Power for Living - Part 2
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, September 21, 2003
Copyright © 2003, P. G. Mathew
For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge--that you may be filled to the measure of all the fulness of God.
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
The Christian life is utterly impossible for those who have not experienced the miracle of spiritual resurrection, also known as new birth. Thus, many people who profess to be Christians find themselves living sinful lives because they are not born of God. They are trying to live victorious, supernatural lives in their own power; it is impossible.
We need divine power to live the Christian life, and this power is available only to those who are born of God. This power raised Jesus Christ from the dead and seated him at God's right hand as Lord of all and head of the church. In Ephesians 1:15-23 and again in Ephesians 3:14-21 Paul prays for the Ephesian believers to experience this power of God in their innermost being so that they can live the Christian life in a hostile world.
There are seven principles we must understand to appropriate this divine power:
Power Is Received Through Prayer
Spiritual power is received through prayer. Those who do not pray live a defeated life in which they murmur, are worldly, and yield to temptation. Those who do not pray cannot live a Christ-centered life.
But Paul was a man of prayer. In Ephesians 1:15-16 he says, "For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers." Again we find him praying in Ephesians 6:18-20: "And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should."
In Ephesians 3:14-21, we find the greatest of Paul's prayers, where he prays not for some people, but for all the saints to experience God's mighty power to live the victorious Christian life. "For this reason I kneel before the Father." God is no longer a distant stranger to Paul, but his Father. Paul mentioned earlier, "[God] predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ" (1:5). As sons, we have the privilege of coming into God's presence to commune with him as our heavenly Father. We can come in confidence, knowing our sins are forgiven and we have been given the gift of Christ's perfect righteousness.
Yet we must also come in holy reverence. The usual posture for Jewish prayer was standing, as we see in Luke 18. In times of crisis, some would prostrate themselves before God. They also knelt, as Jesus did in Gethsemane. Here Paul kneels, showing his intensity and earnestness: "I bow my knees"-pros ton patera -"before the Father." This expression points to the fact that Paul's relation to the Father was very close; it was not merely conceptual, but personal. He is kneeling in the very presence of his Father, facing him. God is in heaven, yet he is near to his beloved children, and when we pray, he hears us. Paul tells us in Galatians 4:6, "Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, by whom we cry, 'Abba, ho Pater.'" These are the Aramaic and Greek words for "father."
God is the Father of the whole family of the church-both the church triumphant, which is in heaven, and the church militant, which is on earth. As sons, we bear our Father's name, delight in his beneficent rule, and pray to him for all our needs. We do so knowing that just as earthly fathers provide for, protect, and instruct their families, so much more will God our heavenly Father protect us and provide for us!
Power Is Granted by the Father
The text tells us that power for living is a grant from God the Father. "For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being." Here the New International Version swallows an inspired word. In the original text Paul prays "that God may grant that you be strengthened with power in your inner being."
As Christians, we need not live defeated lives. We can be overcomers if only we pray and receive the gift, the grant, of this resurrection power from the Father. So Paul prays that God the Father may grant us this power for living "according to the riches of his glory," that is, in illimitable measure.
A prayerless person is a weak, murmuring person. He is always being knocked down, severely bruised, and yielding to every temptation. Because his confidence is in himself, he thinks he does not need any alien strength from the heavenly Father. He goes away from the Father as the prodigal son did, only to be in great want. If you are such a person, I pray you will come back to the Father! Confess your sins, pray to him, and he will surely strengthen you.
The text also says God will strengthen us with power where we all need strengthening-"in the inner man"-ton es˘ anthr˘pon. We all need fortification and reinforcement in our inner man to fight the battle against the devil, the flesh, and the world. We need to be strengthened with supernatural power.
What is our "inner man"? It stands for a regenerate heart. Inner man stands for the center of our personality-our spirit, mind, will, and affections. In 1 Peter 3:4 it is translated in the NIV as "inner self," but the actual text says "hidden man," the man that is not seen by others. When we say, "He is tall, about 250 pounds, of a certain color and stature," we are talking about the outer man. But the inner man is the invisible man of the heart.
Paul speaks about this in 2 Corinthians 4:16: "Therefore we do not lose heart. Though our outward man is perishing," speaking of our visible body, which gets old, weak, and dies, "yet our inward man is being renewed day by day." The inward man of a Christian is being transformed from one degree of glory to another. Though we are weak outwardly, we are strengthened inwardly daily by God's mighty power and enabled to live an overcoming life. We are made more than conquerors so that we can say with Paul, "I can do all things through him who strengtheneth me." As we think God's thoughts, do God's will, and feel the way God wants us to feel, we will rejoice even in tribulations.
The Power of the Holy Spirit
Verse 16 reads: "I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit." This strengthening comes through the agency of the Holy Spirit. God the Father strengthens our inner man to serve him in the world through his Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ said to his disciples, "Ye shall receive power after the Holy Ghost has come upon you," and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. In Acts 4:8 we are told that Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit as he faced the Sanhedrin. Afterwards, Peter and his companions went home and started praying, and at the end of the prayer they were again filled with the Holy Spirit.
That is what the Christian life is all about. It does not matter what problems we face; as we pray, God will strengthen us in our inner man by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will make us unafraid and competent to obey the Father, resist the devil, and rejoice in afflictions.
When we ask God to strengthen us by the Holy Spirit, he will. Luke 11:13 tells us, "If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?" Ephesians 5:18 admonishes us, "Do not get drunk on wine; instead, be filled with the Spirit." To live a victorious life, we must continuously be filled with the Spirit.
The Power of Christ Dwelling in Us
This power for living comes to us through Christ dwelling in us. The text states, "I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith" (vv. 16-17). The purpose of being strengthened by the Spirit is "that Christ may dwell in [our] hearts through faith," that is, through faith in God's promises.
The word "dwell" here does not mean a temporary stay, but a permanent one. Paul's prayer is that, just as the shekinah glory dwelt permanently above the mercy seat in the tabernacle and the temple, even so Christ may dwell permanently upon the throne of our hearts, ruling our mind, will and affections.
A Spirit-strengthened heart is a Christ-enthroned heart. A powerful Christian is one who is ruled by Christ. He is not autonomous; he is Christonomous. Such a person is experimentally righteous; he is an obedient Christian. It is contradictory to say, "Christ dwells in me," and be disobedient. The Scripture says such a righteous man will be as bold as a lion. He is unafraid of the world, unafraid of the devil, unafraid of death, unafraid of persecution, troubles or anything else. He declares, "Why should I be afraid when Christ himself rules me?" Jesus Christ is his Lord, not merely in confession but in reality.
In John 14:23 Jesus spoke about this indwelling of our hearts by God: "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching." We must not speak about loving God without obeying him. To do otherwise is nonsense-popular, but nonsense. Jesus said, "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him."
Imagine a life in which God the Father and God the Son come into our hearts in the Holy Spirit and live with us, commune with us, protect us, instruct us, teach us, and guide us. That is the Christian life. That is power living.
Paul experienced such a life. Listen to the language of Galatians 2:20: "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." We see the same idea in Philippians 1:21: "For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain." The powerful life Paul lived was the life of Christ who indwelt him.
The Power of Love
In verse 17 Paul says that the purpose of this strengthening is "that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge."
This power we are speaking about is also the power of love. Love is very potent, highly energizing and invigorating. Paul is praying that the Father would strengthen us in our inner man through the Holy Spirit so that we may grasp the divine geometry of Christ's love for us.
We are told to understand the love of Christ, but then we are told we cannot comprehend it because it surpasses knowledge. But, notice, Paul did not say, "bypasses knowledge," but "surpasses knowledge." We must keep on grasping, keep on learning experimentally, the love of Christ for us. We must ask God to help us understand this great love that caused Christ to die in our place. We must do so, though it will take time and eternity to grasp even part of it, for total comprehension of God's love is impossible, just like total comprehension of God's power and grace is impossible.
Why must we make such effort to understand the love of Christ? Because this experimental knowledge of Christ's love will act as a motivating force to live and die for God. Love is power. Galatians 5:6 says, "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith working through love." We can do many things through the power of love.
In 2 Corinthians 5:14 Paul makes this statement: "For Christ's love compels us"-Christ's love for us motivates us, impels us, keeps us going. No wonder Jesus said, "If you love me, keep my commandments." If we love God, we will have sufficient power to keep his commandments. And we are told in Romans 5:5 this love of God is shed abroad in our hearts through the Holy Spirit which he has given us.
This power for love is evidenced in Romans 8:38-39: "For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." Grasping this truth empowers us.
The Power of God's Fullness in Us
In this amazing, ultimate prayer it is Paul's desire that not only some people, but every believer would "know this love that surpasses knowledge." And what is the final purpose? "That you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God" (v. 19).
Notice the spirituality and specificity of Paul's prayer. He is not praying for any change in his terrible circumstances, although he was in chains while he wrote this epistle, a prisoner of Caesar. He had obvious physical needs, yet he prays that the Ephesian believers be filled with all the fullness of God. Paul's prayer puts us to shame. (PGM) In our prayers we usually ask only for some temporal benefit. But Paul realizes that our lives do not consist of the abundance of material possessions. We will become thoroughly satisfied only when we are filled with God himself. True happiness is being filled with God.
This final request in Paul's prayer is absolutely beyond human imagination. How can a finite creature be filled with all the fullness of infinite God? Festus once interrupted Paul and asked him, "Have you gone mad because of your great learning?" (Acts 26:24). So we might also ask Paul: "Have you gone mad in this prayer that we be filled with all the fullness of God?" There is no more incredible prayer than this.
Was Paul delusional? Not at all. He is not praying that we be filled with some temporal blessings, but that we be filled with God himself. This is what it means to seek first the kingdom of God.
To be filled with all the fullness of God doesn't mean that we become God. God has certain incommunicable attributes; he alone is eternal, self-existing, immutable, omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent. But in his communicable attributes, such as love, we will experience him. We will be filled with the fullness of God in that sense.
In one sense, God the Holy Spirit dwells in every believer. Yet Paul is here speaking about an experiential awareness of being filled with all the fullness of God by faith. When that happens, we will be completely happy and nothing can successfully deter, oppose, or disappoint us. We shall be overcomers who say, "We are more than conquerors!" Such an experience is attainable, and we are ashamed that we haven't prayed like that. In Christ all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and Paul says we are given fullness in Christ. When we realize this truth experimentally, we shall no longer be dependent on circumstances. We shall become God-dependent.
Paul himself experienced this fullness of God. In 2 Corinthians 4:7-9 he says, "But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us." We have this all-surpassing power in us. Then he says, "We are hard-pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed." He continues this theme in 2 Corinthians 6:9-10, saying he is "known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything," and in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10: "But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me."
Can we say with Paul that we are sorrowful, yet always rejoicing? We need to pay attention to Paul's prayer that we be filled with all the fullness of God. That is power.
Power Is Within Us
Is this power kept in some faraway place? No. Paul addresses his prayer to "him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us" (v. 20). This power is of God, who is at work within us. That is why Paul is not insane when he prays that every believer be filled with all the fullness of God. He knows that God is able to do the most extraordinary thing he prayed. In verse 20 Paul expresses seven facets of God's omnipotence:
First: God is mighty to do. God is not a concept, a mere projection of the human mind. God exists, and anyone who comes to him must believe that he is and that he is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him (Hebrews 11:6). It was God who created the heavens and the earth. God is a doer.
Second: God is mighty to do what we ask. The reference is not primarily to temporal things, but to the specific spiritual requests he is making. Thank God, he also meets our temporal needs.
Third: God is mighty to do what we ask or imagine. He is able to do what we think but do not dare to ask. Recently we prayed for a thousand people to be converted in this place. I am sure when we prayed for that, some people thought we could never ask for such a great thing. But God is not only able to do what we ask, but he is able to do what we dream.
Fourth: God is mighty to do all that we ask or imagine.
Fifth: God is mighty to do more than all we ask or imagine.
Sixth: God is mighty to do abundantly more than all we ask or imagine.
Seventh: God is mighty to do far more abundantly more than all that we ask or imagine. This is amazing. In fact, there was no Greek word adequate to express this amazing power of God to do all things, so Paul created one-huperekperissou.
Then Paul gives us the secret of his prayer: The power that will do all these stupendous things is already in every believer. We have trouble believing that, but that is what the text says. The power of God that accomplishes all these things-the power of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit-is not in heaven but is working in us. So the question is: Do you believe this divine declaration? Or are you somewhat numb in your head, saying, "I don't understand"? If that is the case, you may either not be born again or be in a very backslidden condition.
It sounds too good to be true, but it is true, for it is the very word of God. Paul is not saying this power is working in Christ. He is not saying this power worked in us once upon a time. The Greek tense tells us that this power is even now working in us. That is why we do not have to yield to temptation . We have power to live the victorious Christian life.
Expect Great Things
In Colossians 1:29 Paul says, "To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me." To labor means to work hard, to sweat and to struggle. Paul is able to do so victoriously, because he is filled with an alien strength-the supernatural strength of God which powerfully works within the believer. No wonder Paul could say, "When I am weak, then I am strong." He was tapping into this power of God in him.
You and I as believers ought to do the same. Are you weak in yourself? Then pay heed to this prayer of Paul for you and you will be strong. Start praying to God. Dare even to pray what you think and imagine.
John Newton understood this concept. He made this amazing declaration in one of his hymns: "Thou art coming to a King; great petitions with thee bring; for his grace and power are such, none can ever ask too much."
Be daring in your prayers. Remember, God took Abraham out of his tent at night and said, "I want you to look up. Can you count the stars?" "No, sir." "Well," he said, "so shall be your offspring." Later God came to Abraham and Sarah and said, "Next year at this time you will have a son." Sarah laughed in unbelief. After all, she was ninety years of age, barren, and her husband was almost one hundred. But there is nothing impossible for God.
Pray for great spiritual blessings and be filled with the Holy Ghost. Pray according to the word of God. Pray as a righteous person. If you are sinning, you cannot pray and will have no faith. Do not just pray for temporal blessings; God will take care of that. Instead, pray that God's glory be manifested. Pray for hundreds and hundreds of mighty conversions. Expect great things from God and attempt great things for God. God promises, in Psalm 81:10, "Open your mouth wide and I will fill it." Start living for God, and you shall have power.
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Copyright © 2003, P. G. Mathew
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The "NIV" and "New International Version" are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™