Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 6:10c “. . .in the Lord,. . .”
This prepositional phrase and its equivalents occur about 35 times in Ephesians. It emphasizes the intimate relationship believers enjoy with Jesus. By connecting the phrase with “Be strengthened continuously,” Paul forces us to grapple with how human weakness and God’s strength are interrelated.
Paul understood human weakness. A person who never failed could not speak on this subject, but Paul had experienced feebleness. He told the Corinthians, “I was with you in weakness” (1 C 2:3). A strong Christian is always a humble Christian, fully knowing the strength is never inherent in our nature.
Paul understood God’s strength. Acknowledging human weakness would lead to despair and hopelessness were “the Lord” not present. Fortunately, Jesus “the Lord” our Master, is the strong One. He who indwells us is the power.
Paul understood human weakness and God’s strength, and realized the two were interrelated. The Lord told Paul, “My strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 C 12:9). Strength in weakness is a paradox, but Paul acquiesced to God’s plan and confessed, “When I am weak, then am I strong” (2 C 12:10).
Paul’s key to success was his humble willingness to concede personal emptiness and to let this emptiness become saturated with divine fullness. We believers agree with Paul and intellectually accept this concept as a given in our understanding of how to live an effective Christian life. This situation raises a serious question. Since we know what needs to be done, why do we not do it more? We often lack three critical triggers: intimacy, time, and focus.
First, God’s strength is triggered in human weakness by intimacy. I think it is significant that Paul begins his most detailed discussion of spiritual empowerment with the preposition “in” rather than with “from” or “by.”
Our strength does come “from” the Lord, and we are empowered “by” the Lord, but the vital key to triggering the flow of this power is in our intimacy with God. Our union with Jesus, being “in” the Lord, is the channel, the passageway which conveys strength to us. The power’s intensity is determined by how well our fellowship “in” Jesus is maintained with uninterrupted vigor.
Power is not so much something I extract “from” Jesus, or have bestowed on me “by” Him, as much as it is a by-product of my life “in” Him. God’s power flows into human weakness via the bonding which occurs between Jesus and us. Intimacy with God is a conduit whereby strength flows into our weakness.
”Be strong in the Lord” is Paul’s way of telling us to remember, consider, and take advantage of, our position in Jesus. Our need is to access the strength which is already rightfully ours, and to live accordingly. The power is readily available, immediately accessible. How well and how much we activate it at a given moment depends on the condition of our intimacy with Jesus.
Successful Christian living entails an ongoing yielding, a never ending merging of our essence into ever more intimacy with Jesus. The more yielded we are to Him, the more strength we are receiving. Success requires maintaining and deepening an uninterrupted, vigorous fellowship with Jesus.
Second, God’s strength is triggered in human weakness by time. Since our success depends on a sustained, ongoing relationship, we must be willing to commit ourselves to the long haul, to invest time in the effort.
No shortcuts lead to personal godliness. It is an all-day-long, everyday, lifelong pursuit. No Christian becomes strong by merely willing on the whim of a moment to be so. A casual wish cannot strengthen the weak, heal the sick, or give a Christian “soul-fixity of character and energy of will” (Pulpit Comm.).
Our bodies gain strength through everyday, lifelong physical disciplines such as a nutritious diet and proper exercise. Similarly, our spiritual vitality hinges on everyday, lifelong spiritual disciplines such as meditation, private prayer and Bible time, and attending church. Quick fixes and prayer-ettes will not do. The old hymn wisely advises, “Take time to be holy, Speak oft with thy Lord, Spend much time in secret.” Take time–there’s no other way–to be holy.
Third, God’s strength is triggered in human weakness by focus. Believers are often too scattered, trying to live the Christian life in a hectic, helter-skelter, take it or leave it, way. To succeed in Christian living we must focus on the particular difficulty or situation at hand, and apply to it what we know.
To give intensity of strength to anything, it must be given focus. Light, concentrated to a focus, intensifies into a laser beam. Water sprayed through a nozzle is more intense because focused. Believers must concentrate. We must mentally converge our resources onto our circumstances. We cannot think of spiritual empowerment only in general terms or from time to time.
Many Christians lead a lackluster life by default. They believe in the need for power from God, but rarely practice it. Intellectual belief or belief in general is not enough. Belief brought into focus is required.
The housefly helps illustrate this. A fly is able to walk on a ceiling due to the vacuum its webbed feet produce when pushed hard against the surface. The insect does not merely flit against the ceiling and accidentally stick. It must consciously press its weight against the surface and push out the air under its feet, thereby creating an emptiness which results in the needed vacuum.
Similarly, our power lies in consciously pressing the weight of our thoughts on the great principles we know. We can not casually flit about. Let our troubles force us to concentrate. We lean, as it were, on our weakness, truly expecting the result to be a vacuum drawing God’s power into our emptiness.
Spiritual success hinges on our determination to concentrate in the time of need. Having done our homework, having been faithful in the daily, lifelong disciplines, whenever a need arises, we are ready. The habit is formed. We focus on the difficulty at hand, concentrate on our weakness, and rivet our prayers on God, calling for His strength. This concentration causes us to turn often throughout the day toward the Master’s face for fresh supplies. We refuse to let go, to turn aside, to break our concentration, until we are blessed. Power centers in the decision to focus unrelentingly. Without this fixation and determination, elaborate theology and beautiful sentiments are worthless.
“Be strengthened continuously in the Lord.” Realize your weakness, confess God’s power, know that the two are interrelated. Trigger the power by nurturing intimacy with God. Always take time to be learning how to rely increasingly on the Lord’s power; faithfully perform the every day disciplines. In the moment of need, focus, concentrate on applying what you know.