Sermon Notes: Ephesians 3:14-21, Part 2 – Paul Prays… For Power

January 16, 2011 by  
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These are the notes of a sermon preached by Andy Evans on the morning of the 16 January 2011 at Firwood Church. Click here to stream or download the sermon audio.

Ephesians 3:14–21

14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

20 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, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

1. INTRODUCTION – PAUL PRAYS

a. Paul Prays

Last week we considered the theological framework by which the Apostle Paul approached prayer and noted the following,

i. Paul’s motivation to pray

We found that Paul was motivated to pray because he was genuinely and deeply thankful to God for the grace of God evident among this group of believers in Ephesus. Paul heard report that this church continued to live faithful and grace-motivated lives. It is this reality which caused Paul to respond to God in prayer and praise,

For this reason [...] I do not cease to give thanks for you… (Ephesians 1:15-16)

Moreover, Paul felt deeply for these believers, whom he had evangelised, and for this particular church, which he himself had planted. We discovered, more generally, that the Apostle felt a deep and profound concern for churches everywhere. Indeed, in his second epistle to the church in Corinth, Paul talks of his many sufferings for the sake of the gospel and lists, alongside shipwrecks, imprisonment and beatings,

…the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. (2 Corinthians 11:28)

It is this compassion and concern for this church and, generally, for the Church, which leads Paul to pray at chapter 3 verse 14,

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father (Ephesians 3:14)

ii. Paul’s confidence in prayer

The Apostle Paul had great confidence in prayer because he had great confidence in the nature and character of God. Paul was confident because he knew that this God, ‘who created all things’ (Ephesians 3:9),

…is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think… (Ephesians 3:20)

This is why it is important that believers think carefully and biblically about who God is. As we see something of his sovereignty, his glory and the magnitude of his power we are filled with confidence that he is, indeed, able to intervene on behalf of the saints. It is this confidence which then leads us to pray.

But this alone does not reflect the fullness of the gospel and, alone, would not, necessarily, draw us to our knees  in prayer. It is, therefore, similarly important that we understand that this God, who is able to act, is both gracious and compassionate. This God hears, listens and feels. This, then, gives us confidence that he cares for and acts on behalf of those who are his.

All of which informs how Paul approaches God in prayer; we find that Paul addresses this God as,

…the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named. (Ephesians 3:14, 15)

And, of course, this address reflects profound truths which Paul has already unpacked in detail. Paul wants believers to understand that this same omnipotent God calls those who are in enmity towards him to repent and invites us into his very household (Ephesians 2:19). This same God reveals himself to be and calls us to relate to him as Father.

All of which should give us great confidence in approaching him confidently and boldly in prayer (Ephesians 3:12).

b. The Magnitude of Paul’s Request

As we take hold of these great truths and allow them to settle on our hearts we will find a new impetus in our prayer lives.

If we refuse to accept that God is the King who actively reigns over all creation, we will not be inclined to pray as we will find ourselves doubting whether he is, in fact, capable of intervening. If we fail to recognise and relate to him as Father, he will feel distant and we will find ourselves withdrawing (even running) from him in our weakness and times of need.

This is why it is crucial that believers think deeply on such profound truths. Right theology, rightly considered, should always reinforce right living.

But the Apostle has a greater purpose.

Paul wants us to see the greatness and graciousness of God because he is about to pray for astounding things. Paul wants us to see the greatness of God that we might believe he is able to do all that Paul is about to ask. Paul wants us to see the grace of God that we might have confidence that Paul’s prayer is not in vain.

c. The Scope of Paul’s Prayer

It is clear that Paul’s prayer is primarily intended for this small congregation based in the city of Ephesus. Paul, however, has an altogether greater audience in view. Paul will pray for revelation and comprehension for this small congregation together,

…with all the saints… (Ephesians 3:18)

Paul thinks locally, for this particular church in this particular city, and universally, for the Church of Christ in every place, and we should do likewise.

It is easy for us to fixate on our own small concerns and narrow interests and neglect, say, the church in Brazil where three hundred lives have just been snuffed out by devastating mudslides. Or the church in Queensland, Australia, as they struggle in the aftermath of calamitous flooding. Or believers in Tunisia amidst the dangers of social upheaval as the country teeters on the precipice of civil war.

As we recognise that God reigns everywhere and as we find ourselves feeling deeply, as Paul felt, for the Church of Christ, we will find that the perspective and breadth of our prayers will expand exponentially in both their scope and concern.

Yes, Paul is praying specifically for this congregation of believers, but he is also thinking in universal terms. He prays for this church, but his desire is that all the saints would experience the outcome of this prayer.

Furthermore, Paul’s interest is not limited to his own day, the First Century Middle-East and beyond, Paul’s desire is that the Father would be glorified,

…in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:21)

This is hugely important for you and I.

One of the key challenges in studying the Word of God is trying understand how it relates to us, some 2000 years removed from the original audience.

Paul, here, makes this task easy for us as he prays for the church in Ephesus and as he prays for churches everywhere and at every time.

We can, then, be confident that this prayer is utterly relevant for both you and I because Paul prays for believers in Ephesus and believers everywhere and at every time.

By implication, Paul is praying for the today’s church. Indeed, by extension, Paul is praying for believers at Firwood Church, based in Westwood, Oldham, at the beginning of 2011.

Paul prays for believers then and Paul prays for believers now.

Paul prayer is, then, intended for both you and I.

2. FOR POWER

a. Power and Love

Paul prays for two specific things.

Firstly, he prays that believes might be,

…strengthened with power… (Ephesians 3:16)

Secondly, he prays that we might,

…know the love of Christ… (Ephesians 3:19)

We will spend the remainder of this morning considering the former and then return, next week, to consider the latter.

b. The Source of Power

It is important that we remind ourselves that this power (for which Paul prays) originates with God.

Paul specifically prays,

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father [...] that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being. (Ephesians 3:14, 16)

Remember that Paul has already prayed for these believers in respect of God’s power. Earlier, Paul prayed,

that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your heart enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power towards us who believe [...] (Ephesians 1:17-19)

In chapter one, Paul prayed that believers would see the immense resurrection power of God at work towards those who now believe. Paul wants believers (including you and I) to see the power of God at work in salvation. This is why there is an emphasis is upon seeing. Paul prays for ‘a spirit of wisdom and revelation’, that the eyes of our heart would be enlightened, that we would know hope, all that we have in Christ and that we would know his power at work towards us and in us.

The emphasis of this later prayer (beginning at chapter 3 verse 14) is, therefore, somewhat different. Paul now prays that God would ‘grant [us] to be strengthened with power’. Paul envisages that believers will be filled with power and that we would experience this power in our own lives.

But Paul prays for a specific kind of power, a kind of power which has its referent in God himself. Paul specifically prays that we would have power ‘according to the riches of his glory’ (v. 16).

There is an important distinction between this and the power that so intoxicates and transfixes the world.

We live in a culture in which we all believe that we have a claim on autonomy, authority, influence and control. We all want to be the one calling the shots. We all believe that we know better than our parents, our spouse, our boss, our government…

And all of this seeps into the church and we find ourselves craving a bad kind of power that pushes ourselves centre-stage and subjugates others.

Beneath all of this lies the same instinct we read about in the book of Acts where Simon the Magician offers to buy the gift of the Holy Spirit from the Apostles.

In order to understand this strange episode we need to picture the situation in which the Apostles were ministering.

Imagine the city of Samaria and the situation of Simon the Magician before the gospel took hold.  In all likelihood, Simon was a wealthy man. More than this, however, he was a local celebrity, a man who would draw a crowd and from whom people would seek advice and counsel.

He had celebrity, influence and authority.

And then the Apostles came into town preaching a message of the slaughtered God-Man, Jesus Christ, who was raised from the dead in power. Consider the impact of these same Apostles as they healed the sick, raised the dead, cast out demons and worked acts of incontrovertible power. All of this Simon exposed the ‘skills’ of the Magician to be but a pale imitation of the ‘true power’ worked by Apostles of the living God.

Moreover, to rub salt into the wounds, Simon’s previous devotees were now turning to Christ Jesus and, themselves, receiving mysterious and supernatural power.

Luke records that, against this backdrop, Simon approached the disciples and offered to purchase the Holy Spirit and, in so doing, earned a stinging rebuke from the Apostle Peter,

May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! [...] (Acts 8:20)

Then, later, comes an indication of the spirit driving the man to make such an outrageous attempt to manipulate the Spirit of God,

…I see you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity (Acts 8:23)

Pushed from centre stage and no longer in a position of influence, Simon became embittered and, blinded by this bitterness, attempted to purchase the real thing, the power which God alone provides.

But the power for which Paul prays is altogether different from that envisaged by Simon. This power is a grace-gift from God. It cannot be bought and it cannot be manipulated. The giving of this power is at the discretion and in accordance with the good pleasure of the Giver.

c. The Magnitude of this Power

Paul also gives us an indication the extent and magnitude of this power,

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father [...] that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being. (Ephesians 3:14, 16)

Paul prays that believers would receive a power akin to ‘the riches of his glory’. In other words, Paul prays for a power which is limitless and boundless like the very glory of God.

3. FOR STRENGTH / THE NEED

a. The Inner Man

Paul prays for power with great purpose. Paul prays,

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father [...] 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… (Ephesians 3:14, 16, 17)

The first thing to note is that this passage, as we have seen elsewhere, is profoundly Trinitarian. Paul prays to the Father, that by the Spirit, Christ might dwell in our hearts. In this we are given a glimpse into the working of the Godhead.

When God acts he acts incomplete accordance with his nature and his purposes. We see, therefore, an incredible unity within the Godhead in God’s dealings with mankind. When God feels and acts, he does so in unity: God the Father, God the Spirit and God the Son in perfect accord. When Paul prays, he prays in accordance with the truth of who God is and how he operates.

We would do well to apply this in our own prayer life. A deep knowledge of God leads to a deeper urge to pray and a deeper intimacy with him.

But Paul is asking for something beyond the revelation he prayed for earlier (Ephesians 1:19), Paul is now asking for an imbuement of power with a specific purpose in mind. Paul prays that we would be strengthened in our inner being or, literally translated, our inner man.

This phrase, ‘inner being’ (eso anthropon), is uniquely Pauline and found nowhere outside the New Testament.[1] Paul uses this phrase in reference to the inner person (literally, ‘the inner man’), the seat of personal consciousness, the focal point at the centre of our lives where the Holy Spirit does his strengthening and renewing work.[2]

Indeed, elsewhere, Paul expands upon the nature of the inner person and contrasts this with the idea of the outer man. Consider,

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light and momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

Again, Paul uses the same construct, the ‘outer man’ (exo ho anthropos) and the ‘inner man’, to designate the outer and inner person (again, literally, the ‘inner’ and ‘outer man’). This passage, therefore, is helpful in understanding Paul’s intention in Ephesians. We see that, for the believer, Paul contrasts the outer man, ageing into decrepitude, with the inner man, which is being renewed day by day.

This should help us bring our attitudes and thinking into accordance with the Scriptures.

We too often focus on the outer man, material belongings, appearance, health, satisfaction and well-being, while, simultaneously and strenuously, neglecting the inner man; that part of us which is eternal.

New Testament scholar, Professor D.A. Carson, articulates the problem thus,

The Christian’s ultimate hope is for the resurrection body. But until we have that gift, it is our inner being that is being strengthened by God’s power. In a culture where so many people are desperate for good health, but not demonstrably hungry for the transformation of the inner being, Christians are in urgent need of following Paul’s example and praying for displays of God’s power in the inner being. In short, Paul’s primary concern is to pray for a display of God’s mighty power in the domain of our being that controls our character and prepares us for heaven.[3]

Returning then to Ephesians, Paul prays that believers, indeed, that you and I, would be strengthened in respect of the part of us that matters most, ‘the inner person'; that part of us which will continue long after our bodies have been laid in the dirt.

Paul prays that God would strengthen us with his all surpassing power in our inner person.

b. The Need

Paul’s explanation of the dynamic between the inner and outer man in his Second Epistle to the Corinthians is also helpful in identifying the need for this supernatural, God-given strength for which Paul prays.

As we read Paul’s Second Epistle to the Corinthians, we see that Paul is writing to a church experiencing severe hardship, opposition and even persecution. Paul reminds the church in Corinth that, even as they suffer (and their outer body crumbles) for the sake of Christ, the hope of the gospel is certain: they will inherit all of the promises which are in Christ Jesus.

Paul is clear, the outer person may be subjected to great suffering and hardship, but, for those of us who believe, even as we suffer, the inner person is being renewed and we will, on that day, inherit our resurrection bodies.

If then, we return to Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians, we find that he has just reminded the church of his own present circumstances,

…I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus… (Ephesians 3:1)

And, later,

So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory. (Ephesian 3:13)

Paul reminds the believers in Ephesus of his suffering and now prays that God would strengthen them in order to receive this truth and, if so called, to live in the light of this truth.

When Paul reminds us, believers here at Firwood Church, of his own sufferings, there is an expectation that some of us will suffer for the sake of Christ Jesus. Paul is the illustration which proves the statement true, that,

…all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12)

Paul prays that we would be strengthen in the light of the suffering endured by the saints around the globe. Paul prays that we would be strengthened that we might endure suffering and hold to the truth of the gospel. Paul prays that we would be strengthened that we might suffer well.

c. The Outcome

1. Christ Dwells

In all of this, Paul has a particular outcome in view,

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father [...] 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… (Ephesians 3:14, 16, 17)

In one sense, this is a strange prayer.

The Scriptures elsewhere assure us that Christ Jesus dwells in and with all who believe. In a very real sense, therefore, we can say with absolute confidence that Christ Jesus resides in all believers everywhere. If you are a believer here this morning, it is true that Christ Jesus is in you and that you are in him.

What then should we make of Paul’s prayer? Is it not redundant to pray that Chris Jesus might dwell in believers by faith? Is this not already true? Has this not already happened?

It is helpful to note that the verb (katoikesai) here translated ‘dwell’ is strong and signifies a permanent dwelling rather than a temporary abode.[4]

To help us understand this, consider when you moved into your current home. Unless you were very fortunate, in all likelihood the decor will not have been entirely to your liking, the house may well have needed work and, perhaps, even renovation.

And, unless you are either very able or wealthy, it is exceedingly likely that the necessary work took you a number of years to complete.

It is true that on the day you moved in, the house became your home. However, it might not be until a number of years later that you were able to say, ‘This house suits us’, or even, ‘This house feels like home’.

This is the case when we receive the gospel.

In a very real sense, as we believe and trust in Christ, he comes and dwells within us. However, we are like a decrepit, even derelict, building which requires serious renovation and work. It will most likely take a number of months, perhaps even years, until the new owner, Jesus Christ, begins to truly stamp his identity upon us (and, in truth, this work will not be perfected until the day of his return).[5]

It is this kind of permanency which the Apostle Paul has in view. Yes, we received Christ Jesus on coming to faith. However, Paul now prays that Christ would continue to dwell within us and, in so doing, that we would be transformed increasingly into his likeness.

ii. Heart Change

This is why the location of Christ’s indwelling is important. Paul prays,

…that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith… (Ephesians 3:17)

The notion of the ‘heart’ is here used as an equivalent to the ‘inner person’. Paul prays that Christ would dwell in our hearts, in our ‘inner person’, the seat of who we are, the very centre of our personality. Paul prays that the strength and power of Jesus Christ would renovate and transform us from the very centre of our being.

Paul prays, as Christ continues his work, that we would be radically transformed.

d. Glorious Grace

Finally, we have been tracing a single glorious theme through the first part of our journey through the Apostle Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus, ‘His Glorious Grace’.

And here we find evidence of the grace of God at work most powerfully in the lives of believers in every time and every place,

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father [...] that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being. (Ephesians 3:14, 16)

Paul, elsewhere, uses a similar construct,

And my God will supply every need of yours according to the riches in glory in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19)

Paul is reminding us that the locus of all blessing is Christ Jesus. All God’s riches and glorious grace is located and available in and through him.

Forgiveness.

Redemption.

Salvation.

Our continuing sanctification.

The final consummation and our hoped- and longed-for glorification.

All of this is found and grounded in Christ Jesus. In him, the riches of the glory of God is displayed and made available to those of us who believe and respond in faith.

And we, those of us who believe, are beneficiaries of the riches of his glory. Moreover, we are recipients of his glorious grace.

We are saved because of his sheer grace and we continue to be saved and transformed because of his sheer grace as we continue in faith (which is, itself, a grace-gift, Ephesians 2:8). This explains the formula when Paul prays,

…that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith… (Ephesians 3:17)

We come to Christ in faith and we are called to continue with Christ in faith. As we do so he continues to work powerfully in our lives and we become, increasingly, vessels in which his glorious grace is made manifest.

To the glory of God.

And so, with the Apostle Paul, we pray over our lives and in this church,

to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:21)


[1] Peter O’Brien, The Letter to the Ephesians, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1999), pp. 257-258

[2] Gordon Fee, God’s Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc, 2005), pp. 695-697

[3] D. A. Carson, A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and his Prayers (Gosport, Hampshire: InterVarsity Press,  1992, [2009]), p. 185.

[4] Peter O’Brien, pp. 258-259

[5] This illustration is taken from D.A. Carson, pp. 186-187.

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