God's New Family: An Exposition of Ephesians: What to Pray For One Another (2)

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on January 22, 2006

Ephesians 3:16b-19

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The Lord’s Day
Morning

January 22, 2006

Ephesians 3:16b-19

“What to Pray For One Another (2)”

Dr. J. Ligon
Duncan III

Amen. If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with
me to Ephesians 3. We’ve been looking at this prayer in Ephesians 3:14-19 for a
number of weeks now. We spent the first message in this passage looking just at
Paul’s words of rationale as to why he was praying. You see those words, “For
this reason I pray…for this reason I bow my knees to the Father, from whom
every family in heaven and on earth derives its name…”; and from verse 14 all
the way down to the first part of verse 16, the Apostle Paul gives us the
context of this prayer. He explains his confidence in the abundance of God’s
riches and what God has done on their behalf.

And then the last time we were together, we looked
at the petitions contained in verses 16 and 17–really, the end of verse 16 and
the beginning of verse 17. That’s as far as we got. Now just let me go ahead
and confess today, we’re not going to get through these five points on the
outline that you have! We’re going to get maybe three points into this message
and we’ll just have to pick it up later on, but there’s so much here.

And so today I want you to be looking especially
for these three things: Faith; Life; and Knowledge.

Notice first of all, right in the middle of verse
17, that Paul emphasizes that the indwelling of Christ and the power of His
Spirit is received in our hearts — how? — by faith.
Paul emphasizes that
faith isn’t just something that we need at the beginning of the Christian life,
where we believe and trust in Jesus for salvation, and then we’re done with
faith and we move on to works. No, we grow in the Christian life by faith. It
is a constant exercise of our faith, our trust, dependence on God, which is part
and parcel of the way that we grow as Christians; and so, he wants to emphasize
that this spiritual power that he’s praying for us, this indwelling of Christ,
is something that we receive by faith.

Then secondly, notice that the reason he’s
praying this prayer that we would be “rooted and grounded in God’s love” is
because he’s wanting a certain quality of life to be produced in us as
Christians in the local congregation.
And so I want you to notice not only
the faith, but this life–this life rooted and founded on love that Paul is
concerned to see fostered in the congregation.

And then finally, notice his prayer for
knowledge: that we would know, that we would be able to comprehend, the love of
Christ.
And so Paul is concerned to pray for faith, for life, for knowledge.
That’s about as far as we’ll be able to get today, so I will stop there. Let’s
look to God in prayer before we begin, and ask for His help and blessing.

Our Lord and our God, we do bow before You. We
honor You, we acknowledge You as the one true God. This is Your word. We pray
that You would speak to us by Your word, that Your word would as a living and
active two-edged sword of the Spirit to pierce our hearts, dividing into its
very depths, enlivening us, not returning void. Grant that we would respond to
this word in faith, in humility; honoring it as Your very word, the only final
authority for faith and life, your truth which is profitable for the living of
this life. We ask these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Hear the word of God. We’ll read the whole prayer,
beginning in 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 derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the
riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the
inner man; so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you,
being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints
what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of
Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness
of God.”

Amen. And thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired,
and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.

Now before we even get into this prayer again, I
want to remind you that as we work through this prayer there are two immediate
applications that we ourselves can make as we work through the prayer.
There
are many applications of this biblical truth. I hope we’ll explain some of them
together today, and when we’re together again, but there are two immediate
applications which ought to be in the forefront in our minds.

The first is simply this: As we work through
Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians and for us, we are being taught how to pray for
ourselves and for one another.
So one of the things that we ought to be
asking ourselves by way of application as we work through this passage is ‘What
is this passage teaching me to pray for myself and for my brothers and sisters
in Christ?’ This passage is wonderfully practical in the way it supplies us
biblical substance for prayer for one another. It guides us in how to pray for
one another. Sometimes we get ready to pray, and we may be so dry, or we may be
so distracted or so burdened, that we can’t come up with the stuff to pray. And
when we come to those circumstances (and even when we don’t), the Bible is
waiting for us to supply us the substance, the content, of our prayer, and
here’s one of those passages.

You’re stumped, you don’t know where to begin to
pray? Well, open up your Bible at Ephesians 3:14 and start praying it for
yourself, start praying it for one another. Or, open up your Bible at the
Lord’s Prayer and start praying it for yourself and praying it for one another.
Use the prayers of Scripture to stimulate and supply your own prayer. So, one of
the immediate applications as we work through this prayer together is God is
teaching us in His word how to pray for ourselves and one another.

Secondly, however, working through this prayer
offers us an index of our own desires.
Paul, as we see him down on his
hands and knees in a prison cell with the perspiration falling off of his brow
as he intercedes for the Ephesians and for you, praying that God would do this
in your life, you know what we’re seeing? We’re seeing a little glimpse of the
desires of Paul’s heart. We’re seeing just a little of what Paul wanted more
than anything in the world for you as a Christian. And when we see that we ought
to ask ourselves a question: ‘Is that what I desire? Is that what I desire for
me more than anything else? Is that what I desire for my brothers and sisters in
Christ more than anything else?’ And if our answer–if we’re being honest — we’re
looking in the mirror–if our answer is no, that’s not really what I desire more
than anything else, then the immediate application is ‘Lord, make that my
desire! If Paul is praying this prayer with such fervency for the Ephesians and
for me, surely this must be what I really ought to want, so, Lord God, give me
that desire.’

Or maybe we say ‘Lord, that is my desire, but it’s
not nearly enough my desire’. Then we say ‘Lord God, give me a greater desire
for that.’ Or maybe it really is our deep desire. Then we say ‘Lord God,
continue my desire. Stoke my desire, and give that desire to my brothers and
sisters in Christ.’

So this prayer and our study of it is immediately
applicable in teaching us how to pray for ourselves and for one another, and
also providing us with a mirror, an index of our own desires. Is this what we
really desire in life? And if it isn’t, why not? And if it isn’t, Lord God, give
us these desires.

Now let’s work through the passage together. I
want you to see three things.

I. The first thing you see right there in the middle of
verse 17. Paul prays that God would supply you with spiritual power to
strengthen you in your inmost being, and that Christ would dwell in your heart —
how? — through faith.
Through faith. Paul is praying that you would know
the Spirit’s power and Christ’s indwelling by faith. Paul is praying that you
would by faith appropriate spiritual power and Christ’s indwelling, that it
would be by faith that you would grow, that by faith you would be strengthened,
that by faith your heart would become more a suitable place for Jesus to move
into and live…not just a hotel room for Him to stay in for a while, but a home
that becomes like a home that He himself would be comfortable in, and the
Apostle Paul says this happens by faith. Now, this is so important because Paul
knows that the whole of the Christian life is lived by faith.

That doesn’t mean, of course, that we don’t do
anything in the Christian life.
There are lots of things in the Christian
life that are important for us to do for our spiritual health and well-being.
One of them is not forsaking to gather together with the brethren to worship
God, and so there are certain habits and disciplines of the Christian life that
are important for spiritual growth.

Faith is an essential component of our growth in
Christ because faith, among other things, reminds us that we are totally
dependent on God’s power.
So often in the Christian life, we want God to
give us power so that we can get control of our situation, and that’s
never how the Christian life works. And so, when we receive the Spirit’s power
by faith we are reminded that we continue to be utterly dependent upon God; and
that power works in us not so that we can get control of our situation, but so
that we can remember the One who is in control of our situation: the Lord
God of heaven and earth, Who’s working everything out for the good of His own
people and for His own glory.

And one of the maturing phases of the Christian life
is that realization that ‘I can’t make things safe for me. I can’t get control
of every aspect of my life. I have to walk in faith. I have to trust God, who is
in control of everything.’ Faith recognizes our dependence upon God. It doesn’t
try and substitute our control for God’s control, our power for God’s power, to
make things safe, to make things right in the Christian life. The Christian life
has lots of things that come into it that are hard, and that life can’t be made
safe by our getting control and keeping those things from happening, because we
don’t have that power. We’re not sovereign. The Christian life can be
lived with confidence and joy when by faith we realize that though we do not
control our destiny, there is One who loves us and gave His Son for us who does
control our destiny and our circumstances and our situations.

And so the Apostle Paul is at pains to emphasize
that the Spirit’s power and Christ’s indwelling are something that are operative
in our hearts by faith, so that faith is an ongoing aspect of our growing up as
Christians.

And then, secondly, notice again in verse 17 that
Paul prays that we would have a life established and anchored in God’s love.
“That you being rooted and grounded in love…” Don’t you love that
language, with the one term sort of a botanical term, rooted (think of a
big oak tree with that extensive root system), and one an architectural term
grounded
, like a foundation — a skyscraper with a foundation that goes
sixteen floors deep? That we would have a life “rooted and grounded in the love
of God” — why is Paul praying that?

Well, Paul knows that we need a life that is
supplied by God’s love, that is rooted in God’s love, that is grounded upon
God’s love, because God has called us to live amongst and to love sinners, even
in the church; and he knows that in order for you to love one another you will
need to have a life that has been established and anchored in the love of God.
Even as Jesus loved sinners that let Him down, He calls us to love sinners that
let us down, sinners that betray us, sinners that wound us, sinners that hurt
us, sinners that disappoint us, sinners that do real sins against us. Those are
the ones that He calls us to love, and He knows that no human being has the
power to do that in and of himself, in and of herself. Only the power of God can
root us and ground us in the love of God so that we can love like God.

We desperately need that, my friends. It is that
love-witness which Jesus says the world will take note of.
There are many
today working very hard to make sure that Christians are ministering to the poor
and the oppressed and to the downtrodden, and that’s a good thing. The Bible
talks about it all the time. But there are many who think that that is the
key thing in order to convince the world that we are Christians. But Jesus says
‘No, the thing that convinces the world that we’re Christians is when we love
one another’ — because, my friends, it’s easy to love somebody that you don’t
live with. It’s easy to love someone that you’re not right next to. It’s easy
to love someone that you don’t know. But when you live with people, when you get
to know them and you know what they’re like, and then you get done in by them,
you get the knife in your back, you get the stab in your heart, you get the
disappointment in the relationship…ah, then and only then do you even have the
opportunity to begin to love like God.

And so the Apostle Paul says ‘Ephesian Christians —
Christians in First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Mississippi — I’m praying
that your life will be so rooted and grounded in the love of God that you
will be able to love like I love, that your life would manifest my forgiving
love toward sinners in the way you relate to one another.’

II. But he doesn’t stop there, he goes on to pray
for another thing, and it’s a glorious thing. We see it there in verses 17-19.
He prays that we would have a knowledge of Christ’s love, which is beyond
knowledge.
I really meant to say that.

He prays that we would have a knowledge of Christ’s
love, which is beyond knowledge! What in the world is Paul talking about here?
What is he grasping to say when he says that we, being rooted and grounded in
love, would be able to comprehend with …what is the breadth and length, and
height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge?

Paul is saying that he wants you to have the ability
to grasp the love of Christ in your soul. He wants you as a believer to have a
real, personal, experience and comprehension of the incomparable love of
Christ.

You need to be asking yourself this question: Why
would God — why would Paul — say that we needed power in order to know the love
of Christ? Because, my friends, knowing the love of Christ does not come
naturally.
The love of Christ is naturally beyond our understanding to
experience. It is hard for the love of Christ to get through. There are many in
this room who have been walking with the Lord for many years who have wrestled
with knowing, with experiencing, the love of Christ for them, and there are
various reasons for that. Sometimes it’s their own relationship with their
parents. It might not have been a relationship that cultivated in them a sense
of their gracious acceptance by the Almighty God and Father, our loving God who
gave His own Son for us. For others it may be a life of sin, a pattern of sin,
or a particular sin that they feel has separated them from God and that prevents
them from ever being able to be right with God, or to approach God, and they
constantly carry an unresolved sense of guilt around, and they wonder that if
they get into God’s presence and He realizes that sin that is there, that He
couldn’t possibly accept them, He couldn’t possibly love them, He couldn’t
possibly keep them and save them, and commune with them, and fellowship with
them.

And there are many other reasons as well, but for
the Apostle Paul it is absolutely vital that we have a real and personal
experience and comprehension of the incomprehensible love of Christ, because it
is absolutely essential to our spiritual maturity.
Paul knows that if we do
not at least in some measure know the boundless love of Christ for us, we cannot
grow up! We cannot mature as Christians.

Don Carson, in his wonderful book The Call to
Spiritual Reformation
, tells the story of a colleague of his at the Trinity
Evangelical Divinity School in Chicago, Perry Downs. Perry and his wife are
foster parents. They, at the time of the writing of the book, had taken
something like twenty children in their home as newborns and kept them until
they were permanently placed in adoptive families — one of the ways that they
ministered. And one day the state called them up, and they said, “We’ve got a
little different situation here. We don’t have a newborn, but we wonder if you
would be willing to take this case.”

“Tell us about it.”

“Well, we’ve got two boys, twin boys. They’re not newborns,
they’re eighteen months old. But they’ll only be with you for six weeks. Would
you be willing to take them in?”

“Sure.”

“Oh, one other thing. These boys have been abused in the
families in which they have been before they came to you. In fact, they’ve been
in nine different homes since they were born, and the psychologists tell us
their affects, their emotional response, has been so deeply damaged by their
experiences that they are, very frankly, abnormal in the way they respond to
parents, to adults. They’re not sure they’ll ever be right.”

“We’ll take them anyway.”

Well, the first night the boys are in the home and
they put them to bed. And they’re down the hall, and Perry and his wife are in
the living room, and they hear something really strange: nothing! Two
eighteen-month-old boys, twin boys, in the bed, 7:30 — nothing! That’s strange.
They were curious. They go down the hall; the boys are in the bed, pillows over
their faces muffling their sobs.

Why? Because in some of the homes in which they had
been before, whenever they cried they were beaten.

Those twin boys ended up being in the Downs home not
for six weeks, or for six months, but for well over a year. And then they were
placed in a permanent, loving, adoptive home. When the social workers and
psychologists met with the Downs’s as the boys were being transferred into their
permanent home, they said, “Something amazing has happened to these boys. They
are responding affectively, emotionally, like healthy children ought to
respond.”

What had happened to those two little boys? They had
experienced the love of parents as God had intended them to experience the love
of parents, and it had literally matured them!

The Apostle Paul is not saying that he wants you to
go out and read a book about the love of Christ: he’s saying that he wants you
to experience, to know yourself, the love of Christ. And you need the
power of God to know that, my friends, because you can’t know that on your own.
That is the work of God in your heart.

When you think of what Paul is praying here, do you
realize how audacious this prayer is? If this prayer weren’t written down in
Ephesians 3:14-19, and I stood up to pray it, the elders might call me in to
check me out for heresy, because this prayer is audacious! We’re not even going
to see the…the most audacious part of it is yet to come, but notice…see what
Paul’s saying here: ‘I want you to personally experience the fullness of the
love of Christ which ultimately is incomprehensible and cannot be known. I want
you to know something that can’t be known to the full. I want you to comprehend
something that can’t be comprehended to the full.’ Paul wants you to experience
that, but it takes the power of God, it takes the work of the Holy Spirit for
that knowledge, that experience of the love of Christ.

R.A. Torrey, it was said, had prayed for years that
God would show him His face. And one day as he was reading his Scriptures, he
was doing his devotions, he was suddenly awash in the sense of the love of God
for him in Jesus Christ, so much that after a period of time he cried out to
God, “Show me no more! I cannot bear it!” The Apostle Paul is saying ‘That’s
what I want for you, Ephesians; that’s what I want for you, brothers and sisters
in Christ in Jackson: I want you to be so awash in the knowledge and the
experience of the love of God in Christ that you have to cry out ‘Show me no
more, I cannot bear it!’’

When I was in Scotland my first two years, I coached
the University of Edinburgh basketball team. And we had been to St. Andrew’s to
play (the University of St. Andrew’s) — and we were robbed! It was the
lousiest officiating in the history of the world! When we played St. Andrew’s
the next time, we beat them by 30 points, but they beat us 72-69, and the
officials stole that game from us, and I was in a foul mood when I came
back to Edinburgh that night.

Now, the next Sunday, the next morning, was
communion season at Greyfriars in Edinburgh. And in some of the Scottish
churches, you have a “communion season” before you have Communion Sunday. You
have a service on Wednesday night, on Thursday night; and on Saturday night, a
preparation service where at the end of that preparation service those
Christians who have gathered are given a token by the elders to indicate that
they have prepared to come to the Lord’s Table.

I got back to Edinburgh in time to go to that
preparation service, but I didn’t feel like going! I was in a foul
mood! And so I didn’t go.

So the next morning I got up, and I knew there was
going to be a communion service, so I thought, “OK, I’ll go to church and I’ll
slip in the back, and I’ll go in the back row in the section where they don’t
serve communion, and I’ll just kind of go to the service and hide there.” And
when I walked in the door, one of my dear friends who is a ruling elder said,
“Oh, Ligon! Come over here! Let me give you a visitor’s token.”

I thought, “OK, well, I’ll take the token from John
and then I’ll just slip in the back door and I’ll still sit down in the
non-communion section.”

Well, who was waiting for me at the door? My dear
friend, Deacon Martin Cameron, and Martin says, “Oh, Ligon, let me take you
right up front and sit you in the very front of the communion section.” I
thought, “Oh, no….Well, when the cup and the bread come by, I’ll just pass
them by.”

And then, what do they do? The next person they sat
down next to me was the former Principal of the Free Church of Scotland College
— the equivalent of the President of RTS! They sat him down, right next to me.

And then the message began and it was on the love of
God from Romans 8:32, and it was the greatest message I’d ever heard on the love
of God. And God just melted my heart right there. I began to weep. In fact, I
began to weep so much, I thought, “These Scots are going to think that I am
absolutely out of my mind: ‘Look at that American over there, blubbering through
the sermon!’” But that message prepared my heart to come to the Lord’s Table.

I could not have prepared my heart to know the love
of Christ that morning. God, through His word and by His Spirit, did.

And the Apostle Paul is praying for you by the power
of the third person of the Trinity to know the love of Christ, because it is
that love that matures us as Christians and grows us up to be what God has
called us to be. Is that what you desire? Is that what you pray for yourself?
Is that what you pray for one another? If it isn’t, may the Lord Himself show
you His love and do business with your soul. Let’s pray.

Our Lord and our God, show us, we pray, the deep,
deep, love of Jesus. For Christ’s sake we ask it in His name. Amen.

[Congregational Hymn: O the Deep, Deep, Love of
Jesus
]

Grace, mercy, and peace to you, from God our
Father and our Lord, Jesus the Messiah. Amen.

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