Dear radio friends,
Our heavenly Father desires our spiritual strengthening. He knows that of ourselves we are dust. And He also knows that of ourselves, although renewed by the grace of the Holy Spirit, our faith yet remains weak. We are frail. We have little strength. Soon we become fainthearted spiritually.
So God has given to us different means for spiritual strengthening. For instance, He has given to believers in the church of Jesus Christ the Lord’s Supper. That Lord’s Supper is a sacrament given by Christ to His church for the sole purpose of the strengthening of the spiritual life of His disciples. But He has also given to us prayer. Prayer is a means for spiritual strengthening. It is a means that God has given to us whereby He promises to give us His grace and His Spirit in the way of sincerely asking Him for these things.
In Ephesians 3 we have a very beautiful prayer of the apostle Paul, a prayer in which the apostle is praying for the spiritual strengthening of the church at Ephesus and for our spiritual strengthening. Ephesians 3 may be called one of the great passages in the Bible. Open your Bible to it, please. We will be looking at verses 16-19. As God has given in the creation spectacular mountain ranges like the Rockies and the Himalayas, so in His Word He has given grand passages, passages affording us vistas of tremendous spiritual truths that fill our souls and cast us into wonder and praise.
Paul is praying, as you notice in verse 14. He says, “I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Then he says that he will pray for great spiritual blessings to descend upon us. As you scan the verses ahead, you see that he is going to pray that Christ abide in our hearts by faith, that we be rooted and grounded in love, that we be given enlargement of spiritual understanding, and that we be filled with the fullness of God. Now, that is quite a list. You compare that with many of the prayers that are given in the church today and you see the spiritual poverty of the church. Many prayers, also by the leaders of the church, go by the words, “Well, Lord, I just wannna…” and “Give us a good day….” Paul’s prayer is deep. Paul’s prayer is spiritual. It is arising out of the inner life of Christ in his heart. He is praying that that life of Christ flourish in his experience, in his heart. The central thing that he prays for is for spiritual strength: “I bow my knees unto the Father…” as we read, “that,” as we continue to read in verse 16, “he would grant you to be strengthened with might … in the inner man.” Spiritual strengthening is the main thing that he is praying for – not physical strengthening, not emotional strengthening, not strengthening of muscle or bone – but strengthening of the heart, of the inner man, by the Spirit of God.
What is that inner man? We have that in verse 16. The inner man is the new life of Christ. That is how the Bible refers to that life that Christ works in our hearts by spiritual rebirth, or what is called regeneration – to be born again. Regeneration is not something that the sinner wills for himself. It is something that God plants in the heart, solely of His own favor and grace, according to His plan of divine election.
The word “inner man” distinguishes that life of Christ in regeneration from the outward man. The outward man in Scripture refers to the life that everyone has – the earthly life. For instance, we read in II Corinthians 4:16, “But though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.” Unbelievers do not have an inner man. They have only that which is corrupt and defiled in sin. A child of God, because of the grace of God, has an inner man. That is the life of Christ planted in the new heart. That is the life that cannot perish. That inner life is strengthened by the Holy Spirit. He feeds that inward man. He protects it from disease. He nourishes it by the Word.
Now, the prayer is, “May God grant that the inner man be strengthened with might by the Holy Spirit.” The apostle, then, is not praying here for conversion. No, he supposes that the Holy Spirit has already entered into our hearts. But he is praying that that life, the life that Christ has given, be strengthened. We are created as babes in Christ Jesus. As we live out of that life, we are subject to the assaults of our sin. Therefore, that life must be strengthened.
We learn more of what that means in verse 17. We read, “That Christ may dwell (or abide) in your hearts by faith….” To be strengthened in the inner man means that Christ abides in our hearts by faith. Spiritual strengthening, by the power of the Holy Spirit, is not some electricity that flows through fingernails and hits you on the forehead and heals cripples. It is not some force to cause your voice or lips to utter strange sounds. That is not spiritual strengthening. That is a bunch of shenanigans. That has nothing to do with the Scriptures. That is not biblical.
But spiritual strengthening has to do with faith in Christ. Christ has been given to dwell within us, to live in our hearts by faith. Spiritual strengthening is when the abiding Christ in our hearts grows, entering more and more into every impulse of our thinking, of our willing, and of our doing. That is spiritual strengthening.
The indwelling Christ is the source of our spiritual life. Christ has been placed in us by the Holy Spirit. And the apostle is praying, “May God grant, according to the riches of His glory, that you be strengthened spiritually, that is, may the Holy Spirit cause the life of Christ within you to expand. May Christ live in you by faith more and more. I pray that God may continually strengthen you, for He alone can do it.”
Is that your prayer? Prayer is the expression of our deepest felt need. Is this your deepest felt need: Lord, strengthen me within – strengthen the life of Christ abiding within me? You and I do not need to be told of the desire for the strengthening of our body, the strengthening of our finances, the strengthening of our business and our reputation – the outward life. We spend a lot of time trying to keep that in shape. And it all perishes. But the inward man, what about that? How is that inward man tonight, child of God? How does it beat in your heart today? Are you growing in Christ – the life of faith, that spiritual life – given by a wonder of God’s love? Is that life strong? Or is it anemic? Is it diseased, flabby? Is your prayer, “Lord, grant spiritual strengthening. Through Thy Word and through prayer, may my faith grow, may my faith be made strong”?
What will be the result of this? Let us read verses 17-19: “That ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge.” What will be the fruit? Very briefly, the fruit of spiritual strengthening will be that we will be able to comprehend more of the love of Christ. The result of spiritual strengthening will not be those flashy, outward gimmicks so clamored for by many in the church today – the supposed speaking in tongues and the supposed healing and all the rest. But the result of spiritual strengthening will be a deepening understanding of faith in the love of Jesus Christ.
Paul is praying, “Lord, grant that the people of God be strengthened in their inner man, in that presence of Christ in their hearts, so that they may be rooted and grounded in love and may be able to comprehend a little bit of that love of Christ.”
What is the fruit of spiritual strengthening? Is it the Oh’s and Ah’s of others when they see what kind of a person you are? Oh, no! What is the result of spiritual strengthening? Is the result of faith in your life that now you are successful and your income rises and you are able to afford one of those large $300,000-$400,000 homes with seven bedrooms and four bathrooms – but everybody is so busy that they are never there – and there is no family to live there and they do not want to live together? Is that the result of faith? No. The result of the strengthening of your faith is that you begin to grasp, begin to understand a little something of spiritual things, of the love of Christ. How about that? Is that what you want?
The apostle says that those are the things that are too great for natural power of mind to measure. No human power of mind can measure the love of Christ. The apostle, so to speak, says that you cannot put a measuring tape on it; you cannot place a slide rule alongside of it; you cannot tell me the length, depth, height, or breadth of the love of Christ. You cannot, so to speak, measure it out a little bit and type in the data and come up with an estimate and say, “Well, it’s about like this.” You cannot do that. No, you have to be strengthened by the Holy Spirit within your heart, by the Word, and by prayer, and by the sacraments, and by the church, and by preaching. You need to be daily strengthened in your heart so that you begin to comprehend a little bit, with all of the saints, what is the breadth and height, length and depth of the love of Christ. You see, the emphasis here is upon the bigness of this love of Christ. It is so big that you need to be strengthened even to form an estimate of it.
Paul does not pray that we be strengthened in spiritual life so that we can have big thoughts about ourselves and have big crowds of people Oh-ing and Ah-ing over us, but so that we can have some kind of capacity to understand the love of Christ for us. We need to be expanded in spiritual power. We need to develop spiritual strength and energy so that we may be able to form some estimate of the measureless love of Christ for us. And this is for you. It is not just for theologians, or old people in a rocking chair, or ministers and elders in the church. The apostle prays, “all the saints.” That is what he says: “All the saints.” Children, that is you. Young people, that is you. Yes it is! That you may be able to comprehend the love of Christ. God strengthen you in your inward man so that you begin to get an understanding of the love of Christ for us, the love which, the apostle says, passes knowledge.
You need to have your mind stretched. He loved us, eternally, wholly undeservedly, sacrificially. He gave His body to be broken, His blood to be shed. Now we can say all of those things. But can we comprehend all of those things? God gave His eternal Darling to die the awful death of the cross which was ours. I cannot find words to catch that, to measure it. There are no human words to get that in a box, to define it so that I can say, “I got it.” It is too high. I cannot attain to it. Do you wonder why Paul would pray that we need to be strengthened within so that we may be able to apprehend, to comprehend the love of Christ? You cannot comprehend it. The world cannot understand it. And we cannot understand it unless Christ be in us.
So here is the gist of the prayer: “Lord, strengthen me, so that I might be able to apprehend this great mystery with all the saints: the love of Christ.” And, do not forget, you cannot do that without being rooted and grounded in love. That is what Paul prayed: “That we, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend.” There is a step there, you see. “Lord, give us spiritual strength to know the love of Christ.” But right in between those two (spiritual strength and knowing the love of Christ) is an enlargement of our hearts in love. We must be rooted and grounded in love – love for God and love for each other – if we are to know something of the bigness of the love of Christ for us. That is how the Holy Spirit expands our heart: love for God and love for each other. It is the love of God which is the great enlarger.
I remember, as a boy, when I would get new shoes. I had a short, wide foot. I remember that shoe stores at that time used to have these wooden things that you would stick into a shoe and then turn the screw and it would expand the shoe (leather, not plastic like today). Then your foot could fit. That is an example, I think, of what the apostle means to say. It is the love of God in the heart which stretches the heart and the mind so that we might be able to know the love of Christ. He who is not filled with the love of God in his heart, a love for God and for his brothers and sisters, who does not have the love of Christ, is necessarily small, withered, and shriveled in heart. One has a very shriveled outlook on life, filled with envy and jealousy, filled with evil reports about other people. That happens – in the church and in marriage. Then your life becomes shriveled because your heart is shriveled. Hatred, envy, jealousy shrivels the heart of the child of God. That is why the apostle says (I Pet. 2), “Cast it away!” Those are the things that will close off the heart and make your heart to be shriveled like a prune.
But he who is filled with the love of God, by the grace of God of course, and love for his brother and sister, so that he will lay down his life for them and say good things about them, and he loves them and shows that – that person is expanded in his thoughts and begins to comprehend more and more of the love of Christ for himself! That is the source of everything. That is what it all comes back to. It all comes back to this (and don’t you ever forget it!): the undeserved love of Jesus for me! Do you understand that?
Then the apostle goes on (in verse 19), “And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.” So, the apostle’s prayer is: “Lord, grant that we might be strengthened by the Holy Spirit, so that we may be able to comprehend the love of Christ.” But he does not stop there. He adds one more thing, “To the end (now here’s the end of it all – this is the goal) that you may be filled with the whole fullness of God.” There is the goal, at last. Prayer now has reached its goal.
And what a goal it is! We are weak and need to be strengthened by the Spirit within. We need to be strengthened so that we might know the deep things of the love of Christ for us. Why? You see, the reason is not merely for the sake of knowing it. The reason is not simply that we might be strong in faith. No! There is a greater reason – that we may be filled with the fullness of God! God is the end and the goal of all of His works. It is all for the purpose that we might be brought to understand the fellowship of the living God. That God’s grace and glory fill us and we be drawn into intimate fellowship with the living God in order that we might show forth His praises. That is the soaring height of this prayer.
At the beginning I said that some passages of the Bible may be compared to the Himalayas and to the Rockies. Now you are standing, by faith, at the summit, at the great heights, at the peak of faith. There is nothing higher than this: that your heart, by grace alone, desire to be filled with the fullness of God, to know Him in Jesus Christ His Son, to be pure as He is pure, to glorify Him in your words and thoughts, that you no more live as a man or woman of the world, living for that which is dust and cannot satisfy you, that you be no more the servant of evil and vile things, that you no more give your soul, your mind, your will, your thoughts unto vanity, lust, pornography, envy, jealousy, or whatever it is. But that, by the grace of God, you be strengthened in the inner man so that you might be filled with the fullness of God, that you might know His grace and mercy, and with those things within you, you might live unto Him.
That is prayer. Do you pray like that? Is that your prayer uttered to God today: “Strengthen me, Lord, by faith. Strengthen my heart within. Stretch my heart to know the love of Christ in order that the goal might be in me, that I might know Thee, and knowing Thee, glorify Thee.”
Let us pray.
Father, write the Word on our hearts. Amen.