Moved (Ephesians 3:14-19) | Kevin P. Larson
Maybe you heard this story on NPR this week. One evening eight people were sitting around a patio table, near Washington D.C., celebrating. They were drinking wine and eating cheese until a man in a jumpsuit invaded their party with a pistol. He shook it at one lady. He pointed it at another woman’s head. And he started barking, “Give me your money, or I’ll start shooting.”
Things then began to escalate. No one there actually had any money on them. So they started trying to talk him off the ledge. And it wasn’t working. He just got madder. It became clear to all of them that someone - perhaps all of them - were going to get hurt. But that’s when one of the women spoke up. She said, “We’re here celebrating. Why don’t you have a glass of wine and sit down?” At that moment, everything changed. His facial expressions transformed. He put the gun in his pocket. He sat down and enjoyed some french wine with them. He ate his share of some of their cheese.
He then muttered, under his breath, “I think I’ve come to the wrong place.” He then got up and asked them, “Can I get a hug?” Several people hugged him. He then asked for a group hug. They all got in a circle and hugged him. He then said, “I’m sorry,” and walked out of the gate carrying a glass of wine. What a turn of events, huh?! You see, if we’re believers, one day everything changed for us. We were holding a gun. We were given a glass of wine. We were embraced by our Father in Heaven. And that moved us.
But how easily we forget that day. What a breathtaking passage of Scripture before us today. Of course, it’s hard not to say that every week in Ephesians. It’s all so good. My tendency, as many of you well know, is to slice and dice up a passage like this, to break down every single word. It wouldn’t be hard to do. This text is that rich. But in doing that, I’m afraid we’d miss the forest for the trees.
Paul wants - the Lord wants - the Ephesian church, along with us, to be moved by what God’s done for us in Jesus. And not just for what He did back then. For how He’s welcoming us now. The reality is we go for the gun it seems most every day. And we spurn the wine more times than not. And the Lord still embraces us. And that should move us. But so often it doesn’t. We forget.
We forget what we’ve seen so far in Ephesians, in these first three chapters. All the blessings we have in Jesus. That we’ve been included in this beautiful mystery. That we’ve been made alive by grace and sent to do good. That we’ve been included in this diverse family. That we’ve been given this important and exciting calling - to proclaim this mystery. That we can draw near now to that loving Father.
All that is so easy to forget - especially in suffering. That’s what Paul mentions just before this in verse 13 - the trials He suffers as a minister of the gospel. It’s so easy to forget - as sinful human beings. We turn from all this glory to sin. That sin further prevents us from seeing glory. It’s a circle of agony, a downward spiral of disappointment and despair.
Zach Eswine has said so well that we’re fallen, finite, fragile, and faltering. We’re fallen - we have this inner tendency toward sin and evil that we can’t seem to get free from. We’re finite - we’re limited physically, emotionally, mentally. We’re fragile - people have sinned and will sin against us. For that, we’re all wounded. We’re faltering - there’s this inconsistency between what we profess to be true and how we actually live. Anybody feel those things? I sure do.
It’s so hard for us to remember all this beauty and live our lives out of it. We’re sufferers. We’re sinners. We’re human. And, even if we are genuine Christians, we so often find ourselves unmoved.
So what do we do about it? How do we get to that place? The answer is so clear in this passage. First, we pray. That’s what Paul models for us here. That’s the action we see in verses 14-15.
Eph. 3:14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named
It’s embarrassing to say, but if I’m honest, my primary strategy for feeling closer to God is to do stuff. Can you relate to that? Meeting with people. Checking off tasks. That’s too much of the time my strategy for moving my heart. And for trying to move yours. Instead of letting the grace of God motivate me to serve, as we see so clearly in Ephesians 2:10, I get things backwards again and think, “If I can serve, then God will embrace me again.” True, at times we serve God and others when we don’t feel like it. And sometimes our heart will change. For sure. But that can’t be our main strategy for feeling the glory of the gospel. Paul gives us something else here. What is it? It’s prayer.
Isn’t that the hardest thing for us to do? It feels so passive. It seems like the opposite of action. However, Paul models praying for ourselves and for each other. He teaches us that prayer is the most important thing we could possibly do. It’s the primary means the Lord uses to move peopleOur primary work is to ask God to work. We trust in His power and grace as we fall before Him. He’s the One that saved us in the first place. He’s the only One that can get our hearts back on track.
As Christians, we’re people of the Trinity. We believe in one God. Three persons. Each equally God. We’ve said this a time or two in Ephesians. But the whole Trinity is involved in getting us to drop the gun and drink the wine. The Father plans our salvation from eternity past. The Son dies on the cross to accomplish that salvation. The Holy Spirit applies that grace to our hearts. The Triune God above embraces us. Here Paul appeals to the whole Trinity to move us once again. He makes His request to our Father who’s in control. He asks Him for strength provided by His Holy Spirit. He asks God to give us power to grasp the love of Jesus once again. And in deeper measure.
The apostle here has no doubt who’s going to do the work. The Lord. He bows His knees, it says, before His Father. Now this wasn’t a popular prayer posture - at least among Jews in that day. They typically stood to pray. This shows a higher degree of earnestness. Paul really, really wants this. But it shows even more His deep humility. He’s completely dependent upon God. He knows only the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ can move in human hearts. Is that our conviction? Do we pray like this for ourselves? Do we pray on behalf of our brothers and sisters? Or do we just run around crazy trying to do stuff, assuming that we’ll somehow feel better - or they’ll feel better - from it?
But here’s another thing I certainly do. Maybe you can relate. I grab a good Christian book. Nothing light-weight. Something certainly legit. Something rich. I feed my mind and think that’ll fix things. But the problem isn’t just with our heads. Hear me clearly: we have to fill our minds with truth. But we can overcorrect, and I think in the Reformed evangelical church, we have. We can’t grow comfortable with what we know. But the bigger problem is not being moved by what we already know.
For Changed Hearts
Note, then, what Paul asks God for here in this passage. First, Paul prays. Second, he prays for changed hearts. That’s Paul’s focus here - the heart. Look at that with me here. He prays that they’d be “strengthened with power through his Spirit in [their] inner being” in verse 16. He desires that “Christ may dwell in [their] hearts through faith” in verse 17. He prays that they’d be “filled with all the fullness of God” in verse 19.
And in between, what’s his prayer? That they’d comprehend this unfathomable love of Jesus - its breadth, length, height, depth. We’ll get there in a bit. But Paul wants them to grasp this glorious gospel - in their hearts. David Powlison says the word heart is “the most comprehensive biblical term for what determines our life direction, behavior, [and] thoughts.” It is the place of our “trust, preoccupation, loyalty, service, fear and delight.” It’s the place of motivation for our “behavior, thoughts, and feelings.” The heart is at the core of who we are. It’s the root that produces fruit. It’s what moves us.
Paul here wants them to be moved deeply in the innermost part of their being. In other words, the prayer isn’t just that they would know all this. It’s that they would feel it! That they’d be changed by it. That they’d be moved by the glory of the gospel.
John Stott and others have pointed out the word used for “dwell” in verse 17 is one of two similar words in the Greek. One word that Paul could have used refers to someone inhabiting a place as a stranger would. It’s like the dude who keeps sleeping on your couch and won’t leave. That’s not the word Paul uses here. No, the apostle uses a term for someone who’s settled down somewhere. It’s calling some place a permanent home. That’s the prayer. That Jesus would make their hearts His home through faith. For good. And being moved by the gospel would be the rule more than the exception.
Now C.S. Lewis wisely once pointed out, talking about lovers, that we probably couldn’t survive constant, intense feelings like that. Maybe that’ll be our experience in the new heavens and new earth with God someday. I don’t think we can expect that every day right now. But I don’t think that’s our main problem, right? I don’t know about you, but I’m too satisfied too much of the time with a cold heart. Too much of the time Jesus feels like a stranger to me. I want intense love for my Savior to be the new normal for me. Maybe, just maybe, I should pray this prayer more often.
Jonathan Edwards used a couple of metaphors that are helpful. First, he talked about needing both heat and light - primarily with preaching. That’s what a fire gives off - heat and light. We need the truth. That’s light. Our heads need to be rooted there. But there also must be passion. Strong feeling. That’s heat.
What do you have if you have light without heat? Cold, stuffy doctrine. What do you have if you have heat without light? Hot air. Empty talk. There is so much light in this passage and throughout Ephesians. The Lord wants there to be warmth in our hearts - heat - that corresponds to that light.
Second, he also talked about honey. You can know in your head - you can understand - that honey is sweet. But maybe you haven’t tasted it. Now, if we’re Christians, we’ve at some point tasted that honey. We’ve tasted and seen that the Lord is good. But maybe we haven’t tasted its sweetness in awhile. Maybe we’ve seen it from afar, but we haven’t savored it. Paul’s prayer for them and for us is that we’d experience the love of Jesus again and be moved by it.
You probably saw it on Facebook, but my wife jumped out of a plane for her 40th birthday a few weeks ago. Now I know what it means to skydive, for sure. But I’ve never experienced it. When Paul prays that we would “know” in verse 19, that’s what we’re talking about. That’s the kind of knowledge we need.
Perhaps we need to give as much attention to our hearts as we do our heads. I’m talking to you, John Piper fanboy. Or to the person reading an Edwards book as a way to enjoy your Sunday afternoon. But here’s something to think about: maybe our problem isn’t that we’re too focused on our heads. Maybe it’s that our hearts have other things taking up residency there.
This may be obvious, but if Jesus isn’t our focus, other things are. Right? We may not feel passion for Him right now, but I can guarantee we’re feeling excitement about something. Maybe the new iPhone coming out. Maybe that boy showing you attention. Maybe that football season just around the corner. We’re not always talking about bad things. But yeah, those things, too. We’re all being tempted to put junk food or rat poison into our hearts.
Jesus said, in Matthew 6:21, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” You and I are treasuring something all the time. And our hearts are right there with that thing. They are. We’re always celebrating or delighting in or getting excited about something. Those are all words that describe worship. We’re running after idols. The Lord wants our hearts to be moved by something greater. And He wants us to plead with Him for that to be the case. And that leads to my next point.
To Be Moved by the Mystery
First, Paul prays. Second he prays for changed hearts. Third, he prays for changed hearts to be moved by the mystery. That’s Paul’s desire here. We’ve entitled this series “The Beautiful Mystery.” What’s this mystery? It’s God’s plan, long concealed, that is now revealed. A plan to give us, His people, a new identity. A plan to bring us, His followers, into a new family. It’s that we’re in some mysterious way one with Him and one with each other.
Friends, that’s meant to move us. That’s why we were made. To have deep joy in Jesus. To be blown away by His love. Moved by the idea that we, the criminals, have been invited to the table. That’s what God wants to consume our hearts. Not these other things.
Listen with me to Paul’s prayer again in verse 17. He bows before God the Father, asking for the Spirit to strengthen us…
Eph. 3:17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Here’s what should be our desire - for you and me, for each other. That Jesus would dwell in us with power, and we’d explore and enjoy His love at a level we’ve previously never understood or experienced.
There are these beautiful words there in verse 17 - Paul’s prayer that you and I would be “rooted and grounded in love.” I mentioned previously that I love the film Sing Street. It came out on iTunes this week, and I’ve been playing the music over and over. I think the kids are getting sick of it. It starts out with a young, awkward teenager who tries to impress a girl. He finds out she’s an aspiring model. He asks her to be in his music video. He walks away, telling his friend, “Well, I guess we’re starting a band.” During the course of the film, he realizes his gifting. He gains new confidence. The film ends with Connor and Raphina motoring away from Ireland to England to begin their dreams together. They’ve figured out who they are. They’re now ready to explore what they can become.
Paul here takes an agricultural metaphor - “rooted” - and he pairs it with an architectural one - “grounded.” The prayer is that we’d be like oak trees - with our roots deep and strong. That we’d be like strong buildings - with a sure, steady foundation. That we’d be rooted and grounded in the love of Jesus! We’ll have so figured out who we are. We can now explore even more. We can experience His love at deeper and deeper levels. And then allow Him to transform us and utilize us.
This prayer is that we’d have two feet firmly on the ground - much like I was when Amy was skydiving. But that we’d also soar - soar to greater heights of knowledge of His love. That we’d have a gospel rush even greater than free-falling. That we wouldn’t just observe it from the ground, but we’d feel it flying through the air. That we would be moved by His love.
Notice what it says in verse 19 again. “To know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.” As William Hendriksen put it,
“The finite heart and mind can never fully grasp or know infinite love. Even in the life hereafter God will never say to his redeemed, ‘Now I have told you all there is to be told about this love. I close the book, for the last page has been read.’” (William Hendriksen)
Or as Robert Murray M’Cheyne put it:
“Unfathomable oceans of grace are in Christ for you. Dive and dive again, you will never come to the bottoms of these depths. How many millions of dazzling pearls and gems are at this moment hid in the deep recesses of the ocean caves! But there are unsearchable riches in Christ.” (Robert Murray M’Cheyne)
Hear how Paul describes it in verse 18. He speaks of the “breadth and length and height and depth” of Jesus. He wants the Ephesians to get caught up in those dimensions and be moved by them. That they’d seize our attention in a fresh way now and for the rest of our lives.
Think about the “breadth.” That His love is broad enough to include every tribe and tongue and nation of the world. But it’s also wide enough to include you no matter where you’ve gone or been.
Ponder its “length.” That His love is long enough to get us through our lives, no matter what happens. That it will last for all eternity. He’ll keep us to the very end. He will.
What about its “height?” That His love will bring us to glory. He’ll raise us from the dead. We’ll reign with Him forever. He is going to make us like Him and let us dwell with Him.
Think last about its “depths.” That His love goes down to the depths of our sin. Even more, think about the cross. Think about the depths to which He went to save you. He dove into our hell to raise us to heaven. All of this is true. The Lord wants it in our hearts. He wants us moved by it all.
I want to move back into the Trinity we see here. You and I have a Father - a Dad who has children all over the world and in heaven. A Father who welcomes you. And He’s rich. Not Donald Trump rich. Not Mark Cuban rich. He owns everything. He won’t give you out of His riches. He gives “according to the riches of His glory,” it says in verse 16. He throws it all at you.
And more than anything He wants to give you of His Spirit. His Spirit with you. His Spirit inside of you. His Spirit to comfort you. But His Spirit also to strengthen you.
Why? He wants you to know His Son Jesus. More specifically, He wants you to grasp His love. Do you believe that Jesus loves you with a “breadth and length and height and depth” that we’ll explore forever and ever? It's true. And our Dad doesn’t just want us to try to comprehend it. He wants us to experience it.
Father, Son, Spirit. Think about this. This Triune God has been in perfect, loving community since eternity past. He decided by His grace, to let that love overflow and be shared. And He desperately wants you to be consumed in it all. You.
This past week, Aarik put up these lyrics to an old Rich Mullins song. It’s one of my favorites.
There's a wideness in God's mercy
I cannot find in my own
And He keeps His fire burning
To melt this heart of stone
Keeps me aching with a yearning
Keeps me glad to have been caught
In the reckless raging fury
That they call the love of God
Why does Paul pray again? That He’d melt these hearts of stone. That He’d give us an aching, a yearning for Christ’s love.
In Tim Keller’s new book on prayer, he describes it this way. You get a letter in the mail saying you’ve inherited some money. But you know that relative, and you know it’s likely not too much. So you get busy. You forget about it. But finally, you get around to looking into it, and you find out it’s a massive amount. “You were rich but had been living poor.” Keller writes, “This is what Paul wants His Christian friends to avoid, and only through encounter with God in prayer can they avoid it.” That’s us. Rich but living poor. The Lord wants us to see those riches and be moved by them. And He wants us to get on our knees and ask Him for it.
Jared Wilson says we need gospel wakefulness. He has a book by that title. He argues that too many believers aren’t enjoying the riches we have in Christ. He says we need to treasure Christ more greatly and savor His power more sweetly. Wilson helps us know if we need such an awakening. Here are some signs he gives that we haven’t experienced this:
The gospel doesn’t interest you - or it does, but not as much as other religious subjects.
You take everything personally.
You frequently worry about what other people think.
You treat inconveniences like minor (or major) tragedies.
You are impatient with people.
In general, you have trouble seeing the fruit of the Spirit in your life (Gal. 5:22-23).
The Word of God holds little interest.
You have great difficulty forgiving.
You are told frequently by a spouse, close friend, or other family members that you are too “clingy” or controlling.
You think someone besides yourself is the worst sinner you know.
The idea of gospel centrality makes no sense to you.
Now some of you here may have never encountered the love of Jesus. If that’s the case, you need gospel conversion. You need to repent and believe in Him for the first time. But if this list describes you - and trust me, I see me in most of these - then you need gospel wakefulness. You need to pray Ephesians 3:14-19.
So where have we been? First, Paul prays. Second he prays for changed hearts. Third, he prays for changed hearts to be moved by the mystery.
Praying This Prayer Together
Well, what we should do is more than obvious, right? Two points of application before we close. First, meditate on the truths of the gospel. Brothers and sisters, get in the word of God and find Jesus there. Ask Him to give you a heart for His word. Saturate yourself in what Jesus has done. In who we are in Him. Ephesians is a great place to start and camp. Ponder this beautiful mystery.
Second, pray this for yourself and for each other. Ask others to pray this for you. You didn’t miss that phrase in verse 18 did you? The one where Paul asks that we would have strength to comprehend all this “with all the saints?” I regularly encounter people who call themselves Christians who aren’t truly a part of a church. How will they know this love of God? We need each others’ prayers. We also need each others’ perspectives. Listen to Stott on this passage:
“The isolated Christian can indeed know something of the love of Jesus. But his grasp of it is bound to be limited by his limited experience. It needs the whole people of God to understand the whole love of God, all the saints together, Jews and Gentiles, men and women, young and old, black and white, with all their varied backgrounds and experiences.” (John Stott)
We only truly know a God who dwells in community as we pursue Him together in community ourselves. Be a part of a church - here or elsewhere. Actually become a member. And pray and be prayed for with passages like Ephesians 3.
On that note, you should have received a handout as you walked in the door. This passage is printed at the top, along with the days of the week at the bottom. Pray this prayer for yourself and for each group listed here. Do it this week. Try for the rest of the summer. And let’s trust and even expect God to work.
What this is is a prayer for revival. That God would take what we’re doing and turn it up a notch. That He would take our cold, hard hearts and make them warm and soft. And that the gospel would be sweet again. This is a prayer that we would be moved once again. By the reality that we were welcomed and are still welcomed around His table. Let’s pray for changed hearts to be moved by this mystery, Karis.