Friday, May 1, 2009

Life Shattering Prayer

Scripture Introduction:

If you could ask God for two things with the hopes of changing the world what would they be?

We will be looking tonight at a very important passage in this letter to the Ephesians; chapter 3:14-21. These verses will be Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians, but I think it extends to every redeemed believer that God draws into his new community. This prayer is caught in the middle of this letter. Everything that goes before these verses is the unwrapping of God’s great global purpose. It is God redeeming broken people in a broken world and everything that this means. In chapters 4-6 Paul is going to give us exhortations. 1-3 has been doctrinal, 4-6 is practical. 1-3 is telling us what God has done; 4-6 is telling us our fitting response. Now, before Paul gets into how to live lives worthy of the calling of God he wants them to know it will only happen through prayer; this prayer is essential.

So, how does he pray? The goal of 4-6 is that as a community of believers they might live lives worthy of the gospel. What will be required to do that? What will it take to create changed lives within a changed community? What are the two things that Paul prays for with the hopes of changing the world through a changed community?

God moved in Paul’s heart to pray this prayer. What Paul is praying here, I believe, is what God wants Paul to be praying. And it can be broken down quite simply. “Pray that they know how much I love them and pray that they know that I am here to stay.” That’s it. That is what changes lives and that is what changes communities. A firm grip on the love of God and a holy confidence that Jesus is here to stay. That is life shattering.

As we approach this text I have two fears. One fear is that simplism will reign; the other fear is that I will over complicate the beauty of this text. So, as we read this I pray that the Lord might speak through His Word to us this evening. Lord, help us to know the depth of your love.

Read Ephesians 3:14-21

Sermon Introduction:

How do your typical prayers compare with the prayers of Paul? When you pray what do you typically pray for? I ask this question because what we typically pray for reveals our heart and our deepest passions. As J.I. Packer has said, “I believe that prayer is the measure of the man, spiritually, in a way that nothing else is, so that how we pray is as important a question as we can ever face”? Or as the great Scottish minister Robert Murray McCheyne prayed years ago, “What a man is alone on his knees before God, that he is, and no more”.

If you are always, and only, praying for physical needs then this reveals a heart that is still deeply attached to the temporary. Now, there is nothing wrong with praying for physical needs—the Scriptures command us to do such. We are to pray that God provides. We are to pray that God brings physical healing. But to only pray such things reveals a heart that is missing something essential.

If you are always, and only, praying lofty “me and Jesus” type of prayers this reveals a heart that is spiritually selfish and has neglected the great role of the church. Yes, you ought to be praying for your own soul. Yes, you ought to be praying that Christ might grow in your heart. But the prayers in the Bible are far more corporate than they are individual. You need to be praying not only for yourself but also for “one another”.

Your prayer life reveals your passions and it can make you aware of idolatry in your heart. If your prayer life is sucked up with praying for God to provide a mate this shows the idolatry of relationships. If your prayer life is sucked up with praying for God to take away difficult situations this can reveal a heart that is prone to the idolatry of comfort. So, I ask you to consider your typical prayers and look at them compared to Paul’s prayer here. His prayer is one that God moved in Paul’s heart to pray and it is one that is life shattering. To pray, as we said earlier that we might have a firm grip on the love of God and a holy confidence that Jesus is here to stay is indeed life shattering. We will look tonight at the content of this prayer and then we will consider the confidence of this prayer.

Early on, I want to let you know that I want to call you to commit to pray in this manner frequently this week. Certainly, beyond this week is our ultimate goal. Let’s make this a daily part of our prayer life. What does this prayer reveal?

I. The content of this prayer

Essentially Paul is making two petitions, or two things that he is praying for. The first petition is found in 3:16 and the first part of verse 17. That petition is that “God might strengthen us with power through his Spirit in our inner being.” The second petition is found in the latter half of verse 17 and ends in verse 19. That petition is that, “we might have power to grasp the limitless dimensions of the love of Christ.”[1] We are actually going to consider this text backwards. We will look at Paul’s second petition first and then go back and look at his first petition. We will word them as if God is stirring in Paul’s heart to pray.

A. “I want you to know how much I love you”

The core of Paul’s second prayer is that we might know the limitless dimensions of the love of Christ. This knowledge that he is praying for is not merely head knowledge as if we accept it as a mere fact. It is the type of knowledge that is experiential knowledge. It is one thing to know about someone and it is quite another thing to actually know them. Paul is praying that we might know by experience the love of Christ.

If you could fly to the furthest galaxy or go to the highest heaven you could not escape this love. If you, a believer, could plummet the depths of the sea or reach to the lowest hell you could not escape this love. You will never know it fully. You will never exhaust it. It will never run out. You will never be able to ascend to the height of it. I want you to know how much I love you, is the life shattering proclamation of God in this text.

Notice what Paul is asking in verse 18 he is praying that we might comprehend “the breadth, the length, the height, and depth”. To what Paul is referring to is somewhat of a mystery. Is he talking about the perfections of God? So, that he is praying that we might know God in all of his fullness? He certainly does that later but I don’t think that is what it is here. Augustine a believer that lived in the 4th and early 5th century thought it was a reference to the Cross: love in its breadth, hope in its height, patience in its length, and humility in its depth. But that seems a little too mythological for what Paul is saying. Such symbolism is unlikely to have developed for Paul’s audience to know that. There are other options but I will introduce you to the one I hold to. I think it is Paul talking about the love of God. As John Stott has aptly put it, “"the love of Christ is broad enough to encompass all mankind (especially Jews and Gentiles, the theme of these chapters), 'long' enough to last for eternity, 'deep' enough to reach the most degraded sinner, and high enough to exalt him to heaven"
Broken people in a broken world have a really hard time with this. We have been burned by love or at least what has been called love so many times. With each broken relationship we move one step further from trusting such a statement of love. We could tell as many stories of brokenness as there are people in the world. Part of living in a broken world is living in a world that has violated love. Rape, hunger, greed, oppression, abuse, neglect, pride, anger, bitterness, slander, rejection, the list goes on. In the midst of such brokenness it is difficult to believe in the love of Christ.

Add to this our own misunderstanding of love and it is easy to see why we have such a hard time with this. As John Piper has taught we have been duped into thinking being loved means being made much of. As Piper says, “When you apply this definition of love to God, it weakens his worth, undermines his goodness, and steals our final satisfaction. If the enjoyment of God himself is not the final and best gift of love, then God is not the greatest treasure, his self-giving is not the highest mercy, the gospel is not the good news that sinners may enjoy their Maker, Christ did not suffer to bring us to God, and our souls must look beyond him for satisfaction.” He continues, “We are willing to be God-centered, it seems, as long as God is man-centered. We are willing to boast in the cross as long as the cross is a witness to our worth. Who then is our pride and joy?”

If we think that love is about being made much of then God Himself will seem as if he is violating love. If we believe that our greatest good is that God might exalt us, make us happy without him, and affirm our innate goodness then we will be sorely disturbed when everything in creation and in the mission of God cries out the opposite.

So our understanding the beauty of this text is not going to be easy; this is why we need to pray for this. It does not come naturally. There are three things surrounding this petition that helps us to see how this prayer will be answered.

1) It requires a divine power

In verse 18 you see that Paul prays that we might “have strength to comprehend”. Everything within the language and Paul’s prayer implies that in order to be able to grasp the love of God it is going to take a work of God. This is why this must be something that frequents our prayers. What manner of love must this be then that it takes a movement of Almighty God for us to comprehend it? Because it requires divine power we must know that we will not drift into an understanding of God’s love. We will not naturally experience the love of God. We will instead drift out of realizing God’s love. This is not to say that God’s love will actually change but our experience of it will. Rather than living in a happy confidence of God’s love for us we will live with a quiet skepticism of the love of God. Therefore, we must continually pray that God might work in our hearts to open our eyes to his love and give us the grace to believe in such a love.

2) It is a community project

In the middle of verse 18 you will see the phrase “together with all the saints”, this along with the fact that the “you’s” in this text are mostly plural helps us to see that we must not read this with our typical Western individualistic lenses. I love how Paul Tripp focuses this passage, “As Paul prays he wants the Ephesian believers to grasp the nature of God’s love for them in Christ. His prayer certainly reflects his desire for individuals to know God and understand his love, but this knowledge and ‘power through his Spirit’ come to a group of individuals living in communion with God and in community with one another.”

What this means is that the love of God is so vast that it cannot be contained in one individual believer. In fact it takes the whole church to comprehend the depth of God’s love and that is to only scratch the surface. And let’s not think about this from our narrow historical perspective. I think this might be why Paul will later say in verse 21, “to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” We need the testimony of every generation that will ever exist to come to an understanding of Christ’s love. And we need the testimony not only of every generation but of every believer in each generation; so that as we stand before him the church in its entirety, with all of our stories, with all of our testimonies, with all of our brokenness and redemption, we will only begin to plum the depths of Christ’s love. We need these stories. That means that if you want to grow in this then it will happen because you are growing with other believers. You cannot grow apart from the church and this is one reason. You need the church to testify of the love of God. But this also says that you need to be one that expresses love—we need your story. Which is our third thing

3) It comes from love expressed

In the middle of verse 17 you see the statement, “that you, being rooted and grounded in love”. It is actually quite difficult to figure out exactly what Paul is saying here. It’s not difficult to know what it means to be rooted and grounded in love. That is Paul simply using two metaphors an agriculture metaphor—saying “your roots go deep in love”—it is one of stability and depth. The other is an architectural metaphor that looks at a foundation of love. As one commentator has put it, “Love is the soil in which believers are rooted and will grow, the foundation upon which they are built.” The question before us how does this fit within the context. Is being “rooted and built up” a result of Paul’s first petition or is it part of his second petition. Is Paul saying, “I pray that they have power….and this will result in being rooted and grounded in love”? Or is he saying that, “since you have been rooted and grounded in love I pray that you might really comprehend fully this love of Christ.”

I think it comes from what we are going to talk about in a moment. I t comes as a result of Paul’s first petition. When we have been strengthened by the Spirit and when Christ makes himself more at home in our hearts we begin to love more. What I mean then by this point is that we learn of the love of Christ anew each day. With each experience we know more of his great love.

So one of the things to be praying this week is that God might give you power to comprehend the limitless dimensions of Christ’s love. Pray that God might help you to grasp how much he loves you and pray that he might do this same thing in the church as well. Pray for other believers. But as you pray do not just sit there and wait for some warm feeling. Open your eyes to the love of God displayed in the life of other believers. Maybe even ask someone about their experience of God’s love. Ask an adult in our church, or a believing parent, of their experience with God’s love. Remember it is a community project. And if you really want to see God’s love begin displaying it in your own life. Live out of the love that God has already shown you and open your eyes to seeing that love increase. Live out love this week.

Now, it is one thing to begin to understand the depth of Christ’s love. It is quite another to come to grips with the fact that it is going to last. And this is the second thing we will look at but actually Pau’s first petition.

B. “I want you to know that I am here to stay”

Do you see in verse 17 where it says, “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith”? There are two words that Paul could have used there for dwell. I will spare you—or rather the Greek language—my attempts at pronouncing those two words. Ah, what the heck I’ll try them. The first word that Paul could have used is paroikeo. This word means sojourn, to pass through, to pitch a tent, to stay for awhile but then move on later on down the road, it’s your passing through home. The second word that Paul could have used here for dwell is the word katoikeo. This word means to take up permanent residence, to stay forever, to make this your home, it’s your settled down home. Paul uses the second one. Paul’s prayer is that Jesus might make his home fully in us.

Now, what does that mean? Is that something that we need to pray for? Didn’t Christ come to live in our hearts when we were regenerated, when we came to Christ by grace through faith? Is he now saying that this is something that we are to pray for and aspire to? No, I don’t think so.

What this is saying is that Christ might truly make himself at home in our hearts. As D.A. Carson has said, “Make no mistake: when Christ first moves into our lives, he finds us in very bad repair. It takes a great deal of power to change us; and that is why Paul prays for power. He asks that God may so strengthen us by power in our inner being that Christ may genuinely take up residence within us, transforming us into a house that pervasively reflects his own character.”

Is this not what Paul has already said in Ephesians 2:22, “In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit”? God is making his home in our hearts and in order to do this he has to root out a lot of junk. So, this is really what Paul’s prayer is that God might strengthen us with power through His Spirit in our inner being”. It is a prayer for holiness, that God might give us the strength to say no to sin and yes to Jesus. There are three things I want us to notice about this prayer: 1) it touches our core, 2) it grows through faith, 3) it results in holiness.

1) It touches our core

You’ll notice that Paul prays that we might be strengthened with power by the Spirit in our inner being. What is this “inner being” of which Paul speaks? We get our best understanding by looking at 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 where Paul speaks of the outer-man wasting away but the inner man being renewed day by day. What Paul means by our inner man then is our spirit. His prayer then is that the Spirit of God might strengthen our spirit.

This “inner-man” is the core of our being. So, that if this part is holy and transformed by the power of God then all of us will be. God does not want merely surface Christians. He does not simply want to wax up the outside and makes us look like good people. He wants to get to the core of our being. He wants to transform every area of our heart. He wants us to be fully redeemed. He wants to gut out of our heart every God-hating sin and replace it with Christ-exalting love and joy in God.

2) It grows through faith

Notice how Paul adds the word “through faith” to Christ dwelling in our hearts. I love that he adds this. I think believers can tend to go off on one end or the other as it concerns God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. Some people sit on their theology and do not battle with sin or fight for faith. They have a distorted view of God’s sovereignty and a minimal view of human responsibility. Others end up discouraged because they have a low view of God’s sovereignty and too high a view of their own abilities. This text shows the divine power of God in making this change and gives all of the glory and honor to Jesus, yet it does not leave out the important aspect of faith. What does this look like? What does it mean that Christ dwells in our hearts through faith? Certainly I think it is a reference to believing faith; which as we know is indeed a gift of God. But I think this is saying something a little different. I envision it like this: as Christ turns over and guts out every sin and begins cleaning up our house he says, “are you going to trust me and believe me enough to forsake this idol and let me takes it place”? And that is how this dwelling of Christ grows in faith. As one old preacher has said, “in some Christ is just present, in others He is prominent, and in others again, He is pre-eminent.” May Christ be pre-eminent, first place, in our hearts.

3) It results in holy love

We already talked about the phrase “rooted and grounded in love” but this is what happens when Christ makes himself more at home in our hearts. We see holiness and we see love. Then we grow in our ability to comprehend the love of God. It is a beautiful circle love creates holiness and holiness strengthens love.

Earlier I kind of skipped over verse 20. I did that because I think this actually is the result of both prayers. I think the hope behind these prayers is that we might grasp his love and have a holy confidence that Jesus’ is staying so that we might “be filled with the fullness of God”. So what does that mean to be filled with the fullness of God? Sam Storms summarizes it far better than I could when he says, “In some sense, then, it is with the radiant power and presence of God himself that we are to be filled, the measure of which is God himself! Whereas the church as Christ's body already shares in, embodies, and expresses his fullness (Eph. 1:23), we have not yet experienced the plenitude of God in the way that is available for us. That is why Paul now prays as he does. ‘What the Church already is in principle, it is increasingly to realize in its experience’”

So we ought to be praying that God might fill us with more of Himself and that we might reflect Him with more holiness and with more love. This is what we are to be praying. First be praying that we might comprehend his love more—that we might really get the gospel. Second be praying that it might take root in our hearts and have an effect in our lives. Be praying that Christ might dwell fully in our hearts. Pray that he might have first place in every area of our life.

But you know what this means don’t you. You know that this means change. You cannot pray this prayer and have a heart that clings to idols. You cannot ask Jesus to take everything but really desire to cling to idols. So, again lets not only pray and then wait. Let’s pray and exercise faith by doing. Forsake sin and embrace Christ. Pray that God will show you areas where he does not fully dwell—and get rid of those idols and give them to Christ. Trust Jesus as a sufficient treasure. But don’t forget the gospel as you do this. Remember that the only power you have for change is the gospel. So, as you are rooting idols out of your life do so praying that the gospel might go deeper. The only thing that will really root out an idol is Jesus. If you get rid of an idol and it is not replaced with Jesus then it will only be fertile soil for another idol to takes its place. So, pray fervently for holiness. Holiness in your life and holiness in the life of the church.

II. The confidence of Paul’s prayer

If our prayer life is to be revitalized then it will be necessary that we come to grips with who it is that we are asking. I have found that in my view of God I err on one side or the other—either I distrust his goodness or lack faith in his ability. These two statements must be held in balance. Our father is the king, the king is our father. If we forget that our father is the king then we will approach him without reverence. We will rejoice in his tenderness but question his ability. Yeah, he wants to change things, we are on the same side in this battle, but are things really going to change? If we forget that the king is our father then we will approach him with reverence but we will have sinful fear. We will question his goodness we know he can change things but we question whether he really wants to. So we must keep these two truths in balance: Our father is the king, the king is our father. He is both willing and able to make all things new. He is both willing and able to give us a firm grip on his love and a holy confidence that He is here to stay. Paul holds these truths in balance in this prayer

A. The Father
Look at verse 14. Paul begins by saying “for this reason” which takes us back to where he left off before his parenthesis in verse 1 of chapter 3. This looks back upon Ephesians 1-3. This means that because of what God has already done in the life of these believers Paul now earnestly prays. “Bowing my knees” is a more earnest type of pray. It is when your soul is gripped and you drop to your knees and passionately cry out to God. But notice who Paul prays to, “the Father”. And then verse 15 is a tad difficult to translate. Either he means the one whom the very concept of Father comes from or he means the Great King, the creator of all things, in whom every Christian gets its identity. Either it is a declaration of His Sovereignty or it is a declaration of His Fatherhood.

I tend to lean towards the latter, but I think it is clothed with his Fatherhood. I think this is holding in balance what we said earlier. The one that names everyone, the sovereign creator, is also fatherly. Which means that He is in a position of love towards His creation, and He is in a special position of love towards His redeemed children.

B. The King

In verse 16 you will notice the Paul asks that God might give according to the riches of his glory. Now, this does not mean that he give out of the riches of his glory but in proportion to his glory. What this means is that God might give these things as a King would give these things. You’ve got it all Lord and we pray that in proportion to your amazing nature you help us to grasp your love and live in your holiness.

If you skip down to verse 20 you will notice that the one that we are praying to “is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think”. This means that even as you are praying and dreaming about grasping the depth of his love or living a life of dedicated passionate holiness you cannot dream big enough. He is able to do more than you can ask or think. He always stays eons ahead of your dreams. As soon as you ask it this verse cries out—I’ve still got more. This is the King that you are requesting. And this is not some mere desire this is saying that He has the ability to do these things, match this with His fatherly love and it is mind blowing. Yes God has the ability and the desire to change us. There is no limit to what God can do.

C. For His glory

All of this will result in glory and praise to God. It is interesting to note where God has chosen to display His greatness—in the church; in the blood-bought community of redeemed believers. The church either tells the truth about God or it tells a lie. We will learn in the coming weeks about what this looks like. Ephesians 4-6 is about reflecting the truth of the gospel in the way we live our lives. Ephesians 4-6 is about living lives that accurately represent the beauty and worth of God.

In preparation for going through Ephesians 4-6 let’s be a people of prayer: praying that God might show us the depth of his love and that he might truly take up residence in our hearts.

For the unbeliever???
[1] Carson, 183

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