Text: Ephesians 3:14-21
This title of this morning’s sermon is “A Prayer for Fruitful Ministry” because really this is what a pastor wants for his church. This is what an evangelist wants for the people that he witnesses to. This is what a Bible teacher wants for his Bible students. It doesn’t matter how much people give, it doesn’t matter how many people show up in the pews, it doesn’t matter how much your church cares about the community, if Christ isn’t dwelling richly in your heart by the Holy Spirit then none of it matters.
Another thing that I want to note just by way of introduction is that anytime Paul writes a letter to a church and he uses the pronoun, “you.” It’s always a corporate “you.” When he’s addressing a church, he’s addressing them corporately, he doesn’t address them individually unless he mentions people by name, but he talks about them as being one body, one unit.
So, when Paul prays for them to know the love of God in this manner, he’s wanting them to know that in the context of life together.
“Where is that love to be experienced? We experience it with all God’s consecrated people. That is to say, we find it in the fellowship of the Church. John Wesley’s saying was true, “God knows nothing of solitary religion.” “No man,” he said, “ever went to heaven alone.” The Church may have its faults; church members may be very far from what they ought to be; but in the fellowship of the Church we find the love of God.” – William Barclay, Daily Study Bible
So, as we look at the text, I want us to ask three questions:
- Who Is Included In This Prayer For?
- What is This Prayer For?
- What is The Result of This Prayer Being Answered?
Who Is Included in This Prayer? (v. 14-15)
“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name.” – Ephesians 3:14-15, NRSV
First of all, Paul mentions that every family in heaven and on earth takes it’s name from the very God that he is praying to.
- When you’re born, you’re born with a family name. It’s your last name. It indicates your family and your lineage. And it’s the same when you become a Christian. You take Christ’s name on yourself by being identified as a Christian and you identify with His dead and resurrection in the waters of baptism. Colossians 3 says that your life is hidden in Christ.
And Paul says that this truth applies to people in heaven and on earth. So, I want us to think about this idea: our Christian family isn’t just made up of those with us on earth, it’s also made up of those who are in heaven, and we’re still a family. Death doesn’t separate Christians forever.
Hebrews 12:1 says that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. The saints in heaven are just as alive as you and I are. Who knows? They’re probably more alive than you and I are. In Heaven, they live to die no more, and we are identified with them as a family. So, in this prayer, Paul mentions the saints of the past as those that we are identified with.
Then, he prays for his people in the present.
- My wife and I started reading 1st Thessalonians a chapter at a time together out of David Bentley Hart’s translation of the New Testament and we were talking about how most of the time Paul would let whatever church he was writing to know that he was praying for them and he was thankful for their service.
And in Ephesians, Paul has already done that in chapter 1:15-23, but he’s praying a slightly different prayer. This isn’t an “atta-boy, keep up the good work” prayer, this is deeper. Paul wants them to comprehend the love of God.
- You might think, “Yeah, I know all that love of God stuff, I learned that in Sunday School.” If that’s your attitude, then you no nothing of the love of God, but we’ll get to that in a few minutes.
How do you wrap your finite minds around something as infinite as the love of God? You don’t. And I think that’s the point. You are supposed to live your life dwelling on the love of God. I think that’s what Jude means when he writes at the end of his letter in Jude 21, “Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.”
That’s the thing you should keep in forefront of your mind as you live the Christian life. Why do we need to always keep that at the forefront? Because God is the standard by which we should love, and He loves perfectly.
- By the showing of your hand, how many of you love perfectly? None of us. That’s why we need this prayer.
In verse 18, Paul says that he wants this for “all the saints.” Maybe I’m reading too much into the text, but I think this is something that Paul isn’t just praying for in Ephesus at that time, but maybe it’s something that Paul is praying for for all saints in all of time. This is something that he wants for future saints to come.
In John 17:20, Jesus specifically prays for those who will believe later through the message of the disciples. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Paul had in mind future saints to come as a result of the churches that were being planted in that time.
So, we see that Paul mentions the saints of the past in heaven, and he prays for the present saints in Ephesus, and it’s possible that he’s including the future saints in his prayer.
What is This Prayer For? (v. 16-19)
“I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, 17and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. 18I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” – Ephesians 3:16-19, NRSV
Notice, first of all, the Trinitarian nature of the prayer.
Paul prays for us to be strengthened in our inner being by the Holy Spirit, then he prays for Christ to dwell in our hearts through faith, and in knowing the love of Christ, we are filled with the fullness of God the Father.
I’ve heard a lot of Jesus-lovin’ good ol’ boys tell me, “Preacher, servin’ the Lord just keeps gettin’ gooder and gooder.” And this is why! It’s Paul’s prayer being answered.
So, there’s three things that ultimately Paul prays for: power from the Spirit, love from the Son, and fullness from the Father.
And really when you look at this in the context of Ephesians as a whole, then Paul is praying for them to experience what he’s talked about up to this point. He wants them to personally experience the fact that they have been predestined to a salvation that is a result of grace alone through faith alone. He wants to them to personally experience the fact that they’ve been adopted into a family of people that’s made up of people not like them (we’re dealing with Jews and Gentiles here), and not physically with them (they are connected to all believers in Jesus across time and space.)
Paul wants us to be strengthened with power from the Holy Spirit. We need more power. We need more strength. Both of those things come from the Holy Spirit dwelling on the inside of us as believers.
Paul also wants Christ to dwell in our hearts. Dwelling doesn’t simply mean inhabiting, it’s means ‘to settle down.’ To make an abode somewhere.
In his book, Praying with Paul, D.A. Carson says, when Christ takes up residence in a believer, it is like a couple who purchases a home that needs a lot of work. Over time they clean it up, repair it, and eventually say, “This house has been shaped to our needs and taste and I really feel comfortable.”
Then Carson says, “When Christ by his Spirit takes up residence within us, He finds a moral equivalent to trash, black and silver wallpaper, and a leaking roof. He sets about turning this residence into a place appropriate for Him[self], a home for which He is comfortable. . . . When a person takes up long-term residence somewhere, their presence eventually characterizes that dwelling. . . . When Christ first moves into our lives, he finds us in bad repair. It takes a great deal of power to change us; and that is why Paul prays for power. . . . [God is] transforming us into a house that pervasively reflects his own character.” 
This isn’t just true individually either, this is true corporately. You remember last week we talked about how God is building us a church into His house.
And why does Paul want all of this for us? Ultimately, it’s so that we can be filled with the fullness of God.
The idea of spiritual fullness is a common theme among Paul’s writings. John Stott points our that, “In Colossians Paul tells us not only that God’s fullness dwells in Christ, but also that in Christ we ourselves have come to fullness. At the same time, he makes it plain in Ephesians that we still have room for growth. As individuals we are to go on being filled with the Spirit, and the church, although already the fullness of Christ, is still to ‘grow up into him’ till it reaches his fullness.” 
So, there’s a lot of paradoxical ideas about fullness in Paul’s writings, but the it all comes down to this: are you filled up now? Is there more room for God in your life?
I remember a few years ago my grandpa preached at a revival about being filled up with the Holy Spirit, and he might have even used this text. But as an illustration he got a water bottle and he filled it up with pebbles that he got out of the church driveway, and he asked the congregation, “Is this bottle full?” No one quite knew how to answer so he started his message, and then in a little bit, he put sand in it and asked again, “Is full now?” We all thought, “Yeah, that’s got to be full now.”
He said, “Nope.” So, he put water in there, and you could see the water filling up the bottle between the grains of sand, and he made the point that that was Christian life – getting more and more filled up with God. And that’s what Paul wants. He wants us to be filled with the fullness of God.
Finally, I want us to see the result of this prayer being answered.
What is The Result of This Prayer Being Answered?
Now, to look at this, we’ll have to go to the next chapter in Ephesians 4.
“I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” – Ephesians 4:1-3, NRSV
Notice verse 2 – There’s three things we all need more of: humility, gentleness, and patience. And we need those things if we’re going to bear with one another in love.
We need humility because we could easily be in someone else’s shoes and doing a lot worse than they’re doing.
We need gentleness because we’re all fragile really. We like to think that we have thick skin, but we get just as offended as everyone else does, our buttons are just in different places.
So, we need humility because we could easily be in someone else’s shoes, we need gentleness because we’re all fragile, and we need patience because we’re all still growing in Christ, and if we’re growing together, then we’re all going to experience growing pains.
And the only opportunity you have to express patience in when you’re annoyed.
As general rule, people make life more complicated. However, dealing with people is a necessity in life. So, it’s a double edge.
- Jesus tells us to love our neighbor. Well, loving your neighbor would be a lot easier if you didn’t have neighbors, but at the same time you wouldn’t have anyone in your life to connect with.
So, I think Paul foresees all of this because let’s face it, people have changed that much over the last couple thousand years so he starts chapter 4 by giving us advice how to live with one another in love and unity. And then all of chapter is just him expounding on the idea of living the Christian life within the context of Christian community.
And then he ends chapter 4 with these words in verses 31-32.
“Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”
– Ephesians 4:31-32, NRSV
See, this is where the rubber meets the road.
It’s easy to be bitter, it’s easy to have malice, it’s easy to be hurtful, and the reason those things are easy is because we don’t naturally drift towards holiness. Sanctification is a fight. A lot of us believe in progressive sanctification, but some days you’re going to feel like your sanctification is more regressive than progressive. And the reason you’re going to feel that way is because you’ve been hurt, and you’re angry.
But in the middle of your hurt, God is kind to you. God is loving to you, and God is faithful.
And because He has been kind and faithful to us, we should be kind and faithful to one another.
I’m going to pray for us, and we’re going to sing Great Is Thy Faithfulness, and we’re just going to use our voices.
Heavenly Father, I thank You for being kind to us by sending Your Son to die on the cross for our sins. I thank You for raising Him back to life to declare victory over all of our sins including our bitterness, anger, and hostility. Lord, I thank You that Your Word is stronger than the walls we try to build around ourselves. This morning, I ask that You strengthen and renew our hearts by the power of Your Spirit, and that You would release us from every hindrance that stands in the way of us loving each other as You have loved us. In the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.