The Bible is inspired. But that does not mean it is always “inspiring” in the typical sense of that word. There are plenty of Bible passages that very nearly repulse the reader: all-out war in the Old Testament where men, women, and children are slaughtered; psalms that delight in smashing babies against rocks. Other Bible passages merely befuddle the reader and can take a lot of work to make sense out of. For instance, just how is it that the dishonest shrewd manager in that one parable of Jesus is held up as some kind of hero?
The Bible is inspired if not always inspiring.
But then every once in a while you run across a passage like this one. Paul himself is the font of no small amount of difficult texts that furrow the brow to interpret. Paul himself was known for some run-on sentences that could pile on subordinating clause after subordinating clause until—in one instance—you had a single sentence with about 272 words in it. But not at the end of Ephesians 3. No, here is an inspired text that not only inspires, it almost lifts you out of your chair and wings you straight into the precincts of glory. Here is a prayer and a doxology and a benediction so lyric it makes you want to sing or shout or dance (or all three at once!).
Paul had just been reviewing with the Ephesians the wonderful fact that the Gospel of Jesus Christ had been opened not just to the Jewish people from whose history salvation had come but also to the Gentiles, which was shorthand for everyone on earth. And then comes verse 14 as Paul begins to tell the Ephesians how he prays for them.
He does not pray that they will be healthy and safe.
He does not pray they will be successful and wealthy.
He does not pray that they will find a way to stand up to political foes in the Roman Empire.
He does not pray that they might experience their best life now.
No, he prays for strength by the Spirit to bring Christ more fully into their hearts.
And then he prays they might receive power, but not political power, not worldly clout to legislate their version of morality for pagan Ephesus, not brawny power with which to defeat their enemies.
No, he prays they may receive power to grasp something very nearly ungraspable: how wide and how long and how high and how deep is the love of Christ so that through this glorious piece of ineffable knowledge they might be filled up to the very brim of their lives with God’s own fullness.
And then, as Paul’s own heart—so full itself to the measure of the love of Christ and the fullness of God—as Paul’s own heart begins to burst out of his chest, he sings a doxology that doubles as a blessing as he gives all the glory to the One who not only can do what we ask but even more than we could imagine.
Actually, calling this “inspiring” seems a bit insipid.
But it cuts to the heart of everything. This is the Gospel at its lyrically powerful best. Oh, Paul is no ascetic. He is no unrealistic, other-worldly figure serenely cruising high above the common concerns of everyday life. He knows we all need bread and water, clothing and shelter, health and wellbeing. Yes, yes, and we all pray for such things. Paul himself was not adverse here and there in his letters to thank various congregations for sending him gifts that sustained his life and ministry and brought him comfort and joy on this earthly plane.
Yet the core of it all—that which soars high above our mundane concerns and that which under-girds our very lives—is the love of Christ and the fullness of God in our hearts. Take that away and nothing else matters. Add that and we can endure all kinds of otherwise tragic and unhappy things without our faith being decimated by them.
There is also this, however: this high, long ,wide, deep love of Jesus alone endures and stays with us beyond the boundary lines of our short time here on earth. It endures and transcends the narrow, shrunken boundary lines within which people try to lead meaningful lives on this planet.
At the bright center of the universe there is love. Abounding, unimaginable love. It is the source of all we know. It is the deepest answer to our hardest questions. It is our destiny. Paul wants the Ephesians and everyone to be filled up to the brim of as much of this very love as we can manage to perceive. Because as with this inspiring inspired passage of Scripture, when that happens, the end of the matter is never-ending glory. Forever and ever.
As we have noted before in other epistles, Paul probably wrote to the Ephesians from a prison cell. Perhaps no more than a single shaft of sunlight pierced a crack in a brick wall and penetrated the gloom of Paul’s cell. All was darkness and, by all human measures, Paul’s condition was likewise bleak and conducive to dark despair.
Yet there was perhaps that single beam of light. And through that beam Paul was able to follow its source clear back to the sun. It still shined even while he was in the dark. It always shines as does the source of that star’s power: the love of Christ and of God. It was just the one shaft of light. Not much to it. Not much to go on. You could barely even read a book in so small a light beam. But it pointed to so much more. Paul did not despair over how small his light was but took joy in how large was the ultimate source of that light. Follow along the path of that light beam long enough and you arrive at nothing short of glory.
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Sermon Commentary for Sunday, July 29, 2018
Ephesians 3:14-21 Commentary