Ephesians 3.14-21

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Ephesians 3.14-21

Let's pray before we start.
Father, change us by your Spirit to be more like Jesus. Teach us from this passage about what you do and what you're like so that we can serve you better. Amen

Today we are looking at Paul's prayer for the Ephesians from chapter 3 vs 14 to 21, so if you could have that open in your bibles you will be able to follow where I'm going. It's an incredible prayer that we can learn a lot from.

So let's start with a bit of word association. What do you think of when I say the word strength? What about power? Power Rangers? PowerAde? Power play in cricket? Maybe you have been on the weekend away and you are totally shattered and it might take some serious power to keep concentrating through this sermon. The word power is often associated with negative connotations. Power hungry bosses at your work who make sure they are making the decisions, whether they have the experience and wisdom to or not. Power hungry tyrants who would rather die in warfare than give up the power they have over the population they rule over. Power is often an idol that we worship. We want strength and might. The passage we are looking at is all about power. It's all about strength. But this form of power is godly and good. We desperately need this power from God.

This power is at the top of Paul's prayer list for the church in Ephesus. He wants them to have power. It is only when we understand the sinners need for power from God to live the Christian life that we understand the desperate situation we were in without God and the incredible work of the Holy Spirit. If we think we don't need power, we underestimate quite how weak and unable we are.

There are many situations which happen in the life of a church, both to the collective body and to the individual members or groups inside, where we realise that on our own we do not have the strength to continue to faithfully serve God, to enjoy Him and to obey Him. As you look around church each Sunday I'm sure that you'd agree that this is true for the church family here too. It will have been a tough year for some people here. A tough week maybe. I'm sure some ministry areas will have felt that too. A lack of available volunteers; a lack of people attending. I hope and pray that this weekend away that HTG has just organised will have been an encouragement for you, but maybe for some, either because you haven't been able to make it, or because you were distracted whilst on it by the rest of life and its problems, instead of refreshing you its left you feeling weaker than ever. Well this prayer from Paul for the Ephesians encourages us that the power we need comes from God. I have three points I hope we can process and remember tonight.

1. God gives us the power for Christ to dwell in us
2. God gives us power to comprehend how big the love of Christ is
3. The God we are praying to can do more than we can ask or imagine

There are briefer titles on the service sheets if you want to write notes.
Just quickly before we look at the main body of the text, it's important to learn from Paul not only what to pray for but also to learn something of how to pray. Paul says he kneels in prayer. He is in full submission to the God he is about to praise particularly for his power. We may pray in many different locations and positions, in the car, lying in bed or on a jog or whatever. Obviously it's good to pray throughout our day. But do we remember the relationship we have with God. Would it be useful to now and again pray in a bowed posture on bended knee, to show our relationship with him is as loved creatures totally reliant on him? Just something to think about. And does the way that Paul starts and ends his prayer by praising the attributes of God reflect the way you pray? Or is it too often a shopping list approach of a list of things we would like God to do. Again just a thought, but let's remember to praise God for who he is and what he is like. It's what he deserves. They aren't the focus of the passage but it may be worth thinking about when you next pray.

Back to the meat of the passage. My first point for us to think through from v14-17 is this:

God Gives us the Power for Christ to dwell in us.

Here is what I think will be a helpful analogy: Christ dwelling in our hearts is a bit like the Queen staying at number 414 Heavygate Road, Walkely, Sheffield. That's where I lived in my fourth year of university. After three years of university most students are sick of student houses so, for their master's year, they live in a more upmarket area with better quality of housing. I did the opposite and went for what must be one of the cheapest student houses in the north of England. It cost 39 a week inclusive of all bills. It was an absolute dive. We bought some bread on the first day put it in the kitchen and came back 25 mins later to see that a rat, who had just slipped round the back of the cooker, had destroyed the entire loaf and left bread crumbs everywhere. There was an inch of dust everywhere and the carpet which we thought was quite unnaturally thick was made thick by the huge amount of hair left from previous tenants. Any attempt to hoover it ended up breaking the hoover there was that much hair. The bills were included but the landlord adjusted the heating so that it would only come on if the temperature in the house was below 5 degrees. We had to hang a bag of frozen peas over the sensor changing the bag every 6 hours. Imagine the Queen moving house from Buckingham palace with all the gold and silver and ornaments. Imagine how much industrial strength and power would be required to make 414 a place fit for royalty. Well 414 is nowhere near as filthy and disgusting as our natural hearts. So imagine the strength and power required to clean our hearts and make them a place that Christ could dwell. Well that's the power that Paul is talking about here.

But is our heart the problem? Surely it's our acts that are disgusting. It's our lust or our swearing or it's our lack of prayer. Well no, the bible says that these acts or sins as it calls them are not the biggest problem. The biggest problem is the heart. The heart of the matter is our hearts are the matter. Jesus says in Matthew 15 verse 19

'For out of the heart come evil thoughts – murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.'

Those bad things we do are evidence or symptoms of the source problem which is how filthy our hearts are. As humans our hearts are like 414 Heavygate Road and for Christ to dwell in them they needed huge amounts of God's power to prepare them. If you are a Christian here today, then that massive amount of power has been used on your hearts for Christ to live there. We are tempted to think aren't we, especially if we were bought up knowing the gospel, that it is quite natural that we are Christians, that it is just what we fell into. It's not natural at all!! It's supernatural! Even if you have been a Christian for as long as you remember, your heart was once filthy and you were disgusting to God. The Spirit then used his almighty power in your inner being and made it a place fit for God to dwell.

This should be an encouragement to those of us that feel like we aren't good enough, not strong enough to remain a Christian, to keep going with Christ, you never were. It was never you. God worked powerfully in your heart to make it a place that Christ, who is perfect, and holy, and God, could dwell. It was always the case that God out of his glorious riches gave you the strength and therefore you can trust that he will keep giving you that strength, because as we all know we aren't yet the finished article. He will keep you.
Paul is praying here for the church in Ephesus. He's praying it for Christians. But if it's true for Christians that we need God to powerfully work in our heart, it must also apply to the non-Christian. It also surely impacts the way we do evangelism. How often do we get frustrated with our non-Christian friends and family for not just accepting the gospel? Well we see here that it takes an incredible divine glorious power to work in their hearts for Christ to dwell in them. It's not just a case of common sense, if God hadn't worked in our hearts with power we wouldn't have Christ dwelling either. Surely this is an encouragement from Paul to pray as he does for our friends that God would work in this powerful way. Because it's not our work or theirs its God's. They don't have the necessary power. They don't have a treasure trove of glorious riches like God does.

Obviously it's important that we do witness to them and tell them the gospel, I don't want to belittle our important role, but just like the baby born in a Christian family, they need God to work. So we need to show we are depending on Him by praying like Paul does. Prayer is an effective weapon! And that's because they can go to every evangelistic talk, every evangelistic bible study and have endless debates with you about any number of issues, but they will never have Christ dwelling in their hearts unless God out of his glorious riches through his Spirit strengthens them for Christ to dwell in them. So pray like Paul does for those you're trying to reach with the gospel. I'm helping to lead one of the Christianity Explored groups at St Joseph's and watching the hearts of the non-Christians be changed by the Spirit is such a huge encouragement. People have gone from having no thought of God in their life at all to a genuine interest in Jesus and a desire to learn more. It's the work of the Spirit, that's the only way to explain it.

My second point is this:

God gives us Power to Comprehend how Big the Love of Christ Is.

In verse 17, to 19 Paul prays that the Ephesians,

"being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God."

God's power not only strengthens us to accept Christ but also to grasp how large his love for us is. Where do you doubt Christ's love extends to? Where do you struggle to comprehend it reaching? Here are three places we often struggle to comprehend God's love extending to. The first is us in our most disgusting moments of sin. When we have done something that even we didn't know we were capable of, that we'd want no one else to know about. It's when we ask for forgiveness for this revolting sin and are covered in mercy and grace. That is when we wonder at the size of Christ's love. Or secondly, when we are in deep deep pain, suffering for long periods with health or relational problems, you can doubt his love reaches there. But when you are in that situation and you feel the comfort of Christ, you can comprehend, by his power, that his love reaches even there. And thirdly we can struggle to comprehend that God love is for all people. From the Imam in Saudi Arabia to the drug dealer living on Pendower Estate Benwell. Sometimes it's hard to comprehend that God's love can reach even to them. But it does. And God uses his power to show us that, to help our small minds comprehend that.

I went through a phase in 6th form, I wonder whether you have been through a similar one, where I became bored with people telling me how good God is or how much Christ loved me. It always seemed so predictable. Every Sunday the question was 'how much does Christ love you?' and the answer was always 'very much.' It seemed like the Christian life was a lesson in adding to the number of verys used in the answer. Explorers we'd learn Christ love was very big. Then at Pathfinders Christ's love was very very big and so on. I asked Ken Matthews, who is now the minister at St Josephs about this in a one to one, and we prayed a similar prayer to this, that we would continue to grasp more and more how much Jesus loved us. God has answered and continues to answer this prayer, but not in the calculated way that I used to think it would be like. I'm sure you can all remember times when God has revealed afresh how much he loves you. I tried to think of examples in my life where this has happened. When I tried to explain these moments they are fairly hard to describe, but I'm sure if you are a Christian you know the kind of experience I am talking about. Maybe it relates to one of those examples I mentioned before. You feel a sense of wonder and awe at the love of Christ. This is his power at work in us and we can trust he will continue to help us with that. We like Paul should pray this for ourselves and for the church family here at Holy Trinity. We should pray that we would be able to comprehend the size of Christ's love for us. Christ's love is bigger than we could ever imagine and that is important to know as we come to worship God tonight!

My third and final point is this:

The God We are Praying to can do More than we can Ask or Imagine because He is So Powerful.

Paul revels in the capabilities of God. Calling him the God who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us. It's talking about power again. As we come together as the church family this evening that is a pretty encouraging thing to hear isn't it. That this God who we are praying to and living for is the God that can do immeasurably more than all we ask and imagine. And he does it though us. This should really affect our prayers. When we are praying let's revel in the capabilities of God and ask for Him to work through us in amazing ways. He's already worked in amazing ways in our hearts but remember it's also collective. God can do more than all WE can ask or imagine. Many of you will know my dad Jonathan who is one of the ministers at JPC. One thing I've witnessed through growing up around him is that he is very good at imagining big for the church. He prays big prayers for Christianity Explored numbers, big prayers for those who he is doing Christianity Explored with. I'm sure in your congregation you will have examples of people who are willing to pray big and imagine God doing big things. But the promise in the passage is that God can do more. Let's pray with the knowledge that this is the God we pray to. The powerful God. The capable God. That should affect the way we pray. What things have you not prayed for, thinking that God is actually incapable of answering the prayer? Maybe it's the prayer that we will increase in size as a church. Maybe it's that your friend or relative will actually turn to Christ. Well we can pray big knowing God can do bigger. We can pray big things knowing that God has already done huge things in our own hearts and continues to do so. What a privilege it is to pray to a God who is this powerful!
It's amazing isn't it to think that God never says 'no' or 'wait' to our prayers because he can't do it. He is totally capable. The passage says unimaginably capable. You just have to look at what he gets up to in the bible to understand a lack of capability isn't holding him back. From creation to stopping the sun in Joshua to freeing Hebrew slaves from the most powerful empire of its day, the Egyptians. Examples of God showing he is capable litter the Old Testament and particularly the Psalm we read earlier. So let pray to him like that's the case. With no doubt of what he can do. He can clean our hearts to be fit to be his own house! We shouldn't pray with doubt but with fear and awe of what he can do and thankfulness that he uses his capabilities for us who love him.
Let's reiterate those three points as we close so that we can be encouraged by them and act on them this week.

1. God gives us the power for Christ to dwell in us
2. God gives us power to comprehend how big the love of Christ is
3. The God we are praying to can do more than we can ask or imagine

Let's pray to finish.
Father thank you for supplying the power we needed for Christ to dwell in us. Please keep giving us that power. Thank you for helping us to comprehend the love of Christ. Please keep giving us power for that as well. Thank you that you are so powerful that you are capable of doing more than we can imagine. Please help us pray with that in mind. Amen.

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