The Ninth Sunday After Pentecost August 10, 2014
18, 19, 98(1-3,5), 605(1,3)
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
As Paul prayed for the Christians in Ephesus, my prayer for you is that each of you “may be filled with all the fullness of God,” —a rather amazing statement if we will but take the time and make the effort to think about it.
Dear fellow Christians:
Sometimes you just have to be in the mood to enjoy something. That’s why there is such a thing as a breakfast menu at restaurants. It’s why programming is so different on your television morning, noon, and night. It’s why that age-old dead-end conversation will probably never go away—the one that begins with “So, what do you wanna do?” and invariably ends with, “I don’t know. What do you wanna do?” Lots of things in life are mood driven.
The same sort of thing happens when you read God’s Word, especially Paul’s Epistles. Some fellow Christians have intimated that the New Testament Epistles are not usually their first choice when opening their Bibles. The Apostle Peter himself in his second epistle said that some of Paul’s writings are “hard to understand” (cf. 2 Peter 3:15-16). I get that part, but it also seems obvious that the problem lies, not with the inspired Scriptures, but with us.
The meatier parts of Scripture take more work, more effort on our part. But that’s exactly what is necessary if we really want to grow, if we really want to mature in our knowledge and walk with God and to become the strong full-grown Christians God desires us to be.
So also in connection with today’s text, it is going to take some effort to extract the gold. Yet, the worth and benefit of what God here offers is infinitely more valuable than we realize. It is well worth our very best efforts. We pray, therefore, that our God would—right here and now—put each of us in the frame of mind to gladly hear, inwardly digest, and learn from God’s Word. We turn to the third chapter of Paul’s epistle to the Church in Ephesus:
…according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him. Therefore I ask that you do not lose heart at my tribulations for you, which is your glory. For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from 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 through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height—to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
These are the very words of our God. May the God who verbally inspired these words give you both the wisdom and ability to fully appreciate and receive the gifts here offered. To that end we pray: “Sanctify us by your truth, O Lord. Your Word is truth.” Amen.
One of the many difficult lessons that Christians need to learn and relearn is the difference between contentment and complacency. God wants the former, He detests the latter which means learning to keep this whole thing straight in our minds is much more than a frivolous or pointless exercise. While God’s Word consistently encourages contentment in connection with the things of this world, He never advocates contentment in connection with your level of wisdom, understanding, love, or devotion to Him and His Word. Unfortunately, we tend to get this exactly backwards. While we tend to be content with the little we know about God and His Word, we have an insatiable appetite for the frivolous and trivial—the things that will all be vaporized at the coming of our Lord.
Do you want proof? Do this simple test. First, ask yourself first if you’ve ever felt anxious that you are missing out on spiritual gifts and growth—anxious because time is slipping away and you just aren’t getting in the Bible-time and spiritual growth you want. Then ask yourself if you’ve ever felt anxious because you are missing a sale at the mall, or that the summer seems to be slipping away and you haven’t been able to get out and do the things you hoped to do—projects around the house, fishing, camping, boating, swimming and whatever it is you like to do.
That’s the first part of “Ever More” with which we need to come to terms. It is absolutely amazing just how much stuff there is to do out there. There is ever and always more. We have opportunities that would boggle the minds of our grandparents.
There are so many things to do, in fact, that the variety itself has become a source of stress and anxiety in our society. We hear of this couple doing this, or that couple doing that, and somehow it all creates this pressure that we have to do not just some of those things but all of those things otherwise we’d be somehow missing out. We’ve got to see that movie everyone is talking about. We’ve got to get out fishing. We’ve got to get in a few camping trips with the kids. There’s free stuff at Menards, a sale at Kohl’s, the flower garden needs attention, the cars need to be serviced and washed, we need to take in the fair, plan our next vacation, get ready for company, clean the house, shop for new furniture, have some friends over, and on and on and on. There is always and ever more.
At the outset we talked about being in the mood to do something like study the epistles of Paul. The point is that such a thing isn’t going to happen unless we first deal with the potentially bad sort of “ever more” of life. We are never going to be able to concentrate and appreciate the priceless gifts there offered unless and until we learn to let go of the “ever more” of our secular world. Only when we get to the point when we are no longer in a panic that we are missing out on the “ever more” will we be able to deal with our spiritual complacency problem.
And it is a problem. Time and the human condition is a zero sum game. There are only so many hours in a day, so many days in a year, so many years in a lifetime. That means we can’t add more to an overbooked life unless we cut something out. We will never be willing to cut anything out unless we learn godly contentment in connection with the temporary stuff and lose our ungodly complacency when it comes to the spiritual.
There’s another lesson that is most often learned only by cold, hard experience: things never get better unless they get better today. “Someday” never comes. That means that the very best of intentions always fades with time. We will never read or study our Bibles more if we do not do so now. We will never grow in our knowledge and wisdom if we do not grow now. We will never advance in our Christian walk if we do not make progress today and then every day thereafter. In all of this it really does most often come down to “now or never.”
In today’s text, God’s Word talks about a different sort of “ever more.” Paul wants more for the Christians in Ephesus and, therefore, also for those Christians reading his words today. The “more” that Paul wants is Christian growth. Listen again to what he says: “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father…that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being.” [vv.14ff ESV] Again, this isn’t light reading. It takes effort, but the reward is well worth the effort. The Holy Spirit informs us that he wants us to become stronger “in our inner being.” Do you understand the thought, the wish? He is not talking about superficial knowledge but core spiritual strength. He goes on to explain, completing that explanation with these words: “…to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” [v.19]
We are obviously kidding ourselves if we imagine that we are anywhere near the level of sanctification or Christian growth that our God wants to see in us. There is obviously more, much more—ever more. That’s not supposed to be a discouragement, but an encouragement. The very fact that these God-inspired words call for such growth is reliable evidence that not only does such growth really exist, it is also attainable.
That’s not so say, of course, that the Gospel itself is incomplete and inadequate to save souls. Trusting that Jesus did exactly what he said He did—which was to offer his life as the one necessary payment for the sins of all mankind—is what it is all about. Trusting that He accomplished what He set out to do is saving faith. The problem that our text addresses is our inner spiritual weakness, our near-constant doubts, anxieties and apprehensions—all of which pose a continual threat to our faith.
Do you fully understand all of this? Of course not. Neither do I. How could we when our text describes this as “the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge”? [v.19 ESV] We know that we are saved by faith alone in Jesus Christ. In this truth we stand, fully forgiven in God’s sight. Yet our God desires much greater strength of faith for us and in us. Though we don’t fully comprehend all that this involves, we have been given a roadmap on how to get there.
Think of it this way. Do you remember the Calculus and Trigonometry classes you took in kindergarten? Of course not. No one takes those courses until well after the basics of simple math have been mastered. Nothing makes sense unless and until you build on what you already know. Yet, once you learn more you never look back and determine that the basics were wrong. In fact, it is the basics that form the foundation and core for everything that follows. Yet, by the same token the more complexity you master, the more you are enabled to solve ever more complex problems.
Carry those same truths into the realm of Christian faith. At the same time that Paul “determined to know nothing but Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2), he also wanted to “be filled with all the fullness of God.” This was not because simply trusting that Jesus died for his sins was inadequate to save him, but because the threats to saving faith are complex, Satan’s attacks are multifaceted, and the dizzying variety of the everyday decisions of life often require advanced Christian training and strength.
God does not want to see Christians limp feebly across the finish line. He wants bold strong representatives who are always “ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15). That’s why our God offers us “ever more” in the way of strength, wisdom, knowledge, love, and confidence. That’s in part what He means in our text when He voiced His desire that we “may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
This brings us to the final “ever more” which really is the one that gives purpose and urgency to all the others and to this whole discussion. While life will always offer ever more distractions, and while our God will always desire ever more spiritual growth and strength for His children, the urgency comes in recognizing that there is after this life a “forever more.” Life on earth is “for keeps” in that what happens here determines what will happen to us for all of eternity. The stakes, in other words, are eternal. In our text Paul alluded to that fact with these words: “to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever.” [v.21]
Our natural laziness and spiritual complacency is like the fat, lazy teenager in each of us that doesn’t want to hear the call to rise and shine. That part of us doesn’t want to be reminded of the reality of both Heaven and Hell. It just wants to indulge itself at all times and in every way, to roll over and cover its head with the “pillow” of this world’s creature comforts—no effort, no work, no struggle or striving. Just leave me alone and let me sleep. In my experience that’s always the cause of spiritual death in Christians. I’ve never heard of even one Christian who went right from “strong” to “unbeliever.” Christians first starve themselves and then die in their sleep. That is, they first weaken themselves through neglect of the Means of Grace—the Gospel— to the point that they no longer care. In that state even the threat of eternal torment in Hell thuds dully on their sleepy ears and brushed away with an apathetic “whatever.”
Our text reminds us finally of the forevermore nature of the struggle in which we live. Our God, who exists in eternity, never loses sight of the fact that eternity is forever and that every single human soul will spend that eternity in unspeakable torment or unimaginable bliss.
Among those gifts we ask our God to give us is the wisdom and consistency to remember at all times the consequences of the struggle in which we live and to prioritize our lives accordingly. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.