Would you please take your copy of God’s holy, inerrant Word in your hands and turn with me in it to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, chapter 3. Ephesians chapter 3; you’ll find that on page 977 if you’re using one of our church Bibles. We’ve been working our way through the book of Ephesians and for the last two weeks, this is the third week in the prayer of the Apostle Paul, that we find at the end of chapter 3. We are going to read chapter 3 verse 14 through the end of the chapter in just a moment. Before we do, let’s bow our heads as we pray together.
Our Father, we pray for the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit who takes the Bible and takes our dark understanding, our sin distorted perspectives, and He turns on the lights; He helps us see the truth as it really is. Would You do that please in our hearts as Your Word is read and especially as it’s proclaimed, for Jesus’ sake? Amen.
Ephesians chapter 3 at the fourteenth verse. This is the Word of Almighty God:
“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, now and forevermore. Amen.”
And we praise God that He has spoken to us in His holy and inerrant Word.
One of the arcane details of American political life is the phenomenon known as the “unfunded mandate.” And unfunded mandate, as I’m sure you know better than I, is when the federal government requires state and local authorities to perform actions or fulfill obligations without providing federal funding to support the action. It’s an unfunded mandate. I rather suspect that some of us are tempted to view the Christian life as an unfunded mandate. God requires holiness and obedience, service and sacrifice, sometimes in costly ways from us, and we may be tempted to think that those obligations that rest upon us as Christian people are to be met and fulfilled by us in our own strength and according to the measure of our own resources. We have the mandate from God but we must fund it ourselves. Well as we turn our attention one more time to the marvelous prayer at the end of Ephesians chapter 3, we are going to see Paul directly challenge that idea. He’s going to show us the Christian life is no unfunded mandate. When God requires obedience from us He supplies grace for us that we may obey.
Up to this point in the letter, Paul has been mapping out the way that sovereign, electing grace and calling, converting grace has erupted into the hearts and lives of the Ephesian believers. He gave them new life, He united them to Christ, and He incorporated them into the multi-ethnic, boundary-shattering, kingdom of God, made visible in the world, in the church of Jesus Christ. That’s been the focus of chapters 1 through 3. As we’re going to see, chapters 4 through 6 take that extraordinary, that magisterial, theological survey – chapters 1 through 3 – and tease out for us the practical implications for our lives, for the way we live in the home, in the world, at work; the way we deal with spiritual attack. It’s going to show us what holiness should look like practically. So chapters 1 to 3 give us a theological statement of the Christian life and then 4 to 6 show us the practical implications of those truths. And the prayer at the end of chapter 3, and particularly verses 20 and 21, provide the pivot point, the axis between those two major sections so that, lest anyone be tempted to think that God is all obligation and duty and that the Christian life that chapters 4 through 6 map out for us must be lived out and performed in our own strength alone, Paul stops in verses 20 and 21 and turns our gaze from ourselves to our God. He wants us to look, verse 20, “to him who is able.” To him who is able. He wants us to see that the Christian life is no unfunded mandate.
Where do you look when you’re in the trenches, when you’re sin-sick and world-weary, spent and tired – you feel like you’ve nothing left to give? How do you keep going in the path of obedience when you feel like you are running on empty? You look to Him who is able. That’s what Paul is doing. He’s turning your gaze to Him who is able. He is able. Your marriage is joyless and the daily tensions that erupt within it seem to eclipse what’s left of your love. How are you going to stay faithful, husbands, and love your wife as Christ loved the church and give yourself up for her in a circumstance like that? How are you going, wives, how are you going to love your husbands and honor them and submit to them as the church does to Christ? You’ve fallen off the wagon. Your sin has strained your relationships almost to breaking point. You’ve jeopardized your future and now you wonder if there’s any way back from this place down into which you have fallen. How are you going to keep going when the shame you feel is almost overwhelming? You’ve wandered far away from Jesus. At one point you loved to follow Him, loved nothing so much as to be with His people on the Lord’s Day and sing His praises, but your heart has grown cold. The cares of the world have distracted you and you are not where you ought to be and you know it. And you are here but you are full of guilt. Is there any hope for you?
What does Paul say to us? He would say, “Well the truth is, alone, you are not able! Not able on your own to love your spouse as Christ and the church love each other,” as Paul is going to teach us in chapter 5 of the letter we are studying. On your own you’re not able to walk the line of sobriety when addiction sinks its claws into you. On your own, you are not able to clean up your act and live the Christian life. On your own, you are not able to say “No” to sin and “Yes” to righteousness. You’re not able. But Paul would have you look heavenward. There is one who is able. Look to Almighty God who has provided His Son for you. He is able. That’s what Paul says. “To him who is able.” Look there. The Christian life is no unfunded mandate. When God makes His promises to you, He’s always good for His words. God’s checks never bounce. When He calls you to obedience He has more grace than you need that you may obey. And so he points the Ephesians to Him who is able. And that is what we need to do too. We must turn to God as we meet Him only in Jesus Christ, coming with the feeling of our bankruptcy, knowing our inability and our weakness and our sin, and cling to Him who alone is able. And it’s the thought, actually, of the unending, infinite, limitless resources of Almighty God toward His people that buckles Paul’s knees and moves Him to burst into doxology in verses 20 and 21. And the purpose of these two verses is to summon you to join him. He wants to remind you of the grace of God that He might, as it were, light the touch paper and ignite within you renewed fires of adoration and doxology and praise as well.
And I want you to think with me then about what we learn here about worship and doxology and praise – three things we’re going to see. The first of them you will see in verse 20 – the reason for Paul’s doxology. Why does he worship here? Look at the text, verse 20. “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think.” The word translated there, “far more abundantly,” is meant to convey the idea of limitlessness, of infinite abundance. Paul is piling up superlatives. “Far more abundantly beyond what you can ask or think.” God’s checks never bounce, His promises are sure, His Word is always good. You can trust Him. He is able, notice, “to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think.” Paul has been asking, actually, extravagant things in verses 14 through 19. The climax, the pinnacle of his prayer in verse 19 is that the Ephesians “might be filled with all the fullness of God.” “Fill them up with as much of Yourself as they are capable of knowing!” That’s what he’s praying for. It’s an audacious prayer almost. How do you pray with boldness like that? You do it by grasping clearly that there is no prayer you may ask, howsoever audacious it may seem to you at the time, too great for God to answer. “There is an inexhaustible fullness of grace and mercy in God which the prayers of all the saints could never draw dry,” writes Matthew Henry. “Whatever we may ask or think to ask, still God is able to do more – abundantly more, exceedingly abundantly more. Open thy mouth ever so wide. Still He hath wherewithal to fill it.” There is more grace in Him than need in you. Do you believe that? There’s more grace in Him than need in you, and no prayer, no cry of your heart, so desperate, so urgent, so large and expansive that He is not able to do far more abundantly beyond it in His wonderful grace.
When his brothers – you remember the story of Joseph, don’t you? When his brothers sold him in a fit of jealousy into slavery, they threw him into a pit and sold him into slavery, they thought they were done with him. They never could have imagined God’s design – that Joseph would eventually rise to the second most powerful position in Egypt so that years later when driven by famine and desperation, his brothers flee down to Egypt begging bread, Joseph was there waiting not to judge and destroy them but to speak words of love and to provide for them, to be their rescuer, and to tell them, “What you intended for evil, God intended for good.” God did far more abundantly than all Joseph or Joseph’s family or any of the people of God then could have asked or even imagined.
When the crowds assembled on the hillside that day under the hot sun, hungry, and Jesus looked at them and had compassion on them, and the disciples wanted to send them away but Jesus told them, “No, you feed them,” and they looked at Christ as though He’d been out in the sun a little too long because all they had were a few loaves and fishes. But then Jesus did far more abundantly than all they could ask or think and multiplied their meager supplies with plenty left over. There was more grace in Him than need in the crowds. When the early believers gathered to pray in urgency as they began to feel the sting and bite of persecution and they were crying to God not to deliver them from their crisis but to strengthen them and make them bold to preach Christ in the middle of it and to bless their proclamation of the Gospel. They never could have imagined how God would answer, but the man presiding over the persecutions then erupting in the Jerusalem church, a man called Saul of Tarsus, would be confronted by the exalted Christ and transformed from a murderous, religious persecutor into the mighty Apostle Paul and God’s instrument for bringing the Gospel throughout the empire. God can do far more abundantly than we ask or think. We need to learn to “judge not the Lord by feeble sense but trust Him for His grace. Behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face.” Right? There’s more grace in Him than need in you. He is able. Look there when you’re in the depths. Do not judge your future by today’s measure. Rather, cling to the one who is able. You’re not able. You feel weak; you are weak! Me too! Our God is able and He is a solid Rock upon which to plant your feet no matter the storm that rages around you.
And just to help them understand that God truly can deliver on His promises and that He is faithful and able to do all that He has said and more than they can imagine, Paul reminds the Ephesians here – look at verse 20 again – that the power they need is already at work in their lives and they already have abundant examples of the ways in which God has done precisely what Paul is saying He may yet do in their lives. He says to them, “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think, according to the power that is at work within us.” Trace your story out and see the ways God has worked in marvelous grace, superintending your footsteps, directing your path, governing the whole trajectory of your life, bringing you to Christ, putting His Spirit within you, and showing His grace upon you walking with you through the dark valleys, comforting you and strengthening you and using you for the good of others and the glory of His name in ways you never could have imagined. Hasn’t He already been doing far more abundantly beyond all that you can ask or think? Trace the ways in which God has been at work. There are monuments and trophies to His grace all around you, not just in your life but in the people sitting next to you in the pew. God has proven Himself faith. See again, look back again – Psalm 103 verse 3, “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.” Trace out His faithfulness to you that you may be encouraged to trust Him for faithfulness tomorrow. Trace out His faithfulness to you yesterday and today that you may be strengthened as you wait for His faithfulness tomorrow. The reason for Paul’s worship – Paul sees something of the limitless, the infinitude, the immensity of God’s grace towards His people and it makes him sing.
But then secondly, there’s the venue for worship. Look at verse 21. Paul prays, “Now to him be glory” – where? “In the church and in Christ Jesus.” God has ordained, of course, that all things should bring Him glory. The universe exists for His glory. The stars declare His glory and the firmament His handiwork. Creation itself displays His invisible properties so that what may be known about God is clearly seen in the things that are made and all men are therefore without excuse. God works all things according to the counsel of His own will to the praise of His glory. That’s all true. But God has ordained glory and praise to arise from His church in a special manner. The world, you know, can speak in general terms about God’s common grace, but only the church can speak from experience about saving grace. Angels who live face to face in the exalted presence of His majesty can speak of His glory, but only Christians can speak of the transcendent God who stoops down to forgive them. Devils can speak in fear, even horror, and in hatred of God’s justice and wrath, but only the church can speak of His love and adopting grace that they have received because wrath and justice have been poured out on another, upon God’s Son the Lord Jesus Christ so that the heavenly Judge is always to us Abba Father. The church has more reasons than anyone else, anywhere else on earth and any angel in heaven, to sing the praises of God. It’s as though Paul were seeking to ignite us, to set us ablaze, and make us worshipers. He wants us to see our God. He wants to see the church reverberating and pulsing with wonder and joy and holy awe at the knowledge of who God is and what He’s like and how He loves His people.
Praise has been ordained by God in the church but not just in the church but also “in Christ Jesus.” Let’s face it – even our best worship is riddled and shot through with our sin. We sometimes talk a good game, we mouth glory words, but we’re already thinking about lunch. We go through the motions. And it’s not that we’re insincere, but even in our best times we are easily distracted and our hearts are cold; our affections are not as engaged as they ought to be. Even our best worship is weak and feeble and threadbare. Praise God that our worship, though weak and feeble and threadbare, is taken up by the Lord Jesus and washed clean. It is offered in Him and through Him to the Father. He takes your praises and He, as it were, He makes them His own. He mingles them with His own. He washes them and cleanses them so that they may bring glory and joy to our Father’s heart. The reason for worship – God is able to do far more than you ask or think. No unfunded mandates. No checks that ever bounce with our God. The venue for worship – the church, seeing all this about Him, is supposed to respond in delight and adoration. And the Lord Jesus takes our weak attempts to respond as we ought and makes them acceptable to our Father.
And then finally, notice the duration of worship. “Now to him be glory throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” It’s as though Paul were seeing a relay race – you know, one generation passing the baton to another. Each new generation taking up the same song as they discover for themselves the truth of the Word of God. “To him who is able be glory!” they sing. He sees the anthem sung at first by that handful of frightened disciples in the Upper Room behind closed doors, but then He sees is breaking all bounds, advancing around the world until a people ransomed by Christ’s blood from every tribe and language and nation under heaven begin to take up the song for themselves. “To him who is able be glory!” they sing. Paul even sees us all, you and I, gathered at last in white robes, radiant in the reflected perfections of our Savior, all our sin gone, finally, as we take our place in the great assembly around the throne of God and of the Lamb. He sees us there. The heavens and the earth that now are done and gone and a new creation has come and we have been there for the long ages around the throne singing praises and still we find grounds for joy as we gaze into the perfections of our God and of the Lord Jesus Christ and we too will sing, “Now to him who is able, able to keep me, able still to satisfy me, able to surprise me with unforeseen vistas of his majesty and power and glory and grace. Now to him who is able. He is enough; he is sufficient. He is more than enough. He is all that I need. To him who is able be glory forever and ever amen!” That will be our song.
Christians will never, never fail to find reasons for worship in our God. Or to put it slightly differently, our God will never fail to be infinitely fascinating, infinitely satisfying, infinitely spectacular – the infinite, unceasing fountain of joy and amazement for every Christian heart down through eternity. “When we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we’ve first begun.” Our God never grows old. I don’t mean that He never ages; I mean He never becomes old news. His beauties – we never tire of seeing them. And His glory and grandeur will be forever our great delight. So Paul wants us even now to begin to see that and taste that and join him in the only fitting response – in giving our God glory and to say with him, “To Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”
Let’s pray together.
Father, we praise You that Your resources never run dry, that we may open our mouths however wide and You have more grace to fill it than there is need in us for it. Thank You that we already know that. We’ve already seen that in our lives, in our experience. You’ve proven Yourself faithful time and again and worked in surprising ways, ways we never would have planned or arranged, for Your glory and our good. As we survey all that You have done, help us to trust You for tomorrow and what You still are yet to do, to believe indeed that You are able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think, and as we grasp that truth, would You kindle within us gratitude and joy and true worship that Paul’s doxology might fit the affections of our own hearts also as we give glory to Him who is able. Do it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
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