A look at the headlines will bring up stories like Ebola, or ISIS, or any number of crises of the week. Closer to home our headlines may read something about storms, immigration, or problems with Congress.
We all face trouble in our day to day lives.
In your home, you may be tired from working hard all week, there may be constant disagreements with your spouse or children, or you may experience health problems that linger from day to day.
This morning, we are looking at Ephesians 3:14-19. I will be reading from the Message translation. Typically, I will use the English Standard Version or occasionally will use the New Living Translation. But this passage, as translated by Eugene Peterson from the original Greek, into The Message brings a fresh look at this text in a very meaningful way. I ask that you will indulge me a moment to discuss this passage by using this translation—I believe I will be meaningful you to as well.
In this passage, we see how Paul responds to the problems that he is dealing with in his life—that of persecution and prison.
What is Paul’s response?
My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength—that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God. (EPH 3:14-19, MSG)
Let us pray
As we open the letter from Paul to the Ephesians, we read in Ephesians 3:11-13; Paul writes.
All this is proceeding along lines planned all along by God and then executed in Christ Jesus. When we trust in him, we’re free to say whatever needs to be said, bold to go wherever we need to go. So don’t let my present trouble on your behalf get you down. Be proud! (EPH 3:11-13, MSG)
So when we see the first words of verse 14, we read Paul say; “my response is”. Response to what? Paul’s present troubles—we know from history that Paul was in prison. We need to take a look at the positive tone of Paul’s writing. He doesn’t side step the fact that he is having a hard time. But at the same time, he refocuses the “present troubles” to the bigger picture. He encourages the people not to let his troubles get them down.
So what is his response?
Paul’s response to trouble is;
- A Response to pray
My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. (EPH 3:14, MSG)
His response is to pray. He goes to the Father who delivers “out all heaven and earth”. The English Standard Translations translates the Greek to say. : “from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named”(Eph3:15, ESV).
God owns all things and is ready to give to his children.
One of my hobbies is reading comic books. I look to read the stories of super heroes and adventures. Every month, my collection grows with new issues.
For those who are interested, I read mainly DC Comics—stories of Superman and Batman.
But, I order my comics from a store on Time Square in New York City called Midtown Comics. They have a wonderful up to date selection of books, along with extensive back issues—in case I missed an issue, or simply want to go back and read another story.
I go to Midtown Comics because they have what I need.
For many other things, we know to go to Amazon.com because there is a good chance that they have what we need. It only makes since that when you need something you go to the place where you can find what you are looking for.
God, The Father created everything;. From the Earth we stand on, to the hairs on our head. He crafted all with his very hands. He created everything and he owns everything.
God has what you need; why NOT go to him?
He is the source of all good things, we need to go to him! “He parcels out all heaven and earth”. He gives all things for us. We simply go to him and pray and ask.
Paul sets a great example for us. That when we are faced with trouble, we get on our knees before him and pray!
Are you having trouble in your life this morning? It could be in your marriage; it could be your children; it could be your job; it could be stress of life. Is your response to pray? Turn to God today! He is there waiting for you to ask!
But, as you go to him, I want you to take note of what Paul does.
When Paul goes to him, it is not what you think it might be. It is actually completely different.
Paul prays that the Ephesians will find
- A strength to acquire.
Paul prays for the Ephesians, that they will have strength; inner strength.
I want you to think about that for a moment. When Paul is experiencing trouble—he is praying for the Ephesians. This is not to say, that he never prays for himself or that as a rule we should never pray for ourselves when we are in trouble. But it is very interesting to me that in Paul’s time of trouble, he prays for the Ephesians. He is thinking of others and how God can bless them!
He refocused his hardship toward a greater purpose. In verse 13 he mentions that his present troubles are for their behalf. He knows that the hardship that he is enduring is for the sake of others. This is a picture of resiliency.
He is not feeling sorry for himself—he is realizing his role in the bigger picture and allowing that to capture his attention—not the present trouble that he is enduring.
So the first prayer Paul has for the Ephesians is that they will have strength; inner strength.
I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength—that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. (EPH 3:16, MSG)
Paul is very clear in what strength he is talking about. We focus many times on physical strength; so when we hear the word “Strength” that is our first thought.
But Paul is focused on our inner strength. Inner strength is an attribute that many search for. A casual search on google uncovers descriptions from Gandhi to Tolkien.
Psychology Today defined strength as a “great capability at facing challenges.”,
But what they miss in their articles is the glorious inner strength that Paul is talking about here. This glorious inner strength comes only from Christ. This glorious inner strength is hard to understand but Paul prays that the Ephesians will find it.
What does this glorious inner strength look like?
It looks like the faith that is found in people like Billy Farrow.
Billy Farrow was a part of the “Doolittle Raids”—the World War II bombing of Tokyo. After Billy Farrow dropped his bombs, his aircraft ran out of gas and he and his crew were forced to bail out in Japanese controlled China. Farrow was tortured and interrogated and finally executed.
A day before his execution, Farrow composed a letter to his mother at home in Darlington, South Carolina. He wanted to reassured her of his faith
The final lines of his letter were:
“Don’t let this get you down. Just remember God will make everything right and that I’ll see you all again in the hereafter. Read “Thanatopsis” by Bryant if you want to know how I am taking this. My faith in God is complete so I am unafraid” (Battlefields and Blessings, 54)
That is inner strength.
The inner strength that bring your faith in God complete so you are unafraid.
That is inner strength that is available to you.
It is easy to get confused here to think this inner strength is salvation. Salvation is an important aspect of acquiring this inner strength.
Salvation comes when you realize that you are a sinner in need of forgiveness and that forgiveness can only come through dependence on Christ. When you accept his payment on the cross for your sin, you become saved from the death you deserve. That is salvation, and that salvation is available for you today.
But Paul is praying that they get strong in their strength—as we open the door to him.
We were born the first time we grew stronger—some work out in the gym to get stronger and stronger. In the same way, when we are born again, we have to grow to be stronger and stronger. Paul prays that the Ephesians, as well as, each of us become stronger and stronger.
And just as the Ephesians need to grow stronger in our inner strength—so do we.
What about you? Where are you in inner strength? We have PT tests—I had one this week—to test your physical strength. How well do you do when your inner strength is tested? We all need to get stronger.
And when we do; we will find
- A Love to embrace
Paul’s second prayer for the Ephesians is;
And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. (EPH 3:17, MSG)
Paul prays that the Ephesians will be “able to take in the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love.”
Several years ago, I was able to visit the Philadelphia Museum of Art—the museum on top of the steps “Rocky” runs up. During our visit, we were able to see the exhibit called: Rembrandt and the Face of Jesus. I’m not an art expert, by no means, but it was an amazing exhibit of how Rembrandt visualized the face of Christ. Would it be wonderful to be an art expert? To fully understand the masterpieces in these museums? But, that takes years of study, focus, and discipline.
When I go to a museum, I only take in just a portion of the beauty that is help in the collections. I see things I like, and some that I don’t. But what if I were an art expert, I would fully be able to take in the dimensions of the artwork.
And so it should be with us and our Christian walk. That we would be able to “able to take in the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love.” That we would be able to stand back and have a clue of what we are looking at! This too doesn’t come easy.
It takes work, it takes study, it takes patience. This isn’t something you can acquire by simply showing up to chapel thinking you will get strong—I’ve never seen someone improve their PT score by working out once a week. This will take some effort.
So how is it done?
Verse 18-19; from the Message:
Paul encourages the Ephesians , and his writing encourages us to
Reach out and experience the breadth!
Test its length!
Plumb the depths!
Rise to the heights!
Live full lives, full in the fullness of God. (EPH 3:18-19, MSG)
Where are you in your spiritual life? The challenge is clear. Go for it! Respond in Prayer, Acquire the strength, and embrace His love. You can do it—it is available for you.
Let us pray.
This sermon was originally preached at the Crossroads Chapel service at Sage Hall. Fort Bliss, Texas on 19 October 2014.
All scripture marked MSG: “Scripture taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.”