A sermon by Dr Donald T. Williams - donaldtwilliams.com
Presented at Trinity Fellowhip on 10/25/1998
The Apostle Paul was a careful writer, an eloquent writer, a practical writer, a profound writer, a powerful writer, and by any standards a great writer; but he is not always an easy writer to follow, as even Peter was aware (2 Pet. 3:15-16). He is difficult because sometimes he is dealing with the most exalted concepts ever to enter into the mind of man. But he is also difficult to follow because he was a writer who became involved with his subject matter and sometimes got carried away by it. That is what happened when he wrote Ephesians chapter 3.
The theme of the whole epistle is God's eternal purpose to build the Church as a temple to the glory of his Son, Jesus Christ. By the end of chapter 2 we are there: the temple is being built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ as the cornerstone, and it is growing as it is constructed out of the saints as living stones. So chapter 2 ends with the thought of the Church as a temple of living stones, but also as an organism, growing into the holy temple God means it to be. Therefore, in 3:1 Paul says "For this reason"--because of this growth. But for this reason WHAT? He never finishes the sentence. 3:2 begins a tangent, with Paul pausing to marvel at the wonder of it all, especially the grace and the privilege of his having been called to preach it. Then in 3:14, he picks up where he had left off: "For this reason," he says, returning to the train of thought at the end of chapter 2, which is now back on the tracks.
Now, because this connection between 3:14 and the end of chapter 2 is usually missed, I want to stress it by skipping 3:1-13 until later. It is important, and we will come back to it. But first we want to see the reason for 3:14. Why does Paul pray these things for us? Because God is growing his Church. Therefore, we will develop 3:14ff through a series of questions.I. WHAT IS THE CONNECTION WITH THE END OF CHAPTER 2? GROWTH
2:21 is the thesis for the whole book: God is building his Church by causing it to grow. 3:14-21 then deals with individual growth in strength, love, comprehension, and godliness. 4:1-16 then deals with the corporate growth of the body through the exercise of spiritual gifts. 4:17 to the end deals with how a growing church should live.
To see how the thought flows through chapter 3-4 is to see the importance of growth in the structure of Ephesians (it is the fulcrum on which the whole book turns), in the theology of Paul, and in the Christian life. Calvin commented, "Paul wishes that the Ephesians should be strengthened; yet he had already bestowed on their piety no mean commendation. But believers have never advanced so far as not to need further growth. The highest perfection of the godly in this life is an earnest desire to make more progress." For growth is essential to the very nature of the Church. Its Great Commission is to make Disciples, i.e., learners, i.e., growers. The Church then is to grow both in numbers of disciples and in the progress made by those disciples.
Are we growing? Are there more people in our church who are saved, who are disciples of Jesus, than there were a year ago? Are there more people in our church who are strong, able to minister? Are you stronger, more vibrant, more effective as an ambassador of Christ than you were a year ago? These are the questions we are required to ask as we evaluate our ministry. If the answer is no, then we are not fulfilling our purpose; we are wasting our time. If it is yes, then we must thank the Lord and pray that we will be strengthened even further in the inner man.
What is the nature of this growth? Paul does not mention numbers, budgets, programs, or buildings. These things are important, and if the church is growing properly they will show this fact. But the focus is not there. To have it there is deadly: it gets the cart before the horse and confuses the results with the cause. That is why two questions are Paul's focus: Am I getting stronger spiritually? Am I using that strength to exercise my spiritual gifts? If the answers to these questions are "yes," then the rest will take care of itself.II. WHY DOES PAUL SAY, "I BOW MY KNEES"?
Why not, you ask. It means he was praying. Duh! But not so fast. The normal Hebrew position for prayer was not kneeling but standing, with one's arms stretched up to Heaven as if to receive the expected answer of God's blessing. See 1 Tim. 2:8, Luke 18:11, 13. Kneeling in prayer was rare (1 Kings 8:54, Luke 22:41). It seems to have been used only at times of unusual religious fervor or emotion. Therefore, his diction here is one more indication of the importance of this whole prayer to Paul. So how much do you desire to grow? Do you seek it with tears? Do you bow your knees before the Father?III. WHAT DOES NAMING FAMILIES HAVE TO DO WITH IT?
The key to understanding this seemingly unconnected phrase in verse 15 goes back to 2:19. The Gentiles are fellow citizens with the saints. So Paul is reminding them that the God to whom he prays is concerned for them. No matter what your parentage, no matter what your nationality, no matter what your background, the Father knows you by name--even if you are one of the previously despised Gentiles. This growth is for you,IV. WHAT IS THE "INNER MAN"?
This phrase is used two other times in the New Testament. In Rom. 7:22 Paul joyfully concurs with the Law in his inner man, even though his body obeys a different law. In 2 Cor. 4:16, the outer man is decaying but the inner man is being renewed day by day. So the inner man is the spirit as opposed to the flesh, the mind as opposed to the body. It is the real you, conceived as regenerate; it is the new nature.V. WHY DOES IT NEED TO BE STRENGTHENED?
Well, just look within honestly and you will know. Rom. 7:22 is the most brilliant and honest analysis of the human heart ever penned. Do you have a besetting sin, a bad habit? You know it is wrong; your inner man even agrees with the Law. And so you resolve not to do it. But then you DO do it. Why? The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. You need to be strengthened in your inner man! You come home tired, burned out by the hassles and frustrations of a long day at work. You try to pray, to read your Bible, but you can't concentrate. You need to be strengthened in your inner man. The kids have been irritating you in little ways all day, their bickering and picking at one another like Chinese water torture. Now, you love them, and you will hate yourself for it later, but right now you are at the end of your rope, and you lose your temper and scream at them. You need to be strengthened in your inner man!
So what does Paul pray for you? What is the Christian solution to this dilemma? What is God's provision for this need? To change the circumstances? To remove the desire? No! It is to strengthen you with power through his Spirit in the inner man, so that you may be able to resist the temptations of the Enemy, and in the evil day, to stand.VI. HOW CAN WE BE STRENGTHENED?
What Paul is asking for is a gift. He wants God to "grant" it. Therefore, if you need it--when you need it--you only have to ask! But since that may be too simple for our complicated minds, let me give you three steps. First, really Desire it ("bow your knees before the Father"). Second, Ask in faith. And then, finally, Act on the basis that it has been given. That is the acid test of whether you have truly asked in faith. And you will discover that, when you need it, the strength will be there.CONCLUSION:
The supply of this strength is inexhaustible--it is according to the riches of his glory. The access to it is immediate--it is through his Spirit. The purpose for which it is given is momentous--it is the edification, the building, of Christ's Church. Therefore, for this reason, I bow my knees before the Father from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that he would grant you according to the riches of his glory to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner man. Amen.
Here endeth the lesson. Dr. Donald T. Williams