Growing in Strength
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 6:10a (Holman) Finally. . .
Our text begins the third major division of Ephesians, as Watchman Nee outlined: sit (1-3), walk (4:1-6:9), stand (6:10-24). The order is significant. We first exercise our privileges; we sit with Christ in heavenly places (2:6). Second, we walk worthy of our calling (4:1); we lead an exemplary life. Until we do these two things, our Christian life is only talk. Satan can afford to ignore such a person.
However, if we commit to use our heavenly seat and to display Godly conduct, then watch out, there will be trouble. Thus “finally” Paul will make us scrutinize the opposition we face. We must learn how to stand before the foe.
Our text starts the most famous part of Ephesians, the passages about putting on the armor of God (6:11-17). We need all the armor we can muster.
The loving Apostle could see the intense storm looming before the Ephesian Christians. He had weathered its relentless fury often. He knew whereof he spoke. His words rose from a battle-scarred soul. Paul had been in the furnace, and felt the flames. He could smell smoke in the Ephesian Christians’ future, and in ours.
Having no illusions about the obstacles the Ephesian Christians would face, he felt he must hide nothing from them. They must not be given an unrealistic view of life. Paul refused to sugarcoat the news or mislead them. He sounded the alarm.
Eph. 6:10b . . .be strengthened. . .
This verb is passive voice. This means the subject is acted on. In other words, God must provide for us the strengthening required of us. Left unaided, we are powerless, doomed to defeat (John 15:5). We are insufficient in ourselves.
Giving us His strength is God’s way of enabling us to live as He commands. Our goal is not only to be a Christian, but to behave as a Christian should, at church, at home, and on the job. These high God-ordained standards of conduct are fixed, non-negotiable, and, as we quickly learn, unattainable in our own strength.
Unfortunately, many Christians, due to repeated failures, give up the effort to live by God’s standards, complaining they are humanly impossible. The tragedy is, these people quit trying one short step shy of victory. They are halfway to the goal, and halfway is good if still making the journey, but not okay as a destination.
Acknowledging our weakness is not to be a stumbling block over which we trip, but a steppingstone on which we rise to appropriate God’s strength. We never have the right to say we cannot accomplish a certain duty. To say God’s standards are unrealistic or too high is irreverence. Everything God requires of us He enables us to do. Thus, all His commands are promises. Weakness is not merely a calamity to be endured and grieved, but a sin to repent of. To be strengthened is our duty.
Our reliance on God must be ceaseless, unbroken, never ending. We must be empowered, not once for all, but constantly for each given situation. The drain on our spiritual resources is never-ending. Our supply must be replenished often.
The Christian’s struggle is relentless, life-long, constant to the end. Failure to accept this fact helps explain the widespread downfalls among believers. Many believers deem defeat normal, and take no thought of the relentless ongoing war waged against them. Defeated before they begin, they consider no other option.
Victory requires constant vigilance. We err if we think after conversion we can put our lives on automatic pilot and use Cruise Control to be holy. Spiritual growth is never a given. Even after years of being a believer, we have no more power in us against the foe than when first saved (Rom. 7:18). We ought to leave this life in a blaze of glory, but many fizzle. Due to carelessness, their spiritual pilgrimage ends in a spiritual zero. Remain on guard. Always seek God’s power.
Eph. 6:10c . . .by the Lord and by His vast strength.
Paul knew human weakness. He told the Corinthians, “I was with you in weakness” (1 Cor. 2:3). A winning Christian is ever humble, knowing strength is never inherent in us. Paul knew God’s strength. God had told Paul, “My strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). Human weakness and God’s strength intermingle. Strength in weakness sounds like a paradox, but Paul acquiesced to God’s plan, saying, “When I am weak, then am I strong” (2 Cor. 12:10).
Paul won the victory due to his humbly admitting personal emptiness and to his letting this emptiness become saturated with divine fullness. We claim to agree with Paul; this raises a serious question. If we know what needs to be done, why do we not do it more? We often lack three critical triggers: intimacy, time, and focus.
One, God’s strength is triggered in human weakness by intimacy with God. Our union with Jesus is the channel that conveys strength to us. People forgetting this fact explains why many believers fall by the wayside after their aged parents die or their last child leaves home. These are dangerous times because many slip into the habit of practicing religion by proxy, doing it only for the sake of parents or children. Somewhere along the way, vital, personal intimacy with Jesus waned.
Power is not extracted from Jesus, as much as it is a by-product of our life in Him. God’s power flows into human weakness via bonding between Jesus and us. Intimacy with God is a conduit whereby His strength flows into our weakness.
The power is available, readily accessible. How well and how much we activate it at a given moment depends on the condition of our intimacy with Jesus.
In prayer, commune. We do not believe words have mystical powers. Our faith is in God, not magic. In prayer, words matter, but atmosphere is more vital. Do not begin private prayer by speaking immediately. Before talking, meditate.
Even after the prayer is begun, our words must continue to rise from a sensed consciousness of God’s presence. Prayer thrives best when its primary focus is kept away from our pressing problem, and turned instead toward the Lord.
Two, God’s strength is triggered in human weakness by time. The hymn well says, “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. Chadwick said, “Hurry is the death of prayer.” We cannot have our eyes on God and the clock at the same time.
Since our success depends on a sustained, ongoing relationship, we must be willing to commit ourselves to the long haul, and to investing time in the effort for a lifetime. No shortcuts lead to personal godliness. It is a lifelong, every day, all day, quest. No believer grows strong by willing on the whim of a moment to be so.
Our bodies gain strength by daily disciplines such as exercise and a good diet; our spiritual vitality hangs on daily disciplines like private Bible time and prayer, and discipling. Quick fixes won’t do; prayer-ettes produce Christian-ettes.
Three, 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, we must focus on the particular difficulty or situation at hand, and apply to it what we know. 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.
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 cannot 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 concentration, until we are blessed. Power centers in unrelenting focus.