Friday, March 19, 2010

The answer to Paul's prayer is the gospel (Ephesians 3)

Recently had the joy of preaching on Ephesians 3:14-21 for Exeter ECU.
Download mp3: Getting caught up in the love of God - Ephesians 3:14-21 (35mins)

“so that Christ would dwell in their hearts through faith” -
That's already true of a Christian - yet Paul longs that it'd be the case. Strengthening the Ephesians hearts is the outworking of the gospel - God at home in their hearts by faith - Christ present by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

This is about experiencing what's already true. They have union with Christ but do they feel it? Paul has told them how Christ died, was raised and seated in the heavenly realms - and so too they've gone from being dead under wrath, raised and seated with Christ. This is true but do they know it? The answer to Paul’s prayer is the outworking and evidencing of that gospel reality in your life and mine.

“that they'd have strength together with all the saints” - not to fight but to "comprehend the breadth, length, height and depth and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge” This prayer, like Ephesians as a whole, is not remotely individualistic. The letter is written in the plural, masked by the limits of the English language. What the prayer asks for is something to be known with God’s people. 

 After an evangelistic talk for a CU a guest asked me, “but do I have to go to church?” What would you say? It’s like someone asking on their wedding day, “so, do I have to live with them now” – you’d say they were barking. So too, genuine Christianity, being about the relational Triune God is about a relational people.  How? 4v2, as we bear with one another in love. 4v15, as we speak the truth in love. 4v16 and are built up in love. 5v1, walking in love. Nothing marks the reality of Christian life more than the way you view the people of God. Do you love or distain them? Judge and rate and compare or serve and value them? It’s good for your witness but it’s a good thing in itself. Being together embodies the unity that only the gospel achieves.

That’s why being committed to a local church is so vital for you. And committed doesn’t mean being on the members list or even necessarily having a responsibility in the running of the church. It means being “together with all the saints” – relationally committed. Can you say of your church “these are my people, and there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for them”? Could you say, unless God sends us separate ways, I’ll attend your funeral unless you attend mine first?

What is it we’re strengthened for with God’s people?
Strengthened, to have Christ in you, means having the strength to know: to know the scale and love of Christ which is beyond knowledge – strengthening of a global proportion – in every dimension. The distance from the peak of Everest to the depths of the Mariana Trench in the Pacific is 19.7km. The scale and love of Christ demonstrated most clearly in his death for us makes that look like the gap between your fingers.

There are not words to capture the love of Christ. The love of Christ surpasses knowledge – v19. You can know, and then there’s more. Peter O’Brien writes:
“This petition is remarkable, for although the apostle has said much in chapters 1-3 about his readers being in Christ, he assumes that they do not adequately appreciate Christ’s love. Also, God’s almighty power is needed to grasp how immense it is. This is not a petition that they may love Christ more, however important this might be; rather, that they might understand Christ’s love for them. Further, their grasping this cannot be simply a mental exercise. Clearly, it is personal knowledge, and, although it undoubtedly includes insight into the significance of God’s love in the plan of redemption, it cannot be reduced simply to intellectual reflection. Paul wants them to be empowered to as to grasp the dimensions of that love in their own experience”

Do you want to experience the love of God?
It doesn’t just happen by default. It’s to be sought as the answer to a prayer. When you come to the gospel don’t you want your imagination stretched and your horizons exploded by the gospel love of Christ? And more!

“that they'd be filled with the fullness of God to the glory of the abundant Father through the church and through Christ forever.“ 

The church already is 1v23 the fullness of him who fills all in all. We’re already clothed with every spiritual blessing in Christ and yet how little we know it… they're meant to be caught up in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit - filled up with the fullness of relationship with God.. from the Father's riches in the Son by the Spirit. We pray to dig up this treasure of the gospel - we read the Scriptures not to know facts but to taste the sweetness of the gospel - in the splendour of Jesus. Beyond your imagination? Yes and more! (v20-21) 
The answer to Paul’s prayer is nothing less than that you’d be caught up into the fellowship of the Triune God!! And not for your sake but for his glory - all glory to the Father in Christ and in the church.

In view of this Athanasius and other early church fathers called this deification: Christ became man so that we could become “God” – careful now! - Not that we are God but that we are caught up into the loving intimacy of the Triune God in Christ. Being a Christian isn’t a mater of doing or believing – it’s about being involved in the loving relationships between God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

It’s good to be forgiven.
It’s good to avoid hell.
It’s good to be justified.
It’s good to look forward to life in the renewed heaven and earth but there is something better than all of that. Talk with a Jehovah’s Witness and they’ll offer you a vision of a renewed world, free from pain and suffering – but someone is absent. God remains distant and aloof.

The whole story of the gospel is that God and man really can and will and now by faith do dwell together – from the fellowship of Eden, the pain of exile, the shadows of tabernacle & temple, to Jesus himself walking among humanity and now dwelling in his people. God’s story is Immanuel, God with us. We enjoy this community life on the same terms that we enter it – by feeding our hearts by faith on the gospel – by the grace of God extended to us in the self-giving love of the Triune God. This is the attractive, breath-taking, mouth-watering gospel, that the Father, in his Son, by his Spirit, invites us into their community of love.

The answer to Paul’s prayer will keep you united when you and everything else would want to divide you. 
The answer to Paul’s prayer will move you to mission together with the rest of the Christian Union.
The answer to Paul’s prayer opens the way to a normal Christian experience of knowing the beyond-knowable, beyond-imagination love of God in Christ, filled to with the fullness of God. 
The answer to Paul’s prayer is the gospel.

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