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TEXT: Ephesians 3:14-21
SUBJECT: Ephesians #6: Second Prayer
What are you praying for? If my private devotions and our prayer meetings are any indication, what you're praying for-for the most part-is salvation for the lost, healing for the sick, jobs for the unemployed, and good marriages for most everyone.
Praying for such things is perfectly consistent with the Lord's Prayer, and we ought to do it more often than we do, and with more faith and fervor.
But when we come to the Epistles of Paul, we find a great many prayers, and these things hardly ever come up. Did you ever wonder why? Some people are more spiritual than God, thinking Aunt Martha's arthritic little toe is unworthy of their concern. Paul did not feel this way: how could he? He himself knew the Psalm-and quoted it-
The earth is the Lord's
And the fullness thereof.
Paul was interested in Aunt Martha's arthritic little toe, and you should be too, because God is! Our prayers can dishonor God in two ways: by never praying for big things as if His power were too small to do them, and by never praying for little things because His love is too small to care about them. Nuts to moderate, mainstream, middle-of-the-road prayers-
Casting all your cares upon Him,
Because He cares for you.
For all of you-and not just the 'spiritual' parts!
In saying all this, I've gotten away from the question: Why didn't Paul lace his Letters with prayers for painful toes? Here's what I think: He and you naturally pray for jobs and health and the return of prodigal sons, and you don't need a lot of guidance or encouragement to do so.
What you need is direction-and a spur-to pray for other things, things that matter supremely to Christ, but which have a way of slipping our minds in the busyness of life.
Ephesians is about one thing that matters far more to the Lord than it does to us. That one thing-I've told you time and again-is in the unity of the Church. This is what Paul is praying for in our text.
V.14 begins with a connector-
For this reason.
He said the same thing back in v.1, but like me and other highly effective preachers, he got off track for a while, and now he's back on it. For this reason connects what he says here with the last part of Chapter 2. There he called the Church-
A holy temple. the habitation of God in the Spirit.
This is why he cared so passionately about the church, why he was willing to suffer and die for its harmony. Not because of what it looked like, but because of what it is! We don't know how many came to church in Ephesus; they didn't meet in a Cathedral, and most of the members were unimpressive people, slaves for the most part.
But whatever the church looked like, it was the place God dwelt on earth, and therefore, it is a glorious place, and well worth Paul's labor-and yours too.
Enthralled by his vision of the Church, Paul turns to God in fervent prayer for her welfare. The man prayed for many things, of course, but judging by his Letters, the Church was what he prayed for most.
This brings me to a question: What do you pray for most often and most heartily? Paul's example is not binding on you. He had no wife or children to pray for, and many of us do, but.
Where is the Church on your prayer list? Is it there at all? Is it buried under Aunt Martha's arthritic little toe? Or some Mickey Mouse inconvenience of your own? Or is it way up high, where it ought to be? Not having to follow Paul's example in detail is far different than not having to follow his priorities. We do.
For her my tears shall fall,
For her my prayers ascend;
To her my toils and cares be given,
Till toils and cares shall end.
In reading the prayer, the first thing that catches your eye is Paul's posture, v.14b-
For this reason I bow my knees.
'Bowing the knees' is another way to say, 'praying', of course, but it's more than this. Ordinary Jewish prayers were prayed standing up. Being an Orthodox Jew, I assume Paul usually prayed this way. But not now. Because praying for the unity of the Church was no ordinary prayer. Though he did it daily, it was not routine. It was a special occasion to Paul, and I think his posture matched the occasion.
Back in I Kings 8, Solomon gathers the whole people to Jerusalem where they celebrate the opening of the Temple. Near the end of the festivities, the king leads his people in one of the most eloquent prayers ever offered in public. And he does it-not from his feet, but from his knees. Way back when, a man fell to his knees praying for God to fill His Temple.
And that's precisely what Paul is doing here! Falling to his knees, asking the Lord to fill His Church with-
All the fullness of God.
The God he is calling on is The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Some ancient manuscripts say only 'Father', but it makes no real difference, because both 'Father' and 'Father of our Lord Jesus Christ' suggest the same thing: generosity. If evil fathers know how to give good gifts to their children, how much more The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ?
This Father, Paul goes on to say, is the One-
From whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named.
Who named you? Your parents did. In the Ancient World, fathers chose the names, sometimes overriding their wives' wishes. All believers on earth and in heaven are named by God because.we are His children.
When we pray for the unity of the Church, we're not praying to Somebody up there who likes us, or to the paper gods of philosophy or theology. We are praying to our Father, a Personal, loving, generous, caring Father, who will do more for us than we ask! How much more? V.20 says-
Exceedingly, abundantly above all we ask or think.
What is Paul praying for? Some commentators say he's praying for several things, but I cannot agree with them. I say he's praying for one thing, and the other things are how we get to the one thing.
If I told you, 'I want you to be all muscle by this time next year', there is one command, but it is met by several things: exercise, eat right, take vitamins, get enough sleep, hire a personal trainer, pray for a miracle, and so on!.
What then, does Paul want for the Ephesians-and for us? He wants us to be-
Filled with all the fullness of God.
Scholars differ widely on what this means. The ones I read have gotten it wrong (I believe) because they ignored the context in favor of word studies and parallel passages (that were not always parallel). They say it means, 'holy' and that's true, or 'mature', or 'Christlike'-also true. As necessary as these things are, they're not what the chapter is about. The chapter is about the united Church as the Temple of God.
Thus, what Paul is praying for is something like this: God, unify them in such a way that your Spirit will be pleased to dwell with them in all His fullness.
In the next chapter, we learn the things that dissolve the fellowship of the church also Grieve the Holy Spirit. And, just as a grieved husband may stay with his wife, a part of him will draw back until she apologizes and starts loving him again. In the same way, the Holy Spirit so hates division in the church that He will draw back until we make things right with each other, and then come back in full.
How do we get there? We don't get there on our own; it is the Lord who unites His people, and that's why the things named in our verses are prayer requests, and not commands. Here's the first one, v.16-
That He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man.
Church unity is hard because it demands patience and forgiveness, overlooking faults, and loving people they way they are. These things cannot be done by weak and flabby souls. Good manners are not enough! Low-key personalities won't do! We need the strength of God's Holy Spirit to live together in love, and this is what Paul is praying for.
When the Spirit empowers us, our faith in Christ will grow, and with that faith, we will be intimate with Christ, v.17-
That Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.
This love for Christ and nearness to Him will naturally promote love for and nearness to one another. How can it be otherwise? If all believers are closely united to Christ, then to be closely united to Him means to be closely united to them. Think of Christ in a phone booth with a thousand other people. To be near Him is to be near them.
As your love for Christ grows, so does your knowledge of Christ, and in particular, your knowledge of His love for you.and all the rest of His people, vv.17-19a-
That you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints, what is the width and length and depth and height-to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge.
As you meditate on the love of Christ for His Whole Body, the Church, you start loving them yourself, and this, in turn, so pleases the Holy Spirit that He makes the Church His favorite place on earth.
What is prayer? For some of us, it's nothing more than reading off a list of wants to God. Your wants must be made known to God-the Bible says so. But prayer is not a list of demands, even when they're made in polite words and a reverent tone of voice. What prayer mostly is is praise.
This is how Paul ends his prayer, with a gush of adoration, vv.20-21-
Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages world without end. Amen.
Explaining a praise is like explaining a joke. The more you do it, the less effective it is. So let me close with only a one or two quick thoughts:
The unity of the Church is not about our happiness or the success of our witness. It's about the glory of God. Think about that the next time you're tempted to gossip or ignore or mistreat a fellow member of the Body. You're not just cutting her down, you're also defacing the glory of God.
Live in hope for the unity of the Church. One of the biggest obstacles to getting along with people and making up with them is.despair. 'What's the use?' we ask. 'He'll never change. He has said he would a hundred times, but he never does'. Why even try?
Here's why. The unity of the Church does not depend on the efforts and promises of its members-all of whom are weak and untrustworthy-but on the power of God, a power so great that it can do more than you ask for. So ask for the unity of the Church, and not once or twice or until you decide it's hopeless-
Keep on asking, and you shall receive.
Keep on seeking, and you shall find.
Keep on knocking, and it shall be opened to you.
May God Almighty bring His Almighty Word to pass. For Christ's sake. Amen.
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