God Wants to Give Us Power and Knowledge
[Originally preached at First Southern Baptist Church in Bellflower, CA on 12/27/15]
Main Idea: God wants to live in and fill us with more of himself more in order that he would be glorified in his church. He accomplishes this through answering our prayers.
I. Pray for power to get his presence (3.16-17a)
A. Ask for power (3.16)
. B. Aim for Christ’s presence (3.17a)
II. Pray for knowledge to get his fullness (3.17b-19)
. A. Ask for experiential knowledge (3.18-19a)
. B. Aim for God’s fullness (3.19b)
III. Pray to the Father for his glory (3.14-15, 20-21)
A. Ask the Almighty (3.14-15, 20)
B. Aim at exaltation (3.21)
Some of us are excited for 2016 and look forward to it with great anticipation. Others may be shrinking in fear of the future. All of us know we will experience some kind of disappointment. Not just individually, but as a church. And so we need to pray.
We experience too little power. We are plagued with small thoughts of God’s love. We long to glorify God 10 times, 100 times more than we currently do. We want more. More power. More knowledge and experience of God’s love. More glory to God. We want more. Here’s the good news: God does too.
Here’s the main idea we need to embrace this morning: God wants to live in and fill us with himself more in 2016 in order that he would be glorified in our church family. He accomplishes this desire in answer to prayers prayed for us.
The problem is not that God ignores our prayers, forgets our prayers, or is indifferent to our prayers. Our problem is that when we don’t delight ourselves in the Lord the desires of our hearts go astray and our prayers follow. What are you praying for in 2016? When someone asks how they can pray for you, what do you say? When you pray for others what prayer requests usually come out of your mouth?
We need God’s Word to inform and delight our hearts in him (cf. Psalm 37.4). We must have God’s Word inform our prayers. Part of our problem is that our prayers are too often out of step with God’s desires and Word. So he speaks to us this morning. Let’s listen and meditate together.
Did you notice what Paul prayed for in our passage?
Paul prays for power (v. 16) and knowledge (vv. 18-19a) in Christ's church so that they would have his presence (v. 17a) and fullness (v. 19b) leading them to glorify God in themselves as a church forever and ever (v. 21).
So we’ll think about this passage in 3 main points: Pray for power to get God’s presence. Pray for knowledge to get God’s fullness. And pray to the Father for his glory. Under each point there’s an “ask” and an “aim.”
Pray for Power to Get God’s Presence
Ask for Power (Ephesians 3.16)
Paul wants the church to be strengthened with power. If we are not strengthened in power we will remain weak. Even worse, we may be deluded that our practices and little accomplishments are actual expressions of God’s power working through us. The church is made up of dead sinners made alive both from a Jewish heritage and a Gentile (non-Jewish) heritage (Eph 2.4, 3.6). This church is the display of God’s wisdom to the rulers and authorities in the heavens (3.10). So Paul prays for strength that the church would be what it was designed to be.
Paul’s not being unreasonable with his request. He’s not asking God what he can’t afford. He’s asking God according to the riches of his glory. God promised in the past that he would strengthen his people: Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you; I will help you; I will hold on to you with My righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10).
But we are not to merely ask for power. Those who don’t know God the Father seek their own power whether it be physical, financial, academic, social, political, or relational. Paul is hungry for a different kind of power for those he prays, that they would be strengthened with power in the inner man. What is the inner man? Paul makes the contrast clear when he writes, “Therefore we do not give up. Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16). So it’s not physical or earthly strength but an inner spiritual strength.
It’s like God promised his old covenant nation of Israel before and during their exile from the promised land: “Instead, this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days”—the Lord’s declaration. “I will put My teaching within them and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be My people. (Jeremiah 31:33).
We see what this looks like when Paul writes, “May you be strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for all endurance and patience, with joy” (Colossians 1:11). But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that the proclamation might be fully made through me and all the Gentiles might hear” (2 Timothy 4:17).
We need strengthening in our inner man.
This empowering comes through his Spirit. The Spirit glorifies Christ through the illumination and application of the Scriptures to our inner man. The Spirit empowers Christ’s people to be his witnesses (Acts 1.8). The Spirit enlightens us to understand the things of God (1 Cor 2.10-14). The Spirit works in us killing sin and temptation and the desires of the flesh and enabling us to bear his fruit (Gal 5.16-26). He gives us spiritual gifts to build up the church body. If we are to be strengthened in the inner man to know God’s Word, to kill sin and increase love, to witness to the world, or to build the church and fellow Christian family, then this must come through the Holy Spirit actively working in and empowering us.
Aim at Christ’s Presence (Ephesians 3.17a)
Christ Jesus already dwells within us (cf. Col 1.27). So why pray for what we already have? Is Paul theologically in error here? No, this is the active presence of Jesus Christ working in us. Jesus will dwell in our hearts more and more through faith. As we actively trust in the Bible’s words authored by the Holy Spirit pointing to Jesus Christ, we will be following Jesus in more or our life through the day. We will be more aware of his presence and goodness. In this, we will experience the presence of the Messiah more and more.
Without power in the inner man through the Holy Spirit, without Jesus dwelling powerfully in our hearts through faith, we may be like a brand new 2016 expensive sports car on the outside with a used, rusty, and broken down engine on the inside. What good is that car with the brand new exterior that can’t get out of your driveway? Without power in our inner man resulting in the Messiah dwelling in our hearts through faith we are not going anywhere as far as God is concerned. So we must regularly pray to be strengthened with power in the inner man through His Spirit so that the Messiah may dwell in our hearts through faith.
If you’re not a Christian, I wonder where you get the power in your life to accomplish the good things you want to accomplish in your life. Maybe you’ve found a secret key. If so I’d love to hear about that at the front door as we exit the auditorium today. According to the Bible nothing and no one else can really sustain us for a life of enjoying goodness besides God himself.
Pray for Knowledge to get God’s Fullness
Ask for Experiential Knowledge (Ephesians 3.18-19a)
Paul moves on. If you’re being strengthened in the inner man and Christ is dwelling in your heart then you are being rooted and firmly established in love (v. 17). And if you have this strong foundation in God’s love through the Spirit and the Son, Jesus Christ, then Paul prays the second big prayer request: that you may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the length and width, height and depth and to know the Messiah’s love that surpasses knowledge (v. 18). Paul wants the Ephesians, and God wants us, to comprehend. The verb can be translated as “grasp,” “own,” or “seize.” We need to get our arms around the love of Christ and cling to it.
Jesus the Messiah loves his people. He loves them by showing them God’s glory (John 11.5-6). He loves them by saving them from their sins. He loves them by dying in their place to take the penalty they deserve. Listen to these verses defining and displaying the love of Jesus:
No one has greater love than this, that someone would lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13).
But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us! (Romans 5:8).
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her to make her holy, cleansing her with the washing of water by the word. He did this to present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or anything like that, but holy and blameless. (Ephesians 5:25–27).
The length of the Messiah’s love began in eternity past and goes into eternity future. The plan from eternity past was that the Lamb would be slain (Rev 13.8). “But from eternity to eternity the Lord’s faithful love is toward those who fear Him, and His righteousness toward the grandchildren” (Psalm 103:17). “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases” (Lam 3.22, ESV). “His love is eternal” and “his steadfast love endures forever” (Psalm 136). He will love us 5 billion ages from now on the New Earth and into all eternity. His love never gives up because it is steadfast and faithful and therefore it will endure forever. Does God’s love feel short-lived and fleeting to you? His love will never end but only continue with increasing enjoyment for his people.
The width of Messiah’s love is for all ethnic people groups. “After this I looked, and there was a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language, which no one could number, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were robed in white with palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: Salvation belongs to our God, who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9–10). Does God’s love feel insufficiently spread out and limited to you? It will reach all ethnic people groups and save a multitude no one can number.
The height of the Messiah’s love takes us straight up to heaven into the very holy of holies, the very presence of God in his blazing holiness, righteousness, and glory, and we can dwell with God now. “For the Messiah did not enter a sanctuary made with hands (only a model of the true one) but into heaven itself, so that He might now appear in the presence of God for us” (Hebrews 9:24). “Therefore, brothers, since we have boldness to enter the sanctuary through the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way He has opened for us through the curtain (that is, His flesh )… let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water” (Hebrews 10:19–20, 22). His love is so high that it takes us to the highest possible destiny: “They will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads… and they will reign forever and ever” (Revelation 22:4-5). Does God’s love feel cheap and over-promising to you? You cannot be promised a higher joy and fulfillment that is sure to come.
The depth of God’s love goes so deep that God became a human subjecting himself to the limitations of humanity and the curse of human sin and evil. “Though He was rich, for your sake He became poor, so that by His poverty you might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). “…who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men. And when He had come as a man in His external form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death— even to death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6–8). How deep is God’s love? So deep he goes into the deepest judgment and condemnation for sin experiencing God’s wrath more than anyone else will ever experience it as he hangs on the cross for 3 hours in darkness and cries out, “My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?” Does God feel too distant from you? Jesus’ love draws near to you.
The depth is also displayed in the infinite depths God will reach to save sinners: “one who was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an arrogant man. But I received mercy because I acted out of ignorance in unbelief… This saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” —and I am the worst of them. But I received mercy for this reason, so that in me, the worst of them, Christ Jesus might demonstrate His extraordinary patience as an example to those who would believe in Him for eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. (1 Timothy 1:13, 15–17). Are you guilty and ashamed and sinful? Jesus’ love is deep enough for you.
If you’re not a Christian God wants you to know about his love this morning. To understand his love you need to first understand that God created you and created the universe. So we’re accountable to him. Our problem is that instead of enjoying him and reflecting him the way he made humans to reflect him, we’ve decided in our lives to reflect our own agenda, direction, and desires. We have rebelled against our Creator and are therefore condemned to judgment in hell forever. But God loved the world in this way, he gives his only Son to die on the cross for your sins and rise from the dead in victory over sin and death so that if you repent from your sins and trust in Jesus today you can be forgiven, receive eternal life, be reconciled to God, and receive God’s Holy Spirit who will empower and transform you to know and enjoy Jesus more and more. Here’s your invitation and call. God wants you to trust in Jesus right now. Here. Today. Repent from your sins and trust in Jesus the Messiah.
Christian brothers and sisters, do you grasp the love of Christ? Maybe you have questions:
Can sin ever make Jesus stop loving me?
If so, then he would have stopped loving me a long time ago. And if there was a certain sin that would make me fall out of Christ’s love then I would have given Christ a thousand reasons to stop loving me and a million excuses to give my spot of his affection to someone else. But he loves me.
Have you lied? Have you lusted? Have you deliberately chosen to go the wrong way? Have you sinned so willingly and repented from it to trust Christ, but you feel he’s tired of your repentance though it is real repentance and faith? Do you fear he doesn’t love you anymore?
How can he not love us when he chose us? Who marries the bride knowing that she will be unfaithful and then when she is unfaithful divorces her? If he knew she would be unfaithful he would not have married her. But instead he lays down his life and purchases the ring for her and enters into a marriage covenant with the church, all who bow the knee gladly to king Jesus.
Christ loves us and saves those who trust in him and transforms their sinful lives into lives transformed by grace that continue to be transformed, sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly, but he loves them and transforms them.
Look at verse 19. This kind of love is too big to grasp yet Paul prays we are enabled to grasp it. It surpasses knowledge yet God wants us to know this love. What does he mean by “know” it? He means to experientially know his love. Not the way a historian might know George Washington but the way a child knows and trust his father and mother or the way a wife knows her husband. God wants us to experience, really experience God’s love.
John Owen describes it:
The spiritual intense fixation of the mind, by contemplation on God in Christ, until the soul be as it were swallowed up in admiration and delight, and being brought unto an utter loss, through the infiniteness of those excellencies which it doth admire and adore . . . are things to be aimed at in prayer, and which, through the riches of divine condescension, are frequently enjoyed.
Do you experience Christ’s love? Tim Keller said, “Owen believes that Chritianity without real experience of God will eventually be no Christianity at all.”
Aim for God’s Fullness (Ephesians 3.19b)
When you are rooted and grounded in love and then are given the ability to grasp the vastness of Christ’s love and experientially taste it for yourself again and again, it will result in you being filled with all the fullness of God. All that God in his infinite vastness filling all that we are in our tiny, microscopic, smallness.
May God enable us to know and grasp Christ’s love so that we are filled with all he is and all the other stuff that fills our hearts and souls, the pettiness, the greed, the vanity, the admiration, the earthly and fleeting desires are pushed up and spilled over our edges so that they lose all influence in our lives.
Why these two big prayer requests?
Pray to the Father for His Glory
Ephesians 3.14-15, 20-21
Ask the Almighty (Ephesians 3.14-15, 20)
How can we have any hope that we’d be not only have power in the inner man but that we’d grasp the vastness of Christ’s love? It sounds impossible. And it is humanly impossible. So Paul prays to the Father in heaven (v. 14). He kneels out of reverence and understanding his smallness in the face of God’s majestic greatness. All who exist owe their existence to him (v. 15).
In verse 20 we see that this God is almighty and all-powerful. He is able to do above and beyond all that we ask or think according to the power that works in us. He can do whatever he wants. He is powerful to do whatever he wants. And his power is actually and presently work[ing] in us. That’s why we can pray to him for power in the inner man and knowledge of his love.
But why pray for these things? What’s the ultimate and final goal of these prayer requests?
Aim at Exaltation (Ephesians 3.21)
The goal of all prayer and all of creation is to display and reflect the glory of God. This is not only the goal of creation but of the Triune Creator! So where is God’s glory most clearly displayed? Verse 21 gives a two-part answer.
God’s glory will be displayed in the church. This is the church made up of dead sinners who were made alive in Christ by grace according to God’s great love (Eph 2.4, 8). These are Jews and Gentiles (Eph 2.11-22) since the Gentiles were made coheirs, members of the same body, and partners of the promise (3.6). Now this one body is the display of God’s wisdom (3.10). God’s glory is displayed in the heavenly church where all saints are since we’re all in Christ. But this heavenly (universal) church is seen in local churches like our church. God’s glory is on display here for the watching world to see! For demons and angels to see. For non-Christian visitors to see. For Christian visitors to see. For our own church members to see.
And God’s glory is in Christ. That one seems obvious. But he’s tied to the church. In Ephesians 1 Jesus is the head and the church is the body. In Ephesians 5 the church is the bride and he is the bridegroom. So whether in the body of Christ or the marriage of Christ, the point is that God is displayed not just in Jesus Christ, but in us, our church family, united to Jesus the Messiah. And we the church will display this glory to all generations forever and ever.
As we begin this week of prayer from December 27 to January 3 let us pray for power to get Christ’s presence, pray for knowledge to get God’s fullness, and pray for God’s glory in the church both now and forever. I want to encourage you to devote at least 10 minutes every day to praying for whatever you’re reading in the bible, whoever God puts on your heart, whatever is going on in your life currently and whatever you are looking forward to or fearing in 2016.
Here are some specific actions you should take in some form: (1) pray for ever church member individually (at least the active and recently inactive ones); (2) pray for the church corporately; (3) pray regularly for the church; (4) pray corporately with the church; (5) pray for other churches; (6) pray for frontier missions; (7) pray for local great commission work (both our church’s and your personal/family’s).
Reflect and Discuss
What did God say to you from this passage and message?
Do you experience the love Jesus the Messiah? How have you experienced that love lately? How might you experientially know his love more?
Rate the power God has given your inner man the past 2 days. Thank God for the power he’s given you. Think of areas or situations in your life where you need to ask God to give you more power in the inner man.
Why is the church so central to glorifying God in this world? Do you feel the importance of praying these prayer requests for your church family? Why or why not?
Which of the 3 prayer exhortations does God want you to focus on at this specific point in your life?
What is God saying to the world and non-Christians from this passage?
What is God saying to the church from this passage?
What is God saying to Christians from this passage if it adds to your answer to #1?
What questions remain as you reflect on the message?
 Meditating on Ephesians 3.18 Tim Keller cites John 17 in Prayer, 175. Here’s what John quotes Jesus praying, “Father, I desire those You have given Me to be with Me where I am. Then they will see My glory, which You have given Me because You loved Me before the world’s foundation… I made Your name known to them and will make it known, so the love You have loved Me with may be in them and I may be in them.” (John 17:24, 26).
 This reference was brought to my attention from Tim Keller, ibid., 174.
 John Owen, Works, vol. 4, 329-30 as quoted in Tim Keller, 179.
 Ibid., 180.