Well as you’ve already heard, today is the second week of our stewardship season. This is Commitment Sunday and we are returning to the passage that our deacons have chosen for the stewardship verse this year - Ephesians chapter 3, verses 20 and 21. Do turn there with me please, if you would take a Bible in your hands. Ephesians chapter 3; you’ll find it on page 977 of the church Bibles; verses 20 and 21.
We began considering these two verses last week and we saw there are four themes. The first two we looked at last time were the divine priority - that is to say, for Paul, God is first. He wants God to be first in the lives of the Ephesian Christians and he wants God to be first in our lives. So he's writing, "to Him, to Him be glory in the church." And we connected that with stewardship because we understood that if God were first in our lives then everything that we are, everything that we have will serve Him; will be for Him and for His glory. If God is the hub of the wheel around which everything in our life rotates, including our finances, it will serve His glory. So the divine priority. That was first last time. Then secondly last time, we considered the divine presence. In the twenty-first verse, Paul speaks about "glory in the church and in Christ Jesus." And we saw that likely in the background to that expression is the image that Paul develops at the end of chapter 2 where he says that the church is the "temple of God." You remember that in the old covenant era the temple in Jerusalem was the place where the glory presence of the Lord shone out, signifying His presence by His Spirit in the midst of His people. And Paul teaches us that now there is no longer a temple - this is not a temple - where God dwells physically, as it were. Rather, the temple is the church; it is the people of God, and the Spirit of God, the glory presence of God, dwells upon and among the people of God, the church.
And in verse 21, with that theology of the presence of God in the back of his mind, Paul now tells us since the presence of God rests upon the church, the praises of God rise from the church. The glory of God rests upon the church, and so glory to God ascends from the church. We are for God and for His praise and for His glory. And everything that we have is to be given up in pursuit of that great end and priority, including the way we use our money. So the divine priority and then the divine presence.
Today we’re going to look at the remaining two themes. The divine power - “He is able,” Paul says. The divine power. And then finally, the divine praise. We’re going to think about that theme a little more. Particularly we’re going to notice the missionary character of the praise of God toward which we should give for His honor and glory. So those are the two headings we’re considering today. The divine power and the divine praise. Before we look at them, we’re going to read the passage, and before we do that, we’re going to pause and ask God to help us understand His holy Word. Would you bow your heads with me as we pray together?
With the psalmist we pray, O send Your light forth and Your truth. Let them be guides to us and lead us to Your holy hill where Your dwelling place is, that we may meet with You and give You praise and glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Ephesians chapter 3 at verse 20. This is the Word 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.”
If you were with us last week when we began to consider this passage you might remember that the message started by surveying the Biblical teaching on Christian giving. Let me just quickly rehearse it again for you today. The scriptures we saw call every Christian to give with what we called radical, sacrificial generosity. The tithe that we often talk about, that was really primarily the old covenant pattern in the Old Testament scriptures; to give a tenth of our income. But we looked at 2 Corinthians chapter 8 and the example of the Macedonian Christians where we saw that the new covenant, the New Testament pattern is even more challenging than that. The new covenant pattern, the pattern for us, calls us to give until it costs us something, which for many of us might actually mean giving more than a tenth. To give until you have to make a lifestyle adjustment to do it. That’s the principle. Give until you have to economize or cut back somewhere. To stop your donations, perhaps, to some other worthy cause or to delay that purchase or even to postpone that trip so that the church of Jesus Christ can have first place.
And we saw Malachi chapter 3 verse 10 - that we are to bring the whole tithe into the storehouse. That is to say, we are not wiser than God and we ought not to subdivide our tithe among our favorite fifteen ministries, just one of which might happen to be the church. No, God loves the church. The church is His priority, and that ought to be reflected in the way we live, the way we serve one another, the way we commit ourselves to attendance upon the means of grace Sunday by Sunday, and certainly in the way that we give. That’s the teaching of the New Testament scriptures.
Now I don’t know about you, but as I survey that teaching, probably the biggest issue for me - perhaps for many of you - when it comes to facing up to it, is fear. It’s fear. We worry, don’t we, that if we were to give with radical, sacrificial, costly generosity like this that takes the tenth as a rule of thumb as a starting point but may well exceed it, “Well then perhaps I won’t be able to do other things that I like. Maybe I’m worried I won’t be able to pay the bills or just make things work. It just feels like a big chunk of change that frankly, I’ve built my lifestyle around having pretty much to myself. And so the thought of changing my giving patterns, that’s scary.” And if that’s who you feel, I completely get it. It is scary.
But while all that is swirling around in our heads and in our hearts, I wonder if you have clarity enough to see that actually the Biblical teaching on money and giving is forcing to the forefront a critical issue in our discipleship. It’s not really about money at all. Money is the presenting symptom. The deeper issue has to do with trust. It has to do with trust. Or let me put it differently. It is about whether or not you are a thoroughgoing supernaturalist. Do you really believe that “My God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus”? Or is your Christianity just talk. That’s the question. Are you a supernaturalist so that you take God at His Word when He says the Lord Jesus says to us, “Your Father in heaven knows what you need before you ask Him, so seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you as well”? Do you believe Ephesians 3:20, “He is able”? That’s the question our passage pushes to the fore.
The Divine Power
It’s not just the question of the divine priority, “Is God first?” That’s vital. We considered that last time. Is God first in your life? If He is, that will be reflected in what you do with your time, your energy, your money. That’s vital. The divine priority - is He first? It also raises the question of the divine power. Is God able? Do I trust Him in His supernatural might to provide for me? Is He able?
He is Able
Well, I want you to look with me at verse 20 again and see how Paul answers that question, "Is God able?" We could probably break it down this way. Look at verse 20. First, Paul is saying to us we must claim the solid ground of the divine sufficiency. God is able. He really is able. "To Him who is able," he says. There's no unexpected circumstance that you can face that will leave God astonished and unprepared. There's no trial into which you can descend beyond the reach of His arm to rescue you. There's no need in you, none - no deficiency of wisdom, no failure of strength, no loss of income even - that could ever begin to test resources of God. “Who has ever given to God,” Paul will sing out at the end of Romans chapter 11, “Who has ever given to God that it should be repaid to Him?” You can’t put God in your debt. You can’t out-give God. No, “for from Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever, amen.” So He is able, Paul says.
But more than that, look at the text, He’s able to do “more than we ask or think.” That is a staggering promise. You can’t imagine, we cannot imagine more than God will give. Are you tracking with me? Did you get that? We can’t imagine more than God will give in His grace. Paul actually says even more than that, doesn’t he? Verse 20, He is able to do not just more than you ask or think, “far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think.” There is superabounding grace in God; inexhaustible, extravagant, generous. You know, sometimes when we come to God with urgent needs, we are concerned that our prayers are too bold, too big, too much to ask for, and so we don’t ask. We’re worried. I picture it like a child, you know, at the beach, pretending or trying to empty the sea with his little plastic bucket. When we worry that somehow we’re asking too much of God as if somehow we could exhaust the vast ocean depths of grace He has ready to pour out on us. All we need do is ask. James says, “You have not because you ask not.” We’re like someone who has never visited the seaside, and so they just have a hard time even imagining a body of water that vast. We worry, don’t we, we really doubt somewhere deep in the operational centers of our hearts, the deep motivations, the deep structures of our thinking, we worry that maybe God’s grace isn’t that vast, that limitless, that generous. “So maybe I shouldn’t ask. Maybe I shouldn’t pray these bold, risky prayers.”
I think I probably heard this story first from Tim Keller, and it’s likely to be apocryphal, but it’s useful, so we’ll pretend it’s true. Okay? You’ve probably heard this before. It’s a story about Alexander the Great, the great Macedonian Greek conquering king. He had a general once who came to Alexander and said, “I’ve been a loyal soldier for you all my life and now my daughter is being married. And I would like you, if you would be willing, to pay for the wedding.” That’s a pretty bold prayer. And Alexander said, “Fine. I’ll do it. You’ve been a loyal and faithful soldier. So just go to my treasurer and tell him what you need and he’ll give it to you.” Which is precisely what the soldier does at the general. And when the treasurer learns just the extraordinary, extravagant sum that the general asks for, he comes spluttering to Alexander and says, “Did you tell this man he could ask for anything he likes?” And the general says, “Yes.” “Well do you know how much he wants to spend?” and he tells Alexander and he steps back, you know, sort of bracing himself for the explosion when Alexander learns just how much is being asked of him. But it doesn’t come; the explosion doesn’t come. In fact, Alexander says, “Give it to him.” “Why would you do that?” says his treasurer. “Don’t you know what an honor this man is doing me by asking for such a ridiculous sum? He shows he believes that I am both rich and generous.”
God is not dishonored by big, bold, audacious prayers, by risk-taking Christians who expect much from God and attempt much for God. He is exalted and glorified by them. You are showing that you really believe Ephesians 3:20 when you embrace William Carey’s famous model. We talked about it last week - Expect great things from God and attempt great things for God. You really show that you believe He is able when you pray big, bold prayers, when you given sacrificially and generously, and when you go outside of your comfort zone across the street and around the world to open your mouth and speak for Jesus about His saving grace and love for sinners. When you do such things leaning upon Him, you show you really believe Ephesians 3:20. You show you are a supernaturalist, that you are living not in your own strength but in His, because “He is able.” He has the power. I don’t have the power. He has the wisdom. I don’t have the wisdom. He has the strength. I’m running on empty. But He is able and so I trust Him and I obey. I give, I pray, I go. Are you a supernaturalist? Do you really believe that He is able?
Before we move on, look at the second half of verse 20. This is just so challenging to me and so helpful. Paul is singing a doxology, “to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or thinking, according to the power at work” - now how would you finish that sentence? According to the power at work when, with a word, He hung the stars in their places and spoke the universe into being” - perhaps. “When with an outstretched arm, He caused the rains to fall and the floods to rise in the days of Noah” - that’s the power of God. “When He split the sea so that the Israelites may cross over on dry land and then deluged the Egyptian slave masters redeeming His people” - there’s the power of God. “When the Israelites marched around the city of Jericho and blew their trumpets and shouted and the walls came tumbling down” - there’s the power of God. “So He is able to do far more than we ask or imagine according to power like that, according to supernatural, spectacular, pyrotechnics, lightning and thunder” - is that what Paul says?
It’s so counterintuitive. Look at what he says. “He is able to do far more abundantly than we ask or think according to the power at work within us.” The power at work already in your life today if you’re a Christian; today, right now in fact. Because that’s where Paul points us because he’s talking about a power already at work within us. Isn’t it true that we tend to overlook that? We think it’s small, meager, inadequate for the challenges. “If we’re talking about power, I want more. I need more. It doesn’t feel like power,” and so we overlook it.
But I want you to see how Paul thinks about this power at work within us. So if you go back to chapter 1 in verses 19 and 20 you’ll see how Paul thinks about this power. Paul doesn’t belittle it or minimize it at all. He’s reporting to the Ephesians that he has been praying for them and he tells us what he’s been praying. He is praying that they may know - listen - “the immeasurable greatness of His power toward us who believe according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead.” This power that we overlook, that we think so very little of at work in our lives as Christians, is resurrection power. It is the power that broke the bonds of death and brought again from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep, the Lord Jesus Christ. Or a few verses before our stewardship verse in Ephesians chapter 3, in verse 16, Paul says it is the power that “will strengthen us through the Spirit in our inner being so that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith.” It is the strength, he says, “to comprehend, together with all the saints, the love of Christ - the length and breadth and depth and height of it - to know the love of Christ that passes understanding and be filled with all the fullness of God.” That’s the power, he says, that is at work right now in you. Resurrection power. Power to know Jesus. To feel the strength of His love at work in your heart.
In other words, here’s the message. Here’s what Paul is really saying to us. He’s saying please do not measure risk in the service of God by your own strength, by your own wisdom, by your own resources. That’s not the yardstick by which to make an accurate assessment of the risks involved when He calls you to sacrificial generosity or to bold going or audacious praying. No, he says measure the risks of generosity and giving and going. Measure the risk by the power of God. You may not know, you may not always feel that it’s always at work within you, but it is. It’s the power that rolled the stone away and caused our Savior to step alive from the tomb. And now He is seated at the right hand of God to judge and is coming to judge the quick and the dead. That’s the power of God that He has deployed in your life. You are a Christian today because of that power. You persevere in your faith today because of that power. And that power will keep you, it will supply what you need. “He is able.” The proof is the empty tomb. And when you begin to measure risk, the risk, the apparent risk of obedience, of risky obedience, of sacrificial generosity against the provision of the power of God, is there anything you would not do if He called you to it? Is there really any such thing as risk in the Christian life when behind you stands the omnipotent might of the one who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that you ask or think? So the divine power first. Are you really a supernaturalist understanding there is no risks when the power of God is at work and so you give generously? The divine power.
The Divine Praise
Then think with me lastly, secondly, about the divine praise. Verse 21 again. Verse 21, “to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever, amen.” Last time we said that glory, praise to God, arises from the church because the glory presence of God has descended and rests upon the church. He’s here. He’s with us. And so we adore Him. At this time I want to return to this theme of praise, of worship, and I want you to notice the missionary character of the praise that Paul is offering here. Now scholars will tell us that Paul often uses the phrase translated “forever and ever” in the New Testament scriptures, but he almost never combines it with the phrase, “unto all generations,” which is probably a little better translation than “through all generations.” And so by including, “unto all generations,” there’s something purposeful happening here. This is unusual for Paul. This is an unusual expression. And so he intends something by it.
Here’s what he intends. Praise is not to be confined to us. We are not to keep it to ourselves. It’s meant to be infectious. Worship is to spread like a contagion. I guess a happy contagion if there is such a thing; a happy disease. We’re all supposed to be walking Gospel disease vectors, you know, spreading the contagion till more and more are infected with joy and gratitude at the wonder of the good news. When you strike a match, you know, and then put it back in the matchbox, the whole thing goes up. That’s what we are to be like. It’s meant to spread from generation to generation till the whole world goes up in a blaze of worship and praise to God. That’s our task; that’s our calling.
You may well know by now the opening line of John Piper’s excellent little book on missions, Let the Nations Be Glad. I’ve used it before; let me read it to you again. Piper says, “Mission is not the ultimate goal of the church; worship is. Missions exist because worship doesn't. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over and countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever. And so worship,” Piper says, “is the fuel and the goal of missions.” Which is really just another way to say the reason we are here is to bring more and more people, men and women, boys and girls, to join us in exalting the living God for the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.
A previous generation here at First Presbyterian Church caught that vision and they were set alight by it. And they gave. They gave with such a vision for the expansion of the kingdom of Jesus and the spread of His praise from generation to generation that they planted churches and they sent missionaries and the Reformed Theological Seminary was born right here. They started a school. They built the Twin Lakes Camp and Conference Center. And if you look on the back of the bulletin at the rest of benevolent ministries in our city and beyond, very many of them were seeded by people captured by a vision for the Gospel and the extension of the kingdom in this place, in this congregation, in a previous generation. And because they did, because they gave with such sacrificial generosity in order to spread the fame and the praise of King Jesus, there are many thousands of people today all over the world, many already in heaven, worshiping Jesus Christ. More praise to God rises because they gave with this big vision in mind. Heaven is fuller today because of their radical generosity. More lives have been changed by the Gospel because they gave as they did.
But that was a previous generation. And look, I don’t want to give offense if any of that generation are still sitting in the pew, but many of them now have gone ahead of us to glory and joined the great cloud of witnesses. Praise God for those that remain. For all that they can teach us. Some are at home watching on television or on the internet. But most of them actually now have finished their race. You can see some of their pictures wearing military uniform in the Greeting Courtyard outside after the service. We’re so grateful for the legacy they’ve entrusted to us. But that was the previous generation; what a generation it was! How thankful we are. We are benefitting from their generosity and their labors. But Paul is asking us, since glory in the church and in Christ Jesus is to rise from every generation, he’s asking us, “What about you?” The baton is being passed. The baton is being passed. A new generation must take it up. It’s your time now. What will you do for Him who is able? What risk will you take for Him who can do far more abundantly than all we can ask or think? What sacrifice will you make for the One who gave His all for you?
First Presbyterian Church Jackson exists to glorify God by making disciples on the North State Street corridor, the greater Jackson area, and around the world. That’s our vision. Today’s Commitment Sunday and the baton is being passed, placed in your hands. And so the question for us is, “Will we commit to the mission of God in this place? Will you pray and will you go and will you give that glory in the church might arise from a new generation and a generation yet to come, unto all generations forever and ever?” The mission we’ve been given is to multiply praise to God unto all generations. Will you give yourself to the fulfillment of that mission? May God use us, this generation, to do precisely that. Let’s pray together.
O Lord, we confess to You how often fear gets ahold of our hearts, especially when it comes to our money. And instead of radical, sacrificial generosity, we’re slow to give, we are conservative with our giving, we are reluctant to give. Forgive us also for the way that we have made the church compete with any number of other worthy causes when the church is Your priority. Forgive us when it’s not been ours. Help us to see that You are here with Your people, that You are to be first in our hearts and You are always with us, and so we owe You all and we gladly surrender all in praise and adoration. Help us to see that there is no risk in Your kingdom when omnipotent power stands poised to supply all our need according to Your riches in glory in Christ Jesus. And help us as a new generation to labor and work and give and go and pray that Your glory and praise may spread like a happy contagion to the ends of the earth. For we ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.
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