We'll be looking at Ephesians 3:14-19 today. Paul says, "For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God."
Lord, please open this up to us and help us understand this passage this morning, by the power of your almighty Holy Spirit, in Jesus' name, Amen.
This passage is very much about the Holy Spirit and his power and the power he can give you. Typically when I think about the Holy Spirit and power, I think about power to do this, power to do that, power to perform miracles, power to change peoples' lives, but here Paul is talking about something different. He's talking about the Holy Spirit's inner power for us—a strength that he gives us so that we can know and understand the love of Christ which is beyond knowledge and that we could be filled with all the fullness of God.
The goal is clear, right? The goal is to be filled with all the fullness of God. And we want to be full, don't we? We don't want to be shallow or empty. Sometimes in our lives we feel empty and we look at other people's lives and think, Wow, she really gets it. She's just full of the Spirit—full of this fullness of God. In this passage, Paul ends with those words, "so that you may be filled," so everything he says points towards this end goal. Paul gives us a progression as he prays before God: he bows before God. Why? So that Christ might dwell in your hearts. Why? So that you might be rooted and grounded in love. And why is that? So that you can know the love of Christ. Why is that? So that at the end, you're a mature, complete person, filled with the fullness of Christ.
Focusing on the inner person
If you notice in this passage, Paul is dealing with the inner man. He's dealing with heart issues, not just dealing with the symptoms or the byproducts. Like right now I have a cold, and so I drink NyQuil every night. That takes care of my symptoms of coughing and whatever else would keep me awake. When I'm sick, I find ways of dealing with it. But probably what I most need to do is eat a lot of vegetables and work on my overall health so my body can actually fight off this thing. But instead, Nyquil's fine and gets me through the night.
In my time as a pastor, I see now that I often looked at external issues in ministry, asking questions like, Why don't you serve more? Why don't you give more? Why don't you love the people in your neighborhood? Why don't you share your faith? Why do you keep looking at pornography? Why don't you guys just get along? Why do you keep fighting in your marriage? Why are you holding onto all this material stuff? Why are you so greedy and just want more, more, more? But these are all symptoms of a deeper heart issue—the issue of not understanding how much you have in Jesus Christ. Do you understand who it is that loves you and how much he loves you? If you understood that, you would look at your possessions and go, "I don't care about this. I don't care about that." Paul prays for that. He says, "I'm praying for your inner man—not these external things, not these physical things, not these symptoms, but the core of your being. Because if you really understood the love of Christ, you would with great joy sell everything you have and say, 'Man, I've got to have this love of Jesus.'"
As I think about this, I see that our problem is one of not understanding how good God is. Some of us in this room don't understand the love of God like we should—how wide and long and high and deep it is. We kind of get it, and so we kind of follow him. But if we fully understood God's goodness, it would change us. That's the miracle that Paul is praying for here. It's not a miracle of a physical healing or manifestation, but a miracle at the core of your being—that you would understand this love.
Paul prayed for this because he knew there was nothing he could do physically to bring about this depth of understanding. As a pastor, it was so easy to try so hard to craft the perfect sermon or get a point across—to work in my own strength. I need to confess that I did not pray hard enough for you. The beautiful thing is that it's never too late, and now I get on my knees and picture your faces and go, "God, I want them to get the depth of your love. I want them to understand."
Paul says that he bowed his knees to pray. While we don't have to bow to pray, there's something about getting on our knees in this posture of prayer and saying, "I surrender. Who am I before you, the King? You are Almighty God, and I bow before you." So Paul bows on our behalf. He bows before the Creator of everyone, before the one who saved us and gave us his name—Christian. We've all taken on this name, no matter what background or denomination we came from.
Relying on the power of prayer
Paul prays, "according to the riches of his glory that he may grant you to be strengthened …." The word grant is such a key word here. He's saying that no matter how hard he works, he can't make you understand how much Jesus loves you. God has to do that supernaturally by the power of his Holy Spirit; and when he does that, you just get it. While we waver in and out of that understanding, the Holy Spirit keeps us getting it over and over again. Understanding is granted to you, and it happens through prayer. This means that if you're here and you don't love Jesus Christ, and you don't understand that Jesus Christ really loves you, I can't talk you into that right now. That's something God has to do. Paul understood that, so he got on his knees.
When we lived in Simi Valley, my wife and I always had people living with us. One girl named Rachel lived with us a long time, and so we tried to marry her off. It was fun setting her up with all these guys and embarrassing the heck out of her—we weren't subtle about it. And some guys thought she was nice, and she thought some of the guys were nice and fine, but the truth is, we couldn't make her fall in love with anyone, right? And we couldn't make anyone fall in love with her! It's either there, or it's not. We couldn't control it or make it happen, and she ended up falling in love with someone on her own and marrying him.
This is the same thing that Paul is implying here. I can't make you fall in love with Jesus. I can make the introduction; you can walk in this room, and I can tell you about who God is—that he's the Creator of the world, the only one who matters, and the he loves you more than your wife or your kids or your mom or dad or any friend loves you. He's crazy about you. He so loved the world that he gave his Son. And do you understand how wicked you were? How much you rebelled against him? And he loved you in the midst of that. While you were a sinner, he gave his Son for you. Can you believe that? He watched his Son die on the cross for you: What kind of love is that? And then his Son rises from the grave after being buried for three days. He gets up by the power of the Spirit, and he ascends back into heaven. And now he can put his Spirit inside you; he can change everything. What an amazing God!
Some of you will respond by saying, "Hmmm … that's nice." I can make that introduction to God and nothing will happen inside of you until, as Paul says, the Holy Spirit gives you a strength to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge. He lets you know something that you otherwise can't know. And you can then say, "How he loves us! I get it!" And so I pray this for you—that you would understand the love of God; that you would love God more than you love your sin.
You realize that there has never been—never in the history of this earth—a Spirit-filled couple that has divorced? Never. So the issue is not about his needs or her needs or love languages or this or that. The issue is that somehow, as individuals, you have not understood the love of Jesus. You haven't been filled with that love. That's why you start fighting and arguing—it's because of that emptiness that you want the other person to fill. It all goes back to that core issue. I've wasted so many hours counseling marriages, when the issue really isn't about the marriage. The issue is a lack of understanding the love of God—the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge. The issue is not going to God for fullness, so instead you need this and that from other people.
So many of you spend a lot of time looking at the outer man or the outer woman—fixing it up, making it look right. How much time do you spend on your inner man or woman, just praying for your soul—that God would open your eyes to see his love?
Receiving God's love
Let me ask you something, and don't answer this one quickly. This is just between you and God. Are you sure right now that Jesus Christ is crazy about you? Are you 100 percent sure, not that he so loves the world, but that he so loves you as an individual? Can you really come up with that type of security before God and say, "I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you love me"? Or is there a part of you that's insecure, and you're thinking, I don't know. I think he loves me. I've been told that my whole life, but I don't know. I have to confess to you that I go in and out of this knowledge. There have been times I am so sure of the love of Christ—that he loves me—but I am also prone to wander toward insecurity, and I wander toward trying to earn it somehow. I'm sure you have seen some of that pattern in my life, and no doubt you see it in your own life as well. So I've got to ask you again, right now: Are you sure that God loves you?
A friend of mine was sharing about his own life yesterday, and he quoted John 15:9. Before we look at that verse, let me ask you: How much do you think God the Father loves his Son? Try to imagine that. How much does God the Father love Jesus? It'd be a pretty perfect love, right? That's why John 15:9 is a difficult passage for some of us to embrace. In John 15:9 Jesus says, "Just as the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love." Did you catch that: Just as? In so much as, in the same way as the Father loves you, Jesus, that's how much you love me? Come on. Shouldn't the verse read, "Just as the Father has loved me, cut that in half, or a third, and that's how much he loves you." That's the way it feels sometimes, right?
Some of you get the love of God, and praise God for that. I'm so grateful for you, and I learn from you. But some of you struggle like I do in believing that verse and say, "No way. That much? As much as the Father loves you, that's what you think of me?" That's why that knowledge can't come from working to attain it. I can't just study enough and know it. I can't check it off on an exam. Something has to happen through the power of the Holy Spirit in order for me to understand that love. Many of you talk to me and say, "How can I help my husband or wife or friend understand the love of God?" Well, you can't. You can't make someone else fall in love. But unlike a physical relationship, in this one you can actually pray like Paul does and get on your knees on behalf of that person.
I do know that God loves me, and there are times when I'm so secure in that knowledge. And there are times when I am not. That's me. Different people have different issues, and that is mine. I also realize that I've not prayed about that issue as much as I could have. I often pray for the power of the Holy Spirit like this: God, give me power so that I can impact other people's lives; empower me for the common good. These are biblical, good prayers, and yet I've neglected Paul's prayer in my own life and in the lives of others. I don't pray this enough: God, empower me, strengthen me so that I can understand your love for me. And empower these people in this room whom I love. Strengthen them right now by the power of your Holy Spirit, so that they can know your love and rest secure in it. Security. That's what I'm praying for this morning.
Yesterday I woke up after a weird, weird dream. It was a dream I couldn't make sense of. I was playing with a buddy of mine, Jesse, and we were competing in something, and he was winning. From that I should've known it was a dream, right? And it was one of those weird dreams where you think you're in an airplane, but then you're playing basketball, and suddenly Jesse says, "Hey, let's go to my uncle's house and get some avocadoes"—you know, random things, but they make sense in your dream. So yeah, of course, avocadoes would come next. So Jesse opens a door, and that's when I realized we were in an airplane in mid-air. Jesse's got this yellow backpack thing, and he's getting ready to jump out, and he throws one to me. So I strap on the backpack, and I'm thinking, What is this, a parachute? Jesse says, "Just trust me." I start to panic, and Jesse jumps out of the plane and starts tumbling backwards. I just stand there panicking, thinking, I don't know what to do! Do I pull something? What do I do? And then I woke up.
So I woke up and just kept thinking about that dream and wondering if there was a point to it. What I got was that there are some things you don't want to screw around with, right? I woke up because I was so nervous—was I risking my life? There were no instructions on the backpack, and I didn't know what to do. I share that with you because security is not something we mess around with, right? You don't want to say, "I think he loves me. I think I get the love of Christ. I think I understand his grace." The love of God is something we all want to be secure in. Even right now my tendency is to fix everything with a sermon, and what I learned from this passage in Ephesians is that I can't do that. There's a power in prayer that we have to trust. There's a power of the Holy Spirit that we have to trust.
I'm going to be praying for you in the weeks to come, and I ask that you would pray for me—that the Holy Spirit would fill me with a deeper security in this love. I'm going to pray for you that your inner man or woman would be strengthened so that you would really understand this great love.
Some of you have friends and co-workers and relatives you care about very much, and you know there's an emptiness in their lives because they don't understand this love of Christ. You've been treating their symptoms, trying to fix this or that—trying to get them off drugs, trying to get them to be less greedy, trying to get them to quit worrying about their future. But the bottom line is that those things aren't the real issue. The issue is something supernatural. The heart needs to be changed—like how the people in Ezekiel had a heart of stone and needed a heart of flesh. They need to get the love of Jesus. I invite you to bow down on your knees and pray for these people.
And there are some of you here who are so insecure right now—you don't know where you are with God right now, but you certainly don't understand his love. You need prayer for yourself, and I invite you to come ask for it. We are going to pray for something supernatural to happen, because that's the only chance we have—that God would grant you, through the riches of his glory, to know this love of Jesus.
Francis Chan is an American Protestant author, teacher, and preacher.