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Faith Bible Church, NY
August 18, 1996
The Power of Prayer
This morning we come to the second prayer of Paul in the book of Ephesians. A few months ago we examined Paul’s first prayer in 1:15-23 and saw Paul’s desire for the Ephesians that they might know God more intimately, more specifically that they might know the hope of His calling, the riches of the glory, of His inheritance in the saints and the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.
Paul wanted the Ephesians and us to know what is ours in Christ Jesus. In chapter 2 Paul delineates what some of these things are: life in Christ (you were dead in trespasses and sin but you have been made alive together with Christ); saved, raised and seated with Christ; created in Christ Jesus for good works; peace with God; partakers of the blessings of being God’s people; unity and peace in the body of Christ, the church; and a purpose in life that transcends all earthly circumstances. The riches of that we have in Christ Jesus are unfathomable and unmeasurable as Paul states in verse 3:8. That was the theme and purpose of Paul’s first prayer. The theme and purpose of this second prayer is that we would access and apply what is ours. The first prayer had to do with being enlightened and to know what is ours in Christ Jesus and this one to be enabled to use it.
This again shows Paul’s heart as a pastor. He gives deep theology (so much so that Peter comments that Paul is some times hard to understand) yet his desire was not to give people head knowledge, but heart knowledge. Paul was not an ivory tower scholar, but a man of God communicating infinite truths to finite people so that the could live accordingly.
Turn to Ephesians 3:14. Paul begins this prayer, “For this reason…”. This ties him back to vs. 1 of the chapter. Remember I said last week that vs. 2-13 of this chapter are a parenthesis. Paul started off with one thought then quickly interjected another thought before coming back to his original thought. “For this reason” refers back to all the truths that Paul has already talked about. Because God is who He is, because God has made me alive in Christ, because God has established the church as His people, because Paul is the prisoner of Christ Jesus of the sake of the gentiles; because of all these things, Paul prays for them.
It is important to note here that Paul’s comment about being a prisoner back in verse one is the immediate context of verse 14. Paul was held as a prisoner of Rome waiting his trial before Caesar and so he was confined and could not go wherever he wanted to go, but Rome could not restrict Paul from being in the most important place to be, in the presence of God through prayer.
Since we have so much freedom as Americans, we do not think too much about the importance of this truth unless we are confined to bed because of physical illness. We tend to keep so busy doing different things that we actually neglect that which is most important, prayer. This is not true around the world. More than half the world’s population is not free to go where they want when they want, they are not free to speak and do as they desire, they are not free to openly worship as they prefer. Yet, even in those nations most repressive to Christianity ( especially Islamic and communist) none can restrict the believer from deep communion with the creator of everything through prayer. No man can keep you from that which bears the most eternal importance.
Paul’s says, “For this reason, I bow my knees before the Father.” Stop there and let me make a comment about Paul’s posture of prayer. There are those that go to the Bible and read a verse here and there and come up with all sorts of rules for living without ever really consulting the rest of Scripture to take in the whole counsel of God. Such is the case here. There are a few that look at this verse and conclude that there is only one posture for prayer, and that you must be on your knees and unless you are you cannot properly pray. There are actually are several postures of prayer described in the Bible. Solomon, David and the priests are recorded as standing with up arms lifted to heaven. In fact, that was the more common Jewish posture for prayer. At the same time, we can find examples of David and many of the prophets prostrate (lying down) before God and praying. In fact, we find in the scriptures examples of people praying in all sorts of postures except one, sitting on a seat, and even then it was possible that when Paul and Silas were in the jail at Philippi that they were chained in a seated position.
The posture you take is not the question and not the reason Paul mentions it here. It is the attitude. To be on your knees before God is a position of humility. Remember in Luke 18 the example of the Pharisee and the tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed “thus to himself.” His posture, while an often used and proper, was for him a reflection of his proud heart. The tax gatherer on the other hand, stood some distance away and was unwilling to “lift his eyes to heaven” and was pleading for mercy. His posture reflected the humility in his heart.
God wants us to come to Him with humble hearts. Our posture can reflect that which is what Paul is referring too here. Being on your knees is reflective of submission to authority, as well as passion or intensity in the prayer. If you want to get on your knees when we pray, please do so. If you can’t do that, then that is fine too. Our concern, your concern should not be what other people think, but what God thinks and He desires us to be humble of heart and serious in our approach to Him. Let’s be careful about being nonchalant, passive, or complacent about praying.
In the next verse Paul addresses who he is praying to, our Patron, “…from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.” Taken at face value we might conclude that this is a reference to the fatherhood of God as the creator since it is ultimately that every person on earth is derived from Adam and Eve whom God created. However, the context narrows the focus.
Paul refers to God as the “Father” several times in this book. Already Paul has called God “our Father” in the sense of the father of the saints (1:1,2), the father who blessed those He has chose (1:3), the father of glory who gives to His children a spirit of wisdom and revelation (1:17) and the father of those who are part of His household and have access to Him through the spirit (2:17f). Paul’s reference here is to God in His special, intimate relationship with believers. God is the creator of all, but in this sense the father only of those who believe in Him and follow Him. Those that do not are called the “children of the devil” (John 8 and 1 John 3:10).
Our patron is our creator who desires and has arranged for an intimate relationship with us. He is our father who art in heaven. Our family name, the redeemed, is derived from Him just as much as Israel (Gen. 32:28) and the angelic hosts – Seraphim, Cherubim, etc. Paul is again emphasizing to these gentile believers that they have been brought into God’s family.
Paul sets forth his petition in verse 16. “that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man.” Paul desires that they be empowered to live the Christian life.
Paul’s central request is that they be strengthened according to the riches of God’s glory. Note that this is according to the riches, not out of His riches. If a man who makes a $5,000 a week put $100 in the faith box, that is out of his riches, if he gives $500 that is according to his riches. The riches of God’s glory are limitless. There is no lack on God’s part on what is available to His children. If there is a lack of power in the believers life it is not because God has run out.
Note that Paul does not pray for the type of things that we so often pray for. Our concerns seem to often concentrate on the material aspect of living rather than the spiritual. There is nothing wrong with praying for a job or for someone who is sick, but let’s be careful to view the problem from the spiritual side rather than the temporal. For example, pray for a job, but also pray for it to be in a place where the individual will be able to bring glory to God either directly in the work or through being a witness of godliness. Pray for someone to be healed, but even more pray that in the midst of the physical infirmity the person would be drawn closer to Christ and have opportunity to tell others about their hope in Him.
This is why Paul prays that God would strengthen them with power through the Holy Spirit in the inner man. The inner man is the spiritual side of the believer, that soul aspect that once was dead but has been made alive together with Christ. It is the inner man that is to set the agenda for the Christian. It is the inner man that is to set the direction and manner of living. The inner man includes our minds, our emotions and our wills.
Paul comments in Romans 12:2 that we are to be “transformed by the renewing of our mind.” He is referring to this inner man. We are to become wise unto God so that we are not deceived and carried away by every wind of doctrine (Eph 4:14). We are to develop self control so that we will no longer to be controlled by the desires of our flesh and mind but rather by the moving of the Holy Spirit on our spirit (1 Cor. 9:25; Gal. 5:23; 2 Peter 1:6). We control our emotions, they no longer control us. And we are to exercise our wills unto righteousness. We are no longer to be slaves to sin but to righteousness (Rom 6). We must have the strength of character to do right after we know what it is.
Paul was certainly concerned for the physical aspects of living and worked hard to bring financial relief to the poor in Jerusalem as well as bringing physical healing to many. However, Paul had a greater concern for the inner man because, as he says in 2 Cor. 4:16), “though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed by God day by day.” Paul was more concerned about the eternal than the temporal and so he prayed for the Ephesians in this manner. He wanted them become like Christ in their inner man – mind, emotion and will. We need to follow his example.
The Christian way in dealing with things, good or bad, is to view it from the spiritual side. This requires seeing things from God’s perspective and then through the power of the Holy Spirit responding according to God’s will. We need to pray for one another in this regard.
Why does our inner man need strengthening? There are three reasons. First, a Christian comes into new life as a spiritual baby. Paul often used this analogy and said he would feed them the “milk of the Word” until they were mature enough to handle the “meat” (1 Cor. 3:1f). Until a baby’s digestive tract becomes strong they simply cannot handle the stronger foods. New Christians are easily confused by many of the doctrines of the Scriptures and hence also easily led astray. Before you can understand the details of eschatology, you need to understand some of the basic truth about God’s character. Before you can grapple with the nuances of the deity of Jesus Christ you have to work through the idea of a being existing who is totally differently from you – infinite, eternal, omniscient, omnipresent, etc. Young Christians and immature Christians need to grow, they need to become stronger by the Holy Spirit in their inner man so they can fulfill the reason for God saving them.
Another reason the Christian needs to be strengthened is because we face a cunning adversary – Satan. As Paul will point out later in this book, our battle is not “against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual [forces] of wickedness in the heavenly places.” The devil, our adversary, goes about like a roaring lion seeking who he may devour (1 Peter 5:8). We must be strengthened by the Holy Spirit to face his cunning onslaughts against us, most of which are subtle temptations to lead us astray and trust ourselves rather than God, to seek our glory rather than the Lord’s.
Another reason that we need to be strengthened is that the task that has been entrusted to us is a great one that is far beyond our capabilities. We have been commissioned to go and make disciples of all nations for the Lord Jesus Christ, baptizing them and teaching them all that Jesus has commanded. That responsibility is beyond all human ability and can only be done through the working of the Holy Spirit.
What is the purpose of this prayer? Again, it is so that God will be glorified. Paul says in verse 17-19,” so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; [and] that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.“
To be “filled up to all the fullness of God” means to be totally dominated by God in all things. Your thoughts, emotions and will are all controlled by God because you have given them to Him. To be filled with rage is to be dominated by hatred and to be filled with happiness is to be dominated by joy. To be filled with the Holy Spirit is to be dominated by Him in everything you do and when that is the case you bring great glory to God.
Notice what Paul says about this filling takes place. First, Christ must be dwelling in your hearts. The word “dwelling” is more than just living in, for every believer had the Holy Spirit living in them from the time they were saved. Each of us was baptized by the Spirit into one body (1 Cor. 12:13) and His Spirit indwells us (Rom. 8:11). “Dwelling” here (οἰκεῖ) means to “dwell down,” or “inhabit a house.” The idea is to “be at home.” There is intimacy and comfort in this word. Robert Munger’s booklet, My Heart Christ’s Home, describes this well. It is not that Jesus has gotten through the front door, but that He is being welcomed progressively into each room with the consequence that each room gets cleaned up and made ready for His presence.
How comfortable would you be if your house resembled the town dump and Jesus was coming over for dinner? Yet how careful are we about the things in our life? Your study – our thought life, your dining room – what do you take in for spiritual food, your living room – what occupies your time, your recreation room – what hobbies entertain you, your work room – what you are producing with your life, your bedroom – who you are most intimate with, and your closet where all those private thoughts are kept. Being saved is the beginning, but Christ must also indwell you room by room. The action is taken by faith in trusting Him and giving Him control.
We are to be rooted and grounded in His love. Roots are vitally important to a plant for they accomplish two important functions. They absorb water and nutrients so that the plant can grow, and they anchor the plant in place so that it is not blown away. The storms of life may come, but as our roots go down deep and hold fast to His love w e are not moved regardless of our strong the winds that blow against us and at the same time we gain nourishment from Him and continue to grow in the midst of adversity.
Being grounded is much the same thing for it speaks of the foundation for a building. The strength of a building is directly related to its foundation. If the foundation is shallow and set on sand then it is easily toppled, but if the foundation is deep and set on rock the building can withstand any storm. Romans 5 points out that the love of God is our foundation. We can rejoice in the tribulations that come our way not just because they bring about perseverance, proven character and hope in us, but because they make us go back to the foundational issues that God has proven His love for us for all time and eternity through Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross. When I am bewildered by the storms that come against me my anchor holds firmly in the fact that Jesus loves me and has already proven it.
Christ’s dwelling in me brings me, as it does all the other saints, to a greater comprehension of the immensity of the love of God – its breadth, length, height and depth. What is its breadth? That our sins have been cast away as far as East is from West. What is its length? That loves us with an eternal love. What is its height? That is preparing a dwelling place for us in heave so that we might enjoy being in His presence forever. What is its depth? That God our savior became a man and paid for our sins in His own flesh.
The love of Christ surpasses the ability of the world to understand it. MacArthur described this well, “Worldly love is based on attraction and therefore lasts only as long as the attraction. Christ’s love is based on His own nature and therefore last forever. Worldly love last until it is offended or rebuffed. Christ’s love last despite every offense and every rebuff. Worldly love loves for what it can get. Christ’s love loves for what it can give. What is incomprehensible to the world is to be normal living for the child of God.”
As we gain a greater comprehension of this great love of God then giving Him full reign in our hearts becomes our desire. Resistance diminishes and we are filled up with the fullness of Him.
Paul concludes his prayer with a doxology of praise. Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, 21 to Him [be] the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.
Paul cannot begin to describe the greatness of God and what He has done and will do for His children so he runs superlative on top of superlative. God’s power is not limited. He is not just able to do for us, He is not just able to do beyond what we might ask or think, He is not just able to do abundantly beyond what we might as or think, God is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond what we might ask or think. There is no limit on His part, because we cannot even begin to imagine how powerful He is and what He is willing to do.
The power to live in godliness is available as we yield ourselves to Him for His will to be done through us. It is limited in us only by ourselves and our refusal to trust Him.
Let me make one final comment about this “power” before we conclude. Contrary to the charismatic idea the power of God is demonstrated in physical miracles of healings, signs and wonders, the power of God is actually most clearly demonstrated in changed lives. In Acts the apostles waited for the power of God to come down on them through the Holy Spirit. When the Spirit came they fulfilled the prophecy and were witnesses of Jesus Christ throughout the world. The power of God is best seen in 3,000 saved, not 120 speaking in a language they did not know. The power of God is seen in the gentiles being included in the Body of Christ, not in Paul healing people and casting out demons. Paul states in 1 Cor. 2:4 that he did not come to them with a message and preaching that were in “persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,” and because of that some were saved. Paul’s power to live a godly live in all circumstances such as described in 2 Cor. 6 was a demonstration of the power of God (vs. 7). That same power is available to us.
Why? That we might be to the praise of the glory of God. So Paul concludes magnifying the Glory of God that exists within His people, the church, the body of Christ and in Christ Jesus Himself. It is a glory that will continue through all generations and throughout eternity. The Amen confirms that worthy goal – So let it be!
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