Week Commencing 29th April 2018 With a PDF found here
Notes for next Sunday’s sermon on Ephesians 3:14-21
Week 4: KNOWING LOVE
By now we have a good sense of Paul’s heart for the church at Ephesus—and Noosa! The first two chapters of his letter have given us a vision, a blueprint if you will, of our new identity as followers of Jesus together—we have been adopted into a new family that includes sisters and brothers from wonderfully diverse cultural and economic backgrounds who share in this new humanity—all through the gift of grace! Christ’s costly work on the cross reconciles us to Himself and to one another, giving us a radical new way to live: love. This week, we turn to one of Paul’s most famous prayers, one that reflects his hope for his people to know the same love of Christ he experienced. It is a prayer that has inspired hundreds of churches, visions, and global ministries, sustaining Christ-followers to love and serve him for centuries!
DAY 1: Read Ephesians 3:14-21
Though we will look at specific verses later in the week, let’s begin with an overview by slowly reading the entire prayer in this passage. Once you do, pause to reflect on its rich images and heartfelt desire to know the love of Christ.
Now, read Eugene Peterson’s paraphrased version of this same prayer from The Message: “My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength—that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God. God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us. Glory to God in the church! Glory to God in the Messiah, in Jesus! Glory down all the generations! Glory through all millennia! Oh, yes!”
As a Presbyterian pastor, writer and biblical scholar, Peterson’s goal was to make the text more accessible to his readers. Consequently, his use of more familiar language is confronting. God the Father is “magnificent” and so he prays not for a “brute strength but a glorious inner strength” so that “Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in.” In other words, like Paul, Peterson’s hope is that people might not simply know about God, but that they might know God through Christ, personally and intimately in a life-changing relationship with him. Consider how you might “open the door and invite Jesus” into your life today. How can you pray this for others?
DAY 2: Read Ephesians 3:14, 15
The first two verses of this prayer return to where Paul had left off in v1 of chapter 3. He repeats “For this reason” and takes us back to his original posture. It is a moment of tenderness, in which he speaks directly to his readers about how much he cares for them and wants for them. When Paul considers the majesty of God’s global work of redemption in Jesus, he responds in humble adoration and submission on bent knee before the King of Kings.
God’s Holy Spirit had entrusted Paul, and other apostles, to know the “the riches of his glory.” God had revealed to him that Gentiles (those on the margins), who received the Gospel in faith, were fellow heirs of God’s promises. They too were members of Christ’s body, and therefore had the same direct access to God. “For this reason,” the author prays that his readers may be strengthened in spiritual power, love, and knowledge. Paul himself had experienced the splendour of Christ’s love and grace, so naturally he wanted his friends to know the same riches. Such love, forgiveness and beauty also moves our hearts to want to others to know Jesus! Ask God to help our church family know how to share the “riches of his glory” with our neighbours in Noosa.
DAY 3: Read Ephesians 3:17, 18
Why did Paul want the Ephesians to be strengthened in their inner being? Why did he pray that out of the riches of his glory, God would strengthen them with power? The key is in v17: “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” Just after Jesus washed his disciples’ feet and was preparing for his last days on earth (in human form), he told his disciples that, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them” (John 14:23). When we first recognize the love of our Lord, his costly and violent sacrifice on the cross for our sins, our hearts are moved. That is the beginning of our journey with him. The more we grow in our knowledge of him, the more our inner beings are strengthened with his power and the more we will want to love him.
What a lovely image it is to think that God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have made a home in our hearts! They have taken up residence, if you will, and God’s presence is with us now and always—regardless of what physical ailments, trials or challenges we face on earth. The English language can leave the impression that those addressed by the pronouns ‘you’ and ‘your’ are singular. But in the Greek, these pronouns are plurals. In other words, Paul was addressing the readers as a corporate body. The spiritual resources Paul prayed for are to be found, developed, and exercised within the body of believers! God’s protection and provision of grace is most obvious in Christian community.
As one pastor put it, “Christ cannot be simply a concept or a memory. The risen and living Christ comes to us in Word and Sacrament, and he seeks to find hearts in which to dwell. Where he is, there is love. It is in our life together as Christians that we find ever new vistas and insights into the vast world of God. If we have time to listen to one another, we discover stories of faith beyond our own. In conversations with others, listening to their prayers, and observing acts of kindness and generosity, we gain understandings of God and the world that we have not known before.” Seek to find out the stories of those in our church; ask, listen and observe, knowing God is in our midst!
DAY 4: Read Ephesians 3:19-21
The last part of this prayer is so profound and so glorious that there might be something wrong with us if it doesn’t change our hearts when we read it! Paul points his friend to the unending enormity of Christ’s love and wants them to know, along with all believers, its unimaginable bigness. God’s love is as wide as it is long, as high as it is deep. It is immeasurable and surpasses knowledge. It is everything we long for and more than we could imagine. It meets every need in our lives and casts out every fear. More amazing still, Paul wants the Ephesians (and us!) to be filled with that, with God’s fullness and love!
That in itself is hard to get our heads around. But this final benediction punctuates Paul’s prayer by revealing just how much God is behind every aspect of our existence. He the One who is able to do far more abundantly anything we could ask or imagine. How? Remember how Peterson put it: “He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.” To know Christ’s love as the ultimate knowledge is not to say that knowing other things is irrelevant to the Christian life. On the contrary, to know all we can about our world is important for living well. But we cannot grow in the love of Christ apart from his presence and his church. God has revealed himself to us, sending his Son into the world so that we can enjoy reconciled relationships with Him and with one another. We celebrate His love, then, not just on Sundays but by worshiping him with all of our lives, saying, “Glory to God in the church! Glory to God in the Messiah, in Jesus! Glory down all the generations! Glory through all millennia! Oh, yes!”
References: “The Message”, Eugene Peterson; ESV Study Bible notes.
“Commentary on Ephesians”, Arland J. Hutgren.