It is one thing to “know.” It is a completely different thing to “act on what you know.” You can know everything there is to know about a subject and yet never act on what you know. Let me give you some examples of what I am talking about. You can be the world’s authority on Botany, the study of plants. You can know all of the approximately 400,000 living plant organisms. You can be able to recite volumes of information about Horticulture (study of cultivated plants,) Dendrology (study of woody plants, trees, and shrubs,) Mycology (the study of fungi,) and Agronomy (application of plant science to crop production.) You can wax eloquent about the processes of photosynthesis and respiration that takes place in plants. You can do all of this and more and never even plant a garden. You’ve gathered information, but you’ve not assimilated that information into everyday life.
Let me give you another example. Gastronomy is defined as the study of food and culture. It includes cooking techniques, nutritional facts, food science, and everything else that is related to discovering, tasting, experiencing, researching, understanding, and writing about food preparation and the sensory qualities of human nutrition as a whole. You can know all about food preparation. You can understand carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. You can grasp the science of using heat in cooking and know that heat is transferred either by conduction, convection, or radiation. You can come to understand the process of preserving foods by canning. You can know how to “proof” your yeast before you make your bread. You can watch every episode of “The Pioneer Woman” and “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives” on The Food Network. You can memorize chapter and verse of every cookbook Paula Dean and Bobby Flay have ever written. You can do all of this and more and never cook a single meal.
To know all there is to know about trees, shrubs, and flowers and do nothing with it is a waste. To know all there is to know about food—how to prepare it, how to mix the right ingredients, apply the right amount of heat, and yet fail to act on what you know is a waste. What a waste! To have so much knowledge, to have gathered so much information, and for that knowledge to sit inside of someone’s head instead of being assimilated and translated into beautiful gardens and scrumptious meals to be enjoyed and shared with others is a tragedy.
There is yet an even greater tragedy that is far more prevalent than the two scenarios I’ve just shared with you. The greatest tragedy that is taking place in our day is taking place among the people of God. To learn the great truths of God’s Word and do nothing with them is a tragedy beyond compare. To come to understand that God has delivered us from the domain of darkness and fail to walk in His light is a tragedy. To know that He has broken the shackles, the power of sin, and continue to live as a slave to sin is a tragedy. To read in Romans 8 that He has made us more than conquerors through Christ Jesus our Lord and to consistently live a defeated life is a tragedy. To know, from reading Matthew 28, that He has called us to go and share the Gospel with all people and not to do that is a tragedy. To continue to keep our mouths closed because of what others will think of us, after hearing Jesus’ words in Mark 8, is a tragedy. Jesus said,
38 If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels. (Mark 8:38 NIV)
This is the great tragedy of our time. This is exactly what Paul was praying against when he fell on his knees before the Father in Ephesians 3 and prayed for the brothers and sisters in Ephesus. Let’s take a look at our Scripture for today found in Ephesians 3:14-19.
14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:14-19 NIV)
God has one family. Some translations, like the New American Standard and the Revised Standard Version, have “every family,” but the teaching of Paul in Ephesians and throughout the rest of the Bible makes it clear that there is but one family of God. There is not the Baptist family, Presbyterian family, or the African Methodist Episcopal family—there is one family of God. There is not the Latin American family, African family, Asian family, and European family of God—there is but one family of God. Paul made this very clear when he wrote to the folks in Galatia.
26 You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:26-29 NIV)
We are the ones who make distinctions among ourselves. We are the ones who set ourselves apart from others with designations related to any number of things like denominations, race, nationality, education, or economics, but God says there is but one people of God.
I do want to clarify something for us because of a growing trend in our country. More and more people in our day are spreading the rumor that we are all serving the same God. They are pushing for a generic God that encompasses all faiths. When people want to try and persuade you to embrace this growing trend then you need to ask them which God they are talking about? When they ask you what you are talking about, ask them, “Are you talking about the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ?” That is the God that we worship. That is the God that we serve. That is the God that we seek to glorify in everyday life. That is the God that Paul spoke about when he wrote his opening greeting to the folks in Ephesus. Paul says,
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. (Ephesians 1:3 NIV)
The popular opinion today, the spiritual majority, wants us to embrace the generic God of all people, the family of humanity. I wouldn’t be opposed to doing that at all if that is what the Bible taught, but in Ephesians 3:14-19 Paul is not praying for the human family, he is praying for the family of God, those who have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb.
Paul is praying a very specific prayer for the people in Ephesus. There is no doubt in my mind that if Paul were here with us this morning that he would be praying the same prayer for each of us. John Stott writes,
I like to think of the Apostle’s petition as a staircase by which he climbs higher and higher in his aspiration for his readers. His prayer-staircase has four steps, whose key words are ‘strength,’ ‘love,’ ‘knowledge,’ and ‘fullness.’ More precisely, he prays first that they may be strengthened by the indwelling Christ through his Spirit; secondly that they may be rooted and grounded in love; thirdly that they may know Christ’s love in all its dimensions, although it is beyond knowledge; and fourthly that they may be filled right up to the very fullness of God. (Stott, John R.W. The Message of Ephesians. pg. 134)
I want to use Dr. Stott’s “steps of the staircase” to lead us through this study of Ephesians 3:14-19 this morning. Let me forewarn you that we will not finish this study today, but at least we will get started. Let’s begin by taking a look at the first step on the staircase.
Strengthening the Inner Man
Paul prays that God, out of His glorious riches, would strengthen the inner man of the believers in Ephesus. In verse 16 we read, “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being…” (Ephesians 3:16 NIV) There are two important elements to this verse that we need to understand. Let’s take them in this order: First, what we need. Second, what God is able to do.
What We Need
First of all, what we need is inner strength. Physical strength is of little value when it comes to the challenges, trials, and tribulations that we face in life. You can be a 6’7 NFL lineman, weighing 330 lbs, able to bench press 600 lbs., and run a 4.7 second 40 yard dash, but you can’t outrun the trials of life. Benching 600 lbs. is child’s play compared to dealing with the deep heartaches and sorrows of life. This is why Paul wrote,
8 For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. (1 Timothy 4:8 NIV)
There is little we can do about the slow, gradual, progressive deterioration of our outer, physical person. You can work-out every day, and we should, but you will notice as the years rock along that time is taking its toll. What’s true of the physical body is not true of the inner self, the “inner man” as Paul calls it. He wrote to the folks in Corinth and expressed this idea. Paul urges them.
16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-1 NIV)
Paul didn’t deal in the realm of theoretical theology—he lived and experienced the truths that he urged others to grasp and implement into their daily lives. He knew the resources that God had at His disposal to strengthen Paul for whatever he needed. This is the second important element in the verse we are looking at this morning. What is God able to do?
God’s Glorious Resources
If I had a need for money, but none of you had the amount of money I needed then I would have unmet need, right? It wouldn’t matter how badly I wanted to meet my obligation, I simply couldn’t do it. But, if I had a financial need and someone here had an unlimited amount of money in the bank and was willing to help me, then my need would be irrelevant because I have, through you, the resources to meet my need. The truth of the matter is that we have a need far greater than a financial or material need–we have a spiritual need. We are weak in our inner man and all of the gumption and “try harder” won’t cut it. Out of His glorious riches He is able to strengthen us at every turn.
In Paul’s second letter to Timothy he shared a story with the young preacher about the first time he was imprisoned in Rome. Paul wrote,
16 At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. 17 But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth. 18 The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (2 Timothy 4:16-18 NIV)
Did you hear that? Who deserted Paul? Everyone! Did that leave him feeling abandoned and deserted? Did that make him question whether or not God truly loved him? Not at all! Paul didn’t harbor any hard feelings against those who deserted him. He said, “May it not be held against them.” Paul found a strength that no person could have offered him during his time of need. He says, “But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength…”
There is another great example of being strengthened inwardly by the Lord found in 1 Samuel 30. Let me set the scene for you. David is on the run from Saul who wants nothing more than to kill David. David and his 600 men, along with their wives and children, were camped at Ziklag. While David and his men were gone one day the Amalekites came in and took all of their wives and children. When David and the men returned they found their camp absolutely destroyed, it had been burned, and all of their wives and children were gone. How did David and his men respond? Well you can find the answer to that question in 1 Samuel 30:4 where we read, “So David and his men wept aloud until they had no strength left to weep.” (1 Samuel 30:4 NIV) When a tragedy of such magnitude takes place we people have to have someone to blame. We see it in our day, but it was present in David’s day as well. David’s men set their sights on him. They blamed David and were even thinking about stoning him. In the last sentence of 1 Samuel 30:6 we read an amazingly insightful statement. Listen to this.
6 David was greatly distressed because the men were talking of stoning him; each one was bitter in spirit because of his sons and daughters. But David found strength in the LORD his God. (1 Samuel 30:6 NIV)
“David found strength in the Lord his God.” The strength that David found had nothing to do with bulging biceps or brute strength—it had everything to do with what Paul was praying for the folks in Ephesus. If you are like me, then after hearing what we’ve heard so far, you have a question running around in your head. The question is, “How can I gain this kind of inner strength that Paul and David experienced and that Paul is praying for the people of Ephesus?” You ask such great questions! Some would say, “Well, you pray for it. Ask God for strength and he will give it to you.” That is a great idea, but I think our prayers need to be fueled by the Word of God. I’ve found in my own life that when I am not consistently in the Word of God then my prayers become very self-centered. Apart from the Word of God my prayers become more of a “wish list” than anything else.
Last week I told you about the prayer life of George Muller. George was known as a man of prayer and God answered George’s prayers in ways that boggled his mind. What I didn’t share with you was that George’s prayers were fueled; they were shaped, by the time he spent in the Word of God. George said that for many years he spent the first minutes of the morning in prayer, but then he began spending that time meditating on the Word of God and it changed everything for him. I want to read you what George wrote about this change in his life. Listen to this.
It has pleased the Lord to teach me a truth that I really didn’t have anything to do with. Although more than fourteen years have passed since I first wrote this, I haven’t lost any of the benefits of this lesson. The Lord taught me that the first business I needed to attend to every day was to have my spirit happy in the Lord. My first concern shouldn’t be thinking of ways to serve and glorify the Lord, but rather, how to get my spirit into a happy state, and how to nourish my inner man. Trying to speak truth to unbelievers, or minister to Christians, or relieve the distressed, or behave in other ways as a child of God may be done in a wrong spirit if I’m not first happy in the Lord – being nourished and strengthened in my inner man, day by day. For at least ten years before I understood this, my practice had been to give myself to prayer as soon as I was dressed in the morning. But later, I saw that the most important thing to do was to read the Word of God and meditate on it. In this way my heart could be comforted, encouraged, warned, reproved, and instructed. And this meditation time on the Word of God was the door through which I entered into rich communion with the Lord.
Starting at the beginning of the New Testament I began to meditate early in the morning. After asking the Lord’s blessing on His precious Word, I began to think upon what I was reading, searching to get blessings out of every verse; not for the sake of teaching someone else, not for a new message to preach, but to obtain food for my own spirit. The result has almost always been that, after a very few minutes, I’ve been led to confess sin to God, or to thank Him, or to pray for the needs of others, or to pray for my own needs. So, although I didn’t start off praying, my meditation always led me into prayer. After I have paused and poured out my heart in prayer, I go on to the next words or verse, turning all of it into prayer for myself or others – however, the Word may lead – but still continually keeping in mind that food for my own soul is the first purpose of my meditation. The result of this is that there is always a good deal of confession, thanksgiving, supplication, or intercession mingled with my meditation, and that my inner man is almost always noticeably nourished and strengthened. Thus, by breakfast time, with rare exceptions, I am in a peaceful, if not happy, state of heart. What the Lord shows me, sooner or later in the day, is that the special things He gives me in the morning become food for other believers, even though it wasn’t for their sake that I meditated, but for the strengthening of my own inner man. (George Muller)
How was George strengthened in his inner man? Which of the glorious resources did God use to strengthen George? It was His Word. We find the same truth shared in God’s Word.
After Jesus’ baptism He went into the wilderness for 40 days to fast and spend time with God. Some time towards the end of Jesus’ time in the wilderness, Satan came to tempt Jesus. The first temptation Satan threw Jesus’ way was to turn the stones on the ground into bread. That’s a pretty tempting proposition for a hungry man to resist. How did Jesus resist? Let me read to you from Matthew 4:4.
4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4 NIV)
There is our strength! Our strength is found in the Word of God. The more you feast on the Word of God the stronger you will become. The more you feast on the Word of God the more tools the Holy Spirit will have to equip you to meet every challenge. Let me give you some examples of what I am talking about. In the story I just shared with you about Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, Jesus told Satan, that “man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Jesus didn’t make that up. He was quoting from Deuteronomy 8:3. As a matter of fact, in each of the three temptations that Satan threw before Jesus–each and every time Jesus’ answered Satan with Scripture. Not reason, but Scripture. Not logic, but Scripture.
The temptation to sin is before us each and every day. This has been a problem since Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden. This is why the Psalmist wrote, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” (Psalm 119:11 NIV)
When our hearts are troubled and we are going through all kinds of trials it is only natural to sink deeper and deeper into despair. Yet, for those who will be strengthened in their inner man by the Spirit of God working with the Word of God, despair will be transformed into hope and the assurance that God is with us in our afflictions. We are reminded by 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 that He is the “God of all comfort, who comforts us in all of our trials…”
We need strength for every challenge we will face in life. We are at our strongest when we recognize that we do not have what it takes to navigate the perils and pitfalls of life and then cling to the Father whose abundant resources are made available to us through His Word and the work of His Spirit. God’s Word is truly a “lamp to our feet and a light for our path.” (Psalm 119:105)
My friend, if you are in Christ then you are part of the Father’s family and you have at your disposal all of the Father’s resources for living. It is so easy for us to look at Christians who appear stronger in their faith than we are, or more versed in God’s Word than we are, or who are not suffering the hardships of life like we are suffering and conclude that they are special children of God, but that is not the case. If you are in Christ then you are as much God’s child, as much a part of God’s family, as any follower of Jesus who has ever lived. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote,
Nothing we can ever learn is more precious for us than to realize this glorious truth. You may be unknown by the world, you may be insignificant, or you may feel that you are forgotten, that no one knows anything about you; and that may be true. But if you are in ‘Christ,’ if you are a Christian, you belong to God, you are in His family, and your Father has His eye upon you. Nothing can happen to you apart from Him and without His permission; ‘the hairs of your head are all numbered.’ You are as much His child as the greatest saint, the mightiest apostle that has ever lived. (Lloyd-Jones, Martyn. The Unsearchable Riches of Christ: Ephesians 3. pg. 117)
God wants you to take this truth to heart this very morning. He wants you to know that if you are in Christ then He desires to strengthen you in your inner man for whatever challenge you are facing this very morning. He has given you the resources to do this even now. Open God’s Word and feast on the Word of God. Allow the Spirit of God to use the Word of God to life you up and lead you through the raging seas of turmoil and strife.
If you are here this morning and you are not in Christ then I hope you have come to realize that you are in trouble. You are fighting a losing battle because you have nothing to fight with my friend. God’s Word is the Sword given to us to fight. God’s Spirit is the Scout and General that alerts us to the enemies attacks and equips us to be more than conquerors in the battle of life. If you don’t know Jesus as Lord of your life then won’t you recognize your need, won’t you recognize the weakness of your inner man, and invite Him to come in and be your strength this very morning?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
March 11, 2012