Master the Basics (Ephesians 3:14-21)
Big Idea: Pray to grow in every dimension of your faith.
When you talk to folks about Christianity, a lot of people will say, “I’m a Christian.” When you press them, they mean, “I believe in Christ. I believe in the truths of Christianity, basically.” But when you ask them how this translates into their experience, they’ll say, “I’m kind of stuck there. It hasn’t really changed my life.”
We’re in a series on how to grow. In the past few weeks we’ve prepared ourselves by looking at the gospel, the basics of what Christianity is all about, and what stage you’re at right now.
But today we’re going to get to the real power of Christianity. It’s not just about believing something in an abstract way. To become a Christian means that you experience something; that it changes every area of your life.
Being a Christian is more than about just believing a set of facts. It’s more than about attending church or being a moral person. In this passage we see what it’s all about. And that’s what we’re going to see in this prayer.
This is an unusual prayer in a lot of ways. Paul, the writer, doesn’t pray for anything about the circumstances of the people that he’s praying about. There’s nothing wrong with praying about circumstances, of course, but Paul teaches us that there’s something even bigger. Most of us think that if our circumstances changed, then we would change. But Paul knows that circumstances don’t make us who we are. If Paul’s prayer is answered for us, then we can truly change, even if the world around us stays completely the same.
This prayer is also unusual in that it’s both theological and practical. Most of us have developed a healthy fear of theologians. It’s not completely our fault. We’ve heard enough pastors and professors talk about theology to know that theological talk can be a good cure for insomnia. We can almost feel our eyes glazing over. But Paul knows that there’s nothing more practical than good theology. So we’re going to pray a prayer that’s steeped in theology, and yet is all about real change, change that will affect us in the deepest parts of our lives.
One last thing that’s unusual about this prayer before we jump in. This is also an emotional prayer. Paul says in verse 14: “For this reason I kneel before the Father…” It’s not unusual to see someone bow to pray. Some churches even have kneelers right in their pews. But when Paul wrote this, people generally didn’t kneel to pray. The normal posture for prayer in that day was standing. Why did Paul kneel, then? Probably because this prayer carried some emotion. This isn’t just a cold, intellectual prayer. There’s some emotion behind what Paul’s going to pray.
So what does Paul teach us to pray?
Pray that God strengthens you with power (3:16-17a).
Pray that God will give us power so that we’re changed within.
Not just power in general, but power toward a specific purpose: power that we would be changed in the depths of our beings. Read verses 16 and 17:
that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith… (Ephesians 3:16–17)
What’s Paul praying for? Paul’s praying that something will happen in what he calls “your inner being.” This is the inner part of you that no-one can see, the part that makes you who you are. Paul’s praying for the very essence of who we are, at the very center of our personalities.
And what does Paul pray for our inner beings? He prays that we’ll be strengthened with power through the Spirit. The purpose of this prayer is that “Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” He doesn’t pray that we’ll have a power that will improve our standing with others or get us more of what we want. The power Paul prays for is that the inner parts of us will become places where Christ can make his home.
There are two words that Paul could have used when he said dwell in verse 17. One means to inhabit a place as a guest, kind of like you stay in a hotel room. You may not even unpack your suitcase. You certainly don’t strip off the wallpaper if you don’t like it and make plans to remodel the place. You’re only there for a few days. But that’s not the word that Paul used when he said dwell. It’s a strong word that means taking up permanent residence, to really settle down. Paul’s praying that our inner beings will be strengthened so that Christ may really settle down and live there. And if Christ lives at the very center of our beings, it’s going to mean transformation. We’ll never be the same.
We have to ask a question here. We know that Christ already dwells within believers. So why would Paul pray for something to happen that’s already happened? D.A. Carson says that it’s like a couple that scrimps enough money together to put a down-payment on a home. They buy the house, but they know that it needs a ton of work. The wallpaper needs to come off, the carpet is disgusting, the basement is full of junk from the previous owner, and the kitchen was designed by a man. The roof leaks and the insulation barely meets the minimum standards. The electrical service is 60 amps, the furnace is about to die, and a lot of the appliances are olive green. Other than that, it’s a really nice house.
Before the couple moves in, they rip up carpet and clean up. Over the years they tackle the repairs. They remodel the kitchen, fix the leaks, and buy a new furnace and air conditioner. They redecorate and even add an extension at the back of the house. They landscape around the house.
After living there for twenty-five years, the husband turns to his wife one day and says, “You know, I really like it here. This place suits us. This house really feels like home to me.”
That’s exactly what Paul is talking about. When Christ takes us residence within us, he finds the equivalent of piles of junk, dated wallpaper, olive green appliances, and a leaking roof. He moves in, but it’s not at all appropriate for him. But he moves in to our inner beings, and as he does he begins cleaning, repairing, and expanding. Over time, our inner being dwelling places that reflect who lives there. Our inner beings become dwelling places that reflect his character.
It’s so important that we see how this happens. It’s not the result of some self-improvement program. Paul prays in verse 16 that it’s “according to the riches of his glory” and “through his Spirit.” It doesn’t totally cut us out of the picture, because it also says “through faith.” But make no mistake: this is something that God does. It’s based on the glorious riches of Jesus Christ secured by him at Calvary. What Jesus did for us at the cross is more than enough not only to save us, but to change us in our innermost beings. The power comes not from us, but from the glorious riches of Jesus Christ that are applied to us through the Spirit.
So this is the first part of Paul’s prayer. It’s not just that we believe certain things. This prayer is about much more than believing certain truths about God. It’s that we will be increasingly transformed in the very depths of our being by the one who’s taken up residence there.
But that’s not all.
Pray that you understand the limitless dimensions of Jesus’ love (3:17b-19).
Verses 17 to 19 say:
that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:17-19)
It’s strange. Again Paul prays for something, in a sense, that’s already true. He prays that we’ll grasp the love of Christ. I find that most people who are Christians get this at some level. Little kids can sing, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”
But there’s a level at which we really don’t get it. A lot of us have this picture of God who’s perpetually disappointed with us. We try to obey God, but for a lot of us the motivation is about duty or obligation than as a response to God’s love.
I’ll put it like this. In every marriage, there’s a time where one spouse looks at the other and says, “Do you really love me?” At one level, I’m sure that they know their spouse loves them, but at that moment they don’t want to just know it. They want to experience it at the very depths of their being. They want to grasp it.
A 10-year-old boy was in the hospital and was quite sick. One day he awoke to see his mother sitting beside his bed, quietly crying. As he saw his mother crying, it overwhelmed him and he blurted out, “Why Mum, you do love me!” Of course, that finished her off and she ran from the room. If you had asked him if he was loved by his parents the day before, he would have said yes. But at that moment he really grasped his mother’s love for him. This is Paul’s prayer for us: that we will not just know about Christ’s love but really grasp it. You even see this in Paul’s prayer: it’s that we will know something that surpasses knowledge. It’s that we’ll really get it, and really grasp it.
The result of this is found in verse 19: “that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” This means essentially that we will become spiritually mature, so that we will become all that God wants us to be. In other words, if we’re to grow spiritually into the people we’re meant to be, it begins with grasping – really getting – the limitless dimensions of God’s love. It won’t come from theological education or from years of attending church. It will come from really grasping Christ’s love so that it becomes real to us, as real as the person next to you.
So let me ask you: have you experienced this lately? Have you really grasped the limitless dimensions of Christ’s love? It’s a gift from God; it’s something God has to give us, but we can ask him for it. We can pray that we’ll really get the breadth and length and heights and depths of the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge. Pray for it. Christianity is more than a head-job. It’s about really grasping the love of Christ. It will change us like nothing else will.
Pray this way because God is able and God is worthy (3:20-21).
And lest you think that this prayer is asking too much, Paul concludes:
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21)
God is able to do this! God is worthy of this pursuit, and God is able to make this kind of change in our lives.
That’s why we see growth as multifaceted. What do I want for you? I want you to do more than believe. I want you to grow in your knowledge of God. I want you to grow in your worship of God — that you would see and value him more and more. I want you to grow in your obedience to God. All of this happens as God brings this change about in our lives.
That’s what I want for you. Pray to grow in every dimension of your faith. God is able, and he can do it!