Date: October 20, 2019
Speaker: Erik Raymond
Scripture: Ephesians 3:14–3:21
Outline: Four lessons from the apostolic school of prayer
1. Pray according to God’s revealed will (14–15)
2. Pray for personal holiness (16–17a)
3. Pray for a greater appreciation of Christ’s love (17b–19)
4. Pray that God would be glorified (20–21)
How do you learn to pray?
Assuming you have been a Christian for a while, how did you learn to pray?
If you are a newer Christian, how will you go about learning how to pray?
It’s interesting to consider that much of what shapes us in the area of prayer comes from who we regularly pray with and what we read about prayer. We are shaped—for better or for worse—by others’ prayers.
I don’t think I need to convince you this morning of the importance of prayer. So I will only make a brief reference to it, prayer is a vital aspect of what it means to be a Christian. In our praying, we are talking to God. Prayer is our communion with God. It is the expression of life in our relationship with him.
Since prayer is so important, we must be sure that we are doing it right. It’s certainly undesirable that we would be praying incorrectly. This is why the early disciples came to Jesus and asked him, “Lord, teach us to pray.”
We are fortunate that the Bible provides us a number of examples of how to pray. And what we find, whether we are reading the Psalms, the prophets, Peter, John, Paul, or even the Lord Jesus, what we find is that: our prayers must be intentional, shaped by what God values and we need.
I’m not sure what your last week or month of prayer looks like, but I can tell you that the biblical priority that we see is this, our prayers must be intentional, shaped by what God values and we need. This is the main point for my sermon this morning.
Paul is modeling this and therefore instructing us as to how to pray in what I’ll call the Apostolic school of prayer. He provides us with a few lessons in his school. And they are found in verses 17-24 of chapter 3 of Ephesians.
First, in verses 14-15, Pray according to God’s revealed will.
When we think about prayer, we must remember that God has provided directives on what it must look. And since it concerns God we don’t have the right to edit or contradict him on this. We must pray according to God’s revealed will. He has revealed or communicated what he wants and how he wants us to pray.
First, notice that Paul says he addresses his prayer to God the Father. There is a direct connection between the families referenced in verse 15 and the Father referenced in verse 14. Paul is not saying that every single person is a part of God’s family, the church. But he is saying that every single family — that is all people in the world — have as their common Creator, God the Father.
But do note here that Paul is praying to God. There is no practice in the Bible where people pray to anyone other than God (like saints or angels). Prayer is always to God and for people. It is important also to note that the people are alive; we don’t pray for the dead.
Another note on our prayers to God. We pray through the Lord Jesus Christ.
There is no other way to pray to God. He does not hear or regard the prayer of the one who is not in Christ.
Why? Because he has no relationship with them. Christ is the mediator, the one who represents us to God. He is our access to the Father. We cannot approach God in prayer — or in any other way — apart from a mediator. Does this mean that God does not hear and answer the prayer of non-Christians?
I believe that the Bible teaches that God does not. In fact, the first prayer that God hears and answers is the prayer of faith in Christ that asks him to forgive their sins. The Bible is clear that there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man, Christ Jesus. Also, we read in Proverbs 15:8, “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord, but the prayer of the upright is acceptable to him.”
Therefore, it is important for you to consider this morning whether or not you are coming to God on the merits of Christ or not. This is the only way he hears us.
Also, Paul says he bows his knees. The physical posture is not as important as the spiritual posture in the Scriptures. Sometimes people praying lying down other times standing up. Sometimes with hands raised other times not. The point is the attitude of submission, reverence, and passion for the glory of God.
But, we can also see, after a couple of basic observations, that we’re jumping in mid-thought with the Apostle Paul. There is an antecedent to what he is saying here. He says, “For this reason, I bow my knees before the Father”
What is this reason that he is referring to?
Well, it is everything that he has already spoken of in the previous paragraph. We learned that Pau was overwhelmed with joy and hope because of this new development. The Gentiles, those who were formerly excluded from God, where now welcomed in to share in the same promises, blessings, and standing. They are treated like heirs with Christ.
Therefore, Paul prays for them in light of this.
And this becomes a lesson for us in prayer. How do we know how to pray for others? Well, we need to be intentional.
We can’t pray for things that we know contradict God’s Word. To use an extreme example, we wouldn’t pray for Satan to be converted. It’s not going to happen. God has revealed this.
Is what we are praying for supported by what God has revealed in his Word? Are we praying for ourselves and others according to what God has said? Our prayers must be informed by what the Bible says. The Scriptures should shape our prayers. How do they? They align us to the revealed will of God. They show us what God values and what we really need.
Let’s get into some specifics as we see modeled by Paul. Look at verse 16.
Prayer is not a declaration of strength but weakness. We don’t come to God saying that we are strong in ourselves. Instead, we are asking for him to help us. We understand that while we are quite weak, God is infinitely strong.
In passing, I suspect this is one reason why many of us don’t pray more. We tend to be off on our assessments. We overestimate our strength and underestimate God’s. If we had a more accurate assessment of how weak we are then we would likely find ourselves asking for his help. We should think about this.
And this is why Paul is praying for these believers here in Ephesus that God would strengthen them. They need — we need — God to strengthen us because we are weak.
God, of course, does not lack anything.
He is without limitation. His strength is infinite.
So Paul prays according to the riches of God’s glory. There is an infinite, inexhaustible storehouse of divine power. It’s hard to project this onto our experiences because we always interact with limited resources.
But recently I was reminded of it. I went to purchase a book on Amazon. And I’ve come to expect, as I’m sure most of you have also, that Amazon has everything I could ever need. But, to my surprise, they didn’t have my book. It was out of print and they didn’t even have any used copies. But there are no such concerns with God. His strength, power, and glory are infinite. He is inexhaustible.
So Paul prays for his friends for God to strengthen them with power.
But how? And to what end?
We read further in verse 16, that this strengthening is through the Holy Spirit and that Christ would dwell in their hearts.
This prayer then is quite Trinitarian and it’s quite personal.
I’m sure you picked up on the fact that Paul has mentioned each member of the Trinity here (the Father in v.14, the Holy Spirit in v.16, and Christ the Son in v.17). God, the Trinitarian God, who is infinitely exalted and transcendent, is also quite personal and intimate. He is near. He is so near that Paul is praying about the interior of the person.
You’ll notice he mentions the inner being and in your hearts. This is referring to the inner you.
The Bible talks about the reality of a believer being indwelt by the Holy Spirit upon conversion. We are sealed and indwelt by the Spirit. Then there are also times that we read about Christ being within us. This is referring to the same reality (Gal. 2:20; Col. 1:27; Romans 8:9-11).
“You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.” (Romans 8:9–10)
But Paul’s prayer here is not for their conversion, he has already made clear that this has already happened (Eph. 2:1-10). Instead, he is praying for their sanctification or spiritual growth. He is praying for them to be made more and more like Jesus. That is, to be made more holy.
We know this is true because this is the work of God the Holy Spirit. He is sanctifies God’s people, he makes us more and more like Jesus, that is more holy (1 Pet. 1:2; 1 Thes. 5:23; 2 Cor. 3:18).
“according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you.” (1 Peter 1:2)
“Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thessalonians 5:23)
“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)
“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” (Romans 8:29)
This is the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit to make believers more and more like Christ. This work of the Spirit as a work that moves progressively, by degree.
And we can see this with what Paul prays next. Look with me at the first half of verse 17, “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.”
This phrase, dwelling has to do with being at home. It’s not the idea of staying in an Airbnb or a hotel. Rather, it’s more of you going to your own home where you intend to live for a long time. It is your residence.
The prayer becomes clearer then, doesn’t it? It is a prayer that Christ would take up residence in their hearts. He is praying that by the power of the Holy Spirit that the risen Christ would settle down in their hearts, and to set up his throne, and thereby rule, govern, and strengthen them.
Perhaps an illustration to help get at this point. As many of you know we recently moved into a house. An older house, it needed some work, but it had good bones as they say. And Christie assured me that we can work with it. And so we began tearing down walls, ripping off wallpaper, removing the kitchen, just tearing it apart. And in time we began putting things back together. There was a floor, walls, paint, lights, etc. In some time Christie began to decorate. And I remember it hit me, actually fairly recently, this place is starting to feel like home. With Christie’s touch, it was starting to feel like our place. It was a place that I could envision living in for a long time. It was becoming our own because it began to reflect our family.
I think this portrays the dynamic that Paul is showing here. When someone becomes a Christian it’s like Jesus moves into a house in serious need of repair. There are old habits, tendencies, and values. We need to be completely remodeled.
But then Christ begins his rule. His dwelling in the residence of our hearts begins to make a change. As we submit to his Lordship and obey his Word we begin to change. The renovation project is underway. And in due time, it looks like the house of our lives is under new ownership.
This is what Paul is praying here. He is praying for the Ephesian brothers and sisters, that there would be personal holiness.
Now Paul’s second petition has to do with a greater appreciation of Christ’s love. To do this he prays using an agricultural and an architectural word picture.
Look at verse 17, being rooted and grounded in love.
In both cases, roots and buildings, very important structural concerns are underground. I was told by a tree expert one time that tree roots expand underground three times the height of the tree above it. For the Apostle, the root system and the foundation for the Christian is to be love. Each manifestation of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5 is love. Therefore, our lives as Christians are to be rooted and ground in love.
And to what end?
We see it is to comprehend and to know the love of Christ. This is what we need. This is what he prays for.
To make the point of what he is after he uses a metaphor and a paradox.
First the metaphor, he talks about love and he assigns spacial designations to it. Look at verse 18: “may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth,” (Ephesians 3:18)
This is a prayer to grasp. To comprehend. To lay hold of.
Nevertheless, these dimensions can be said to suggest (via Kent Hughes):
1) A love that is wide enough to embrace the world. John 3:16 tells us, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
2) A love which is long enough to last forever (1 Corinthians 13:8). As Spurgeon said, “It is so long that your old age cannot wear it out, so long your continual tribulation cannot exhaust it, your successive temptations shall not drain it dry; like eternity itself it knows no bounds.”7
3) A love which is high enough to take sinners to Heaven (1 John 3:1, 2).
4) A love which is deep enough to take Christ to the very depths to reach the lowest sinner (Philippians 2:8).
And then there is the paradox.
“and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:19, ESV)
He prays that you would know the love that surpasses knowledge. How can you know something infinite? Certainly we cannot understand or fully grasp something infinite, because we are finite. So it is not a quantitative knowing but a qualitative knowing. There is a need for us to better grasp and understand how God has loved his people.
Have we seriously devoted time to thinking about and trying to understand his love?
Have we contemplated his love in, say, the Incarnation? — the cross? — great passages such as this one which extol his love? If not, we have failed in our duty.
This is our life’s work.
And it’s our church’s work. Notice, it is to be done in the context of the church (v.18).
The language of the prayer has been remarkable — exceedingly great. Some might even say it’s been impossible.
Holiness of believers reflecting Jesus Christ’s Lordship
Comprehending and esteeming the infinite love of Christ
But this is the point, isn’t it?
Naturally speaking, we can’t attain to this.
But, Paul assures us, the God to whom we pray is able to even more abundantly than we ask or think.
His power exceeds our big asks.
God is, after all, all-powerful. That is, he’s omnipotent. When we are talking about a power that is infinite, eternal and unchanging, we are saying that there are no varying degrees.
God is infinitely powerful. To him, there is no such thing as a degree of difficulty.
We also know that in tandem to God’s power is his generosity. He loves to give good gifts to his children.
“We simply cannot ask for good things beyond God’s power to give them; we cannot even imagine good things beyond God’s power to give them. Paul’s concluding word of praise thus becomes an immensely powerful incentive to pray.” (DA Carson)
This brings us to the end, the motive for the entire prayer, look with me at v.21, “to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:21)
The end, or the goal of this prayer is the goal or end of everything. The first question in the shorter catechism reads, “What is the chief end of man?” Answer: the chief end or purpose of man, is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.
This is right because it’s also the chief end of God. God glorifies himself and enjoys himself forever. Everything God does is for his own glory.
And so our prayers are directed, ultimately, to the glory of God.
There is an immediate goal: That God would answer our prayers, according to his Word.
There is an ultimate goal: That God would be glorified in the answering of our prayers.
This is a good test for us in our praying: Has God become so central that our lives, our longings, and our prayers are calibrated to his glory?
Remember, the church is the place where the first buds of the kingdom of God are blossoming.
The church is to be the place that prays and pleads and pursues the glory of God.
This is God’s Will for us in Christ Jesus.
Think about your recent prayers or the prayers in your fellowship group. Do we pray like this?
Are we being shaped by the Word of God? For the glory of God?
Often times we can find ourselves praying without intentionality.
We can tend to focus much upon the physical things of this life. And these things are important. It’s right to pray for and thank God for the blessings of life. We should seek God to heal and help people.
But this should not be all we pray about.
And, based upon the New Testament’s example, it shouldn’t be the majority of what we pray about.
This is why it’s so important to have our prayers shaped by the Word of God. For in it, the Scriptures we have the mind of Christ. We see what God values and what we truly need.
The focus instead is upon the great spiritual need that we all have. The burden is upon the church reflecting her head, the Lord Jesus. The burden of the prayers is for the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the church.
This passage is like spending time in a prayer meeting with the Apostle Paul. He shares his prayer journal with us and shows us how to pray.
Here we have a real tangible example from the Apostle’s school of prayer.
What’s the response?
Look at how the verse ends. One word: Amen.
Amen means, it is true. Or, let it be so.
This was a letter written to a church for instruction. The point here is that as this is read in the church that Paul stops and says, “Amen. let it be so.” He envisions the church echoing back with agreement, saying, it is true. Let it be so. Amen.
We are hearing these words, evaluating them based upon the Word, and then joining in with a hearty response, Amen.