At present, the churches in Alcester Minster are doing a series on St. Paul's letter to the Ephesians. Last week, Adrian Guthrie preached on the reconciliation that comes through Christ as explored in the previous chapter of Paul's letter; on how Christians are being built together as one body to create a single nation, family, building and entity in which God dwells by his Holy Spirit; and how the need for reconciliation with God and one another is as relevant to our minster church, as it was for the Ephesians almost 2,000 years ago.
In this morning's passage, Paul writes that he is moved to prayer for the Ephesians. I find it interesting that Paul chooses to include his prayer into this part of his letter. It's a little counter intuitive to our sense of order. In the modern world, we are quite used to having set moments for prayer... We begin and end meetings with prayer and we have special slots in our services for our prayers of supplication, but here... Paul just stops in mid sentence and drops to his knees in prayer, before carrying on in the letter.
I think for Paul, prayer was as much a part of the conversation as the rest of his dialogue... and if the Holy Spirit tapped him on the shoulder in the midst of what he was doing, then engaged God in prayer with regard to whatever was on his heart. This morning I'd like to explore three questions with regards to Paul's prayer for the Ephesians... and demonstrate why it is so important to us in developing as spiritually well rounded individuals, as An effectively functioning and growing minster, and as a true family of Christian brothers and sisters in the universal Church. I'll be looking at what things Paul prayed for; why Paul prayed for those things, and why Paul was confident
in his prayers for those things.
in his prayers for those things.
So what exactly did Paul pray for?
Verse 15 tells us that Paul prayed for the Ephesians for the following things:
1. That they may be strengthened with power through his Spirit in their inner beings
2. That they may have power together with all the Lord's holy people.
On the surface that looks like he's asked God for the same thing, the same power twice, but I don't think that's the case. You see, in the first instance Paul has asked that the Ephesians are filled inwardly as individuals. In the second instance God has asked that they be filled with power together with all God's people as a collective. Paul is stressing the need for God to play an active role in both our personal lives and public fellowship.
3. That they may know Christ's love that surpasses knowledge...
That seems a bit odd too, doesn't it? If something surpasses knowledge... How can we know it? Isn't that a paradox?
I don't believe it is a paradox. Knowledge of the facts is one thing, but living in the truth of those facts is quite different. Reading a book about Michelangelo will tell you a lot of information about what the composition of his work. But it won't tell you what it feels like to stand in the Sistine chapel and take in all the sights, sounds and smells.
You can know what the concept of love is, but that's not the same as knowing the love of another person.
To know something in a way that surpasses knowledge requires that we connect with the subject of our knowledge and let that take us on a journey. Here on Earth we cannot fully know God... he's too big...
But we can know what it is like to live in the fullness of God.
The second question I wanted to ask, was why did Paul pray for the Ephesians.
Well he prayed that they would be strengthened inwardly, so that Christ would dwell in their hearts through faith. The more time we make for God in our lives through prayer and meditation, reading the Bible and through fellowship with one another), the more our gaze is turned towards him and the stronger our relationship with him grows. Paul wants us to put our roots down deeply... as he words it, to be established in love.
This flows into the next reason that Paul prayed his prayer because the more deeply rooted in God we are as individuals, the more that benefits the Church.
Paul also prayed because he wanted the Church to truly understand how much Christ loves it.
When we see God at work in one life... be it our own, or another person's... it is invigorating and life changing. But when people see God at work in the life of a church or a community... that's when renewal or even revival happens!
As an example, did you know that there is a type of heat resistant grass that thrives in volcanic soil? However it can only do this because of a fungus that lives on it, that protects it. But scientists have discovered that the fungus itself can only survive because it too has a heat resistant virus living inside of it.
In this respect, God is like the virus, we are like the fungus and the church is like the grass. The more we experience God personally and the more we share God in fellowship with one another, the more the church thrives.
The third reason Paul prayed the prayer is because he wanted his readers to be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
I was saying earlier about the difference between knowledge of a person and knowing a person on a personal level... and this here is what Paul reinforces - know God cram as much of him into your life as you can! Jesus said to the apostles in John's gospel that:
"I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business.
Instead I have called you friends, for everything, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you."
Paul is reminding us that this offer is extended to all who follow Jesus, not just his apostles. Some people get uncomfortable with the idea of Jesus being a friend... It seems disrespectful, but it is important to remember that Jesus being a friend to us, does not negate him being our master either. The difference is that Jesus is running a family business and not a faceless corporation.
Which brings us to the final question. Why was Paul confident in his prayer?
I believe the answer is because, knowing and experiencing God in his own life, in the ways we have explored this morning, he *knew* that God *is* able to do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine.
I just love the magnitude of those words. Immeasurably - beyond our ability to calculate.
More than all we ask or imagine - beyond the scope of things we can even conceive.
God is limitless.
And the wonderful thing is that God's limitless power and resources aren't just something that he dispenses from on high, but verse 20 tells us that this power is at work within us.
His power is at work within us. What a privilege
And so if Ephesians 2 last week told us where we need to go in terms of Christ reconciling us to one another in the church, the minster and the communities we live in, then this morning essentially tells us how we are getting there.
I have to confess that this short passage is one of my favourite scriptures, and I often use it as a model for prayer when taking part in some kind of mission. Let me finish by praying these words:
Heavenly Father, this morning we pray that out of your glorious riches that you may strengthen us with power through your Spirit in our inner being, so that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith. And we pray that we, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that we may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. 20 Now to you who are able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to your power that is at work within us, to you be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!