We now come to Paul’s final words in his passionate pleas for these Ephesian believers.
In verses 16-19, the apostle asks God to grant these first century believers a mighty inner strengthening of the Holy Spirit. He prays that this Spirit-enduement would result in Christ abiding in their hearts by faith and establishing them in love. Paul expresses in his prayer an intense desire for these sincere followers of the Lord Jesus Christ to become experientially acquainted with Christ’s very own love, in order that they be “filled up to all the fullness of God.”
What a prayer! and what a church leader who expressed such lofty aspirations for young Christians! Once again we must ask ourselves: Does this reflect my prayer-desires for my fellow believers? Have I experienced, and am I continuing to experience, the substance and reality contained in this prayer?
Knowing there would be those present, who upon listening to his prayer being read in the church would react with consternation, Paul offers a closing doxology filled with praise and promise: “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.”1
A Promise of God’s Ability
If verse 20 expresses anything, it expresses Paul’s explicit confidence in God’s ability to perform what He has promised: “Now to Him who is able to do. . . .”
The late English Methodist preacher, educator and author, Thomas Cook, said this about the promises of God:
“Every promise of God is supported by four pillars, each one as strong as the pillars of heaven: 1. God’s justice or holiness which will not permit Him to deceive; 2. God’s grace and goodness which will not permit Him to forget; 3. God’s truth which will not permit Him to change; 4. and God’s power which makes Him able to accomplish.”2
Dear struggling Christian, do you often despair as to whether you can live a life which is pleasing to God? Do you wonder if you will ever become a loving, established believer? Have you grown weary over a life of defeat? Then this prayer and promise is for you. Take heart; God is able, for God has promised.
Note that the apostle said “God is able,” not “I am able.” Man’s ability must flow from God’s ability. Man can only do after what God has first done. Paul had no confidence in the flesh—in his natural giftedness and abilities. He once did. He once boasted of his own righteousness and religious exploits. Previously he had been a zealous, fervent, self-righteous fanatic. He struggled and worked feverishly to earn God’s righteousness, God’s approval—all in vain. But following his Damascus Road revelation of the living Christ, and subsequent filling of the Spirit, Paul viewed all his former works as rubbish. After Christ was revealed both to him and in him, He knew it was God’s ability working in him that was the moving cause behind all he did and accomplished.
God is able. God possesses the ability to do and perform in the hearts and lives of every one of His followers all that is consistent with His will. And in the context of Ephesians 3:14-21, Paul says God possesses the ability to make every believer strong in his and her interior life. He says God has the ability to establish every believer in love. He says God has the ability to fill every believer out of His very own fullness.
Faith is the Answer
Dear Christian, will you believe God for this? In Matthew 9 there is an account of two blind men petitioning Jesus to restore their sight. And what was Jesus’ response? He asked them one thing: “Do you believe that I am able to do this?”3 This is the spiritual crux in appropriating God’s power and blessing. Do we actually believe God is able? Unbelief says “No!” Faith says, “Yes!” What was the blind men’s response to Jesus’ pointed inquiry? “Yes, Lord.”
Oh, my struggling friend, quit looking to yourself for spiritual victory. Quit trusting in false theologies which have failed you time without number. Look to Jesus who alone is able to perform a mighty inner healing, giving you strength to live and to love.
How then did Jesus respond to the blind men’s assertion? “Then He touched their eyes , saying, ‘It shall be done according to your faith.’ ” When did the miracle occur? After these needy, helpless men cried out in desperate faith, “Yes, Lord.” Yes to what? Yes in Christ’s ability to heal them. Yes to the lordship of Jesus Christ.
Remembering the context in which Paul makes such a faith-claim regarding God’s ability, we ask, What does Paul say God is able to do? “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, . . .”
Knowing the power and ability of God as well as he did, Paul is not content to say, “Now to Him who is able to do.” Neither can he stop after praying, “Now to Him who is able to do far more.” Nor can this praying church leader conclude his prayer with “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly.” No, Paul draws upon as many superlatives as come to his mind, given to him by the Spirit. He prays, “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, . . .”
Dear Christian, after you have been able to articulate your heartfelt desire and need for spiritual power and fullness, God says that He is able to do far more abundantly in your heart and interior life beyond what you have just asked or thought. Paul says God is able to perform the unimaginable in us!
God’s ability, when released in a thirsty, believing soul, makes both fallen men and angels wonder. Look at Saul of Tarsus breathing out threatenings against the church one day and preaching Christ the next. Look at Stephen on his knees praying for God to forgive those stoning him to death. Look at Augustine, who had once lived a life of debauchery and lasciviousness, keep walking after one of his former courtesan’s solicited his services. Look at John Newton, who had lived a profligate life for many years and had trafficked in slaves, write after his conversion to Christ,
Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.
Then I think of a man like Joe Debarba, who worked years ago in the Illinois coal mines. Day after day he mistreated his mule that hauled the coal from deep inside the mine. But then one night Joe found the Lord Jesus and the unimaginable happened—Joe went to the mule the very next morning and kissed it, apologizing to the beast for his mistreatments. He told the mule he found the Lord Jesus and would never be mean to it again. A temper he once could not control, was now controlled by the God who is able to do the unimaginable.
What about you, my friend? What do you need God’s power and fullness to do in your heart and life? Is your problem anger? Lust? Pride? Out-of-control appetite? Laziness? Resentments? Fear and cowardice? Let me suggest that you allow God to do the unimaginable in your heart.
God’s Inner Working Power
Paul says God is able to perform such a deep work of grace in one’s heart “according to the power that works within us, . . .”
This power, of course, is God’s power—the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. It is the power that brought from the dead the Lord Jesus Christ. It is the power that descended on the disciples at Pentecost. It is the power that made a fearful, ambivalent follower of Christ into a courageous preacher and witness to His resurrection. It is this power that caused the first Christians to preach without favor, to persevere under intense persecution, to shout with joy and praise when beaten, to love their enemies, to live in unity and fellowship with the brotherhood, to overcome the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. It is this power that propelled these passionate Spirit-filled men and women from behind closed doors out into a lost world, to rescue the perishing, to care for the dying. It is this power that enabled the early church to defeat the gates of hell, snatching idolaters and prostitutes, drunkards and homosexuals, murderers and molesters from Satan’s grip. And it is this same power at work in you, dear Christian, that can make you into what you can be and ought to be. In the words of the old gospel song . . .
Would you live for Jesus, and be always pure and good?
Would you walk with Him within the narrow road?
Would you have Him bear your burden, carry all your load?
Let Him have His way with thee.
His power can make you what you ought to be;
His blood can cleanse your heart and make you free;
His love can fill your soul, and you will see ’
Twas best for Him to have His way with thee.4
This power gives the ability to every believing, cooperating believer to say No to sin and Yes to God. This power will enable one to be patient under trial, to be kind when ill-treated, not to be jealous when another is praised, not to brag about one’s gifts and possessions, not to act rude and unbecoming. This power will equip us to perform acts of selfless, loving service in our homes, churches and communities. When this power is operating in a heart made pure by Christ, it will not be provoked to react in unChristlike ways.
This expulsive power enables one to forgive all offenders, without keeping a record of the wrongs. And it must be said, this power also prompts the believer to apologize when he has sinned in either action or attitude, enabling him to confess his trespasses and to recognize his foibles and frailties and errors. He knows better than any earthly person that he has not arrived, but presses on so that he might lay hold of that for which he also was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.
This believer, in whom the power of God is working, knows that in his flesh dwells no good thing; that all of his own righteousness is as filthy rags. Apart from Jesus Christ and His righteousness, he fully knows he is altogether sinful, innately depraved, and totally without merit. His trust is in Christ alone.
Glory to God
Such a mighty, transforming operation of grace in the lives and hearts of God’s people is for one sole purpose: “to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever.” Knowing that it is possible for one to ask for God’s power and fullness with impure motives, the Spirit reminds us that it is for God’s glory and His glory alone that He produces wonderful changes in the heart and performs mighty exploits through consecrated lives. Here the cautionary words of D. A. Carson are helpful:
We may desire the power of God so to operate in our lives that we may become more holy; we may ask for power to grasp the limitless dimensions of the love of God—and yet distort these good requests by envisaging their fulfillment within a framework in which the entire universe revolves around our improvement. The root sin is the kind of self-centeredness that wants to usurp God’s place. How tragic then if our prayers for good things leave us still thinking of ourselves first, still thinking of God’s will primarily in terms of its immediate effect on ourselves, still longing for blessings simply so that we will be blessed.
We may have improved a little on the quality of what we ask for, but the deeper question is this: Do we bring these petitions before God both with a proximate goal (that we might receive what we ask for) and with an ultimate goal—that God might be glorified? For that, surely, is the deepest test: Has God become so central to all our thought and pursuits, and thus to our praying, that we cannot easily imagine asking for anything without consciously longing that the answer bring glory to God?5
Can we now agree with the apostle and offer a sincere and hearty “Amen” to this prayer? Will we permit the God who is able . . . to do the unimaginable in our hearts and lives?
Let it be so!
— Soli Deo Gloria —
All Bible references are taken from the New American Standard Bible.
1. Ephesians 3:20-21.
2. Thomas Cook, New Testament Holiness, p. 127.
3. Matthew 9:28.
4. Taken from “His Way With Thee” by Cyrus S. Nusbaum.
5. D. A. Carson, A Call to Spiritual Reformation, pp. 202-203.
Taken from . . .
Breath of God: Experiencing Life in the Spirit
Ralph I. Tilley
(May be copied for noncommercial purposes;
not to exceed 500 copies.)