Presented at Trinity Fellowhip on 12/06/1998
[There was a break from the Ephesians series in the Fall of '98 as Dr. Williams did a series on the Lord's Prayer in preparation for the upcoming release of his book THE DISCIPLE'S PRAYER (Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, 1999).]
"Now to Him who is able to do exceeding 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."
When we left Ephesians we had been climbing one of the great mountain ranges of Scripture in 3:14-19. This was no Mt. Mitchell or Clingman's Dome; this was an Everest. So we set up our base camp in 3:16 as we were strengthened through the Spirit in our inner man. Then we moved progressively from one shoulder, one great outcropping of rock to another, as Christ came to dwell in our hearts through faith so we could comprehend with all the saints the dimensions of his love (3:17-19a). Finally we stood upon the summit: filled up to all the fullness of God (3:19b). So what comes next? After that grand moment when you clear the final hurdle, haul yourself over the last steps and stand upon the peak, comes the greatest moment of all, when you simply pause for a while and soak in the view, exhilarated by the fact that you are THERE. That is the moment which is ours this week, as we study the denouement, the conclusion of this passage: the doxology with which Paul ends the prayer he has been praying for us. "Now to Him who is able to do exceeding 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" (3:20-21). Such a mountain view does two things for you: It invigorates your spirit as you breathe that clean, crisp mountain air, and it expands your horizons as you see what a place of grandeur the world really is. So too the view from this Everest of Ephesians.
This invigoration of the spirit begins with THE ENUNCIATION OF ENCOURAGEMENT (v. 20). Paul has just made the most astounding request of God. Think about it! That Christians be strengthened internally to resist temptation and serve God and be able to contain the blessings he wants to give them (v. 16); that Christ dwell in their hearts, so that they have an intimate domestic relationship with the Lord of Glory, that Jesus Christ in all his purity and love should be at home in their innermost thoughts and intentions (v. 17); that they, rooted and grounded in love, should comprehend the incomprehensible love of Christ (v. 18-19a); and that these things should be in them to all the fullness of God (v. 19b). And this request raises the inevitable question, "Can such things really be?" And the equally pertinent one, "Can such things be for ME?"
You see, Paul knows that though we must in this age walk by faith and not by sight, our faith is weak, that naturally sight is stronger (2 Cor. 5:7). We see the prosperity of the ungodly and the suffering of the righteous, but we cannot see the glory that is waiting to be revealed in the righteous nor the future judgment of the wicked. We see the dead body of a loved one descending into the earth, but we do not see the spirit ascending to be with Christ until the Resurrection. We see day after day passing apparently without change, but we cannot see the Day of his Coming drawing ever closer. And what we see, we see day after day, day after day, over and over again and again in a seemingly inexorable rhythm until what we see begins to define reality for us and the unseen things in which we have put our faith seem unreal in comparison. This is an inescapable dynamic with which all believers have to wrestle.
Now, against all this seemingly unanimous and irrefutable testimony, against all this tyranny of sight, Paul dares to oppose only one thing: the Word of God (Rom. 10:17). Is it enough? Well, has it not stirred your heart and quickened your soul and worked its secret work in you before now? Why else are you here instead of home reading the Sunday paper? Paul understands your need to counteract the tyranny of sight, and he also understands the power of the Word of God. So against all this powerful dynamic telling you that the material is all, he ranges this one Word. Can such things be? Can they be for you and me? Well, our God is one "who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us!"
That is the Enunciation of Encouragement. Now look at THE EVIDENCE OF ENCOURAGEMENT. God is able to do even more than we can ask or think "according to the power that works within us." We walk by faith and not by sight, but it is not a blind faith, but rather a rational faith in One we have good reason to believe in even though we cannot see Him. What is the evidence for that? It is multifold, but one part of it is emphasized by this passage: "the power that works within us." Just think about what God has already done in you if you are truly a Christian. He has taken a person whose natural bent is to be your own God and made you glad to bow before Jesus as your Lord. He has taken a person with no natural aptitude for spiritual things and given you some understanding of the Gospel, the mystery of his will. He has taken a person who is naturally spiritually dead and made you alive. He has taken a person who is naturally a slave to sin and made you able to stand against the wiles of the Devil, at least some of the time. He is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us!
So breathe in that clean mountain air and feel the strength that it gives. And then dare, on the basis of the Word of God and the power corresponding to it that dwells within you, to walk by faith and not by sight!
This doxology not only declares the power of God, it also tells us what it is for, where it is going. The peak gives us the vantage point from which we can see our path. It is a summary of the whole first half of the book of Ephesians. The power of vs. 20 is that same as that of 1:19-20, which was able to raise Christ from the dead, in 2:5 raise us from spiritual death, and which will in the Last Day raise our bodies as well. The threads that come together in v. 21 go back to 1:6, 12, 14, which speak of God's glory as the end of salvation and to 2:20-22 and 3:10, which speak of building the Church as an end of salvation. These threads come together in 3:21, the summation of the whole argument so far: Let there be glory to God in the Church and in Jesus Christ from now on and forever.
Our purpose then is to glorify God in the Church. That is why we were saved. Everything God has done for our salvation is all driving to that one end. It is the expanded horizon we need to go along with our newly invigorated spirits. We were chosen to be holy and blameless before him in love so that the glory of Christ might be reflected in our character. We were predestined to adoption so that God might be glorified in his children. We were redeemed from sin through His blood so that God might be glorified in His grace and mercy poured out on us. We were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise so that this glory in us might not fail. We were made alive in Christ so that heaven and earth might see what it means to serve the living God. And we were reconciled in one Body, built on the Foundation, growing into a Temple, as a place for that glory to dwell. So we are strengthened in the inner man, so Christ dwells in our hearts, so we comprehend he dimensions of his love and are filled up to all the fullness of God, so that His glory might shine in us and we might take our places as load-bearing stones in the walls of that Temple.
Notice the CENTRALITY OF THE CHURCH in all of this. American Evangelicalism tends to reflect the individualism of American culture. Even if we attend church--did you hear what I said? "Attend" church. The Church is simply an optional club for believers which may be able to minister to them, but it is not the center of their spiritual life. The Church is something external to us that we may "attend"--not a Body of which we are inseparable and organic members. This way of thinking leads to a Consumer Mentality in our approach to church life, as we shop for the one that best meets our felt needs, and abandon it for another whenever a better marketing job comes along. And that leads to a shallow, materialistic church modeled on the Entertainment Industry. It is a reproach to the name of Christ, not a glory to it.
But the biblical pattern is the reverse of this. While God does save individuals, the primary focus of salvation is not on the individual but on the Church; it is the community, not the individual, which is the primary locus of God's glory. Why? There are at least two reasons.
First, the individual Christian is not sufficient to reflect the glory of God in all its fullness. The whole community is needed for that. We need the insights of all, the experience of all, the spiritual gifts of all, to do so. It is the height of arrogance for an individual to think he can do this adequately alone.
Second, the greater the difficulty of the task, the greater the glory that comes to the one who performs it. I remember Vince Dooley being carried off the field after the Georgia Bulldogs beat Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl to win the National Championship. I don't ever remember him or any of his successors being carried off the field after our almost routine annual thrashing of the Vanderbilt Commodores. Well, it is one thing to save an individual from sin. That in itself is glory unimaginable. But it is quite another thing to take those individuals and reconcile them all in one Body! And that is a necessary part of the process of that redemption. Only in the context of the Church, then, are the full effects of redemption evident; only in the Church CAN the full effects of redemption be seen.
The ultimate question then is, does the Church--how does OUR church--glorify God? How can it? By being the NT Church as it is revealed in the rest of the Book! By being a Church in which natural enemies are reconciled, in which saints are edified and strengthened, in which spiritual gifts are exercised, in which the relationships of wives and husbands, parents and children, bosses and employees, are transformed, and God gets the credit. That is the question we must continue to ask, and by the answer to which everything that we do and are as a church must be evaluated.
Are you in God's will? Are you in tune with his program? Are you in harmony with his heart? The best test is this: does everything we have been learning about your PERSONAL Christian life, all its privileges and its position, your PERSONAL walk with the Lord, make you want to--indeed, have to--cry out, "to Him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever"? I hope that it does. I pray that it does. For everything that we have learned up to this point in Ephesians has prepared us for that goal, and everything we will see in the rest of the book will apply it and flesh it out. And this indeed is the end of our salvation.
Here endeth the lesson.
Dr. Donald T. Williams