Ephesians 3:14-21

Power for Daily Living

  American Journal of Biblical Theology
Copyright © 2011, J.W.  Carter.      Scripture quotes from KJV


Main Ruins Today, Ephesus. 
(Courtesy focusmm.com)

Some of us might be familiar with the Mugwumps, those who could not make a decision to place their lives under the authority of King George, or that of the newly forming United States of America.  (With their mug on one side of the fence and their wump on the other.)  This label may be effectively used as a metaphor for the less-mature Christian life, for many Christians also sit on the fence.  We desire the riches of God's kingdom, but have not completely let loose of the chains of worldly bondage.  It is this bondage to the desires of our sinful nature that becomes excess baggage that we carry in the race toward the mark of the high calling of Christ, slowing us down, and leading us to fall short of the goal.

How many of us here can confidently state that we have placed both feet firmly on the solid foundation of Christ, and have totally committed one’s self to Him?  Rather, how many of us clearly know that we still have a firm foothold, or maybe only a toe-hold on the world.  Jesus may be Lord, but you have not surrendered all of your life to him.  Some have said that “Jesus is Lord of All or He is not Lord at all.” Jesus is either your Lord, or He is not.  That is a tough criticism that may deserve some thought and prayer.  If we are, to some extent, a spiritual Mugwump, then there is an unavoidable conflict in our lives.  The Holy Spirit is drawing us to the complete joy of God's calling, but we are still listening to the lies of the evil one who would keep us from experiencing that joy. 

It is evident that Paul could see this conflict in the members of the Church at Ephesus.  Apparently, it was a problem that endured.  Take a look at the description of the situation at the Ephesian church as referenced in John's Revelation:

Rev. 2:1-5. Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks; 2I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: 3And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted. 4Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. 5Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.

Do you feel that you might fit in the church from Ephesus?  The Lord commends their actions, their hard work for the Kingdom, and their patience in a wicked world.  They do not tolerate wickedness or false theology.  They have done all these things in Christ's name, and have endured.  Yet, there was a problem:  they left their first love.  What does this mean; what has been left behind?  The people in the Ephesian church did strive to put their lives totally in the Kingdom, but over time they reestablished a firm foothold on the old world.  By looking back at their lives before Christ, and returning to some of its allure, they had become spiritual mugwumps.  What was the consequence of their sin?  According to John’s Revelation, God would remove the “lampstand” or “candlestick” from their place.  The lampstand was the body of their Christian fellowship (Rev. 1:20).  By returning to their wordly ways the church would ultimately lose the spirit-led leadership that God had placed there, leaving them to be reabsorbed into the world. The church may exist as a social club, but would no longer be a viable body of Christ.

Look at a similar example of the consequences of sitting on the fence between the world and the Kingdom.

Philemon 23-24. There salute thee Epaphras, my fellowprisoner in Christ Jesus; 24Marcus, Aristarchus, Demas, Lucas, my fellowlabourers.

Recall that the book of Ephesians was writting during Paul's first Roman imprisonment.  During this time he also wrote the letter to Philemon asking for is mercy concerning his returning slave, Onesimus.  He lists the names of some of his fellow workers.  Who were they?  (Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke.)  So, note that even though Paul was in prison, these men stood with him and continued working with him in ministry.

The book of Colossians was written later from the same imprisonment.  Again, Paul lists his fellow workers.  Who are they?

Colossians 4:14  Luke, the beloved physician, and Demas, greet you.

By this time Mark and Aristarchus had apparently left Paul to continue ministry elsewhere.  Paul was set free from that imprisonment, and later when in his second imprisonment in Rome, towards the end of his life, he wrote to Timothy.

2 Timothy 4:9-10  Do thy diligence to come shortly unto me: 10For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica; Crescens to Galatia, Titus unto Dalmatia.

Paul is facing what he knows to be the greatest crisis of his life.  Though there are no substantive charges against him, his status as a prisoner is all that Rome needed by this time to execute him.  Paul had served as a mentor for several leaders who spent time with him, but now at this important time, where is his friend Demas?  Demas seemed to be initially faithful to the fellowship of the Paul and his friends.  He benefited from hearing solid doctrine, could see the gospel in action all around him, yet what happened?  He kept one foot in the world, and eventually when things got tough, he deserted Paul, returning to the worldly lifestyle.  There is no evidence in scripture that Demas ever grew enough in his faith to the point of making any contribution to the kingdom.  Instead he has become an example to all of us by his desertion of the ministry.

Finally, a third example of spiritual Mugwumps exists in the church of Laodicea.  Going back to John's Revelation, Chapter 3: 

Rev. 3:14-19.  And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God; 15I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. 16So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. 17Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: 18I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see. 19As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. 2

The people of Laodicea had a foot so firmly planted in the world that they felt secure in it.  The result was a luke-warm faith.  How does God respond to such a faith?   Like lukewarm water that is only good to be spat out; it provides no useful purpose for the kingdom.  Needless to say, it is not God's will that we sit on the fence.  We don't need a miraculous vision from God on this one; His Word is clear.  So, how do we get off the fence?  In Paul's letter to the Ephesian Mugwumps, we get an answer:

Eph 1:18. The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints,

What was the first request in Paul's prayer for the Ephesians?  His hope was that the eyes of their heart may be enlightened.  What does this mean?  Like the Laodiceans, they have been blinded to their present state.  They are not even aware that there is a problem.  A drowning person is not going to reach for a life-preserver if they do not know they are in danger of drowning.  Likewise, a Christian is not going to move forward in their faith if they think that they are already where God wants them to be.  We must first take an honest look at our own personal relationship with God, and ask Him to reveal to us our spiritual state in the light of where God wants us to be.  God has called each one of us to a plan he has already set in place (Eph. 2:10).  Do you know what that plan is?

Eph 1:18 also speaks of hope, the hope of attaining that which God has provided for us, described as riches of His inheritance.  One of Satan's great lies sits on our hearts when we try to compare ourselves with one another.  We try to compare our spiritual state with that which we think we see in the lives of other Christians.  We see others exercising spiritual gifts, and think that because we are not given that specific gift, we are in some way diminished.  We cannot see ourselves in their shoes, and our hopes are dampened or destroyed.  What is clear about Paul's prayer is that our hope is not in God's calling of someone else.  Your hope is in God's personal calling of you.  He has given you a unique set of gifts and interests and can work them together to exercise those gifts.  When our eyes are enlightened and we see the truth clearly, we will then experience more of the peace and joy that is part of the abundant life (John 10:10) that God promises to those who are obedient.

Eph. 1:19.  And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power,

One of Satan's great lies robs us of seeing the great power that God has placed in you.  We look at other Christians exercising spiritual gifts, and think "I am nothing, I can't do that."  It is as though the demon whispers in our ear, "You are nothing, you can't do it, you are stupid, you are ignorant, you don't know the scripture..." and on and on.  We feel powerless. The irony of this is that Satan's lie is veiled in a subtle truth.  It is true that we are powerless.  It is not our own personal power that God is tapping into in order to attain His purpose.  If this were to be done in our own power we would all be doomed.  I recall sitting in the front row at my first annual meeting of the Baptist Convention of New York.  I did not know that the BCNY staff thought my degrees were in music, prompting them to call me to lead the music for their conventions and conferences.  I sat there watching these well-known and confident preachers and theologians, knowing that my name was listed on the proceedings with them.  Furthermore, my part in the program was coming up, and I could not stop my knees from shaking.  I could not breathe, and my heart was pounding out of control.  The demon was whispering, "you are not qualified, you are not one of them, who do you think you are accepting this task."  I knew at that moment the veiled truth.  On my own power I could not do what I was about to do.  So I sat there and prayed for God to calm my spirit, because in my heart I knew that I was where I was called to be.  When my part of the program came, I confidently stood up, took my place, and conducted the task to which I was called.  When the program was over, I was thoroughly exhausted from the spiritual battle that was waged, but encouraged and strengthened to see that God was able to use me, despite my frail humanness, for his purpose.

It is not our power that God is using.  It is His own power that can give us the confidence to stand up and take our place, conducting the task to which we have been called.  The next few verses continue to describe that power.

Eph. 1:20-21.  Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, 21Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come:

The power that God has given us, dwells in us as one of the attributes of the Holy Spirit.  It is the power of the Holy Spirit that is the force behind all of God's demonstrated actions.  How is that power described in these verses?

(1)  It is that which works through His mighty strength.  The power in us is the same power that we see demonstrate as God's mighty strength.  We saw that strength in raising Jesus from the dead and assigning him with authority from God.  Likewise the Spirit has in us have the power to perform miracles, even raising someone from the dead.  When we fail to appropriate that power, we cannot participate in the simplest of spiritual tasks.  We find ourselves frustrated when we fail, or experience the fear of failing when we expect to achieve success in spiritual endeavors on our own.

(2)  That power is above all rule, authority, power, and dominion.  What does that mean?  The power that is in you in the person of the Holy Spirit supercedes all worldly power.  The four types of power mentioned include all power outside of the Kingdom for eternity: principality, power, might, and dominion.  It is simply another form of expressing the conflict described in Chapter 6:12 and following where those powers are described and the tools for defeating that power are metaphorically  illustrated.

It has been said that we only use 5-10% of our brain power, and those who are considered to be a genius use as much as 20%.  We are physiologically limited in our ability to tap into the full resources of our mind.  In the same way, how much of the power of the Holy Spirit that is described in these verses has been tapped into your life?  Do we use 10%, 5%, 1%, less?  What is stopping us from tapping into this power when, after all, Satan even has no power against the Spirit?  We, by choice, do not tap into it because God has given us the opportunity to refuse.  Without such choice, there would be no faith.  The power is available:  we must simply recognize it and be submissive to it.

Eph 3:14-19  

For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, 16That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; 17That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, 18May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height;

Paul's prayer for the Ephesians continues here as he intercedes for the Ephesians, asking:

(1)   That the Spirit's power would act to strengthen the believers.  When engaging in the spiritual enterprise our own power we are truly unequipped, weak and powerless.  John's revelation referred to this as poor, naked, and blind.  Paul describes the home of this power as one’s inner being, or inner man, the Spirit that resides deep within you empowered to lead, counsel, and guide, but not empowered to overwhelm your own will.

(2)    That Christ would dwell in our hearts in faith.  Christ does dwell in the hearts of all believers, through the presence of the Holy Spirit.  Paul is praying that the Spirit that is already there will be manifested in the faith of the believers and not suppressed by either their will or actions.

(3)    That we would understand the love of Christ. We find Paul’s description of the scope of God’s love similar to that which he describes in Romans:

Romans 8:38-39.  For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, 39Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Quite simply, God’s love for us supercedes all other events either physical or spiritual.  His love never leaves us, even in those times when we feel farthest from Him.  At those times when we need Him most, He is always there.  Knowing his presence can help us overcome the lies of the untrue one, and better realize the power of that love in our lives.

(4)    That we would be filled to the measure of all of the fullness of God. 

Where does the Spirit of God reside?  When Jesus was teaching about the coming Kingdom, he said that the temple would be destroyed but he would rebuild it in three days. 

John 2:19.  Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.  

Mark 14:58.  We heard him say, I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and within three days I will build another made without hands.

Some who make an effort to predict the second coming of Christ argue that the temple in Jerusalem must be rebuilt before that event takes place.  Such a position ignores Jesus’ description of the temple.  It is the dwelling-place of God.  At the time of Jesus, the people thought that God resided in the physical temple in Jerusalem.  When Jesus was crucified, the veil of the temple was torn, openening the Holy of Holies to all.  Three days later, Jesus was resurrected, and with that resurrection came the new covenant with man, whereby through faith in Jesus, God would reside in a temple that is not made by hands, but one made by God himself: the soul of the believer. The Spirit of God now lives in the hearts and minds of believers through the faithful and enduring presence of the Holy Spirit.

Consequently, what does it mean to be filled with the Spirit?  Some teach an extra-scriptural doctrine that states that one does not receive the Spirit at conversion, but rather, at some later point in their life when through a demonstration of the Spirit's power, that spirit is evident through some narrowly-defined event.  That doctrine relies on a definition of that demonstration, and reduces it to a demonstrable work, often something that is very showy such as speaking in tongues (glossalalia).  The defining work hen becomes a badge of acceptance, and a source of pride.  This is a false and dangerous doctrine.

Neither is the Holy Spirit is not a variable quantity of fuel that is stored up within us.  Our spirituality is not dependent upon the amount of the Holy Spirit that we have appropriated through any form of decision or behavior.  The Holy Spirit is a singular, personal, and all-powerful person of the trinity, a property of God Himself.  As a person, the Holy Spirit is appropriately referred to as "He", just as God and the Son can be referred to in the same way.  He is either present or He is not, and scripture clearly teaches that He is faithfully present in the hearts of all believers, sealing us until the end of the age.

The question is not how much of the Holy Spirit do you have, it's how much of you does the Holy Spirit have?  The inner power is there.  How much of your own authority have you used to usurp His power?  Do we need overt evidence of His presence?  It is likely that the Spirit will not demonstrate his power in your life in tongues, as this is one of the smaller gifts anyway.  It is more likely that He will demonstrate Himself through the development and application of the spiritual gifts that He has given you.  When we submit to Him, we will see His work in those gifts and we will be blessed by the part in the Kingdom He has given us.

We close this study with a benediction.

Eph 3:20-21  

Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, 21Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.

What can God do with the power He has placed within us?  Since it is God and His wisdom working through us, His works can be greater more varied than we could possibly imagine.  We have no idea what God has in store for us.  We know that we are to be salt and light in the presence of those whom God has placed around us as we continue to grow in grace and knowledge of Him.  Paul's prayer is that we will go much farther in our faith than simple salt and light; that we will experience the full and immeasurable power of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

It is only through that power that we can fully surrender to God absolutely everything in our lives, lifting our feet out of the doomed world, and placing all of our hopes and desires on the foundation of the Kingdom.  Only then will we find God's perfect peace and will for our lives.  Only then will we not be characterized as a spiritual Mugwump.