Saturday, July 28, 2012

Ephesians 3:14-21 The Power of the Gospel

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ,
            This morning’s epistle text is a prayer Paul made on behalf of the Christians in Ephesus, which was in what we now call Turkey. I found it hard to take hold of until I consulted a trusty reference book, but before we get to it, we’ll review the basics of Ephesians.
            Someone once sent me a list of one-liners, such as, “It’s easier to preach ten sermons than to live out one.”  This may be true for many Christians, but it wasn’t true for St. Paul. By the time he wrote to the Ephesians, he was an integrated man. God’s power had brought him in tune with Christian teaching at every point in his life. There was no gap between what he said and what he did. The Letter to the Ephesians glows with vigor and integrity and faith.
            It’s very short. You could read it in half an hour, but it would take more than a lifetime to absorb its insights. With the guidance of God, Paul wanted to expand the horizons of his readers’ minds so that we’ll understand God’s grace and his eternal purpose. He instructs us about the goal God has in mind for his church and what it means to walk with our Savior day by day.
            Paul began by describing the blessings we receive because we’re connected to Christ. He chose us before the beginning of the world and he redeemed us through his blood. A day is coming when he will bring everything together in heaven and on earth under Christ. Paul then focuses on the topic of salvation. Two verses from the second chapter must be familiar to most of us: “By grace you have been saved through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” We receive salvation as we take hold of Christ and his mercy on us by faith. And even faith is a gift from God.
            Paul points out that God doesn’t grant us salvation only for our own personal benefit. Our salvation brings praise and glory to him and we give a testimony to our neighbors. Salvation takes us out of ourselves, and this is healthy for us. Luther said that sin comes from being curved in on ourselves. Salvation breaks up the curve so that God – Jesus – becomes the center of our lives and not we ourselves.
            Paul wrote that God has a plan and a purpose. When the time is right for him, as we said, he’ll bring everything that exists in the universe together under Christ. As it is, plenty of harmful things fly about that have nothing to do with Jesus. A day is coming when God will banish all alien influences and everything will exist in orderly harmony with him.
            Meanwhile, the Holy Spirit brings people together in the church, concerning which, here’s another one-liner: “Quit griping about your church; if it was perfect, we couldn’t belong.” Anyway, by grace God reconciled individuals to himself through Scripture and the church, and by the power that radiates from Christ’s death, he reconciles one Christian to another. Paul wrote that God uses his church to display his wisdom to rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms. Not earthly rulers, you’ll notice, but heavenly ones. This means that God is putting you and me to use to serve his eternal purposes in ways that we don’t perceive. He uses our faith as we pass through the ups and downs of life, let’s say, as a demonstration of his power to overcome evil and to build a kingdom of saints who cling to him in faith while we live on earth – going to work, shopping, helping our families, and trying to get along with our neighbors. Jesus upholds us as we help him with the work of reconciliation. He gives eternal meaning, purpose, and significance to our lives.
            We live in two places at once, so to speak, on earth and in heaven. Eternity touches our lives at every point; our daily living works out God’s purposes. You and I have places in his blueprint for eternity
            Now, we ought to say something about the prayer in this morning’s epistle text. Paul prayed that all the blessings of salvation that we’ve been talking about come to the Christians in Ephesus. Basically, he prayed for one thing – that God strengthen the Ephesian Christians and by implication Christians everywhere with his power so that Christ may live in our hearts.
            Paul didn’t ask for wealth or riches or worldly honor. He wanted the Heavenly Father to use his power for a spiritual purpose, to allow Christ to dwell in the hearts of his people. We ought to say a few words about what Paul meant by God’s power. Our human minds think of power as physical, earthly strength. The most powerful country is the one that has the most guns, say, or the person with the most money has the most clout.
            God’s power is different. It has to do with the gospel. “I am not ashamed of the gospel,” Paul wrote in Romans, “because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.” The power of God’s love and grace along with the teachings about salvation work faith in the hearts of human beings. He uses what we think of as physical power to help his gospel spread. Jesus guards his church and protects believers. His power opens paths for the gospel and keeps the devil from destroying the church, which Jesus continues to rule even though his enemies kick up a great fuss. God uses this kind of power so that the gospel and his grace and the church may do what they’re supposed to do – bring about sorrow for sins, trust in Christ, new life, hope for the resurrection, and perseverance in faith.
            Now, God’s power, which comes to us through his Word and the sacraments, strengthens the faith of his people and makes our spirits alive and empowers us to assert ourselves on behalf of the gospel – coming to worship regularly, reading the Bible at home, talking to our neighbors about God, and other things that take a bit of courage. We infer from what Paul wrote that our Christian strength grows. Faith makes progress. Christ takes possession of us bit by bit, in ever-greater degree, as someone put it. Now here’s another one-liner that sounds like it comes from somebody who know what it means to grow in Christ. “The task ahead of us is never so great as the Power behind us.”
            Now, God’s power makes us rooted and established in love, as Paul put it, so that we may begin to grasp the extent, the vastness of Christ’s love.  One of our Lutheran experts says that God’s love is a love of intelligence and purpose. He creates mature people with sensible goals, strong and determined. He persists. He doesn’t give up on us if we fall. He sees the best in us. His love will keep on molding our hearts and minds and souls so that we’ll be ready for his return in glory. God’s love for us, as we understand it more and more, awakens our love for him and the love for our sisters and brothers in Christ and our neighbors in general.
            So God’s power creates faith and love rises out of faith. Then come knowledge and understanding, which are important, because most everything we do starts with what we think. Paul prayed that the believers in Ephesus receive power to grasp the extent of Christ’s love – to  know the love that surpasses knowledge. Paul meant that we take hold of God by knowledge and understanding. We read the Bible and we come together for worship, where we improve our understanding of God’s Word and his plans and our places in them. The more we know about God, the more filled with his Word we become. And that’s what Paul wanted for the Ephesians – that they be filled as much as they could be with the fullness of Christ. Nobody will ever know as much as Jesus but we can know something and we can build on our knowledge and do our best to live by it. It pleases God when his people make small improvements step by step, knowing a little bit more each day.
            So, to conclude we’ll say that if somebody ever asks you what God is doing, you may say that he is using his power to spread the good news about salvation in Christ and that he calls his people to receive a portion of his power so that we may be built up ourselves and take part in the work of getting out the gospel.
            I’d to close with another one-liner. “You can tell how big a person is by what it takes to discourage him or her.”  Now, after I’ve been with you a month and gotten to know you some, I’ll say you don’t look like discouraged people to me, and for that we thank our God and Savior. In his name we rejoice. AMEN.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge of Christ Jesus. AMEN.



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