Now to him who is able…. —Ephesians 3:20
Three years ago this month a group of people felt a clear call from God to launch a new church for this city. We were few in number. We had no denominational backing. We had no financial safety net. We did have a clear call from God. Every church should have a sense of destiny. If you want to understand that heart here at Immanuel, here it is. We want to see what only God can do, to bring greater honor to his Son Jesus Christ. We want to do our own part in that the best we can, of course. We will not do things in a slipshod way but with excellence and in unity. But far more, this church is about the power of God for the glory of Christ. So we don’t mind being weak, because he is strong. We are sinful, and we are sorry about that, but the game-changer here at Immanuel is the good news that Jesus Christ is the Friend of sinners. Because he bore our sins on the cross, God treats us bad people as if we were good people, as good as his Son. We are experiencing this grace. We are experiencing the power of being accepted – not condemned, not even tolerated, but accepted and loved by the all-holy God through the finished work of Christ on the cross. The power of grace is percolating down into every area of our lives. It’s called newness of life. It’s called revival. We want to spread it to everyone.
Our strategy is simple and biblical: Jesus, community, mission. Jesus comes first. He is the sacred center of everything in this church. We are intentional about exalting Jesus our Savior. We don’t mean just any Jesus. We don’t mean a miniaturized Jesus Jr you can fit into the margins of your busy life. We mean the industrial strength Jesus of the Bible who changes our lives. Only the real Jesus can help real sinners. So we are hurling ourselves at him with total commitment. Community – we’re building relationships of safety, relationships where people have room to grow, relationships that last. This is not a trigger-happy church. We are not putting each other under negative scrutiny. No one can survive that. But we understand that the responsibility of every one of us is to be head cheerleader for every other person around here. That’s a community anyone can thrive in. Mission, because Christ is glorified as more and more people enter in. The book of Acts repeatedly rejoices in large numbers of people coming to Christ through the witness of the church. Our mission is to plant gospel-centered churches to revitalize our region, to fill the gospel deficit in Nashville and Tennessee and the South. Healthy churches are God’s strategy for worldwide blessing, and he is calling every one of us to bend our lives around to advance the mission. How are you involved?
We thank the Lord today for catching us up into the new gospel surge in our time. We thank the Lord for giving us this church and growing us for the display of his glory. So let’s go to a passage now that describes the power of God in the church. Ephesians 3:14-21 is astonishing, it’s audacious, it’s staggering. We are tempted not to take this passage at face value. But this is describing normal Christianity. Paul is presenting normal, powerful, biblical, happy Christianity, and it outperforms Bible Belt religion by a mile. The power of God is thrilling, and he wants it for you. He doesn’t care what you deserve. Christ was sacrificed in your place. So now God is giving his best to weak and bad people like us. Here it is:
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth is named, 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—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.
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.
That’s amazing. But that is the power of the gospel that God wants to give us today. This is normative, not exceptional. Why do I say that? Why is it that you must believe that this passage is not describing a super-spiritual option for an elite but just ordinary, amazing Christianity for all believers and all churches? Why is it that we must not say in our hearts, “No, this isn’t for me. I could never deserve this. And it would change me anyway. So I’ll settle for something less”? How do we know this is normative, definitive gospel experience? For three reasons. One, the letter we now call “Ephesians” was not written to the church in Ephesus alone. It was written to a number of churches in the Ephesus area, and it came to be called Ephesians because the church there was the most prominent. In fact, some of the early manuscripts do not have the words “in Ephesus” in chapter 1, verse 1. This was a circular letter for a group of churches, which is why Paul does not include personal greetings to people he knows, as he does in other letters. But here’s the point. This letter was never meant to address a particular church and its particular problems. It was meant to describe universal Christianity that belongs in all churches. Two, what Paul prays for is something that “all the saints” share, according to verse 18. It is not limited to some Christians or groups but belongs to all the saints. Finally, in verse 21 we see that what Paul is talking about has no expiration date on it but it goes on “throughout all generations, forever and ever.” It is not limited in time. So you can see that this passage reveals the amazing blessing God wants to give you, because this simple is biblical Christianity.
We have the prayer in verses 14-19, and the praise in verses 20-21. Paul starts with prayer, because we can’t program God. The key to being a church is not primarily how we organize but primarily what only God can do. So, we pray down his power. And we learn to pray from the Bible. Hold this passage open while you pray, and pray these verses back to God. He is coaching us here in what to pray for, because this is what he promises to give us in answer to our prayers. God likes this prayer. He’s the one who inspired it. We’re standing here before an open door into what only God can do. Let’s go there.
What then can we pray for? You see the word “that” three times, in verses 16, 17 and 19, marking what to pray for. First, in verse 16, we pray that according to the riches of God’s glory he may grant us to be strengthened with power through his Spirit deep within. And why do we need to be deeply strengthened? Because it is not easy for us when Christ comes. He comes to dwell in that hidden place where we meet him so personally. He brings to us the very atmosphere of heaven, he brings to us his mighty love, his brings to us a new sense that he is real and wonderful beyond all this world. If you drop white-hot nuclear fuel into a paper bag, the bag needs to be strengthened. That’s the first thing we can and should pray for – that we would be enabled to bear up under the mighty love of Christ entering our hearts.
Dwight Moody was a minister in the nineteenth century. But he saw so much selfishness within himself he didn’t like but couldn’t shake. He was crying out to God. And the Lord met Moody as he was walking down Wall Street in New York one day. Moody hurried to the nearby home of a friend and got alone with God. And later he wrote, “I can only say God revealed Himself to me, and I had such an experience of His love that I had to ask Him to stay His hand.” It was the turning point in Moody’s life. And that is Christianity – the love of Christ for sinners coming in power to free us from ourselves. The gospel is not about Christ making your life easier. The gospel is about Christ making your life harder as he pours his love into your heart with such impact you need strength to survive him. This is what we pray for.
Secondly, in verse 17, we pray that we, being rooted and grounded in this love, in other words, as we feel under our feet the absolute bedrock of his unchanging love for us and we become wonderfully secure in his love – that we may have strength to comprehend with all the saints, not as our own private, selfish experience, not aloof from other Christians or superior to them, but in community with others, and not just one person over here and another over there but all of us together as a whole church – that we together every Sunday morning may have strength to comprehend what is the generous breadth of his love including us, the eternal length of his love being patient with us and never abandoning us, the all-forgiving height of his love surpassing our worst guilt, the sacrificial depth of his love lifting us out of our failure – that we may be empowered to take in the vast love of Christ, to know his love with heart-level feeling because head-knowledge alone cannot grasp so great a wonder. That’s the second thing to pray for. First, Jesus. We pray to be strengthened for his felt presence. Secondly, community. We pray to enter together into his multi-dimensional love surrounding us sinners so that we enjoy Christ all together as one.
Thirdly, in verse 19, we pray it all to this end, namely, that we may be filled with all the fullness of God. It’s as if we’ve been climbing a circular stairway through this passage, and now we come to the top and we’re breathless. What is the Bible saying? This third prayer is that we would be so satisfied with God, with who God is and what God has done for us in Christ crucified and risen again, that sin loses its power and the things of this world lose their charm, and we turn to God as all our happiness and we find him to be so. Then we’re free at heart to live on mission for him. Fear is gone. Lukewarmness is gone. We are filled, unleashed, for mission.
Ephesians 3:14-20 is Christianity-in-life. This is where the gospel takes us. These verses are the conclusion to the doctrinal section of this letter, chapters 1-3. Theologically responsible, non-weird Christianity takes us into the felt presence of Christ, a powerful sharing of his love together here in church, and such boldness and confidence in God that nothing can stop us from living on mission. Maybe you’ve experienced this in the past, but let’s not dwell on the past. The Bible says that God’s mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23). We thank the Lord for how he has cared for us and provided for us and guided us so far. But God has far more for us in the future, as we can see in this passage. He is ready to meet you today, in answer to your prayer, if you will set your heart on God according to his Word.
The second part of the passage is praise, in verses 20-21: “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.” Let’s take it phrase by phrase.
“Now to him.” He is the one this church is for. If there should be glory to him in the church throughout the ages, then there should be glory to him in this church right now. At this very moment, let’s turn our thoughts away from other concerns to him, to God and to the Lamb. Our ultimate purpose is to give him glory for being God, for being who is he and doing what only he can do. We press in by faith right now, and we say to him, “Now to you be the glory in Immanuel Church!”
“Now to him who is able” – or, “Now to the Dynamic One.” God is the only One for whom all things are possible and nothing is impossible. What is there that God cannot do for you? He has never come up against an obstacle and said, “What do I do now?” He creates obstacles, so that he can then display his power. He can handle every one of us and all our sins and problems and fears. He is the Able One, and his abilities overrule our inabilities.
“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think.” The Bible warns us against smallness of thought. A small-minded believer is barely a believer at all. But God surprises all of us. Isaiah 64:3 says, “You did awesome things that we did not look for.” God exceeds our expectations. We ask him to forgive us, and he adopts us. We ask him to change us, and he makes us like Christ. We ask him to meet our needs, and he bestows honor. Our prayers and thoughts are so limited, but his power to bless is not limited. The Bible says here that he is able to do far more than all we ask or think. God isn’t able to do just more than our wimpy prayers and our timid thoughts but far more than all our prayers and thoughts, including our highest and best. So pile up all your prayers from all your life, everything you have ever asked God for. And on top of all that, pile up all your thoughts about God and the Bible and the gospel of his grace, everything you’ve ever contemplated about Christ, every conversation with believing friends, every blog post, every tweet. And still, far above it all, God’s ability to bless us sinners is higher. Believe it. And give him glory.
We never ask God for too much, so that he has to say, “Well, I didn’t really mean that promise there in the Bible.” 2 Corinthians 4:7 says that the surpassing power belongs to God. Let’s enlarge our expectations. We don’t want to insult God by diminishing him in our thoughts and offending him in our prayers and treating him as if he were like us. May he deliver us from unworthy thoughts of himself and small desires for his glory. May he deliver our children from puny Christianity in their generation. The vision of the glory of God here in Ephesians 3 belongs to all generations, forever and ever. It will never go out of effect, as verse 21 says. This passage invites our wholehearted faith. It deserves our wholehearted faith. How dare we diminish it? How dare we not seek as much of Christ as he will give us? Today in Nashville, how many people think of God with this confidence and expectancy? Does this passage describe the Christianity presently established in our city? How many people in Nashville today experience Christ like this? They may think of him as a loving Savior in some sense, but how many expect a mighty Christ who blesses us far beyond anything we’ve ever known or thought? But that’s who he is and what he can do. And they need to know that he is great enough to love anyone.
“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.” We’re a part of it, because he decided to give himself to us sinners. If you need superabundant grace today, you can have it. If you need what only God can do, you can have it. If you need more grace than you dare to ask for, you can have it. If you need more mercy than you can think of, you can have it all, because he is able and he is willing to give and give and give. The prodigal son asked the Father to let him work as a servant, and the Father put a ring on his finger and a robe on his shoulders and commanded a celebration. And if you come to him today, he will out-answer your prayer. The power at work in a praying believer – I can only say, and I can say, as can so many of you, that God really is able to pour his love into a heart with such overwhelming reality that all this fraudulent world fades into nothingness in the joy and comfort and power of his glorious presence. If you feel stuck in who you are, stuck in your history, imprisoned in your desires, and you wonder how you can be other than what you are – but what if God gets involved? Look to him, confess your sin, and invite him to come to you in power.
“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 – not just in you or me alone but in all of us together – and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” And we finally come to the one simple thing we add to all that God does. We add our Amen. That little word there at the very end – that’s our part. We look at all that God can do, and we just say Amen! Do you know what Amen means? It’s a Hebrew word that basically means, “YESSSSSSSSS!” It means, I believe this. It means, I’ll stake everything on this. It means, I take possession of this for myself. It means, I’m so in!
Let that be our heartcry today. And if you have never tasted his love, you too should say Amen, because God can give all this to you. Turn away from your own righteousness and turn to Christ the crucified sacrifice for sinners, open up the empty hands of faith, and he will give himself to you forever, for his glory. All this will be yours, because he is greatest Giver in the universe. And I say Amen and Amen.