Sixteenth Sunday After Trinity September 19, 1999
276, 517, 424, 283
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
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. Here ends our text.
In Christ Jesus, Who promises wisdom and strength to those who ask for it, Dear Fellow Redeemed,
How strong are you? Physically, I mean. Do you consider yourself a strong person?—That’s not a meaningless question. In fact, physical strength and fitness has become something of an obsession in our society. Even back when I was a little kid, I remember ads that promised to turn the most scrawny 98-lb. weakling into a muscular he-man. Those ads are still around, they’re just a little more sophisticated these days. For instance, you’ve seen the TV commercials for the Soloflex, and similar machines: pay the man a thousand bucks for a little piece of metal and rubber, and he promises you huge, rippling muscles with very little effort. And people are falling for it—they’re buying them by the thousands! It’s a pretty good indicator of just how obsessed we Americans are with outward strength and appearance. We’ll believe almost anything if it sounds like an easy way to increase our outward strength.
The plain fact is that there simply is no easy way to gain physical strength. It takes hard work, and lots of it. And you have to ask yourself whether the investment of time and effort is really worth it. Perhaps it is… Taking care of the body the Lord gave you is good stewardship, after all. And Paul says to Timothy, “Bodily exercise profits a little…” But the apostle goes on to say that there’s another kind of strength that’s much more desirable: “…Godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come.” I Tim 4:8. In our text for today, Paul prays that the Ephesian Christians may be blessed with SPIRITUAL STRENGTH. Do you want that kind of strength? I know I do! And God tells us today that we can have it! Our theme is:
The Apostle Paul had grown to love the Christians in the congregation at Ephesus. Because he loved them, there was a special prayer that he brought to the Lord on their behalf. Paul got down on his knees and asked God to give the Ephesians…strength. But not OUTWARD strength—as a pastor, he couldn’t care less whether they had big muscles or mighty frames. No, it was a different kind of “might” that he asked for the Ephesians: I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…That he would grant you… to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man. Paul wants the Christians to have spiritual muscle-power; strength in the inner person.
Every Christian is, in a sense, two people. These two people are enemies of one another. They cause us no end of grief in this life. The outward, fleshly person constantly battles against the inner, spiritual person. In a believer, though, the inner person—the person that takes God at His word and lives a life of faith—this person has the upper hand. This is the person that really controls the Christian’s life. This side of Judgment Day, you’ll never be rid of your sinful flesh. But…you can have greatly increased control. You can have inner strength…and it’s power that only God can give.
How does God strengthen the inner person? In the first place, Paul says he does it “according to the riches of His glory.” Just like all the other rich gifts He gives you every day, the Lord isn’t stingy when it comes to bestowing spiritual strength. If you really want it, and if you ask for it, God will give you tremendous spiritual power. Jesus puts it this way, “Assuredly I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you!” Mt 17:20.
Do you want that kind of inner strength? The power to move mountains? The power to really change things in your life and others’? You can have it! But there’s only one way God can give it to you. Paul prays that his beloved Christians would be “…strengthened with might BY HIS SPIRIT.”
Years ago, the city of New York was building a bridge across New York harbor. They ran into trouble when divers discovered a sunken barge full of bricks right where one of the pilings for the bridge was supposed to go. They attached huge chains to it and tried to raise it, but it was far too heavy. Then a young engineer came up with a bright idea. At low tide, the chains were fastened tightly to two empty barges floating above the wreck. When the tide began to come in, the power of the Atlantic ocean easily raised the old scow off the bottom.
You can pull and strain as hard as you want trying to turn yourself into a strong, faithful Christian, but it will never work. It’s a task that’s beyond the abilities of a human being. But if you tap into the mighty power of the Holy Spirit, He can give you that “faith that moves mountains!” His power is flowing into you right now, as you listen to the Word being preached to you. The Spirit will be building your “muscle power” every time you read your Bible at home, or share the Scriptures with your children in family devotions. Every time we use the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, the power of the Spirit is working.
To what end? Paul answers: “That Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” In one Christmas hymn that I especially like, we sing:
“Ah, dearest Jesus, holy Child
Make Thee a bed, soft, undefiled,
Within my heart, that it may be
A quiet chamber kept for Thee.”
—And that’s not just symbolic language, either! Jesus Christ—the God/Man who came to earth 2000 years ago to save us—actually does live in our hearts. As soon as the Holy Ghost brings a person to faith, Jesus moves in and makes His home in that person’s heart. As Paul says in Galatians, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Gal 2:20.
Yes, through the Holy Spirit, and by the indwelling of Christ, you can have spiritual muscle power. In fact, God can give you more inner strength than you can even imagine, as our text says, “[God] is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think.” But what’s it good for? What can you DO with your newfound muscle power?
Don’t underestimate this gift of the Holy Ghost—there are great benefits to having inner strength! If you’ve got it, Paul says, then you will …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’s the best benefit of inner strength: it gives us the ability to comprehend the love of Christ. Literally translated, the Greek says “You will be strong enough” to understand Jesus’ love.
One well-known song of the sixties sadly laments “All the Lonely People,” people who go through life alone, with no one who loves them or cares about them. But Jesus came to earth so that no one need ever feel lonely or unloved again. Christ came to cure your loneliness—especially the loneliness that comes when sin separates you from God. In his love, Jesus offered Himself on the altar of the cross, in order to steer God’s wrath away from us sinners, and to take our punishment upon Himself. John says that, when the dark shadow of Good Friday was approaching, and “When Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.” Jn 13:1. Because of His life of love, and His death of love…there is nothing that can separate you from God. Nothing—no guilt however deep, no sin however strong—can stand between you and your Heavenly Father…nor, for that matter, between you and your Heavenly Home!
If only we could have the power to understand the love of Christ… What a difference it would make in our lives! You know, we criticize a person who daydreams a lot and is often distracted—a person whose mind seems a million miles away just when we’re trying to tell him something important. But maybe we need more people like that. I think you and I need to be Christians who can concentrate a little less on the petty details of everyday life, and a little more on the heaven which Jesus’ love has won for us. How much less worry and anxiety there would be in our lives if we could view our problems from this eternal angle! Paul didn’t let himself get bogged down in life’s problems—he kept his eye on heaven. He said, “One thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Php 3:13-14. And that’s the kind of single-mindedness that he prays for the Ephesian Christians will have, too.
Martin Luther, the hero of the Reformation, often said that he longed for nothing more than the power to understand the love of Christ. He said, “I know that, when I reach the portals of heaven, I will finally understand completely the love of my Savior for me. Then I am quite certain I’ll look back upon my life and wonder why I didn’t spend every moment of it preaching this love of Christ at the top of my lungs, even from the very rooftops.” My Christian friends: let us take all the inner strength the Holy Ghost can give us. Let’s appreciate the love of Jesus for us, and dedicate our lives to bringing His love to others! In His name, AMEN.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.