’m bowing my knees before this God who is a Father,” and literally the Greek reads, “The Father who fathers or fathered of all the families on the earth.” And what he means by that is this. You’ve got to go back to chapter 2. In chapter 2, he says this thing has happened that blows him away. Jews and Gentiles have been reconciled. Two different races of people who hated each other and they’ve been reconciled by the blood of the cross so that now, by faith and by faith alone in this Savior who he’s so excited about, those who were formerly enemies are now together and have the same God as Father. It blows him away. “I bow my knees” for this reason – because of the Father’s doing to make people who were outsiders, insiders.

Jews and Gentiles Have Been Reconciled

And if you’re not Jewish here this morning and been brought into the family of God, that likely is most of us here, then this is you and me. Outsiders! Strangers to the covenant of grace! Brought in so that we can call upon God as Father. How? “According to the riches of his glory.” He uses that phrase again and again in this epistle to the Ephesians and without exception, every time he uses it, when he says, “riches of his glory,” he refers to the cancellation of our debt of sin. Outsiders become insiders because Jesus lived, died, and rose again in their place and took away all their sin. And the only reason they get to call upon God as Father is because of that reality. He starts here with the Father’s riches and he starts saying to us, “God is your Father. He is for you. He’s on your team, as it were. He is in your corner.”

The Power of the Spirit

And then he moves next to the Spirit’s power. Notice what he says there. “That he may grant you to be strengthened,” verse 16, “with power through his Spirit in your inner being.” And here’s where he goes here. Here’s a contrast. He says, “You Ephesians get power.” You 21st century Jacksonians, all of us here, we get what power is. And Paul says, “Ah, but it’s not what you think it is.” He says, “I want you to understand something of the Father’s riches of glory that you might be strengthened in your soul by the Spirit.” Here’s what Paul is saying. True power is not made up from what title you have, how much money you have, where you live, where you went to school. None of that matters for Paul. He says what he’s praying for is that true power would happen were it matters most – in our souls.

Have you thought about power this week? Who’s got it? How to get more of it? Maybe if you have it and you’re slightly more sanctified you went, “How do I steward it well?” But power, I guarantee you, is in our narratives every week of our lives and we’re always asking questions about power. And as a friend of mine put it, one of the ways that shows up in our lives is we do a lot trying to use power that we think we have to overcome the effects of the Fall. We make our houses more comfortable. We get injections in our bodies. We do all kinds of things to do whatever we can to maintain some illusion that we have power over the creepy, daily, week by week, month by month, year by year effects of life in a fallen world. Think about it. I had to think about this, this week. How much time did I spend trying to keep out of my life the effects of the Fall so that I could maintain some illusion of power? And Paul says true power is not what you think it is. It’s very different. He says power that is without the Spirit is ugly, it’s manipulative, and it’s temporary. All the power we amass for ourselves in this life goes away instantaneously at death and so Paul prays that we would know power in our souls that is from the Spirit and power saturated by the Holy Spirit is beautiful, servant-minded, and lasting. That’s what Paul is praying for. He wants us to experience what so many of us want and so few of us actually experience – lasting, real, power.

Our New Identity in Jesus

This has a goal. Walk with Paul there! Verse 17, “So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” He uses that little phrase, “so that” in 16, 18, and 19 of these verses. It’s a conclusion each time for each person of the Trinity. Why does Paul write like this? Because he’s praying a specific prayer for all of us that each Person of God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, of what we call the Godhead, the Trinity, would act in such a way that the goal is realized. And what does it mean for Christ to dwell in our hearts by faith? In two words – new identity. When the Spirit indwells us by faith in Christ and by faith in Him alone, He gives us a new identity. We are not what our past says about it! Our present is shaped by this new identity and our future is secure because of who gave us this identity, namely Jesus. His perfect work on the cross, His obedience, that is our identity. It is no longer what others say or what our past says or our sins say. Our identity is Jesus and Jesus alone dwelling in us by faith through the Spirit according to the riches of God’s glory in our lives.

Powerful Love

And Paul says, “I’m praying this so that you know this,” and then he gets where he’s taking us in the second half of verse 17, and that brings us to our second point. Paul prays for us to know powerful love. He comes here and he says, “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.” So here’s what Paul is doing. He’s told us so much about God the Father, God the Son and Holy Spirit, and now what he’s going to do is draw us deeper in. He’s going to look at us and everybody here who’s a Christian, if you’re a Christian here this morning and you’ve been a Christian any amount of time – a day, a year, sixty years – you’ve come to that point and asked yourself, “Why me?” The words of the old hymn, “Why was I made to hear His voice and enter while there’s room when thousands make a wretched choice and rather starve than come?” “Why me?” And Paul, Paul goes, “Predestination, yes.” Eleven verses on it in Ephesians 1:3-14; one long sentence in the Greek. But prior to that, prior to predestination, back, back, back, back, back before there’s a world, before there’s earth, before there’s dirt, every “Why?” question of salvation, of Christianity, of why God’s doing what He’s doing in this world with His Church, with His people, terminates, ends, finds its goal in this simple, simple phrase my friends – “the love of God.” That’s what he’s praying for. The Father, the Spirit, and the Son working together to help us grasp what we cannot grasp, to begin to fathom what we cannot fathom, to begin to try to exhaust that which is inexhaustible – the matchless, changeless, forever focused on His people, cross-shaped love of God.

God’s Love is Immeasurable

That’s three aspects that we’ll taste briefly here this morning, just quickly, of the love of God. Friends, first it’s immeasurable! It’s immeasurable! You cannot out-sin it! You cannot out-live it and you cannot out-give it. It is immeasurable because it is inexhaustible and it is inexhaustible because it is immeasurable. Paul says he gives every kind of measurement category and he says, “I want you to know something of this.” And if you’re a Christian and you go, “I know a little bit, Paul.” And he looks at you and he puts his arm around you and goes, “Me too! Just a little. Just a little of this million-foot iceberg that goes down beneath the surface of the love of God, of that love which never ends, which explodes our human categories of love.” And Paul says, “I don’t know what else to do but pray about it. I can’t express it perfectly. Help me! Pray with me,” he says. “Come to know a little bit of this immeasurable love.” It’s immeasurable!

God’s Love is Christ Centered

It’s Christ-centered. Did you notice that? “That you may know the love of Christ.” For Paul, for the New Testament, for the Old Testament, there is no understanding the love of God apart from the cross of Jesus. None. It’s always cross-shaped, Christ-centered. Everything terminates on the cross. If you want to know what love is, it’s not a song, it’s not a poem. Those are wonderful. Those are beautiful. But the beautiful poetry, the most beautiful poetry in all of our race in the history of human kind is written in the blood of Jesus on the cross. That’s how Paul talks about love.

God’s Love is Beyond Comprehension

And then he says – isn’t this awesome? “That you may know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge.” It’s beyond comprehension! It’s immeasurable. It’s Christ-centered. It’s beyond comprehension. Do you see what he’s doing? He says, “Try to hug a galaxy. Try to get your mind around billions. Try to do anything you can imagine to get your arms and your mind around that which is unimaginable, namely, the Creator of everything loves you. Loves you. gave His Son for you. You can know a little bit of it. To know part of it is to be a Christian, but you’ll never exhaust it. Heaven will never be boring because God’s love will never be fully fathomable. We’re going to celebrate that forever. That’s where we’re going. That’s the love of God. That’s what Paul is praying we grasp, something of it, this morning.

God’s Ultimate Purpose

For what purpose? And that is how he finishes – “that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” Here’s what he’s doing! Do you look in the mirror and hate what you see? Do you look in the mirror and what you see staring back at you is, “There’s the person who got drunk again. There’s the person who looked at pornography again. There’s the person who gossiped again. There’s the person who lied again. There’s the person who cheated again,” and all you hear is that? And the running commentary in your voice, in your head every day is, “Not enough, not enough, not enough.” Paul says, “God’s not done! That voice isn’t true. He’s not done yet. He’s working on you. He’s working on me. He’s shaping and molding like a master potter. He’s going to kill those sins that beset us. He’s going to finally set us free in this life or the next.” He’s never going to bring us – we’re never going to be perfect in this life, perfect obedient, but Paul says, “I’m praying this. That you know and experience the love of God so that you begin to grow in that love and it shines forth as you become, as I become more like Jesus.” And Paul’s purpose for that is that those who look more like Jesus because they’re safe and secure in the love of Jesus, become safe and secure people to show that love of Jesus.

Power Through Weakness

So how do we do that? Two things to say as we close. First, this passage shows us one of the great Gospel truths – power through weakness. Nobody else has this; nobody. Every other world religion, every other worldview, power is shown by an outward display of glory. And the Gospel says true power looks nothing like you and I think it would. True power looks like the One who has always been there, always with His Father, coming down from heaven to earth to live as a little baby. As I was studying this, this week, David and Lauren brought little Finley Felker on Wednesday night and you forget how tiny they are, right? I’ve got an eighteen-month-old and I feel like she’s still tiny but you see a little baby and it ought to just make us dumbstruck that that’s where Jesus was at one point. That’s how He humbled Himself. That’s how He became weak because He knew we were prone to trust in our own imagined strength. He knew that our natural bend is to say, “I’ve got this!” when everybody else and God specifically knows we don’t. When we fail, when we sin, His obedience, His righteousness stands there to answer it all because power comes through weakness and that culminates on the cross. The absolute display of the weakness/absolute power of Jesus was not when He did His miracles; it’s not when He was in the flower of His youth and strength and could drive those moneychangers out of the temple. The perfect display of His power and weakness is when He hung between heaven and earth on that cross and showed us once and for all that what the world says is weak and foolish, God says “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.” Power, when He looked the weakest; power through dying. There is no true power without the cross, for Jesus and for us. Every cross you bear, every trial that comes your way, is one more way that God is saying, “I’m going to make you look like My Son because I love you. And the only way to true power is through the weakness that you follow in the footsteps of My Son.” Power through weakness.

God Loves us More

And then the last thing. That voice, “Not enough!” And at the heart of all our “Not enough”s is this “Not enough” – “You don’t love God enough.” Isn’t that what we hear? “You call yourself a Christian and you did that again? You did that again?” We look in the mirror and we hear that, don’t we? Every time we have that running voice in our head and at the end of the day it’s, “You don’t love God enough.” And here’s what Paul says. Here’s what Paul prays. Here’s what Paul knows. Here’s what he wants you to know. Here’s what we can answer, as one author put it. “No, I don’t love God enough, but He loves me more! He loves me more than my sin, more than my idols, more than my rebellion, more than my failings, more than everything that lets me down day after day that I keep running after. He loves me and you more!” Because of Jesus, His plan that sent Him, His Spirit that indwells us, all of it coming together in one beautiful, Trinitarian design that says, “More, more, more! He loves you more!”

I came across a story a few years ago that just illustrated this perfectly for me. It just slayed me when I read it. A story of a young woman named Christina who grew up in a little village in Brazil, not far from Rio but far enough to where she felt bored, felt like her parents had never given her the chance to spread her wings and she wanted life in the big city. So one morning she got up and left. And her mother, Maria, got up and knew exactly what had happened. And terror filled her mind because her mother, Maria, knew that if Christina, her daughter, went to Rio with no money, no family, she knew what would happen to attractive young ladies in a big city with no other way to make a living. So quickly her mother packed her bag, gathered all her stuff and threw it in a bag and ran down the dusty streets to get to the bus to take the next bus to Rio. On her way she stopped at the pharmacy, the CVS, whatever it was, and she took pictures of herself, bunches of them. She got the pictures made, printed them out, threw them in her bag, jumped on the bus, and began writing furiously on the back of each picture.

Then she had a picture of her daughter. And she went to all the seedy, low places of that big city searching for her daughter, again and again asking, “Have you seen her?” Again and again, the answer came, “No.” So every time she went someplace she would leave a picture of herself at all these locations. Finally, she exhausted her supply and went home weeping bitterly having not found her daughter. A few weeks later, Christian came down the stairs of a hotel in a part of town where she shouldn’t have been; no more joy, no more laughter in her voice. Somebody who was way too young to be that old, to that much experience, that much heartache, that much being used and abused by men. How she longed to go home. She thought about going home but she knew she never could after the disgrace she felt she had become. And she came down the stairs of the hotel and off in the distance, taped to a window, was a picture of her mother. Her throat tightens, her knees get weak, and she walked over. And with tears filling her eyes she picked up the picture of her mother and turned it over and on the back was written, “Whatever you have done, whatever you have become, it doesn’t matter. Please come home.”

And Paul’s prayer for us this morning, for all of us, “Whatever you have done, whatever you have become, it doesn’t matter. Please come home because He loves you more.” Let’s pray!

Father, give us just a glimpse of what you’ve told us in Your Word. Imperfectly explained, take the Spirit and make it something that just destroys us in the best way possible. Destroy us by Your love, our plans our visions, our schemes. Destroy us by Your goodness, Your beauty and Your truth and Your love. Make us new creations. That’s our prayer, and we make it in the strong name of Jesus. Amen.

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