Ephesians 3.14-21: Inner Strength

It can’t have escaped your notice that there is a sporting event taking place not so far from here. We are now well into Olympic mode I’m sure. Across all the range of sports we can see athletes from many different sports – athletics, rowing, weightlifting, swimming, judo, cycling and all the rest - displaying in varying ways their physical strength and prowess. In different ways, physical strength and stamina are crucial. That’s great. Physical strength and various other sporting skills are all God given and should be celebrated and let’s hope that Team GB win a wonderful tally of medals and all the competitors perform to the best of their ability!

 

In St Paul’s day of course, the ‘games’ were as much a feature of society as they are today and in several places in his letters, he uses sporting illustrations and metaphors to explain spiritual concepts. In 1 Timothy 4.8 he says ‘physical training is of some value’ – but he adds ‘rather train yourself for godliness’. What we really need to know is not physical strength but inner strength – strength and stamina inside here. And that’s what St Paul highlights in this week’s passage from the letter to the Ephesians.

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being…..

And as with physical strength and stamina which requires incredible regimes of training, inner strength doesn’t come automatically. It comes with time.

 

We desperately need to know strength in our inner being. If we are going to be able to live out our Christian faith, if we are going to be able to keep going when life throws hard things at us, if we are going to be able to be good witnesses to Jesus Christ, then we need to know the inner strength that St Paul talks about here. Or in fact to be accurate it’s what St Paul prays for us and the Ephesian church, because the passage we read today is a prayer. I wish people would pray that prayer for me and for you.

 

So, what is the secret of ‘inner strength’? Let’s see what St Paul says.

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.

Well the secret of having inner strength is knowing that we have Jesus Christ dwelling in our hearts – knowing that he has made his home there – permanently. Ancient Greek has two words for dwelling place – one means a temporary lodging while the other means a permanent home. It’s very much the second of those two that St Paul uses here. We know that we have a permanent resident in our hearts for ever. He’s not a lodger because actually he calls the tune. He’s really the landlord. But the important thing is that he’s there!

 

Now as Christians we talk a lot about inviting Jesus into our hearts and lives and that’s absolutely biblical. But there’s another way of looking at it which actually is a more common image in the letters of St Paul. He much more often views it the other way round.


Yes, Jesus Christ dwells in our hearts through faith but we also dwell in him – that’s by far the more common image that we find in the writings of St Paul. We dwell ‘in Christ’. We take up permanent residence in him. And we put our roots down and build our foundations there.

 

But whichever way round you want to look at it, whichever best helps you understand, the important thing is that as Christians we have an ongoing relationship with Jesus. And that relationship needs to grow and develop as indeed any relationship does. And as the relationship grows and our roots go deeper into Jesus Christ then that inner strength will become more apparent.

 

Why exactly is it so fantastic a concept to have Jesus in our hearts or for us to be living in him? Well, let’s not forget what St Paul goes on to say.

 

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love,18 may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge— that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

 

‘To be rooted and established in love’. For ‘love’ we can of course substitute ‘Jesus’. For God is love and Jesus is the image of the invisible God. Once again we find ourselves talking about the love of God (or the love of Christ to be precise). Let’s remind ourselves again what this love is like or perhaps unlike. It’s not like falling in love, or like brotherly love or like any human kind of love although they are pale imitations of it.

 

When we say that God loves us we mean much more than any of those. The love of Jesus Christ is ‘agape’ love as we saw a couple of weeks ago. This love is very difficult to describe adequately. This love is unique. He is 100% committed to us whatever happens – whatever we say or do or think. Nothing we do can stop God from loving us. He loves us just as we are – weaknesses, failings, problems. He desires the very best for us in all respects. And most important of all he was willing to take on human form and live and suffer and die amongst us. His love is sacrificial. His love is unconditional. It’s unfathomable. It’s inescapable. It’s everlasting. And if you were the only person on earth that had ever been created, God’s love would still be exactly the same.

 

This is what has made a home in our hearts. This is what we have become rooted and grounded within. No wonder Paul believed it would strengthen our inner being. And no wonder he goes on to pray that we will be able to grasp how wide and long and high and deep this love is and that it surpasses knowledge!

 

And once we know and understand this then the transformation in our lives and how we live them will be amazing. With Christ in our lives, God is able to do anything through us. Anything – far more than we are able to ask or imagine. The sky’s the limit. The only barriers are our own fears and anxieties and doubts.

 


Listen to those words from Ephesians again – this time from ‘The Message’:

I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength—that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you'll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ's love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God. God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.
Glory to God in the church!
Glory to God in the Messiah, in Jesus!
Glory down all the generations!
Glory through all millennia! Oh, yes! 

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