“Praying for Spiritual Growth”
INTRODUCTION What is the Meaning of Ephesians 3.14-19
Turn in your Bibles to Ephesians chapter 3. Our text this morning is the prayer toward the end of chapter. And it is the second of two of Paul’s prayer reports. He told the Ephesians what he was praying for them about in chapter 1. And now, in chapter 3, he tells them once again how he prays for them.
Writers of merely human books are told to avoid superlatives, or extreme words of description like never, always, magnificent, awesome, or fabulous. We preachers become guilty of this when we refer to a passage of Scripture as a “wonderful passage of Scripture.” The constant use of “wonderful” to describe a “passage of Scripture” will cause the wonderfulness of a passage of Scripture to lose meaning. If everything is awesome, nothing, in the end, will actually be awesome.
But when Paul pens down for the Ephesians what he prays for them about, he can’t help but to use superlatives and extreme words of description. He is overwhelmed at the thought of what he prays for them about.
For example, verse 16, the “riches of his glory.” In verse 18, we have the breadth, length, height, and depth … Paul is piling on words to probably describe the love of Christ … In verse 19, the love of Christ “surpasses knowledge.” And verse 20 God the Father is able to do what … “Far more abundantly beyond”
Let’s read Ephesians 3:14-21 14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, 16 that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God. 20 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, 21 to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.
Our text will be just the prayer from verses 14-21.
Now that we’ve read the passage I would like to compare this prayer to the prayer in Ephesians 1. So if we could turn back to Ephesians 1. There are many similarities in these two prayers, but I would like to note just one of them.
Paul’s first prayer for the Ephesians is in Ephesians 1 beginning in verse 15 and running to the end of the chapter.
Note the words for knowledge.
Ephesians 1, notice what he prays for first in verse 17. That he might give to you a spirit of “wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him.” He’s praying that we would truly come to spiritually know and comprehend the truth of our salvation that he wrote about at the beginning of chapter 1.
He prays beginning in verse 18 in the middle of the verse that we would know 3 things. He prays that we would know, first, “what is the hope of his calling.” He also prays that we would know “what are the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints” and verse 19, thirdly, he prays that we would know “what is the surpassing greatness of his power toward us who believe.”
So you can see his prayer burden for God’s people is that we would truly come to know and understand and appreciate the truth of God’s person and work in Jesus Christ.
Now, go back to Ephesians 3.
We saw this focus on knowledge here as well. We basically have just one main request in this passage. That is found in verse 16 “that he would grant to you to be strengthened with power through his spirit in your inner man”, or in your heart. Paul’s praying for Holy Spirit strengthening in us.
And everything in the passage flows out of this one request. And one of the goals of this request is for knowledge. Verse 18 that we would comprehend those dimensions and verse 19 that we would really come to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.
The purpose of all this is at the end of verse 19, that we “may be filled up to all the fullness of God.” That is simply a way of praying for Christian maturity.
The process of spiritual growth then works in this way in our passage: We are to pray for the Holy Spirit to come and strengthen us. That will set everything in motion, as it were. Christ will then have a rich dwelling in us. And, then, when Christ comes to richly dwell within us, He will begin to teach us about the dimensions of his infinite love.
And as he teaches us about His love, this will lead to our spiritual growth, being filled with all the fullness of God. That’s the process in this passage.
And so without prayer for Spirit-empowered knowledge of the love of Christ, our spiritual growth will fail. We must grow in our knowledge.
We must pray and we must study the Bible. And as I explained at the end of the sermon last week, this is why I preached the way that I do. We must have Spirit-empowered knowledge to grow spiritually. In this passage, the focus is on our knowledge of the love of Christ and our prayer for strength from the Father through the Holy Spirit.
Paul uses words in his prayer that will take us out into the farmer’s field as well as onto the foundations of buildings. And he also takes us into the warmth of the home.
So I would like to preach this morning on “Praying for Spiritual Growth.”
There are many different kinds of growth: physical, mental, and social. But the kind of growth under discussion is spiritual.
And naturally, we should pray for our own spiritual growth and each other’s spiritual growth.
Discuss importance of placing prayer here
Notice how he begins in verse 14…
Ephesians 3:14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father,
“For what reason, Paul? For what reason are you praying what you do?”
And if we look up at the previous passage to find the answer, we remember that the beginning of chapter 3 is one big rabbit trail. He was going to pray in Ephesians 3:1, you remember.
Ephesians 3:1 For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles—
He was going to pray at that point, but decided to encourage them with his own ministry that they, like him, should glory in sacrificial gospel ministry. Paul is glorying in his sacrificial ministry of the gospel in verses 2-13. And he sacrificed greatly, being put in prison and eventually to death for the sake of the gospel.
And the part of the gospel that he was put in prison for wasn’t because he was preaching God’s love! The part of his preaching he was put in prison for is found at the end of chapter 2.
And there, you remember, Paul focused on the fact that God in Christ has brought together formally hostile people into one body in the church.
And Paul was put in prison by the leaders of the Jews for his preaching that Gentiles could come into the family of God as Gentiles and no longer having to come underneath the law of Moses.
And so now, he actually begins his pray report in chapter 3 verse 14. And in his prayer, Paul is praying once again for comprehension of these things. He was going to do that in the first verse of Ephesians 3 … But digressed about the glories of sacrificial gospel ministry … But now in verse 14 is his prayer.
And I would say that if you bring together naturally hostile people … Jew and Gentile… And bring them into the same body, you’re going to have a great reason for prayer! You’ll need to know the love of Christ! And when those in that first century church in Ephesus began more and more to comprehend the love of Christ, the wall of hostility between hostile and hating people would be more and more broken down. And all would be filled with love for one another.
So we really need prayer. We need prayer that we would come to understand the love of Christ so that we can grow and so we can love one another with that love of Christ. That’s the point of putting this prayer here, after his discussion of Jew and Gentile.
But also he puts his prayer here because of what’s coming, and chapters 4-6. And putting Jew and Gentile or anybody who is naturally at odds with someone else, into the church, demands that we have, not only love, but also in Ephesians 4, that we be unified. And in Ephesians 4 he’s going to speak to this issue of being unified with one another.
And so we need prayer! We need prayer that we would come to really know and comprehend love of Christ so that we love one another and so that we are unified in the church.
So within any church, if there are squabbles and disunity over nonscriptural issues, it is very clear that in that assembly there is not the love of Christ. And why is there not the love of Christ? Because the reality of this prayer has not been answered with a “yes.” God’s people have failed to pursue what? … Knowledge … Knowledge of the love of Christ.
Issues regarding Calvinism and Arminianism, music, and the elevation of one translation over another are common causes disunity in the church. There is an appropriate way to discuss these things. But the love of Christ must first be truly known among the people to prevent these issues from a causing inappropriate division.
If we can pursue this prayer request with our hearts and not just our heads, then we will grow as God desires us.
TRANS: First, notice to whom and how Paul prays in verse 14-15.
Addressee: To Whom Paul Prays: the Father! (Eph. 3:14-15)
Ephesians 3:14-15 14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name,
First, Paul is praying to the Father. And the Father is described in verse 15 as the One ” from whom every [or better “the whole”] family in heaven and on earth derives its name.”
The whole family refers to the whole family of God. In light of the reason for his prayer, the glorious unity of Jew and Gentile in the church, this obviously a description of the saints of all of time. God’s people, both Jew and Gentile.
The Father is the Father of us all. We, the Bible says, are the children of God if we have trusted in Jesus Christ. We are not all the spiritual children of God, as some religions teach. But only those who have savingly trusted in Jesus Christ and turned their back on their sins.
And Paul is praying to the Father … it says … how? On his knees! Here we have a reference to the posture of Paul in prayer.
ILL: William Cowper, the famous English hymnist of the 18th century, said “Satan trembles when he sees the weakest Christian on his knees.” As we anticipate the day when every knee will bow and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, let us do it today. Follow Paul’s example if you are able and pray on your knees.
TRANS: Now, the 1 request that Paul prays for is in verse 16. Everything else in the prayer flows from this one request.
Paul Prays for a Strengthening with God’s Power (Eph. 3:16)
The one main request that Paul has is that we be strengthened with God’s power, or God’s abilities. We need to be strengthened with God’s abilities, wouldn’t you say?
Paul prays Ephesians 3:16 that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man,
Oh, to be strengthened with power! Paul prays that God would strengthen us with God’s own ability, God’s power. We need him to give us “the willing and the doing of his good pleasure.” God is the one who equips us with his power, with His abilities in order to accomplish His purposes. And one of those purposes is spiritual growth, of course.
Strength from the Father for this comes through the Holy Spirit into our hearts. And God’s ability to answer this request is not limited, at all. Paul’s praying that God would strengthen us in a way that is in keeping with “the riches of his glory.” Paul prays that God the Father would grant to us this strengthening in a way that reflects a wealth of God’s glory. God’s ability to answer this request for you is limitless. Pray for strength to grow!
And this indeed is a tremendous power that God has. In Ephesians 1:19, Paul prays that we would come to know what is the surpassing greatness of his power toward us who believe. And you remember Paul piles on words for God’s power when he says that this power that is directed toward us as believers is in keeping with the power of the power of his power! God has infinite, exponential, to the “nth” degree power and that power is directed toward us as those who trust in Christ.
Paul prays that we receive power from God the Father through the Holy Spirit. This power is that we would have God’s enablement to accomplish God’s purposes in our lives. We need God’s abilities. And this is what Paul is praying for.
TRANS: Now, everything else in the prayer flows from this. Paul prays that we be strengthened with God’s power so that … first … Christ May Richly Dwell in You.
Paul Prays that Christ May Richly Dwell in You (Eph. H:17a)
Paul prays that we be strengthened with God’s power Ephesians 3:17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith;
God has the power to accomplish this: Christ’s rich dwelling in your heart, if you trust Him.
So, Paul is praying for believers. And he is praying that we would be strengthened with God’s power. He is praying this for believers why? So that Christ may dwell in the believer’s heart through faith.
This is not a prayer for salvation. This is a prayer for believers. You say, “I thought Christ are ready dwelt in my heart.” Yes, this is true.
Romans 8:9 says that you are … in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you.
That word dwell … that the Spirit dwells in you in Romans 8:9 is a different word than what we have here in Ephesians 3:17. The word for dwell here is a little more intense than a normal dwelling. This word emphasizes the richness of the dwelling. It has the idea of taking up residence in and actually settle down inside.
ILL: This word takes us inside the home.
You can go into somebody’s house and learn a lot about them. You can learn their likes and dislikes and how clean or not clean they tend to be. If they tend to be scatterbrained or not. It is the same way with our hearts and what with comes out of our hearts through our lives. By our fruits we and others will know whether Jesus dwells in our hearts or not. We and others can tell if Jesus richly dwells in this house of my heart or not.
Paul is not asking the Father that Jesus merely occupy a little corner of the guest bedroom in our hearts. No, Paul is praying that Jesus would most certainly “make himself at home” in our lives and in our hearts.
You ever go to someone’s house and they say that and you think…I’m the only rascal here, I know … You ever go to someone’s house and they say “make yourself at home” and you think … yeah, I’ll rearrange that, take those curtains down, eat all I want.
Ok, Paul is praying that Jesus would make Himself at home in us and “clean house” if He needs to … in us. We’re not inviting Jesus into our hearts to occupy the guest bedroom. No, we ask Jesus to live as King in us and take over the whole outfit. Paul is asking that Jesus have total authority and that we, yes, we(!) get into the corner of the guest bedroom so that it’s Jesus’ plans and wishes and ambitions that take over.
Paul is asking that Christ would come and redefine our hearts and desires and take out all our desires if they don’t line up with his and throw them out onto the street or burn them up as garbage. Paul is praying that the Father bring in Christ’s new desires to replace those “old man” desires. A true believer desires this.
Is Jesus Christ in you in this way? A true believer will have, to some degree, this desire that Christ be in him in this way. A believer will think about this more often than on Sunday mornings. 2 Corinthians 13:5 … Test yourselves … Test yourselves!!
… to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?
Is the longing of your heart that you be like Christ and that Christ has more of a rich dwelling in you?
The indwelling of the Spirit of God is the proof that we are his. And in a believer will be a desire, at least to some degree, that Jesus take up full residence and be the master of this house of my heart.
And this all happens through faith, as you trust him day after day. And your trust in Christ for this will express itself through what Paul is doing right now, through prayer. Express these desires to him: that He come and clean house! Your trust in Christ will cause you to pray and to draw on the Eternal for the deficiencies you have in your temporary pilgrimage.
Do you pray that Christ would take over? Do you pray that the Father would make you like Christ! Did you pray that this week, for your own spiritual growth? Will you pray and desire that Jesus Christ take up a dwelling in you, fit only for the King that He is? Pray, pray for your own growth in godliness. That is crucial!
ILL: Not praying this is kind of like inviting in the maid to clean the house and telling her to stay over there in the corner. No, you must ask! If your house is a wreck ask the maid, and clean it and show her were all the supplies are!
Go ahead, ask the Father to make you more like His Son!
TRANS: Now, if you do that, … that’s dangerous…. If you ask Christ to dwell as only a King should dwell in your hearts and ask Him to clean house, there will be an outcome to that.
Not only will he possibly rearrange your life, but he will, in a very life-changing way, begin to powerfully whisper to you about his love.
So, next, Paul prays for strength from the Father … why? … so that … you will have experiential knowledge of Christ’s multidimensional love. Experiential knowledge of Christ’s multidimensional love
Paul Prays for Experiential Knowledge of Christ’s Multidimensional Love (Eph. 3:17b-19a)
At the end of Ephesians 3:17-19 Paul prays for strength from the Father so that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge
Paul prays for strength from the Father through the Holy Spirit. We need to be strengthened with God’s abilities, God’s power to accomplish his purposes.
And one of those things that is going to happen when that prayer request is answered is that Christ gets a rich dwelling in our hearts. When he sits as King in us and graciously takes over, he’ll began to teach us about the love of Christ.
And he can do this because, verse 17 at the end, we have already been rooted and grounded in love from God. If we have trusted Jesus Christ, we have been rooted in and grounded in God himself, who is love. The very character and essence of God is love. Love permeates everything that He is and does.
And believers have been rooted in love. And you farmers are anxious to do some of this right now, I know. I am praying for your success!
Just like as you would sow some seed in the ground and that seed take root, so also as believers because we have been saved by God’s grace, he has rooted us in love.
We’re also grounded in love. Just like if you were to build a building. The very foundation of our life in Christ is love. And all of our love … All of our attempts to seek the highest good for each other… All our love is grounded in God himself, who is love.
And so because we are rooted and grounded in love, Christ can come in and have a rich dwelling… because we are rooted and grounded in love, Christ can begin to teach us concerning the multidimensional love that He has and as well we can come to really know by experience the love of Christ, which surpasses knowledge.
Verse 18 Paul is praying that we Ephesians 3:18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth and [so come] to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.
Paul is praying for strength from the Father through the Holy Spirit for God’s power in us. With God’s power working in us, Christ will have a rich dwelling. And with that dwelling of Christ in us we will begin to comprehend the love of Christ. See, it’s a process.
With all the saints for all of time, Jew and Gentile, we will come to know the love of Christ.
It is more than likely that those dimensions at the end of verse 18, the breadth, and length, and height, and depth refer to the love of Christ in verse 19. Those are the dimensions of the love of Christ.
It’s interesting that he brings in the phrase “all the saints.” He is reminding the Ephesians of the love that Christ has for all believers, whether they be Jew or Gentile.
And so the breadth of Christ’s love is certainly as broad as all humanity. But to attempt to attach a meaning to each one of these dimensions would be difficult.
The point is that it is incomprehensible. And we’re so weak, we can’t even comprehend some physical things.
ILL: Several hundred miles off the coast of Guam is the Mariana Trench, the deepest place on earth. The depth of the ocean is mind-boggling. The Mariana Trench is nearly 7 miles down. Think of that, 7 miles. That doesn’t compute…
On January 23, 1960, Dr. Piccard and Dr. Donald Walsh climbed into their self-designed submersible vessel and were lowered into that ocean.
The water pressure at the bottom of that trench is…something else incomprehensible 15,931 pounds per square inch. Imagine being exposed to that kind of pressure…per square inch! Yet, evidently, there is life. Walsh claims to have seen flat fish on that ocean floor. Others doubt that claim.
It’s hard to grasp just how deep the Mariana Trench is. If we can’t grasp physical things, how much more can we not grasp fully the depth yes, the infinite depth of the love of Christ that reaches down and touches “the bottomless pit of our sin and misery, sorrow and need.”
But Paul is praying just that. That we would comprehend Christ’s love and verse 19 now that we would really come to experientially know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge. The love of Christ is beyond comprehension, yet Paul prays that we know it.
That seems to be what you would call an oxymoron. It appears to be a contradiction. How can you come to know something you can’t know? Paul is praying that we may come to know the love that is beyond knowing. And this word for “know” and “knowledge” is a common word for knowledge. It is gaining knowledge through experience. This is obviously the language of someone who has been overwhelmed by the love of Christ. He can’t come to grips with the depths of Christ’s love, but Paul is on hot pursuit…and he wants us to catch the fire too!
Paul wants us to experientially know the love of Christ because he knows that once you have … Once you come to experience more deeply the love of Christ, Paul knows that it will control you 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 14 “For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; 15 and He died for all, so that” … get this … “so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.”
If you experience more deeply the love of Christ, Paul knows that you will no longer live for yourself but for him who has the infinite multidimensional love to die and rise again on your behalf.
CONCLUSION What is the Meaning of Ephesians 3.14-19
As important as Bible study, memorization, and contemplation, and spiritual discussion are, they by themselves do not give what we need. Unbelievers can memorize the Bible and discuss spiritual things. But these things are merely the physical parts of the machine, but they themselves are not the energy that drives it.
Paul knows that what needs to be behind all of our spiritual activity is the Holy Spirit. He is the power behind the knowledge that we need. He is the revealer, the one who makes known to us the “deep things of God … that we may understand what God has freely given us.”
And again this is why Paul prays the single request that he does in verse 16. Again, he prays that the Father would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with power through his spirit in our inner man, in our hearts.
And God’s power in us through the Holy Spirit will eventually result in us being filled up with all the fullness of God, in verse 19.
This simply refers to our spiritual growth, being filled up to all of God’s fullness is spiritual growth. It’s God’s fullness that we need to be filled up to. We need his character to fill up every aspect of our character. We need to grow in Christ. We need spiritual growth.
And this is the process in this passage: Again,
as we are strengthened with God’s power in our hearts through His Spirit, Christ will have more of a kingly dwelling in us as we trust Him for that.
Christ then will come in …in powerful ways to teach your spirit about His infinite, multidimensional love. And you’ll come to experience to a fuller degree the love of Christ and then you will grow in Christ. You will be more and more filled with God’s fullness.
Have you experienced this? Do you know what it is the come to comprehend the powers of the love of Christ?
Pray. You must pray for this! We must all together pray as we begin these next chapters in Ephesians; we must pray that God the Father would strengthen us with His power through His Spirit that we might accomplish his purposes in our lives.
On November 24, 1871, DL Moody, that American evangelist,…his church building was destroyed in the great Chicago fire. He went to New York to seek financial help. Day and night he would walk the streets seeking God’s power in his heart. Then suddenly, he says quote…
“…one day, in the city of New York—oh, what a day!—I cannot describe it, I seldom refer to it; it is almost too sacred an experience to name…. I can only say that God revealed himself to me, and I had such an experience of his love that I had to ask him to stay his hand. I went to preaching again. The sermons were not different; I did not present any new truths, and yet hundreds were converted. I would not now be placed back where I was before that blessed experience if you should give me all the world—it would be small dust in the balance.” (W. R. Moody, The Life of D. L. Moody, New York: 1900, p. 149)
Moody was seeking new power from God for a fuller ministry and the Lord came and gave him a greater experience of His love. Seek God’s face Seek Him, evermore.
75 Love of God