Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 3:20a “Now unto him. . .”
The Apostle now concludes his greatest recorded intercessory prayer with a doxology, an ascription of praise unto God. Nothing but praise would be appropriate here. A torrent of praise is the natural crown of this prayer, a beautiful unfolded flower atop a stalk of strength.
It is fitting and proper to sandwich petitions between praises. Our Lord’s model prayer (MT 6:9-13) begins, “Our Father which art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name,” and ends, “Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever.” Start and finish prayer with God solely in view.
Eph. 3:20b “. . .that is able to do. ..”
By contemplating God’s strength, Paul knows he has not offered his intercession in vain. Faith is always heartened by considering God’s mighty power “to do.” Think not only of God’s potential energy. Focus on its kinetic properties. Thinking of the gold in Fort Knox is not as encouraging as contemplating the useable money in my pocket. In your mind, bind God’s strength with God’s desire to use it in our behalf. He is not idle, but active for us. Many gods boast, but only YHWH accomplishes. He performs.
Eph. 3:20c “. . .exceeding abundantly. . .”
“Exceeding abundantly” translates a triple compound word constructed and used only by Paul himself. Paul enjoyed superlatives, and had a holy impatience with the words current in the vocabulary of his day. Though eloquent, Paul felt verbally caged. Language was inadequate, vocabulary bankrupt. Hence, as in the case before us here, he often created words.
Paul was struggling to convince us we should always expect wonderful things from God. The blessings He wants to give us are so marvelous that Paul felt compelled to invent words to describe them. We cannot predict in detail what God will do, but we must confidently expect wonderful things.
God’s tender mercies never stop. Of a strong man we say, “He has given much, but has something left. Of God we say, “He has given much, but has everything left.” He remains “able to do exceeding abundantly.”
Eph. 3:20d “. . .above all that we ask. . .”
Paul ended his petitions with a request startling in its boldness (3:19). To ask for “all the fullness of God” is the preeminent petition. No bolder request can be uttered by creatures of clay. Will Paul apologize for his daring supplication? Is he sorry, feeling he requested too much of God? No! Paul asked for much, but knew God wanted to grant even more than had been requested. God wants to give incredible answers to our pleas for likeness to Himself. God “pleases Himself by giving” (Beecher). One poison of depravity is the low thoughts it makes us think about God and His willingness to give. We sometimes think He is actually like us, cheap, mean-spirited, selfish. Heaven forgive us for thinking One willing to open His hands wide to nails on a cross would ever be closefisted. Paul battled miserly conceptions of God. We cannot ask for more than He wants to give.
Paul’s use of “we” in our text is noteworthy. The great Apostle included himself as one unable to ask too much of God, to grasp all God desires to do for us. Paul was a giant in faith, a mighty man in prayer. In Arabia he learned Christianity from Jesus Himself (GL 1:12,17), mysteries were revealed to Paul directly out of heaven (EP 3:3), from his pen flowed infallible writ, he once entered third heaven, “and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter” (2 C 12:4). If anyone could have ever known everything to ask for, it would have been Paul, but he deemed himself one to whom much more was available than even he could request.
In the pursuit of godliness, learn to ask boldly. Remember God’s ways. His custom has always been to do more than mere mortals can ask. No creature in the Universe would have dared to ask God to come die on a cross, yet He did. Moses at age 80 was surely praying for the deliverance of his people, but would have never dared to request, “Lord, use me the wanted felon, give me the law, let me see Your afterglow on the mount, let me write the first five books of holy writ.” Every young Jewish maiden dreamed of being mother of the Messiah. Mary may have asked to be the one, but would have never been brazen enough to pray, “Let Him also be born of me while I am a virgin.” Which of the disciples challenged Jesus to feed 5000 with five loaves and two fishes? None, but He did, and twelve baskets of food were left over. Why did Jesus make an extra twelve baskets of food? Icing on the cake–to illustrate that God goes above and beyond.
Most of us are probably too cautious in our prayers. We hold back in making specific requests, afraid of embarrassing God or ourselves. At the very moment we need to be our boldest, we shrivel into timidity.
Alas! “This language which is infinitely below the reality which is in God is infinitely above the reality which is in us” (Monod). The chasm between the possibilities afforded us and the realities experienced by us seems as wide as the great gulf fixed between Heaven and Hell.
When was the last time we bemoaned the weakness and cowardice of our prayers? It haunts us constantly. In contrast, when was the last time we felt a need to apologize to God for coming on too strong in prayer? Probably long ago. We need to hear again the challenge of John Newton,
Thou art coming to a King,
Large petitions with thee bring;
For His grace and power are such,
None can ever ask too much.
“Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it” (PS 81:10). We can never request too much. In fact, Paul now states an even more amazing thought.
Eph. 3:20e “. . .or think,. . .”
Thought far outruns speech. We imagine things we never pray for, but God is even able to do infinitely more than we can ever conceive. This is a consolation, for our hearts yearn for more than what minds envision. What do we want and need? Do we really know? We often misjudge ourselves, and need to begin prayer by asking God to tell us what to pray for.
We often misjudge God. We ask for all His fullness, but do we really have any idea of all this entails? We want to be filled with the Spirit, but can we comprehend what that means? Ideas flood our minds, but do we fully understand what we are thinking? Our definitions of these thoughts are nothing compared to what they mean to God. We think the thoughts, try to define the terms, and voice the words, but Paul shares good news with us. When it comes time to answer our requests, God does it by His bountiful definitions rather than by our stunted ones.
God does listen intently to our feeble prayers. He is not reclusive, occupied solely with His own concerns and affairs. He receives our input, but thank God! when it comes time answer our prayers He moves above and beyond our piddling petitions. He rises to a higher realm, and answers according to His greatness rather than limiting Himself to the extent of our prayers. God is better to us than even our best prayers request.
The prodigal son (LK 15:11ff) could muster only enough courage to say, “Father, I have sinned in thy sight.” The Father, translating this as a son fearful of a dad’s displeasure, had the fatted calf killed to show approval. The prodigal said, “I am no more worthy to be called thy son.” Father interpreted “no more worthy” as to mean, “Bring out the best robe, the one reserved for guests of honor.” No longer his son? That meant, “Bring a ring,” symbolizing the bestowal of authority. The Son requested, “Make me as one of thy hired servants.” The Father clarified, “He means bring out shoes,” a luxury not afforded servants. Heavenly Father, please continue answering our prayers by your own definitions.
Eph. 3:20f “. . .according to the power that worketh in us,. . .”
Paul uses a play on words here to express the convenient accessibility of God’s wonderful deeds in our behalf. The word translated “able” (3:20b) is “dunameno”; the word translated here as “power” is “dunamin.” In other words, the power which enables God “to do” is the power which resides in us by the inward operations of the Holy Spirit.
The wonderful possibilities presented in this verse are not far away, but nearby. Within us–in you, in me–resides the Divine power capable of the mightiest spiritual prospects. Paul is not dealing with a figment of his imagination, nor is he dealing with ancient history or gazing off into a far-flung future. He is dealing with reality here and now. The power is already at work within us. We do not have to place long distance calls nor make worldwide pilgrimages to find blessing. God’s power is here, within.
Paul knew we would be tempted to say amazing things only happen to a Moses or a Mary, but not to ordinary people like us. Not true! The power which made possible wonderful things for them is the same power at work in all God’s children. “Too good to be true” is a thought Satan uses often to stifle a believer’s faith. Personalize the possibilities. We can not speak or imagine the limits of God’s bounty, but are nevertheless His chosen agents through which His power flows, and onto which His blessings spill.