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Sermon blog: Wider Longer Higher Deeper

May 7, 2015

Ephesians 3:14-21
It is often more than an interesting exercise to read the prayers that Paul includes in his various letters to early Christians and churches. We have just read just one of the prayers that are contained in his letter to the church at Ephesus.
Paul has many things to teach in this letter: the spiritual blessings to be found in relationship with Christ; the life that they had been given; the reconciliation that Jesus brings; God’s plan for his people; unity and maturity in the body of Christ; Christian living in the world and in the household; putting on the armour of God.
But Paul is never so full of preaching that he is far away from prayer. The particular prayer we have read is a spontaneous outburst of prayer. Prayer that sees the big picture. It is a prayer for the Ephesians but now it can be a prayer for us, as the realities expressed are as real for us as they were for the early followers of Jesus.
This prayer is one which begins not in verse 14 where we started to read but actually in chapter 3 verse 1. Paul starts there “For this reason” but the goes off on a tangent, talking about something of his own testimony and ministry, before returning to those same words “For this reason…”
Which should of course put one question in your mind – “For WHAT reason?” Paul is going to launch out into prayer, but this is not accidental. This all has a basis, a firm foundation. Verse 1 of course picks up from the previous chapter, where Paul is teaching his readers about the work of reconciliation that the Christ has done. Peace and reconciliation with God. As a result they are now being built together as a dwelling where God lives by his Spirit (2:22). What a high calling that is! To be a holy temple to the Lord.

It is no wonder that Paul feels the need to pray that these people might live up to their calling. To pray great things for them. That what they are should be made known.
It should not of course escape us as Christians that the things Paul writes are not just true of a church congregation in ancient Asia Minor, but are true of all believers, those who are in Christ, down through the centuries. True of this congregation. You are being built together by God. You are not an accidental gathering of Christians. You are a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
So the prayer that follows is just as necessary and vital for us today as it was for the Ephesians 2000 years ago.
Paul is on his knees – he is in fervent prayer. It was not common for a Jew to kneel in prayer. Most would stand. Remember the Pharisee and the tax collector that Jesus spoke of. As they prayed in the temple they both stood. It was of course their heart attitude which differentiated them.
To kneel though showed an earnestness in Paul. He meant business as he prayed. He had a longing to see his prayer come to reality.
As he knelt, it was in the knowledge that he knelt before the Father. It sounds confusing, in verse 15, to talk about every family deriving its name from God the father. The King James Version refers to the whole family of God, which probably gives a better sense.
But either way we are reminded that God calls us to a relationship. A relationship of Father and son. We of course have many ways of addressing God. So many titles, all of which are true and are a source of worship and thanksgiving. We have so many ways of describing what God has done for us, through the work of Jesus. A lot of big words. Redemption, reconciliation, atonement are just a few examples and again they are all true and should cause us to praise.
But amazingly Jesus teaches us to call God “Father”. We are brought into a family, into a relationship of greater intimacy then we could ever imagine.
We can talk of being rescued but there is so much more.
I can remember a number of times over the years when my family and I have been on the road. And then things went wrong. A blown out tyre on the motorway comes to mind. We needed a rescuer, and so he came in response to our call. The car was towed to a garage and the tyre replaced. And we went on our way. We were grateful to the recovery driver, but I don’t remember his name and we don’t send each other Christmas cards. We have never kept in touch.
When Jesus came to rescue us he did not merely come to rescue us FROM our desperate fate, although of course he did that, but he came to rescue us TO something. To a relationship. To a family. To be sons and daughters of God. That is what you and I are in Christ. The Spirit of God lives in us, and by that Spirit, “we cry Abba Father”. Through Jesus we have so much more than we could ever have imagined.

Do you and I know what it is to have that sort of relationship with God?  
God is unconditionally committed to us as our Father. He wants everything that is best for us. Are we still trying to impress him and earn his approval? Do we look to serve him out of love, or are we like the elder brother in Jesus’ parable, living in the Father’s house, doing the right things, but out of cold duty rather than a heart of love? God is our Father. We are welcome. Full members of His family. Adopted. With all the rights that go with being an heir.
I cannot believe how much I seem to be reading, hearing and even preaching about God as our father, about adoption. On Wednesday I was in a coffee shop reading a book, while my daughter was in an interview.  And there it was again!
I read the story of Stephanie Last. She was born in Korea. She does not know exactly when, who her father was or even what her name was. Her father was probably an American GI.
Because she was mixed race her mother effectively abandoned her at the age of about 4, putting her on a train to be met by an uncle who it seems did not exist.
From that point she had to care for herself, stealing food to survive. She was abused and treated like dirt.
This continued for about 3 years, before she was taken from a rubbish tip to an orphanage. When she was around 9 an American missionary couple came and chose her and took her to their home.

For several months she assumed she was to be their servant, though she was not made to work.
It took another girl to tell her the truth. That she was adopted. That she was their daughter. She was astonished, running home thinking “I’m their daughter! Oh that’s why I’ve been treated this way. That’s why no one’s beating me…I’m their daughter”.
I wonder how many of us as Christians, live like this girl, adopted, but having no idea. We’re in the Father’s house but we think we’re slaves. We’re sons and daughters of God. How great is the love God has lavished on us!
It is because of his relationship with God the Father that Paul can pray. Because he knows the Father loves his children. And longs to answer prayer for his church.

We have already thought of Christians as heirs of God. 
We might know in this life what it is to inherit a small amount. Or we may inherit a fortune. 
But the riches of God are, as Paul puts it “Glorious riches”. Our God is so great and has so much to give. He is not mean with us, but he is a generous God. Paul has his eyes firmly on those “glorious riches” as he prays.
He does not look for the weaknesses in the Ephesian church. He looks at God’s resources. That is so much of what prayer is about. We can all too easily focus in on our failings and our problems. But in prayer we can raise our eyes. 
Like the boy with 5 loaves and two fish, we look not at our own resources, but look to the one who has glorious riches. Nothing is beyond him.
And for Paul not just any prayer will do for the Ephesians. He fixes his eyes on the riches and goodness of God. Shouldn’t we do the same as we pray for our church fellowship or others we are in contact with? Do we just pray for a vague blessing? Or do we ask God to give out of his extraordinary resources?
So what is it that Paul prays for the Ephesians? What is it that we need God to do for us?
He prays that they would be strengthened with power. That seems quite repetitious the language used but plainly he wants them to experience the power of God in their lives  .
How is that power to be experienced? It is because the Holy Spirit lives in us from the moment of our conversion. Paul describes it as our inner being. Somehow amazingly, by God’s grace, God the Spirit is IN us! 
Not only that but through the Spirit, Paul says “Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith”.

You will remember when Jesus was with his disciples at the last supper he said something they must have initially found impossible to understand. He told them that things would be better for them because he was going away. Nowadays we might think what could be better than to live in the days of Jesus’ earthly ministry? To see and hear him at first hand. That was the privilege that the disciples had.
But Jesus could somehow say it was better that he left them. It is surely at least one of the reasons, that Jesus in his earthly body was limited. He could only be in one place at one time. But his Holy Spirit, who in Old Testament times would come upon individuals for particular tasks, would now enter all believers. So that now Christ lives in each one of us.
It is a challenge to each of us that Paul describes Jesus as dwelling in us, by his Spirit. This is not a temporary guest visit. 

Through his Spirit Jesus takes up residence in us. We are his home. No room should be closed to him. There can be no secrets.

He lives in us, in our hearts, by faith. Not by anything that we have done. His presence with us is not earned by religious activity and good works. It is through faith in Jesus, all that he is, and all that he has done for us. Elsewhere Paul reminds us that that faith is a gift from God to us.
His prayer for them initially is that they should be rooted and established in love. 
They are in a community. A community that is designed to love one another. Paul is not praying for them in their individual quiet times so much. He is praying for the whole congregation. He is praying for an environment of love.
Love has to be the mark of our churches. What impressed people in the days of the early church, was how they loved one another.
And that love is to be deep, not superficial. To underline this Paul talks about being rooted and established. He takes a botanical term and an architectural term to illustrate the depth of love in this community of his.
Many of you here I am sure have green fingers. I don’t. Maybe, like in the old song, you feel closer to God in the garden than anywhere else on earth. I hate gardening. 
And I think it is because of roots. Over 20 years ago we moved house. The property was advertised as having a secluded garden. 

What that meant was 21 conifer trees.
Thankfully we had a friend with a saw. He, I thought, did the hard work of cutting the trees down. Leaving us with only 21 tree stumps for me to get rid of.
Over the next 2 years, hours of my Saturdays were taken up with removing those stumps. It was very hard physical work, because they were well and truly rooted. The roots seemed to be endless. I was forever digging deeper and wider, and hacking away.
To be rooted is to be deep.
When Paul thinks of being established he is thinking of a building. As the foolish man of Jesus’ story found to his expense, you have got to build on a firm foundation or it won’t last.
Paul is looking for a people who are firm and will not be shaken.
But what is the soil in which they rooted? What is the foundation on which they stand? It is their love for one another. 
As Christians we say some odd things. “I love my brother, but I don’t like him”. Just spend some time reading 1 John and I believe you will find that sort of double talk is not an option. This is deep love. If the Bee Gees were here they would ask you “How deep is your love?”
Love each other.
But he wants to take us deeper.
What does Paul want God’s power to achieve in us? For surely the potential of God in you is considerable. We could do anything. Jesus actually promised his disciples that they would do greater things than even he had done. How could they begin to imagine that?!
Paul elsewhere has plenty to say about the mighty working of the Holy Spirit in our lives, but that is not the focus of his prayer for the Christians at Ephesus. He is not praying for power to heal or faith to move mountains.
His prayer is for them to know something. And again not just as individuals but in the church – “with all the Lord’s holy people”. This is what they need to know and they can only know it together.
They need power to grasp how wide long high and deep is the love of Christ. They can love one another because Jesus loves them. Love that he demonstrated so clearly at Calvary. 
On the other hand too, through their love for each other they can experience Jesus’ love.
So wide. Long. High. Deep.
His love is wide enough for everyone – Jew or Gentile. People of all nations.
His love is long enough to last for eternity. 
Like Him it has no beginning and no end.
It is deep enough to reach the greatest sinner. Paul knew that as his experience. 
There is no one God does not love.
God’s love is high enough to raise us to heaven, to eternity with him.

How much have you and I understood the love of God?  As we said earlier have we understood his Father heart for us? 
Specifically have we understood the love of one who loved us so much that lowered himself to become one of us, lived as a servant, and then died in our place that we might know life and forgiveness, and rose from the dead, going to prepare an eternal home for us.
Don’t we all need to spend time focussing on that love? That love will change us.
Remember, it was “for this reason” that Paul prayed.
But whilst Paul encourages the Ephesians that they can know the love of Jesus, he talks about it as a love that passes knowledge. 
We can know his love more, but we can never know it fully. We can never do justice to the love of Jesus.
One day we will spend eternity in worship before the risen Lamb of God. I am sure that even then we will never fully grasp the extent of Jesus’ love. Eternity is needed to explore it.
Loving one another, knowing the love of Jesus. What is the outcome that Paul is praying for in that? His extraordinary, faith-filled prayer is that they are “filled to the measure of the fullness of God”.
We are talking about things which are beyond our grasp. Can you understand this? You. Me. This church here can be “filled to the measure of the fullness of God”. Surely that is impossible. We know ourselves only too well!
Yet Paul’s extraordinary prayer is to an extraordinary God.

Surely Jesus is the only one full of the fullness of God. But me? Us? How could that be? It could only be that, as we said earlier, through God’s Spirit in our inner being, through whom Christ dwells in our hearts.
We are to be Christ-like. We will never fully know this until we see the Lord Jesus face to face. But we are still called to daily growth towards final fullness.
This is well beyond our human brains to grasp. God can do this. Paul closes his prayer in praise to the one who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine. God’s Spirit is in us. He will change us if we let him.
God’s love is without limit. And his power is without limit.
There is no limit to what God can do. Not because of Paul’s prayer. Not because of our human efforts to do better, but “according to his power that is at work within us”.

“To him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus”. 
God’s glory will be seen in the body and in the Head, in the bride and the Bridegroom

“…throughout all generations

…forever”
No wonder Paul ends this prayer with praise. 
As we remember day by day the love of Christ, we should do no less.
We can all add our own AMEN.
 

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From → Christianity

One Comment
  1. Thank you for this great message. I am saving this so I may read it on my free time. God bless you and keep you 😀

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