This passage includes one of the most astonishing verses in the Bible
I wonder whether you’ve been very thirsty. You have a drink of water and it leaves you wanting more. You drink another glass and another and another. And you end up so full of water that you basically become water. You don’t walk around, you slosh around.
Well this passage is astonishing because Paul says that we can be filled, saturated – not with water, but with all the fullness of God. That you will be so filled with God that you will be like God.
v19: ‘so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God’.
In chapters 1 and 2 of Ephesians, Paul has been speaking about the blessings that we have when we are ‘in Christ’. We’ve thought about that in terms of pages in a book, in terms of being in a place (‘in St Andrew’s), and in terms of being bricks or stones built together into a building.
The big idea is that we are in this together.
That is the significant word in Ephesians.
In Christ we are inter-connected, dependent on each other and dependent on Jesus. I am part of him, you are part of him, and therefore we are part of each other. And more than that: we share in the identity of Jesus, we are where he is, we possess what he possesses, his death was our death, his resurrection will be our resurrection, his purpose or mission is our purpose and mission, and his destiny will be our destiny.
But now, in these verses, Paul changes the picture.
Now he focusses on the fact that it is not we who are in Christ, but Christ, God, who comes and lives in us.
I think it is easier for us to understand this picture.
I have here a bit of bounty (for those who don’t know what a bounty is – it chocolate wrapped round coconut). I love bounty. I eat it. It has come into me. It has become part of me. It will change me. There will be (and please, scientists do not shoot me down: I know this is a completely unscientific description of the process) a few bounty shaped cells in me!
Well so, by faith Christ says that he will come into us and live in us. And he will change us. He will fill us, and the more that we allow him to fill us, the more full of God we will become.
And that is what Paul prays for the Ephesian Christians.
He starts by saying, v14: ‘For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name’.
A couple of things:
1. I guess that he is reminding us that the thing that we think separates us (our name, whether a Rogers, Bykova, Kirk, Culbertson, Wamriew, Volkov, Li) actually is something that unites us. We do not just have a biological unity in that, if you go back far enough, we are all descended from one couple – but we have a God given unity. He has named each of us, and the Father of Jesus would be Father to all of us.
2. When Paul prays, he says that he bows the knee before the Father. That is slightly unusual, because the usual Jewish posture for prayer was standing. Why bow or kneel here? It is a mark of submission. I don’t know! Perhaps it is because he is praying such an amazing prayer. But I would suggest that in our own praying, we use different postures – prostration, kneeling, standing, raising hands (orant position) – and not just sitting.
And Paul prays for three things
1. He prays that the Ephesian Christians will ‘be strengthened in their inner being with power through the Spirit’. (v16)
We are talking here about the power of God.
Paul has already spoken about this power earlier in this letter.
This is a power which is far greater than any power exercised by human authorities or demonic powers (1.21). It is far greater than any physical power, whether electromagnetic, gravitational or even nuclear.
This is the power which brought something from nothing, which created all things, and all powers, in the first place, and this is the power which bring things that are dead back to life. This power was at work when God raised Jesus from the dead and seated him in heaven (1.19)
I used to think that this was a prayer that God would strengthen me with power so that I could work miracles, heal people with my prayers, transform political situations and convert people.
But over time I’ve come to realise that there is a problem when I ask for that sort of power. Of course, I long to see the kingdom of God, the rule of God, come in power. And I’ve seen it happen. But here the problem is the little word ‘me’. I wanted the power in myself and for myself.
Jesus had access to this divine, cosmic power. But at the beginning of his ministry, when he was tempted, the devil urges him to use this power in order to provide for himself, or to get people to trust in him and obey him. But Jesus demonstrates his real power when – even though he had been fasting for 40 days - he refuses to listen to Satan.
That is the sort of power that we are talking about here.
This is not the power that puts me over people.
This is not the power which compels other people to do what I want.
This is not the power that will make my life, or the lives of those I love, pain free.
This is not the power that makes everybody think I am wonderful.
This is not the power which means that others will kneel before me.
No, this is the power which enables me to humble myself and kneel before others – even the people who despise and hate me.
This is the power which takes someone who was spiritually dead and which gives me life. It is the power which will equip me to serve the people who this world considers the most insignificant, to persevere in my obedience to Christ even when life is hard, frustrating or boring, to walk the way of the cross, to rejoice in sufferings, to make the painful decisions, to forgive another, to give all that I have, to be bold in speaking of Jesus, to be a servant of the gospel (3.7), to be the peace maker, to constantly repent and struggle with sin, to be renewed inwardly.
This is the power which takes a self-centred fearful individual and allows them to be built together with others, so that we become fellow citizens and members of the same household.
And this is the power which will one day, with Christ, raise this physical body, so that what is mortal will become immortal.
And Paul prays that we will be strengthened with this power through the Holy Spirit living in us.
2. Paul prays that Christ may dwell in our hearts by faith. (v17)
He has prayed for our strength. Now he prays for our heart – the very centre of our being.
He prays that Christ will come and live in us – and be at our centre. That Christ will shape our emotions and feelings and will; that when we respond to a person or situation it will not just be our response, but his response.
Think of baptism by immersion as an illustration of this.
We usually use our little font and sprinkle water on the person being baptised. But I was told last week that we do have a blow-up pool that has been used for baptisms – and I saw a great photo of Simon baptising a Nigerian diplomat.
When someone is baptised by immersion, and goes under the water, it is a great illustration of how in baptism we die to ourselves, to our old nature, to the things we put our trust in, our achievements and success, the things we value, our culture, our sins and our right-ness.
Imagine a computer hard drive that is wiped clean.
But as we come up out of the water, so we are rebooted - but this time with Jesus.
And we come up alive to Jesus, to his life, his values, his purpose, his desires, his strength, his love.
Now it doesn’t matter how or when we were baptised.
What is important is that we have literally and symbolically in baptism died to ourselves and come alive to Christ.
The problem is that before we were baptised, before our hard drive was wiped clean, we made a back-up disk of our old life. And we keep on slipping the back-up of the old me into the computer. We live as if that is the true version of me. And we push Jesus out.
Paul is praying that Christ will live in our hearts by faith. Obviously, I can’t cut you open and find Jesus there. But if we put our trust in him, he will live in us.
So Paul writes in Galatians 2.19f, ‘I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me’.
So we pray that Christ will live in us, in our hearts, at the centre of our being.
We pray that he will help us get rid of that old back-up disk, and live as the rebooted model. That our desires will be his desires, our relationship with others – his relationship, and our intimacy with God the Father – his intimacy.
3. Paul prays that we will understand .. the love of Christ, even though it is beyond understanding (v18)
Paul gets so carried away that the sentence is uncompleted.
‘I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth, and length, and height and depth’ … it doesn’t finish!
He wants us to comprehend the amazing depth and height of the love of Christ.
Paul wants us to know just how much God desires to have intimacy with you, that you should be part of him and that he should be part of you. He wants you to know God’s delight in you – in who he made you to be and who he would make you become.
People have talked about how the image of the cross is a picture of this:
The cross planted deep into the ground and reaching up to heaven.
The love of Christ cost Jesus everything, but his death on the cross unites earth and heaven.
The perfect human dies in perfect obedience.
God sacrifices his own heart for us.
And the cross brings peace between human beings and God.
And the crossbar reaching out to East and West.
The love of Christ unites men and women, from all places from all times.
He died for each of us. He died for all of us.
That is why it is only together with all the saints that we can comprehend this love.
I will glimpse a bit of it; you will glimpse a bit of it. Together we will glimpse more of it.
But as I said, Paul doesn’t quite finish that sentence – he is thinking of the love of Christ and gets caught up in another thought.
He doesn’t just want us to understand this love – with our head. He doesn’t just want us to say ‘wow, it is so amazing!’
He wants the Ephesian Christians to know this love – to experience, encounter this love.
Many people speak of how they can begin to understand the love of God with their head, but that they long to experience the love of God in their heart. To move 12 inches from a head knowledge that says, ‘I am told that Jesus loves me’ to a heart knowledge that says ‘I know that Jesus loves me’.
That is what Paul prays for the Ephesian Christians, and it is what we can pray for each other. And it does happen. Sometimes dramatically, and sometimes very gradually. We become aware that God loves us.
And it is as we begin to know the love of God – even though it is a love that is beyond human understanding, and even though it will take us all of eternity, and a bit extra, to fully know that love, so we will become love and so we will be saturated with the love of God, filled with all the fullness of God.
‘Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen’