Please read Ephesians 3:14-21.
If you want an education on prayer, google the words “prayer rules.” It will take your computer a little over six-tenths of a second to populate a list of 125 billion hits.
That’s how I found Christian comedian John B. Crist’s video on the subject of table grace. He provided a refreshingly honest and funny take on praying for your food. The video has over a million views, so the guy may be on to something. I’ll spare you the whole three minute video and give you just the highlights.
Do you pray to receive chips and salsa or any other appetizer? Not if you’ve ordered an entrée – pray over that when it comes.
His rule on salads – “If it comes with dressing, it doesn’t need blessing.”
You should pray for soup only if it is served in a bowl; “If it comes in a cup, no need to lift up,” is what Crist advises.
The policy on French fries is that you can eat up to three of them before praying. Before reaching for that fourth fry, you’d better be holding your hands in prayer first.
Crist’s views are harmless silliness, but historically there have been some serious differences of opinion on the subject of prayer. That google page I mentioned has websites from the major world religions on the subject of prayer.
The best rule for prayer is to follow the Bible. The second best rule is to model your prayers after prayers recorded in the Bible, the obvious example being the Lord’s Prayer. Today we’re going to take a look at Paul’s prayer for the believers in Ephesus. There’s a lot we can learn from Paul’s example.
CONTEXT (vs. 14+15) = FOR THIS REASON refers back to 2:11-22 and to what we learned last week: the MYSTERY OF CHRIST had been revealed. God had made the Gentiles part of His family.
There are a couple different outcomes listed here in v. 14; one is that we are all one FAMILY. The former distinction between Jew and Gentile is meaningless as we Gentiles have been adopted into God’s FAMILY IN HEAVEN AND ON EARTH. In fact, we share a family NAME; a mutual identity in Christ.
The second outcome is where we want to devote our attention this morning. The powerful revelation that we are one FAMILY motivated Paul to pray. He knelt before God the Father to express a prayer for all who believe (vs. 16-19) and pronounce a blessing as well (vs. 20-21). The content of this second prayer is similar to that of the first prayer (1:15-23); knowing God better.
My hope is learning how Paul prayed for us will give us fuller knowledge of what God has done for us and motivate us to deeper fellowship with one another and with Christ. Let not Paul have prayed in vain.
As Paul prayed for the WHOLE FAMILY, he prayed for us too.
- Paul’s prayers for us. (16-19)
Paul prayed for us to be strengthened by the supply (OUT OF) that is God’s GLORIOUS RICHES. That might be a bit misleading; it is not God’s RICHES that are GLORIOUS, it is God Himself. He is full or “rich” in glory. GLORY is some earthly manifestation of the presence of God. Whether it is light, or a miracle, or an overwhelming feeling of awe, God causes us to know His presence with our five senses.
He prayed we would be strengthened WITH God’s POWER. In the Bible, the strength God gives us is most noticeable when we face opposition. When we need it most, we feel God’s POWER more clearly. If this is NOT your experience, there is something wrong at the core of your faith, because all followers of Jesus are invited to receive God’s POWER. Our resolve to remain faithful and to do right do not to come from our own will and strength but are God’s gifts to us.
God imparts strength IN our INNER BEING. By way of contrast, Samson prayed for strength and received miraculous physical strength in the face of his enemies (Judges 16:28-29). Because it is directed toward our INNER BEING, we know this empowering is NOT for physical but spiritual strength.
INNER BEING (16) and HEARTS (17) are two terms that refer to the same thing: our emotional, mental, moral, and spiritual life. In Romans 7:22 and 2 Corinthians 4:16 Paul wrote about his INNER BEING as being the means by which he received daily renewal by God.
The means of this strengthening is receiving the indwelling presence of Christ (17). Paul prayed Jesus would dwell in our HEARTS.
As Jesus is in heaven at the right hand of the Father, our point of connection with Him is obviously not physical. We are connected spiritually. Everything we just said about a person’s INNER BEING applies to this statement about the HEART. In 1:18 Paul prayed that their EYES of their hearts would, through the Holy Spirit, know Jesus better. In 4:18-19 he wrote about hard-heartedness that makes people spiritually insensitive and leads to all kinds of sin.
The indwelling of Christ is possible THROUGH FAITH. Faith is trust that the words of God are true and His promises reliable. This trust allows everyone who will, to open their INNER BEING up to God, receiving Christ Jesus as Savior and Lord.
The effects of the indwelling of Christ are three-fold.
Firstly, BEING ROOTED AND ESTABLISHED IN LOVE (17). This is a mixed metaphor, but both metaphors describe the same thing. From agriculture we know that plants that are deeply ROOTED can withstand the wind and draw nutrients from the soil to ensure survival. From architecture we know that buildings established on a good foundation are ready to withstand all the trials of nature.
Secondly, to HAVE POWER, as a church, to GRASP the dimensions of t LOVE OF CHRIST (18-19). Paul used the word GRASP to in the same way we use it to describe a firm understanding of something. Physically, to really GRASP something requires strength in one’s hands. A weak grip allows things to slip thru one’s fingers. Metaphorically, a weak GRASP of something implies the person doesn’t fully understand and/or truly appreciate the knowledge under discussion.
People with a GRASP of this passage will notice that Paul offers four dimensions to measure the love of Christ, when three dimensions are all that are normally required to measure objects. He will say in the next verse that the love of Christ SURPASSES ALL KNOWLEDGE. That fits with a four-dimensional measuring.
Remember we said the Ephesians were very involved in the occult before becoming Christians. Two magic-using texts that survive from Paul’s era use exactly this set of four dimensions as means of “measuring” a god’s power. We see Paul constantly using local words and things to make connections to the Gospel that local peoples would understand.
It also fits with what he wrote in 3:10; the MANIFOLD (“multifaceted”) WISDOM OF GOD. Paul used a paradox to get us to GRASP the LOVE OF CHRIST. To paraphrase, “You will never know the full extent of Christ’s love, but you are to spend your lives trying to know it.” We have a limited capability and a limited lifespan but we aren’t to let that stop us from knowing in our heads and hearts the unlimited LOVE OF CHRIST.
Thirdly, to be FILLED with the FULLNESS OF GOD (19). This prayer request is also a paradox. Logically, we who are limited cannot be FILLED to the FULLNESS OF GOD who is UNlimited. Paul knew this, as he wrote to the Corinthians; FOR WE KNOW IN PART AND WE PROPHESY IN PART (1 Corinthians 13:9). His prayer, then, is that we would know all we can know of God and that our capacity to know Him would increase. Our access to the FULLNESS OF GOD is in Jesus Christ. In Colossians 1:19 and 2:9 Paul taught ALL THE FULLNESS of God dwells in Jesus Christ. As Christ dwells in our hearts (17), we indirectly but entirely have God’s fullness. This simply means that more and more of our conscious thought centers on God.
– When we ask “Why?” we ask in recognition that God is in charge.
– When we make a decision, we ask God to reveal His will to us.
- Paul’s blessing on us. (20-21)
God’s ability to bless us defies our capacity to define or appreciate it (20). Just as he said earlier (18) in the four dimensions of God’s love, Paul states it again here with another paradox: “We must understand God wants to bless us more than we can possibly understand.” Our limited language, brain power, and narrow experience can’t begin to IMAGINE, let alone know, all that God wants to do for us. Each of the times Paul sets our limits alongside God’s limitlessness he is hoping to motivate us to humility. We have no business trying to force God into our theological systems or petty legalisms. Instead, we should be awestruck by His power & open our mouths only to praise Him.
This fact does not diminish the need for prayer. It makes prayer more valuable because it is only by prayer that God’s unimaginable will to bless becomes part of our understanding and experience.
God blesses us by means of HIS POWER THAT IS AT WORK WITHIN US (20). Clearly, God does not limit His action to the scope of our prayers. He exerts His will over all creation and does not wait for us to give Him permission. But He has chosen to WORK WITHIN US. He has offered to make us partners in this task of bringing His offer of salvation to the entire world.
We do God a disservice when we reduce the life of faith to the “Killer B’s;” Buildings, Budgets, and By-laws. When we mistake the tools for the trade we are guilty of trying to place limits on our limitless God.
God is worthy of our worship (21). GLORY is the key word. Paul located the glory of God in two sources.
First, IN THE CHURCH. When the Bible speaks about giving glory to God, it means to make God known in the world. We give the spiritual nature of God a human face when we act like His disciples. It’s a big job, but we serve a limitless God, so get to it!
Second, IN CHRIST JESUS. This is the third time Paul made this point. As we observed in v. 19, in Jesus we find the fullness of all the members of the Trinity. The unlimited entirety of God finds us to the degree that Jesus dwells in our hearts (17).
Glorifying God inserts eternity into our everyday lives. Paul expressed this truth in two phrases.
First, THROUGHOUT ALL GENERATIONS. We see just a few generations before us now, but we stand in a line that stretches through all of human history.
Second, FOR EVER AND EVER affirms our decisions and deeds outlive our days. What we do for God survives into eternity. It becomes proof of our claim to be a member of God’s family and determines our reward in heaven.
As Paul prayed for the WHOLE FAMILY, he prayed for us too.
We can see three essential things for which we can ask God, regarding both our church and ourselves. There are three prayers that need to be a daily part of our prayer life.
“Father, strengthen us with Your power.” Far beyond the empty promises of the world, far beyond the unheeding false gods people promote, far beyond our understanding or imagination, God offers us His unlimited supply of strength, knowledge, and life. Christianity is NOT just another self-help movement or form of groupthink. It is a window God opened so we can see a portion of who He is.
“Father, renew us with a vision of Your love.” Suffering tries to convince us that God is either weak or unloving or both. It can be convincing and can drain the vitality from our spirit. When that happens we often retreat into formalism or legalism or any of hundreds of ways that we show we don’t really care. God really cares and His people do too. We need to work at showing God’s caring.
“Father, rule over us.” We show God’s love by the sacrifices we make to accommodate one another. We show our love for God by obeying Him. In both cases, selfishness needs to disappear. All of us together – NOT THE BUILDING – are where God dwells. We are to be lead by God. Following any other lead makes it painfully obvious how little we have learned of grown or matured. People need to be inspired, not made comfortable. Inspiration comes along with responding to God’s leadership.
Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament – Ephesians, Clinton E. Arnold