ALIVE WITH POWER

 

Week of March 23, 2008

 

Bible Verses:Ephesians 1:18-21; 2:4-9; 3:16-21.

 

Biblical Truth: In raising Jesus from the dead, God demonstrated the awesome power for living He gives believers through His indwelling Spirit.

 

Awesome Power: Eph. 1:18-21.

 

[18]I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, [19]and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might [20]which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, [21]far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.†††† [NASU]

 

A Prayer for knowledge. What Paul does in chapter 1 is both to keep praising God that in Christ all spiritual blessings are ours and to keep praying that we may know the fullness of what He has given us. If we keep together praise and prayer, benediction and petition, we are unlikely to lose our spiritual equilibrium. Christian faith and Christian life are both fundamentally Trinitarian. It is because the Father has approached us in blessing through the Son and by the Spirit that we approach Him in prayer through the Son and by the Spirit also [2:18]. Paulís prayer request for his readers is that they may appreciate to the fullest possible extent the implications of the blessing they have already received. So the essence of his prayer for them is that you will know. Growth in knowledge is indispensable to growth in holiness. Indeed, knowledge and holiness are even more intimately linked than is means and end. For the Ďknowledgeí for which Paul prays is more Hebrew than Greek in concept; it adds the knowledge of experience to the knowledge of understanding. There is no higher knowledge than the knowledge of God Himself. Such knowledge is impossible without revelation [17]. It is vital to see how Paul brings together the verbs Ďto knowí and Ďto believeí [18-19]. Knowledge and faith need each other. Faith cannot grow without a firm basis of knowledge; knowledge is sterile if it does not bring forth faith.

 

The eyes of your heart are simply our inner eyes, which need to be opened or enlightened before we can grasp Godís truth. Godís calling is to an altogether new life in which we know, love, obey and serve Christ, enjoy fellowship with Him and with each other, and look beyond our present suffering to the glory which will one day be revealed. If Godís call points back to the beginning of our Christian life, Godís inheritance points on to its end, to that final inheritance of which the Holy Spirit is the guarantee [14] and which Peter describes as Ďimperishable, undefiled and unfading, kept in heaven for youí [1 Peter 1:4]. Paul does not regard it as presumptuous that we should think about our heavenly inheritance or even anticipate it with joy and gratitude. If Godís call looks back to the beginning, and Godís inheritance looks on to the end, then surely Godís power spans the interim period in between. Only Godís power can fulfill the expectation which belongs to His call and bring us safely to the riches of the glory of the final inheritance He will give us in heaven. How shall we come to know the surpassing greatness of the power of God? It is because of Christís resurrection from the dead and enthronement over the powers of evil that He has been given headship over the church. The powers of death and evil are beyond manís control. Man is mortal; he cannot avoid death. Man is fallen; he cannot overcome evil. But God in Christ has conquered both, and therefore can rescue us from both.

 

Saving Power: Eph. 2:4-9.

 

[4]But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, [5]even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved). [6]and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, [7]so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. [8]For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; [9]not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. †††††[NASU]

 

Verse 4 begins with a mighty adversative: But God. These two monosyllables set against the desperate condition of fallen mankind the gracious initiative and sovereign action of God. We were dead, and dead men do not rise, but God made us alive with Christ. We were slaves, in a situation of dishonor and powerlessness, but God has raised us with Christ and set us at his own right hand in a position of honor and power. It is essential to hold both parts of this contrast together, namely what we are by nature and what we are by grace, the human condition and the divine compassion, Godís wrath and Godís love.

 

1. What has God done. Paul coins three verbs, which take up what God did to Christ and then (by the addition of the prefix sys, Ďtogether withí) link us to Christ in these events. Thus first, God made us alive together with Christ, next he raised us up with Him, and thirdly He seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. These verbs refer to the three successive historical events in the saving career of Jesus, which are normally called the resurrection, the ascension and the session. What excites our amazement is that now Paul is not writing about Christ but about us. He is affirming not that God quickened, raised and seated Christ, but that He quickened, raised and seated us with Christ. Fundamental to New Testament Christianity is this concept of the union of Godís people with Christ. We were dead, but have been made spiritually alive and alert. We were in captivity, but have been enthroned.

 

2. Why God did it. The major emphasis of this whole paragraph is that what prompted God to act on our behalf was not something in us (some supposed merit) but something in Himself (His own unmerited favor). Paul assembles four words to express the origins of Godís saving initiative. He writes of Godís mercy, of Godís love, of Godís grace and of Godís kindness. More than that. He saved us in order that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace. In raising and exalting Christ He demonstrated the surpassing greatness of His power [19]; but in raising and exalting us He displayed also the immeasurable riches of His grace, and will continue to do so throughout eternity. Verses 8-10 elaborate on Godís grace, and explain why in the coming ages God will show His grace and kindness towards us in Christ Jesus. It is because of our salvation. Here are three foundation words of the Christian good news Ė salvation, grace and faith. Salvation is deliverance from the death, slavery and wrath described in verses 1-3. Indeed, it includes the totality of our new life in Christ, together with whom we have been made alive, exalted and seated in the heavenly realm. Grace is Godís free and undeserved mercy toward us, and faith is the humble trust with which we receive it for ourselves. In order to enforce this positive statement that we have been saved only by Godís grace through trust in Christ, Paul adds two balancing negatives: first and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God [8b] and secondly not as a result of works, so that no one may boast [9]. Paul is determined not to leave his theme until he has expounded it beyond any possibility of misunderstanding. So he adds one more positive, decisive and glorious affirmation in verse 10. We are Godís workmanship, created in Christ Jesus. Both Greek words speak of creation. So far Paul has described salvation in terms of a resurrection from the dead, a liberation from slavery and a rescue from condemnation. And each declares that the work is Godís, for dead people cannot bring themselves to life again, nor can captive and condemned people free themselves. But now he puts the matter beyond even the slightest shadow of doubt. Salvation is creation, re-creation, new creation. And creation language is nonsense unless there is a Creator. Not that we remain passive and inert. Good works are indispensable to salvation Ė not as its ground or means, however, but as its consequence and evidence. Thus the paragraph ends as it began with out human Ďwalkí, a Hebrew idiom for our manner of life. Formerly we walked in trespasses and sins in which the devil had trapped us; now we walk in good works which God has eternally planned for us to do. What could possibly have effected such a change? Just this: a new creation by the grace and power of God. The key expressions of the paragraph are surely but God and by grace

Spiritual Power: Eph. 3:16-21.

 

[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, [17]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. [20]Now to Him who is able to do far more 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. †††††[NASU]

 

One of the best ways to discover a Christian's chief anxieties and ambitions is to study the content of his prayers and the intensity with which he prays them. We all pray about what concerns us, and are evidently not concerned about matters we do not include in our prayers. Prayer expresses desire. This is certainly true of this second prayer of Paulís in Ephesians in which he pours out his soul to God. He has been explaining both Christís peace-making work, which resulted in the creation of the new society, and his personal involvement in this because of the special revelation and commission he had received. Now he turns from exposition to intercession. He prays that Godís wonderful plan which he has been elaborating may be even more completely fulfilled in his readersí experience. Prayer and preaching should always go together. Paul begins for this reason resuming his train of thought where he had left it in verse 1. An important principle of prayer emerges. The basis of Paulís prayer was his knowledge of Godís purpose. It was because of what God had done in Christ and revealed to Paul that he had the necessary warrant to pray. For the indispensable prelude to all petition is the revelation of Godís will. We have no authority to pray for anything which God has not revealed to be His will. That is why Bible reading and prayer should always go together. For it is in Scripture that God has disclosed His will, and it is in prayer that we ask Him to do it. I bow my knees. The normal posture for prayer among the Jews was standing. Scripture lays down no rule about the posture we should adopt when we pray.

 

1. Strengthened with might [16b-17a]. These two petitions clearly belong together. Both refer to the Christianís innermost being, his Ďinner maní on the one hand and his Ďheartí on the other. Although one specifies the strength of the Spirit and the other the indwelling of Christ, both surely refer to the same experience. For Paul never separates the second and third persons of the Trinity. To have Christ dwelling in us and to have the Spirit dwelling in us are the same thing. Indeed, it is precisely by the Spirit that Christ dwells in our hearts, and it is strength which He gives us when He dwells there. Some are puzzled by this first petition when they remember that Paul is praying for Christians. How can Paul ask here that Christ may dwell in their hearts? Was Christ not already within them? Indeed every Christian is indwelt by Christ and is the temple of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, the indwelling of Christ is a thing of degrees. So also is the inward strengthening of the Holy Spirit. What Paul asks for his readers is that they may be fortified and invigorated, that they may know the strength of the Spiritís inner reinforcement, and may lay hold ever more firmly by faith of this divine strength, this divine indwelling. There are two Greek verbs for Ďdwellí. One means to inhabit as a stranger which Paul used in 2:19 for an alien who is living away from his home. The other word means to settle down somewhere. It refers to a permanent as opposed to a temporary abode, and is used metaphorically both for the fullness of the Godhead abiding in Christ [Col. 2:9] and for Christís abiding in the believerís heart here in verse 17. Thus Paul prays to the Father that Christ by His Spirit will be allowed to settle down in their hearts, and from His throne there both control and strengthen them. For the fourth time in the letter one is struck by the natural Trinitarian structure of the apostleís thought [1:3,17; 2:18].

 

2. Rooted and grounded in love [17b]. In the new and reconciled humanity which Christ is creating love is the pre-eminent virtue. They need the power of the Spiritís might and of Christís indwelling to enable them to love each other, especially across the deep racial and cultural divide which previously had separated them. Paul joins two metaphors both of which emphasize depth as opposed to superficiality. Paul likens them first to a well-rooted tree, and then to a well-built house. In both cases the unseen cause of their stability will be the same: love. Love is to be the soil in which their life is to be rooted; love is to be the foundation on which their life is built.

 

3. Knowing Christís love [18-19a]. Paul now passes from our love to Christís love which he prays we may know. Indeed he acknowledges that we need strength or power for both, strength to love and power to comprehend Christís love. This love surpasses knowledge. Paul has already used this Ďsurpassingí word of Godís power [1:19] and grace [2:7]; now he uses it of His love. Christís love is as unknowable as His riches are unsearchable [8]. Doubtless we shall spend eternity exploring His inexhaustible riches of grace and love.

 

4. Filled up to Godís fullness [19b]. Growth in fullness is the theme of Paulís fourth and last petition for his readers. We are to be filled not Ďwithí so much as Ďuntoí the fullness of God. Godís fullness or perfection becomes the standard or level up to which we pray to be filled. The aspiration is the same in principle as that implied by the commands to be holy as God is holy, and to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. God expects us to be growing daily towards that final fullness, as we are being transformed by the Holy Spirit into Christís image from one degree of glory to another.

 

The conclusion of his prayer [20-21]. We notice now that the apostleís four petitions are sandwiched between two references to God. In verses 14-16 He is the Father of the whole family and possesses infinite riches in glory; in verses 20 and 21 He is the one who works powerfully within us. Such a God can answer prayer. Godís ability to answer prayer is forcefully stated by the apostle in a composite expression of seven stages. (1) He is able to do or to work, for He is neither idle, nor inactive, nor dead. (2) He is able to do what we ask, for He hears and answers prayer. (3) He is able to do what we ask or think, for He reads our thoughts, and sometimes we imagine things for which we dare not and therefore do not ask. (4) He is able to do all that we ask or think, for He knows it all and can perform it all. (5) He is able to do more than all that we ask or think, for His expectations are higher than ours. (6) He is able to do much more, or more abundantly, than all that we ask or think, for He does not give His grace by calculated measure. (7) He is able to do very much more, far more abundantly, than all that we ask or think, for He is a God of super-abundance. The infinite ability of God to work beyond our prayers, thoughts and dreams is according to the power that works within us, within us individually (Christ dwelling in our hearts by faith) and within us as a people (who are the dwelling place of God by His Spirit). It is the power of the resurrection, the power which raised Christ from the dead, enthroned Him in the heavenlies, and then raised and enthroned us there with Him. That is the power which is at work within the Christian and the church. Paulís prayer relates to the fulfillment of his vision for Godís new society of love. He asks that its members may be strengthened to love and to know the love of Christ, though this surpasses knowledge. But then he turns from the love of God past knowing to the power of God past imagining, from limitless love to limitless power. For he is convinced, as we must be, that only divine power can generate divine love in the divine society. To add anything more would be inappropriate, except the doxology.

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.††††††††† List all the requests Paul prays for in 1:18-21 and 3:16-21. What do we learn about the focus of his prayers?

 

2.††††††††† Meditate on the profound truth that exists in the But God of verse 2:4. Make two lists. In one list write down everything that was true of you before But God. In the second list, write down everything that is true about you after But God. Think about all that God has done for you and use this as the basis for your prayers this week.

 

3.††††††††† What four words does Paul use to express the origins of Godís saving initiative? Why must our salvation be a result of Godís grace alone and not our works?

 

4.††††††††† John Stott writes that ďprayer expresses desire.Ē Analyze your prayers for the past week. What do they say about your desires? What does Paulís prayers in todayís passage tell us about his desires?

 

References:

Letís Study Ephesians, Sinclair Ferguson, Banner of Truth Trust.

The Message of Ephesians, John Stott, Inter-Varsity Press.