Ephesians 3 14-21
(Sermon preached in the Brecon Presbyterian Church at my last service as a full time minister.)
Our reading from the New Testament contains a wonderful prayer which Paul prayed for the Ephesian Christians. He has just been talking of the mysteries of the Christian Faith – how God has revealed himself to us through Christ, how we may approach God with freedom and confidence through Jesus. It is this faith which keeps Paul going through all his sufferings. And then he prays this wonderful prayer.
It’s a prayer which is relevant just as much to God’s people today as it was for them in those days. It’s a prayer we can make our own as we consider the church today.
This service is my final service in the pastorate as a full-time minister, so this sermon is a bit like a valedictory address (although I’m not going away). it could be my prayer for you, or your prayer for all of us, as much as Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians.
God the Father:
He starts by talking about God the Father:
Verses 14 and 15 – “For this reason I kneel before the Father from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name”.
God is not just the Creator but he is also Father. He is Father of all that he has created. But in a very special sense he is Father of all those who come to him through faith in Jesus. We who believe in Jesus are all one family, although we may all come from totally different backgrounds. Even in this pastorate some of us are British-born: others from overseas. For some English is our first language: for others it may be Welsh or Nepalese. We are a congregation of different nationalities and different races, different social backgrounds and different ages. And we are all just a very small part of the whole family of God which stretches across the whole world. And more than that: part of it is already in heaven, maybe the greater part. But we are all one in Christ, all part of the Family of God, the Communion of Saints.
As I come up to my retirement my dear wife Jane is no longer at my side. But she is in God’s presence and still is part of God’s family with us. We are still in fellowship with her through Christ.
So let’s move on to the prayer itself. What does Paul say?
Verses 16 and 17 – “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.”
Paul prays that they might be empowered by the Holy Spirit to live the Christian Life. We all need the power of the Holy Spirit In Our Lives. We do not have the grace to live as followers of Christ without the Holy Spirit within our inner being.
As Paul prayed for the Ephesians so I pray that the Holy Spirit might strengthen you in your inner being.
Verse 17b – so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.”
If we believe in Christ then the Spirit is in our inner being, and through that Holy Spirit Christ himself comes to dwell in our hearts. I take this to mean that when we trust in Christ and what he has done for us on the cross, when we commit ourselves to him and invite him into our lives, then he actually does dwell within us through his Holy Spirit.
So as Paul prayed for the Ephesians I pray that Christ may dwell in all your hearts through faith.
And what effect does this have on us? It brings love into our lives:
Rooted and grounded in love
Verse 17b – “and I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power together with all the saints ….”
“Rooted and established” – actually I prefer the older term “rooted and grounded”. When you plant a shrub in your garden you root it and ground it in the soil. And you give it plenty of water so that its roots will grow and bed themselves in deeply.
Down at the Promenade here in Brecon, in the Recreation Ground, a whole lot of trees were planted a couple of years ago. (They were planted by volunteers from the Nepalese community.) And the other week some of those trees we’re looking so dry that we were beginning to think they might not survive the drought. They’re only small and have not had time for their roots get to get really deep down into the ground. And so they were suffering the effects of drought. In fact one or two of them have already already gone brown and probably will not recover.
And so some of us who are members of the Promenade Pack (which is a Facebook group of dog walkers who take their dogs down there) decided to get together to water the trees. We did it late one afternoon. I was drawing water with a bucket from the river and others were taking the water in cans around to the various newly-planted trees. I think we saved them. We’re hoping for a bit more rain now so we don’t have to actually water them again. But why am I talking about this? It’s an illustration.
Those trees did not have deep roots, they were not deeply rooted and grounded and so they were vulnerable. The very first Psalm speaks of the righteous man as being like a tree planted by water whose leaf does not wither and who bears fruit in season.
The Christian who is rooted and grounded deep in the love of God bears the Fruit of the Spirit in his life. Through prayer, worship, Bible reading and partaking of all the means of grace we can become rooted deeply in Christ and bear fruit for him, even in times of difficulty and adversity. The Fruit of the Spirit is Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self-control. (Galatians 5:22)
As Paul prayed for the Ephesians so I pray for you or that you may be rooted and grounded deep in the love of God and bear fruit for him.
Power to grasp
Verses 18-19 – “that you, 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.”
Paul says – and these are amazing words – that we can grasp the dimensions of God’s love: the length, the breadth, the height, the depth. But how can this be? Surely God’s love is infinite, how can we grasp it?
There is surely a paradox here. Paul is saying we can grasp that which is infinite. He is saying that we can know the love that surpasses knowledge. He is saying that we can be filled with a measure of the fullness of God! But we are not gods – surely we can’t partake of the Divine love!
No, not in an absolute sense. But in a relative sense we can grasp it – because the Holy Spirit dwells in us. That means that God dwells within us. And so we can be filled with the Holy Spirit. We can take up as much of God’s love, power and grace as it is possible for a mortal being to do. I think that’s what Paul is praying for here. He knows that they cannot have all the fullness of God, nor can they have the absolute holiness of God, but he wants them to be as perfect as they possibly can be in this life. Be as holy as you can be, be as loving as you can be, grasp as much of the love of God as it is possible to grasp, be as full of the Holy Spirit as you can be full.
Okay, absolute perfection is impossible – our sinful nature still remains and life is constantly a struggle against sin – but we can go on in grace. We can become more and more sanctified, and this is what Paul is praying for the Ephesians.
And it is my prayer for each one of us that we will be, be rooted and grounded in love and grasp more of God’s goodness and love in our lives as we go onward.
Let’s end this sermon with the wonderful words that Paul writes as a doxology at the end of this prayer:
Verses 20 and 21 –
“Now to him able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”