130120 Ephesians 3:14-21

Last Updated on Monday, 21 January 2013 Written by Pastor Pagels

Text: Ephesians 3:14-21
Theme: A Pastor's Epiphany Prayer

Sometimes the context can make a big difference. For example, yelling out the word, "Fire!" can be a good thing or a bad thing. The camper who is shivering in the rain triumphantly declares "Fire!" when the small pile of sticks at his feet finally starts to burn. That cry is a far cry from the father who in a panicked voice yells "Fire!"to wake up his family and get them out of their burning house in the middle of the night.

Understanding the context also makes a difference when it comes to the second lesson and our sermon text for today. The words before us from Ephesians form a beautiful prayer, but they don't tell us much about the circumstances of the pray-er.

In the verse that comes right after our text (4:1) the apostle Paul refers to himself as "a prisoner for the Lord," but you wouldn't be able to tell that from the content of his prayer. Even though he was innocent he didn't ask for justice to be done. Even though he had done nothing wrong he didn't ask God to take vengeance on his enemies. Paul didn't pray for his immediate release from prison. He didn't pray for himself at all.

Instead Paul held up in prayer his brothers and sisters in Ephesus. They were hundreds of miles away geographically speaking, but they were never far from Paul's thoughts. He cared about them. He was concerned about their faith. And because his chains kept him from doing it himself he wanted God provide for them in his absence.

In these inspired words we see the beating heart of a missionary. We see a man who loved people, a man who put the needs of other people before his own, a shining example for pastors and parishioners alike. And understanding Paul's circumstances, understanding who he was and where he was will help us appreciate...


"For this reason I kneel before the Father from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name" (15,16). Two thousand years ago there was no such thing as Skype. You couldn't Facetime someone on the other side of the world with your smart phone, and yet the words Paul chose allowed the Ephesians to put a picture of Paul in their minds. He was on his knees. It was a position of humility, a position of reverence, and a common posture for prayer.

And so it should come as no surprise to us that the next words to come from Paul's pen were "I pray." "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" (16, 17a).

Picture heaven as a massive treasure house. As you walk down the halls there are doors on each side, and on each door there is a sign identifying what's inside. On one door is "power." On another door the sign says "strength." As you keep walking you see more doors and more signs with names like "the Spirit" and "Christ" and "faith."

Paul's prayer takes us on a virtual tour of this heavenly treasure house, and he isn't afraid to ask his heavenly Father to share what's inside. In fact, he boldly asks God to give the Ephesians all of these blessings, blessings like...

"Power." This Greek word gives us the English word "dynamite," but Paul isn't asking for a destructive kind of power. It's not the ability to bench press 300 lbs or the authority to run a Fortune 500 company. God's power comes from the gospel. Like Paul wrote to the Romans, God's power is the gospel (Romans 1:16). Only the gospel forgives sin. Only the gospel can change hearts and transform lives. And all of these blessings, all the blessings of the gospel become ours through the work of...

"The Holy Spirit." Last weekend we focused on the Holy Spirit's power in the sacrament of baptism. Using nothing more than a few drops of water and a few words, the Spirit makes the permanent stain of sin completely disappear. Using plan water and simple words the Spirit drives the devil out of hearts "so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith."

That's another blessing Paul prayed for on behalf of the Ephesians, the indwelling of Jesus in people's hearts through faith. Faith doesn't create a casual connection with the Lord. Faith isn't an on-again, off-again relationship with our Savior. When the Holy Spirit gives us the gift of saving faith, he also gives Jesus the keys to our hearts. And he immediately takes up permanent residence.

When Paul approached his heavenly Father in prayer, he remembered Jesus' command to "ask" and "seek" and "knock" (Matthew 7:7). He wasn't bashful. He wasn't timid. He didn't put any limits on what he thought God could or would do. Instead of asking the Lord to give the Ephesians a few crumbs, he asked God to give them the whole loaf.

How does Paul's prayer compare with your prayer life? Do you have the same confidence? Do you pray with the same kind of boldness? Do you carry everything to the Lord in prayer, or do you try to carry your burdens by yourself? When it comes to all the needs and concerns in your life, is prayer your first option or your last resort?
Christians give lots of reasons to explain why they don't pray more often than they do. They claim to be too busy. They say that they don't want to bother God with their petty problems. But I wonder if the real reason we don't pray more is because we don't trust God enough. Maybe you have tried praying before, maybe lots of times before, but it didn't work. It didn't make everything better. It didn't make the problem go away. And the lack of success led you to one of two conclusions: either God didn't want to help or he couldn't.

How do I know that sinful attitude exists inside Christian hearts? Because I have seen it in my own heart. I have questioned God's power. I have doubted God's love. I don't always pray with boldness and confidence. Sometimes I don't pray at all.

When I look at my less-than-perfect prayer life it doesn't take long to diagnose the problem, but I can also identify the solution. And amazingly, it begins with a prayer. It begins with me kneeling down like the apostle Paul and praying: "God, have mercy on me, a sinner" (Luke 18:13).

"Dear Lord, forgive me for not trusting in you, for not taking my every need to you, for not asking you to give me all the blessings you promise to give me in your Word. Dear God, I also thank you for giving me your Son, who lived a perfect life, who prayed perfect prayers, who prayed on the cross for God to forgive his enemies and then gave up his life to forgive the sins of the world. In Jesus, who once lived on this earth and now lives in my heart by faith, I have peace. I have hope for today and for tomorrow and forever."

We could stop right there. We could put an "Amen" on that prayer and this sermon and be done, but Paul isn't done yet. His prayer for the Ephesians and for us continues: "And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge--that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God" (17b-19).

Two months from tomorrow (March 21st on GSN) marks the beginning of the second season of a new game show called "The American Bible Challenge." As the title suggests, the team with the best chance of winning is the team that has the most knowledge about the Bible. I wouldn't be surprised if these contestants pray before they compete, but their prayers are probably a little different than Paul's prayer.

When Paul asked God to give the Ephesians knowledge, he wasn't referring to the ability to answer Bible-related questions. It wasn't his goal for them to be able to recite the names of Israel's kings in chronological order. Paul didn't care if they knew what God made on the fourth day of creation or who wrote Psalm 90.
Followers of Jesus will always be students of the Bible, but being a Christian isn't just about knowing facts. It's about knowing the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge. It's about trying to grasp the enormity and the immensity of God's love for sinful human beings. That can't be done up here. It can only happens in here.

Trying to comprehend the love of God can't be achieved by endless hours of studying. Understanding divine love, appreciating God's love, reflecting the Savior's love, can only be achieved one way. By following the example of Paul. By praying like Paul. By asking for the Spirit to give us the wisdom that only comes from above.

There is no question that God can do it. There is no doubt that he will do it. How did Paul know? How can we be sure? Because Paul knew and we know that our God can do so much more: "Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen" (20,21).

Paul recognized that his prayer was just scratching the surface of what God can do. Every gift God gave the Ephesians, every gift God gives us, is a drop in a bottomless well of divine blessings. Today we are reminded of how many things our God does for us. And because today is a special day at St. Matthew's, we pause to remember some of the things the Lord does through us.

The bright green insert in your service folder highlights the work of The Shepherd's Staff in our congregation. Shepherd's Staff volunteers serve God and God's people by bringing people to church, by visiting people who can't come to church, by lending a helping hand or a sympathetic ear. I encourage you to take a closer look at this insert, a then offer up an Epiphany prayer of your own.

Start by thanking the Lord for all of his blessings, for power and faith and knowledge, for the work of the Spirit and the love of Christ. Thank God also for the love of Christ that is reflected by the members of St. Matthews, and for the acts of love being carried out by the volunteers of The Shepherd's Staff.

But before you finish praying, before you say "Amen," I want you to ask yourself a question: How can God use me? How can I use my gifts? What can I do to thank the Lord for everything he has done for me? And maybe, just maybe, the green sheet in your service folder will give you the answer.

"Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen."

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Compelled by the love of Christ, St. Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church and School seek to reach out to our families, community and world, using Law and Gospel to make disciples, growing and nurturing them in their Christian faith and life.


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