Vol. 10 — No. 40 October 5, 1969
Wherefore I desire that ye faint not at my tribulations for you, which is your glory. For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God. Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.
In Christ Jesus, who would have us continue to grow and mature in our Christian life, Fellow Redeemed:
One of the greatly overworked words of today is the word “relevant.” We are told that the churches are losing their influence in our day because their message is no longer “relevant” to modern man’s needs. In the hope of becoming more “relevant” clergymen and churches have been disgarding the Bible with its universal message for all mankind and have been substituting social and economic and political theories, policies, and courses of action. In so doing they have become completely “irrelevant” as regards the spiritual needs of modern man. The Word of the Lord, which has been abandoned in so many areas, is always “relevant” to the needs of man wherever he has lived and faced his problems on the face of this globe. Our text is a case in point. It is a prayer for spiritual strengthening. It is a prayer that is universally and unceasingly necessary wherever there are children of God.
Permit me to draw your attention to the relevancy of this prayer for Spiritual growth and strengthening. We have had people visit our services who have almost exploded with enthusiasm and determination to become one with us. A few weeks later the same people simply faded away. They were as the seed that fell on stony places. They received the word with joy, but it took no root, and when they found something that conflicted with their unenlightened, and unspiritual preconceived notions and prejudices in matters spiritual, they stumbled. They should have prayed for strengthening of faith instead of giving way so easily to unbelief. We have people in our congregation, who if they treated their bodies the way they treat their souls, would this day be lying in the hospital dying of malnutrition. The body can’t go weeks and months without food; yet many imagine that they can neglect the Bread of Life and deprive their children of the same, and still remain healthy spiritually. Instead of insisting so strongly on such self-deception they should be praying for spiritual strengthening. This community abounds in extremely fickle and immature people who bounce from church to church—if they don’t happen to like the preacher or some member, or if it’s a matter of convenience, or for many other trivial reasons. Such people need to pray for strengthening. Now if there is anyone here today who thinks that he doesn’t fit into any of these groups that I have cited as examples and so doesn’t need to pray for spiritual strengthening, he or she is mistaken. All of us need so to pray—without exception. So let us—
This was Paul’s prayer for the Ephesian Christians. It was caused to be recorded by the Holy Spirit for the instruction of the Church of every age. “For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man.” Paul got on his knees to pray for the spiritual growth and strengthening of the Ephesians. What was the immediate need? The first verse of our text gives the answer:
Paul had written, “Wherefore I desire that ye faint not at my tribulations for you, which is your glory.” Paul was afraid that his tribulations would cause the Ephesians to faint, to lose heart, to become discouraged, to lose faith. He prayed for their strengthening. What was Paul’s tribulation? He was in prison for the Gospel’s sake. He wrote as “the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles.” The fact that their leader and pastor was in prison could have adverse effects upon them. What they needed was strengthening. For that Paul prayed.
We have referred to the need of people who become “hot” for the Truth and then suddenly and quickly cool off, for the people who imagine that they can eat or leave uneaten the Breed of Life, and for people who are fickle and immature in their stand towards the Truth—I say, we have referred to their need for this prayer for strengthening. But think of those who suffer tribulations for Christ’s sake. I think of the college student who has to take and receive credit for a given course to graduate. The professor may be an atheist, a confirmed evolutionist, a man who has no respect for the divine standards of man’s behavior. A Christian student may be exposed to ridicule in such a classroom, may be persecuted in the form of poor or failing grades. Such a one needs to pray for strengthening and needs others to pray for him. What of the military man who lives in an environment of mis-using the name of the Lord, drunkenness, fornication, drug addiction, atheism, or this sickly sweet ecumenical religious emptiness which characterizes so much of “GI” religion. It is tribulation for a child of God to live in such an environment. Such men need to pray for strengthening and need our prayers for them. Think of the isolated believer whose job forces him to move away from those of the household of faith. How Satan uses such circumstances to undermine, dilute, and destroy faith. Pray “to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man.”
Paul’s prayer reveals the method by which spiritual life is increased or the nature of such spiritual growth.
Paul prayed that each of the Ephesians “be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man.” Now how was that to be achieved? “That Christ may dwell in your hearts by Faith.” The spiritual life of a child of God grows stronger, firmer to the same degree that Christ more firmly, more securely dwells in his heart. But Christ can only dwell in a heart that needs Him. If a person believes that his sins and shortcomings are relatively harmless, if he thinks that his petty little religious exercises will square him with his God, there is no room for Christ. A knowledge of one’s own sin, an understanding of God’s wrath because of sin, a frank confession of one’s own inability to save oneself is the necessary house-cleaning job that must be done by the Spirit of God before Christ can make our hearts His dwelling-place. Christ dwelling in our hearts means that we understand and believe this: without Christ—sin, guilt, the wrath of God, hopelessness, eternal torment in hell; but with Christ—forgiveness, the love of God, hope, eternal bliss in heaven. The more we understand, know, believe that all depends on what Christ has done and has suffered for us—so Christ dwells more firmly add securely in our hearts. So we are spiritually strengthened.
Following thereafter is an increase of love—“being rooted and grounded in love.” Spiritual growth is marked by a growth in love. The first thing that usually comes to mind when we say or hear this is doing the well-known works of civic charity, responding to the physical needs of the sick, the handicapped, the underprivileged, and so on. These are the things which strike the eye. But “being rooted and grounded in love” also means to respond to the spiritual needs of others. Are we moved only by children suffering from mal-nutrition or are we also moved by children who are spiritually starved, who have never learned to know the Savior? Are we moved only by the twisted bodies of men or are we also moved by religiously twisted minds and hearts of educated and uneducated, economically privileged and underprivileged, churches and unchurched people?
Following love comes knowledge: “that ye…a may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth; and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.” Paul is speaking of learning to know the love of Christ—its breadth, length, depth, and height. That love goes in all directions. It is not confined to one race, as many Jews thought at the time of Christ, even as the apostles also did. It is a love that doesn’t abandon the dying and dead but incorporates them in the Kingdom of glory. This we must learn today. We are subject to social prejudices, racial prejudices, educational and economic prejudices which determine to a great extent where we live, where we want our children to go to school, whom we associate with, and so on. Spiritual growth includes growing in the knowledge and understanding that the love of Christ is not limited or restricted by any—not a single one—of the prejudices that govern our actions.
The prayer for spiritual growth is a prayer for increased faith, a deeper love, and a broader, experiential knowledge of the love of Christ unhindered and untrammeled by any racial or class or groups prejudice.
There is encouragement for such prayer. What is it?
Paul speaks of “the whole family in heaven and earth.” He speaks of being able to comprehend “with all saints.” He never speaks of a believer as an isolated, lonely individual. There is always company. There is always a group. There are always more that are like us. Now it is true that the Holy Christian Church, the congregation of all believers, is always “the little flock, “ the “remnant,” at any one time on the earth. They are furthermore scattered in little groups of professing Christians. Many are isolated and very lonely. This is the situation that meets the physical eye. But the eye of faith reaches out and sees “the whole family in heaven and earth,” all the saints. We’re all one body, one fellowship.
Think of what that means. Most of us have felt the pressure of the unbelieving world, which includes most church people, that is exerted upon us because of what we believe. Sometimes that pressure is just that blank, questioning stare which asks in utter disbelief: “Do you really believe that?” We can find encouragement in Paul who was imprisoned for believing the same things we believe and confess today, from John the Baptist who lost his head to the executioner for condemning a sin that we have to condemn today. If we lose heart, we can take comfort with Elijah who fled into the wilderness and wished himself to die. If we fall, we can console ourselves with David that man after the heart of God who fell greatly, but found mercy and forgiveness. All of the saints, living and dead, are part of the great fellowship of believers in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.
Paul concludes with the effects that spiritual strengthening brings—
A doxology is a hymn of praise. Paul concludes his prayer with such a doxology: “Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end.” Whatever we ask in prayer the Lord our God can do more than we ask. His arm is never short. To Him we give glory in and through Christ Jesus. Even as all blessing comes from God in and through Christ, so all praises are to be sung in and through Him. To try to by-pass Christ in prayer or praise is to deny Him.
The doxology closes with a phrase that has been incorporated into many of our liturgical prayers, namely “throughout all ages, world without end.” The translation is unfortunate because we know that this world shall end. The difficulty arises because our language must use time concepts to express timelessness or eternity. Other translations render these words: “to all generations, for ever and ever,” or simply “for ever and ever,” or “from generation to generation evermore.” The thought is plain: Our doxologies are never to end.
May we, strengthened in faith, in love, and in knowledge, join the whole Christian Church in singing praises to our God forevermore. Amen.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.