Love: Our Foundation
3/1/2018 5:38:18 PM
February 25, 2018
Rev. David Williams
Scripture: Ephesians 3:14-21
In the great storm of 1987, and again in 1990, a number of trees in the royal garden at Buckingham Palace were knocked down. Ravi Zacharias notes in one of his books [Cries of the Heart, p. 185] that when he and his wife were living in England they saw some of these downed trees around the palace. Ravi’s wife, Margie, realized something about these enormous trees. She noticed that although the trees had large trunks and many, long branches, they had terribly small roots. Their root systems were underdeveloped for the size of the tree. Ravi goes on to point out that it is cold winters that push the roots down further into the ground. That England has relatively mild winters meant that these enormous trees had faced few cold winters, so they had shallow roots.
As Christians, if we are to face high winds in this world, if we are to face difficulties, challenges, affliction, and (potentially most seriously) temptation, we need to develop deep roots spiritually speaking. But what is it that creates deep Christian roots? How do we develop roots of faith? Is it private devotions? Is it understanding doctrines of the faith? Is it reading the Bible? Prayer? Serving? What is it? Do you feel that you have deep roots in Christ? When difficulties come, when it gets hard to live for Jesus, do you feel your deep roots drawing up water and strength from deep underground? Or do you feel yourself starting to get blown over?
The Bible uses many illustrations from farming and agriculture. We read in the New Testament about the fruit of the Spirit. Jesus refers to himself as the vine of which we are the branches. In our text today Paul prays for the Christians in Ephesus. In his prayer he uses another image from agriculture and plants. He prays that they will be “rooted and established” in love. These are plant words. These describe a plant setting down deep roots and being established in the soil so that it can grow up strong and full.
What It Says
Paul begins with, “For this reason….” This is a reference to the content of Chapter 2. There Paul speaks of God’s purpose to bring the dead in sin to life in Christ and to reconcile Jews and Gentiles and form them into one unified people. So it is because of the greatness of God’s grace in Christ raising to life the dead in in sin and uniting them into one household that Paul then prays to God that out of the glorious riches of that grace he may strengthen the Ephesian Christians. [Francis Foulkes, Ephesians, p. 96]
Paul tells us that he kneels in prayer in this instance. Usually Jews stood to pray. Sometimes they would kneel or even prostrate themselves on the ground as a sign of their earnestness in prayer, or the great need they are in for the prayer to be answered. [Foulkes, p. 107]
Paul prays to God the Father from whom every family, or the entire family of Christ, derives its name. Remember, in the ancient world a name was not just a label. A name referred to a person’s character. So Paul is saying here that God the Father is the ultimate father from whom fatherhood derives its character and, it follows, that the families derive their character from the father or forefather from whom they are descended. As “chips off the old block,” Paul prays that the Father would strengthen them (ultimately) to be filled to the full measure with the fullness of himself, God.
Notice the Trinitarian nature of Paul’s prayer. He prays to God the Father that out of the Father’s riches, the Ephesians would receive the Spirit’s power and the Son’s love and life in their hearts. All three members of the Trinity are named here for the transformation of the Ephesian Christians. [Brian Chapell, Ephesians, p. 157]
The two initial clauses of the prayer, that they be strengthened with the power of the Spirit in their inner being and that Christ would dwell in their hearts are two ways of saying the same thing. Christ dwelling in their hearts is a way to explain or expand upon what it means for the Spirit to strengthen their inner being. [Peter O’Brien, Ephesians, p. 253] The “inner being” of a person is composed of their heart, mind, will and spirit. It is the seat of or centre of one’s personality. [Foulkes, p. 109] The heart, part of the inner being, as you may recall,
is not just the emotions. In Scripture, the heart refers to the mind, the emotions, the will, desires, preferences and imagination. So when the Spirit strengthens us in our inner being, Christ comes to reside in our mind, our emotions, our will, our desires, our preference and our imagination.
This foundational work on our character, our inner being, is what Paul means by “being rooted and established in love.” What is love? Just as the word “heart” doesn’t mean just our emotions, the word love does not mean our warm, affectionate feelings for someone. The word translated “love” here is agape. Agape love is a divine, self-giving love, primarily concerned with the well-being of others, in particular their spiritual well-being. So what Paul is praying for is that the very core of the Ephesian Christians’ character and personality will be filled with Christ, who is love, and that will root and establish them in divine self-giving love and reorient the priorities of their life to the well-being of others, especially the spiritual well-being of others. Having been so rooted and established in love, Paul prays that they will have the power, in community with all the believers (because love is a relationship word and best experienced in community), to grasp the incredible dimensions of the love of Christ and for themselves to know this love experientially that blows away all knowledge. When they do, finally, grasp through experience the love of Christ, they will be filled to the brim with the fullness of God.
This is a huge ask on Paul’s part! But “Paul was accustomed to asking God for extravagant blessings on behalf of his Christians readers.” [O’Brien, p. 266] His extravagant prayer is followed by a doxology, a saying of praise to God, which ties in to this prayer. He declares that it is to God, who is able to do even more than we ask or imagine, including this huge ask in Paul’s prayer- that the Ephesians be empowered to know the love that surpasses knowledge- that we are to give glory, to acknowledge who God is and what God has done in the church and in Christ Jesus for ever and ever. God is able to do more than we ask or imagine according to the very power that is at work within us. What power is that? The very power that, as Paul said in Eph 1:18-22, is the power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him at the right hand of God in the heavenly realms! The power of God is the power of the Spirit to resurrect people. This is the power Paul is praying will be at work in our hearts- to bring our dead hearts to life- and is the power through which God can do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine. And the purpose of God using this power in us is to bring glory to Himself for showing the world what he is like and what he has done in Christ and in believers. Amen indeed!
What it Means
So that is what this amazing prayer and doxology says. But what does it mean?
First, take note that Paul is praying for believers. He is praying for Christians in Ephesus. He’s not praying for non-believers in Ephesus! Paul is not praying for an initial indwelling of the Spirit at conversion; rather, Paul is praying for believers to be filled with the Spirit and for Christ to permanently reside in the core of their character. The role of the Spirit in Christians is to transform them to be like Christ, to empower them to grasp the love of Christ. We tend to think of the work of the Spirit in terms of charismatic displays, but that is not the primary function of the Spirit in a believer. On the contrary, the Spirit’s role is the transformation of character through the believer comprehending the love of Christ for them at such a deep level it changes the way they think, the way they feel, their will and actions, their desires, changes their preferences and changes their imagination.
The strength or power for the Christian life comes from the indwelling of the Spirit in our inner being. This is precisely where we need help- our inner being. This is where the battle with sin and temptation takes place! This is where we need daily renewal of the understanding and power of the love of Christ, in our hearts, so that we start to win that battle with indwelling sin. When we receive Christ by faith, we are immediately rescued from the eternal power and consequences of sin. But it is over time, through the work of the Spirit, that we are freed from the power of indwelling sin- that sin which resides in our heart.
The word which Paul uses for “dwell” means a permanent, not a temporary, residing. Colossians 1:19 and 2:9 tell us that the fullness of God dwells in Christ. Ephesians 1:18-22 tells us that God is forming the church into a temple in which He will dwell eternally. The goal of the Christian life, the mark of spiritual maturity, is the full dwelling of Christ in us individually and as a church. That dwelling leads to transformation. We begin to reflect in our character the nature of the one who dwells within us.
What does this look like? Christ dwelling in our hearts leads to being rooted and established in love. It means being filled to the brim with the fullness of God. Without love, there is no knowledge of God, no experience of God, no empowering of the Holy Spirit. And, remember, God is love. So when God dwells in us
and our character is transformed to be like him, we are transformed into loving people. When we reject love, when we choose not to love, we reject the indwelling of God, the power of the Spirit and know nothing of God.
Now, because love is a relationship word, our knowledge and experience of God comes through relationship with other believers- that is, through relationship or community in church! The church is literally the collection of believers. So our experience of God happens in community with believers. “The church is the sphere of the outworking of God’s purpose on earth.” [Foulkes, p. 113]
Why? Because God’s purpose is for people to know his love first hand, to be transformed by that love, to be empowered to grasp that love through the Spirit who resurrected Christ and brings the dead in sin to life in Christ and knits them together into one family of which God is the Father. To reject being in fellowship with other believers is to reject the unification of believers into one family. To say no to church means to say no to relationship, which means saying no to love. It means saying no to the indwelling of Christ and the empowering of the Holy Spirit. To say you know God but to reject his family means to reject the primary purpose of God’s work on earth and is to miss the point of God’s character as revealed in Christ Jesus himself.
To know the love of Christ is no mere intellectual achievement. It cannot come through mere intellectual exercise. That Paul asks for the power of the Spirit to work in the Ephesians hearts in order for them to know the love of Christ points to the difficulty of the task! [Foulkes, p. 111] Paul is well aware of the danger of a purely intellectual faith that depends purely on intellectual knowledge. [Foulkes, p. 111] Love is experiential, not merely intellectual. It affects and shapes the mind, but does reside purely in the mind. Agape love is learned through experience and practice, often costly practice in Christian community. [Foulkes, p. 111] But it has to be experienced personally in community to be understood. It can not just be studied from afar.
The pinnacle of Paul’s prayer is the request that believers be filled with the fullness of God! No bolder prayer can be prayed! We are finite creatures. How can we be filled with the fullness of an infinite God? But Paul is used to requesting extravagant blessings on his readers. [O’Brien, p. 266] He follows his prayer with a doxology in which we speaks of God’s divine power, that power of the Spirit, which is greater than anything we can ask or imagine. This is the power of the Spirit that raised Christ from the dead! This power is greater than the request for finite creatures to be filled with the fullness of God, for our finite, sinful hearts to be rooted and established in love and to be transformed to be like Christ.
What it Matters
So what does all this matter? What use are we to make of this? First, this shapes our goals. The goal of the Christian life and the church is to be filled with love. The goal is to grasp how deeply and profoundly loved we are, to submit to that love in all of our being, and to reflect that love in every aspect of our character. This is our goal as individuals and as a church.
Here at Priory, this is what we are talking about in our vision to see broken people becoming whole through the love of Christ. The transforming power of the Christ is the only thing that will effectively transform our character, healing our brokenness in sin. The power to change comes from a deep assurance that we are loved. Our power for spiritual transformation is not will power, it doesn’t come from reading more, it’s not the power of praying more or praying better, it is not the power of serving more or meditating more. It is the power of love. The power of transformation is the power of the indwelling Spirit assuring us of the love we have in Christ Jesus.
The power to change comes from a deep seated assurance that we are loved. Our power for spiritual transformation does not lie in more scripture reading, in praying more or better, in serving more, meditating more or anything else like that. Our power for spiritual transformation comes from the Holy Spirit who transforms dead people into living people. That power is the power that empowers us to grasp the love of Jesus! The power of spiritual transformation is the power of the Spirit assuring us that we are loved.
That’s the power or the force at work behind our spiritual transformation, but that power is often at work in the background. Our tangible reminders that we are loved come in relationship with other Christians. That is, through fellowship in church. This is church at its best! When we love one another and our relationships at church worshipping and serving alongside one another are reminders of the love Christ has for us. But we are not finished products yet. So sometimes loving one another in relationship is costly! [Foulkes, p. 111] This is especially true in the church because church is where broken people come to find healing and sometimes we bleed
all over one another in our brokenness. But this is the sphere in which God has chosen to work out his goals and purposes for us. If he can teach us to love one another and to weave us into a unified family, he can do anything!
Now, it’s interesting that Ephesians is not our only glimpse into the life of the church in Ephesus. The letters to Timothy tell us a bit about that church years after this letter was written. Even later on, John wrote a letter to the church in Ephesus, recorded in Rev 2:1-9. The words of Jesus to the church in Ephesus are that they had lost their first love! That is, they had lost the love they first had. They had held to true doctrine, even in times of persecution. They had removed false teachers from their midst. But they had lost the agape love they had at first. Remember Paul’s concern about a faith that depends purely on intellectual knowledge?
The church in the West is also in danger of losing its first love. We are also in danger of devolving into a faith that is purely an intellectual knowledge and experience. I know I don’t love Jesus like I should. I know I do not grasp the love of Jesus like I ought to and like I wish I did! I know that my battle with indwelling sin is too frequently not much of a battle and more of a rout!
People act on what they love most. When it comes to temptation, what we love most wins out. Techniques, guidelines and accountability structures will only work so far if your first love is not Christ. “People do precisely what they love, and until they have a greater love for the things of God than the things of this world, they will not be able to stop [giving in to temptation and sin].” [Chapell, p. 150]
What do you struggle with in your life? Where do you find the battle with indwelling sin the most discouraging? Where do you lose to temptation? In what areas of your life are you struggling to surrender to God and let Christ transform you? As you ponder those areas of your life, let me ask you, “What do you love?” As long as you love those things more than you love Jesus, you will continue to fail. The solution is to ask the Spirit to empower you to grasp the love of Jesus as it pertains to these areas of your life. When your love for Jesus, based on a response to how much he loves you, grows greater than these other loves, you will find victory.
The secret to Christian living is to grasp the love of God. The secret is not grasping scripture, grasping prayer, grasping service, or meditation or anything else. Certainly the secret of Christian living is not found “by searching inside yourself.” Scripture reading, prayer, serving and the other tools God has given us are not the end in and of themselves. Rather, they are tools to reveal to us the love of Christ. So, as you read, as you pray, as you serve, as you meditate on the Lord, ask God to empower you through these activities to grasp the love of Christ. Ask him to show you through these activities the love of Christ. It is through these activities that our desires, our will, our preferences and our imagination are renewed by the love of Jesus.
The “why” of serving God is also the “how” of serving God. The why is love. The how is love. The greater we understand love the greater will be our power in service. [Chapell, p. 150]
Are you rooted as a Christian? Are you firmly established in your spiritual life? As our culture drifts further and further from Christ, it makes it harder and harder to live as Christians. We are constantly faced with questions and attitudes that are antagonistic to Jesus. It is hard to swim upstream against the current of culture. If you want to grow deep roots as a Christian, pray for the power to grasp the love of Christ. Ask for God to reveal to you the love Christ Jesus has for you. Practice living out the love of Christ to the degree you already grasp it. Make the love of Christ the why behind what you do- that you would see more and show more of the love of Christ as he comes to dwell in your heart. Practice showing the love of Christ to others to practice letting love inform not only your mind, but your will, desires, preferences and imagination.
Reshape the reasoning, the “why,” for all your Christian activities. Make your “why” to be “that I might grasp the dimensions of the love of Christ so that I can be filled to the brim with the fullness of God.” Let your activities become tools through which the Spirit empowers you and assures you of the love of Christ. In this way, you will open yourself up to the power of Him who can do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine. And to Him you will give glory in the church and in Christ Jesus for ever and ever. Amen.
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