Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 3:15b “. . .is named,. . .”
God’s spiritual family bears His name. Believers are Father’s Family. We know what it is to be proud of our earthly families and the family name. I remember my pride years ago at Jamestown, where a wall displays crests bearing family names of the barons who in 1215 forced King John to sign the Magna Carta, the document to which we English speaking peoples trace our liberties. One of those crests bears the name Marshall.
Even as we take pride in our earthly families, God expects us to be proud of our heavenly family. Be not ashamed of our spiritual kin. Acknowledge the family members. Love them all as brothers and sisters, for this is what we are. God has made us family. “No man can live in the love of God, because God first loved him, and then yield to bigotry, for bigotry is the love of an opinion, not the love of the Father” (Hull, in B.I.).
Take pride in our heritage, and make our Father proud. In this world we represent Father’s Family. Never forget, we are of royal parentage. We see the heartbreak our British allies are having to endure due to the embarrassment being caused by the Queen’s children not living up to the expectations of royalty. Let believers beware lest we, too, bring dishonor to our royal parentage. We bear the Father’s name, let us not besmirch it.
Eph. 3:16a “That he would grant you,. . .”
These words introduce Paul’s supplication, the request of his prayer. Here begins what may be the ultimate intercessory prayer ever uttered by anyone, except for only Jesus Himself. Believers are to pray for one another. Paul’s prayer can help us know what to say when we intercede.
Eph. 3:16b “. . .according to the riches of his glory,. . .”
Paul approached intercessory prayer with assurance. Believers can confidently pray for each other because God is always lavish. All limitations on our intercessory prayers are within ourselves, never in God. The measure of the blessings we can ask for others is “the riches of his glory.”
God’s “glory” is the sum of all His revealed attributes–His might, majesty, wisdom, righteousness, goodness, etc.–God’s total manifest excellences. When pleading on behalf of others, do not make small requests or expect little results. Draw from the abundance of God’s revealed perfections.
Eph. 3:16c “. . .to be strengthened with might. . .”
Drawing upon God’s treasure-filled bosom, Paul first requested for the Ephesians “to be strengthened with might.” The supplication is for God to strengthen them with His own might. The prayer of our text should be the focus of all interceding we do for at least three reasons. First, “to be strengthened with might” is the key to all Christian effectiveness. In the spiritual realm, strength refers not to any one specific faculty, but to an enabling of all faculties. The receiving of divine power affects every Christian trait. For victorious living, heavenly power is the believer’s first and broadest need, for it enhances everything. This may explain why Paul referred to God’s “glory” in the previous phrase. When divinely empowered, we draw strength from all God’s traits in order to heighten all our traits.
On God’s power hinges everything–wisdom, patience, endurance for suffering, resistance to temptation, effective witnessing, concentration in prayer, victory over doubt and depression, conquest of fears and foreboding imaginations. The influx of strength from God’s “glory” increases these traits. Conversely, the diminishing of divine power lessens their effectiveness. Never be afraid to ask God for strength. We can never request too much of it, for our whole Christian life depends on it.
“To be strengthened with might” should be our intercessory prayer, secondly, because divine power is a possibility for all believers. Paul was not praying for super-saints or an elitist group. He was seeking strength for ordinary everyday saints like ourselves.
God desires for all His children to be strong. Do we believe this? Before we can pray effectively about this for others we must believe it is a possibility for all, including our own selves. Are we confident we can “be strengthened with might,” or have some of us given up? Has any of us negotiated a truce with some particular evil? We are not to negotiate a peaceful coexistence with any sin. We are to crush every wickedness in our lives. In this world sinless perfection cannot be ours, but ongoing victory over sin can. The great practical bestowal of the Gospel is power to swallow up our weakness. The Gospel gives pardon for holiness, and power for obedience. This is our birthright as part of Father’s Family. Believe it.
“To be strengthened with might” must be our intercession, thirdly, because empowerment is the perpetual need of all believers. Blessed indeed is the Christian who has come to grips with the true limitations of his own power. “The man of the world is full of what he can do; the Christian of what he cannot do” (Rogers, in B.I.). Paul offered this request first because he understood the full extent of human weakness.
One mark of a mature believer is his acknowledgement of personal powerlessness in essentials. In matters of importance, we are impotent. Our own flesh is wretched and undone not only at the beginning of our Christian walk, but throughout it.
We need empowerment to be saved in the first place, and then need ongoing power to grow. Never be satisfied with being “barely saved,” scarcely alive to God. Be not satisfied with babyhood. Forgiveness and conversion are only the beginning of our adventure with God. There is a lifetime of more ahead. Before Columbus’ voyage, Spain stamped on its coins “No more beyond.” After 1492 the “No” had to be removed because they learned there was “more beyond.” Many Christians seem to live in a spiritual pre-Columbus Spain, thinking there is “No more beyond.” They need to wake up! There is much “more beyond.” Aspire to become a powerful adult in Christ. Self-satisfaction, for the believer, is the kiss of death. Be spiritually mature. Show an ever growing desire to make more progress.
Eph. 3:16d “. . .by his Spirit. . .”
In other words, our weakness is so great that the strength not only has to be sent, but hand-delivered. God, as it were, has to come Himself and do the empowering on site. The incarnation of Jesus proved God had to come to help man, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit proved God has to keep coming to help man. Power to live the Christian life is never of us, but always of God. Everything believers work out emanates from what the Spirit works in. Our strength is always the result of power imparted or infused. “By his Spirit” only we receive strength. The children’s song applies also to adults, “They are weak, but He is strong.”
Paul was not complimentary of man’s nature. For solutions to man’s problems, The Apostle always pointed man away from man. Paul saw little for encouragement in man’s ability to handle man’s problems.
Biblical Christianity renders a realistic, sober, and grave analysis of humanity. Christianity neither plays make-believe nor makes light of man’s troubles. Much counseling does. “You are okay. Assert your best self. You can do better if you try harder.” The theory is, pretend your way out of troubles. However, it is not okay to say all is well if not all is well.
The bottom line of Scripture and true Christianity is absolute honesty. Christianity sees things as they are. Scripture never minimizes man’s problems or difficulties. Holy Writ tells us how weak we are, it says we will have trouble, it even tells us we will be persecuted. Our Master Himself said, “In the world ye shall have tribulation” (JN 16:33). After picturing the gloom of our plight, and presenting life at its very worst, the Word then proceeds to tell of God’s power which can give us victory in all these things and make life the best it can possibly be.
Victory turns on two hinges: accepting Scripture’s verdict about our own weakness, and looking only to God for strength. The first problem to overcome is our own weak selves, not our circumstances. Paul did not begin his intercession by praying the Ephesians would be spared trouble. He first targeted their weakness and prayed for strengthening. Spiritual victory does not begin with trying to solve or escape problems. Removal of one trouble only makes way for another to enter. We will always have difficulties. The first step to victory is always to deal with the weakness inherent in self.
After this initial acknowledgement of personal weakness, seek strength in God, and God only. “Ye have not because ye ask not” (JM 4:2), and the reason we “ask not” is because we busily seek solutions elsewhere. Ignore self and all other power-substitutes. Focus on God. Do not repeat the mistake of Jacob, whom God crippled to turn attention away from the physical. Jacob had to halt on his thigh the rest of his life to remind him to look away from self. Many of us have “limps” due to not depending only on God.
If you would know the secret of Christian living in one word, it is “God.” To grasp the secret in two words, ponder Paul’s confession, “Not I” (GL 2:20). In three words, fathom Paul’s haunting words, “I die daily” (1 C 15:31). In four, “To live is Christ” (PH 1:21). In five, “Wretched man that I am” (RM 7:24). In six, Jesus’ words, “Without Me ye can do nothing” (JN 15:5). In seven, “I can do all things through Christ” (PH 4:13).