Dear radio friends,
Please open your Bible today to Ephesians 3:16-19 and read the apostle’s prayer for spiritual strengthening.
Your heavenly Father desires your spiritual strengthening. It is His purpose that the spiritual life that we possess, that He has given to us, be strong and vibrant. It is not the will of the heavenly Father, nor is it acceptable, that our spiritual life become faint-hearted, listless, complacent, or dull. But He desires that our faith always, by His grace, be robust. And in the words of Romans 4, referring to the faith of Abraham and Sarah, that it be a faith that gives glory to God, and that we walk in the power of that faith.
For that reason (that God desires our spiritual life to be strong, vibrant, and growing stronger) He gives to us the Lord’s Supper. The Lord’s Supper is an ordinance of the church of Jesus Christ,a means given by Jesus Christ, for the assurance, the strengthening, of our faith, for it assures us of the love of God for us, of the full and gracious pardon of all of our sins, and of the promise of an indwelling Holy Spirit to be and abide in our souls.
Just on that point, that the Lord’s Supper is given for the strengthening of faith, we would like to encourage the young people and young adults to make confession of their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. If you have faith in Him; if you say, “Lord, I need to be strengthened in my faith”; if you struggle and have many questions; if you love the Lord and believe His Word; if you want to live a holy life but say, “there is weakness in me and there are struggles in me and I’m not what I should be”—then I want to encourage you to make confession of your faith. For the Lord’s Supper is given, not for those who are perfect, but for the strengthening of such faith.
This is also now the prayer of the apostle Paul, that we be strengthened spiritually. You might look at these four verses and say, “That is a mouthful!” And it certainly is. It is packed with intense spiritual truths. It is a passage in the Scriptures that may be compared to one of the mountain ranges that God has made in the earth, places of vast and intense glory: the Himalayans, the Andes, the Cascades, the Rocky Mountains. So also this passage is one of those lofty, one of those intensely majestic, spiritual passages. The apostle Paul puts a lot of spiritual truth into this passage.
Note with me that the apostle Paul is praying. He is on his knees (v. 14). And he is on his knees for us. He is praying for us. His prayer is not a superficial prayer; it is not a prayer, perhaps, in today’s common language in Protestantism (“Well, Lord, I just want to say that I hope they have a good ‘Super-bowl Sunday’”). No! His prayer reflects that this man knows God deeply, loves God supremely, knows what the spiritual life is all about in the world, and desires that these blessings be given to us. He prays that Christ abide in our hearts. He prays that we be rooted and grounded in love. He prays for the enlargement of our spiritual abilities to comprehend the love of Christ. He prays that we be filled with the fullness of God.
But the central theme of his prayer is that he prays for spiritual strengthening. He says, “I bow my knees [I get down on my knees] unto the Father,” in order that He would grant unto you, by the Holy Spirit, to be strengthened with might in the inner man. The main thing that he prays for is our spiritual strengthening. Not physical strengthening, not emotional strengthening, not financial strengthening, but strengthening of our spiritual life of the inner man, by the Spirit of God is us.
What Is That?
Paul is praying for the strengthening, as he says in verse 16, of the inner man. The inner man does not refer, as the world would think, to the inner life of a person. Everybody has an inner life (his person, or what psychology calls his “ego”). Paul is not referring to the inner life in that sense. But he is referring to the inner man of Christ—the gift of grace called spiritual rebirth or regeneration.
The apostle refers to it in II Corinthians 4:16 where he says, “For which cause [that is, because of all of these persecutions] we faint not; but though our outward man [the outward man is our physical life] perish, yet the inward man,” says Paul, “is renewed day by day.” This is a life, says Paul, that does not perish. It does not get arthritis. It does not decay. But the inner man, the inner life, is the life of Jesus Christ, the reborn life, which God has given by grace. It is a life that unbelievers do not have, and that we did not have, but that God implanted in us by His grace. It is a life, says Paul, that is there by the Holy Spirit, by the strengthening of the Spirit, who puts it there and protects it there and nourishes it there through the Word of God and through the sacraments.
His prayer now is that this inward, spiritual life be strengthened with might (or with ability). The apostle is praying, then, that the spiritual life of Christ, the new life of Christ in me, the life that will not perish, that that life be strengthened. For, when that spiritual life is given to us, it is not given as a full-grown man, but as a babe.
It is a life that is victorious and perfect and will go to heaven. Yet in this present world, due to our sins, it is subject to illness and weakness, and the devil constantly seeks to get it to go astray. So, Paul says, I pray that your inward spiritual life in Christ be strengthened.
And what that means is explained further in verse 17, when he says that Christ dwells in your hearts by faith. When he says, “I pray that your inward man, given to you by the Spirit, be strengthened,” that is the same as praying that Christ abide in you by faith. We are strengthened spiritually when Christ abides in us, by faith. Spiritual strengthening is not what some televangelists do before a packed audience when the deacons bring up one who is infirm, and the evangelist places his hand on the man’s forehead and he falls backward and the deacons catch him, and he has supposedly been imparted spiritual life—and all the other foolishness. That is not spiritual strengthening.
But spiritual strengthening has to do with faith in Jesus Christ. It is the truth that Christ abides, says the apostle, within you. The indwelling Christ, by faith. And Paul’s prayer is, “May the Holy Spirit cause that the life of Christ in you, the faith in you, becomes strong, so that Christ may be in all your thinking, in all your willing, in all your desiring, and so that you may live, not after the impulses of your own thinking, of your own heart, of your own responses, but after the impulses of the Spirit.”
I pray God, says the apostle, that you be strengthened, that you might live out of faith in the abiding Christ within you.
Is that your prayer? Is that your heartfelt need after a week? Do you pray, “Lord, strengthen the life of Christ in me, the life of faith, the inward man. Strengthen the truth that Christ abides in me and that I am His child”? We do not need to be exhorted to make such a prayer with respect to our bodies. We want our bodies to be firm, toned. With respect to our finances we want them to be strong. With respect to our emotional life we want that to be strong. With respect to our business we want a strong, flourishing business. But all of those things, say the Scriptures, belong to the perishing, earthly life. They are important. But on your deathbed, you are not going to say, “I wish I had been stronger in my shoulders. I wish I had a stronger portfolio.” On your deathbed, as a child of God, you are going to pray, “Lord, I wish (I see very plainly now), I wish all my days I had been stronger spiritually, with the abiding Jesus Christ.” Is that your prayer?
When That Happens,
What is the Result?
The apostle goes on, very briefly now, in verses 17 and 18, to tell us what the result of spiritual strengthening will be. The result of spiritual strengthening that he prays for is not the one that we would have picked first.
He says, “that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able [here is the result—you must be spiritually strong so that you can do something. Do what? So that you are able] to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height…of the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge.” The result of spiritual strengthening will be, says the apostle, the greater ability to comprehend the love of Christ.
We would say, “Lord, make me more strong spiritually to resist sin.” That is good. “Lord, make me strong to do good works, to be the type of Christian that I should be in this world.” That is also good. We might even say, according to our pride, “Lord, make me strong spiritually so that others in the congregation o-o-o and ah-h over my spiritual abilities.” That is pride!
But the apostle is asking and praying for something that is behind all of that, something that comes before we can walk in good works, before we can resist the devil. He is praying, “Make them strong spiritually, give their faith to grow, in order that they may begin to apprehend, in order that they may begin to lay hold on something, something that is large, something that is immense—the love of God in Jesus Christ.
That is his prayer. The result of spiritual strengthening is that we begin to comprehend a little bit more the love of Christ for us. And out of that comprehension of the love of Christ flows the Christian life.
The apostle Paul wants to emphasize in the passage the bigness of the love of Christ. In effect he says, this is something no scale can weigh. You cannot get a measuring tape around this. You cannot place a slide rule by it. You cannot type in the data in the computer and let the computer figure out the formula. You might be able, through the theories of triangles and corollaries and distances, to comprehend how far a star is away from you. You might get something on that. But you cannot comprehend this. You cannot get your mind around this: what is the breadth, the length, the depth, and the height of the love of Christ, which passeth, says the apostle, knowledge. The emphasis is on the bigness of the thing.
And his prayer is, Lord, strengthen them spiritually—so that they can do good works? Yes. But strengthen them spiritually so that they form in their mind, in their heart, a better estimate, a better understanding personally, of the measureless love of Christ. And he is praying here, not just for the minister in his study as he compares Scripture with Scripture, that the Holy Spirit give him to push back his chair and say, “How can anyone explain the love of God?” He is praying not just for theologians, so that they can write clear, penetrating books about the love of God. He is praying not just for old people in rocking chairs. But he is praying for all the saints. Note verse 18: “May be able to comprehend with all saints.” That is you, boys and girls. That is you, Dad and Mom. That is each one of us. That each one of us may get a better comprehension of the love of Christ that passes knowledge.
Cause them to grow spiritually—why? So they get a better understanding of the love of Christ. We can talk about it. We are going to read the Lord’s Supper form about it. We are going to celebrate it. But it passes knowledge. It is too high. I cannot attain to it. I cannot comprehend it.
So here is the heart of the matter. The prayer is, “Lord, strengthen me spiritually so that I might begin to apprehend the mystery of the love of Christ for me.”
Now there is a step in there that I missed, in verse 17: “That ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend….” The step that is in between “Lord, grant that we may grow spiritually” and “so that we may comprehend the love of God,” is that we be rooted and grounded in love, or that we love each other. So the idea is not that we go off into our own spiritual corner (with the Lord!), and we grow in an understanding of His love. That is not what Paul is praying. That is not the way it works. But he is praying that we may grow in that love, that we may be strengthened spiritually and grow in our understanding of the love of Christ…in the communion of the body of Christ.
Specifically, the love of Christ expands our hearts for each other. Our hearts have to be expanded in love. I would like to use the example (I do not think it happens any more, but) when I was a little boy in the 60s, then Mom and Dad would take us to the shoe store in South Holland to get our Sunday shoes. My foot was small and wide. There was no shoe wide enough. Shoes would always be an inch or two too long, but never wide enough. I liked a particular shoe, but it pinched. They had in the shoe store this wooden thing that the shoe salesman would put into the shoe to stretch it. He would turn a screw and, because the shoe was made of leather, it made the shoe bigger. They could stretch the leather, so that you could get your foot into the shoe more easily.
So, says the apostle, our hearts become shriveled, like a prune. They become very narrow, selfish. And, the apostle says, if we are to comprehend with all the saints the matchless love of Christ, then the Holy Spirit needs to expand our hearts and fill them with the love of God for each other.
That is his prayer.
What Is the Ultimate Goal,
or Purpose for Spiritual
And then, there is one more step. The prayer is not only, “Lord, grant that they grow spiritually, strengthen them so that they comprehend the love of Christ.” Paul adds one more thing: To the end (literally) that they might be filled with the fullness of God. The final goal is that we be filled with the fullness of God, which means that the grace and glory of God, through faith, might be in us. And then that this fullness of God Himself might emanate from us, so that God might be glorified in us, so that we might become pure as He is pure, and so that we might desire to be faithful servants of our God.
So that is the prayer. Is that your prayer? “Lord, strengthen me in the inner man, the life of Christ in me, in order that, being strengthened, I might better comprehend the love of Christ, in order that, comprehending that love of Christ, I might be filled with the glory of God, and God might be glorified by me.”
That is quite a prayer. But as we pray that, Christ says, “Now come, and in this Supper I will strengthen you.” God grant it.
Let us pray.
Father in heaven, teach us to pray that way. Give us such an acquaintance with Thee and with spiritual realities that we pray for the inward, spiritual life of our souls, that we become concerned about the health of our spiritual being, the life of Christ, and that we might gain a better understanding of that love, in order that we, being changed, might be a better reflector of the love of Christ. In Jesus’ name, Amen.