Prayer for Spiritual Strength (Ephesians 3:14-21)

Bible Class

Prayer for Spiritual Strength | A Bible Class on Ephesians 3:14-21

In these two paragraphs, Paul offered a prayer for the Ephesians. He had started to offer this prayer at verse 1: “For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles—” However, he went off on a digression and explained the “mystery” more fully. Paul had written that Jews and Gentiles had been made one in Christ (2:11-22). He explained that the bringing of Gentiles into the church was “the mystery of Christ” (3:1-13). Because the biblical definition of a “mystery” includes the concept that God had a long-standing plan, God always intended to bring Gentiles into the church. That seems to have been the purpose of Paul’s digression.

Digression such as Paul did at verse 1 was extremely common in Paul’s day. It seems to us like Paul is either “chasing a rabbit” or even losing his train of thought. However, the first readers would have been very familiar with this style of writing. That itself, it seems to me, says something about inspiration. God doesn’t seem to have dictated what the authors wrote, but he allowed them to write in their own styles and vocabularies. The end result was precisely what God wanted and exactly what man needed. God as the Almighty was able to do that, but it boggles my mind how he could.

However, God communicated his will in the style people wrote and spoke in the first century. The New Testament is not something in a language completely foreign to man. It was written precisely how people spoke and wrote in the first century.

Let’s just think about this text in a general manner for a moment. Paul spent a great deal of time praying for churches. His letters are full of prayers for churches, and he often mentioned how much he was praying for his recipients. How much time do we spend time praying for our churches? What are some specific blessings you could ask God to provide for this church? Are you earnestly praying for God to provide those blessings? What are some specific blessings you could ask God to provide for individual Christians?

“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father.”

“For this reason” is that the church—composed of both Jews and Gentiles—is being built “into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (2:22).

Paul said he bowed his knees before the Father. Bowing the knee was not the usual posture for prayer. While the scriptures do not command people to pray in a specific posture and a number of different postures were used by people in the scriptures, people in Paul’s day normally stood to pray. “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses” (Mk 11:25). “The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus. . . .” (Lk 18:11).

Bowing, however, was used in extreme circumstances. Bowing would show humility and submission. Gentiles prostrated themselves before rulers. Since Paul was writing to Gentiles, he may have been saying that he was prostrating himself before God Almighty. “God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (Phil 2:9-10).

Why would Paul wish to show humility and submission to God? What are some ways that we can show humility and submission to God in prayer? What are some ways that we can show humility and submission to God in our daily lives?

Paul bowed his knees before the Father. God is here being seen as the Creator and sustainer of all. The idea is that God created all men—Jew and Gentile. The Gentiles in the Ephesian church, therefore, were just as valuable as the Jews. This is a point we’ve discussed throughout the Ephesian Epistle, and one we understand well.

“From whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.”

Paul used a play on words in the original Greek between “Father” and “family.” The Greek term for “father” is pater, and the word for “family” is patria. Paul used a pun to show that fathers and families are closely related. It might seem like a silly question, but humor me: How closely are fathers and families related? What is the importance of the father in the family?

Fathers have authority in the family. The principle of male spiritual leadership is as old as creation. God through Paul gave two reasons for male spiritual leadership: Adam was formed before Eve and Eve fell into sin before Adam (1 Tim 2:13-14). Even before the Fall, God expected the men to be the leaders in the home and in the church; the Fall only enhanced, if you will, what God had already decreed. How should fathers lead in the home?

The authority of God the Father is seen in that from him every family “is named.” The act of naming indicated authority. When God created the world, he brought all the animals to Adam for Adam to name (Gen 2:10-20). This simple act demonstrated that man has dominion over the animals as God decreed (Gen 1:28).

In the New Testament, “name” is often used to denote authority. One is baptized into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matt 28:19) and in the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:38). The Greek preposition for “in” are different in Matthew 28:10 and Acts 2:38. The idea in Matthew 28:19 is more of being baptized into a relationship with the Triune God (the far better English translation is “into” instead of “in”). The idea in Acts 2:38 is being baptized by the authority of Jesus. The name of Jesus made a lame man well (Acts 3:16). When a possessed girl kept following Paul, the apostle became annoyed and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her” (Acts 16:18).

Therefore, the idea of every family being “named” by God is a reminder of God’s great authority. Why does God have authority over this world? How does God exercise his authority over this world?

“Every family in heaven and on earth is named” from the Father. There isn’t the clearest answer of what “every family in heaven” refers. Several people see this as guardian angels over the nations. It appears that people have guardian angels (Matt 18:10; Heb 1:14). However, there is absolutely nothing in Scripture about nations having guardian angels—that doesn’t, of course, negate the possibility. “Every family in heaven” may refer to different classifications of angels. Scripture only provides the smallest clues about different types of angels. This is the idea I personally prefer.

Every family on earth is also named from the Father. God is the creator of the family; he did so when he gave Eve to Adam as his wife. Because the Father created the family, there are responsibilities that those in families have. What are some of the responsibilities members of families have to one another? What steps can be taken to have healthy families? What problems develop when families are not healthy?

At verse 16, Paul began the supplication part of his prayer Verses 14-15 could be seen as the adoration part of his prayer. Notice Jesus began the Lord’s Prayer by adoring the Father: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name” (Matt 6:9). Paul did something quite comparable here—he bowed his knees before the Father (showing reference) and he honored the God “from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.”

Verse 16, however, begins asking God for blessings. Again, Jesus did something comparable in the Lord’s prayer; for example: “Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts” (Matt 6:11-12). With our passage, Paul began to pray for his readers.

Is it important to praise God when we pray? What is the value of honoring God when we pray?

Notice furthermore that Paul wasn’t praying for himself. It is certainly never wrong to pray for oneself; remember Jesus in the Garden. However, it’s always right and good to pray for others.

“According to the riches of his glory.”

What are some of the riches God has? What is the glory of God?

“He may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being.”

What is the power of God? What are some of the ways God has demonstrated his power? What are some of the ways God demonstrates his power today?

Why do Christians need to be strengthened?

How does the Spirit dwell in the Christian? What are some of the things the Spirit does in the Christian’s life? What might the Christian’s life be like without the Spirit?

What is the inner being of man (cf. v 17)?

At verse 17, Paul continued his supplication for the Ephesians, but he seemed—in my humble opinion—to answer a serious question within the brotherhood: How does the Holy Spirit dwell in the Christian?

There are many who claim that the Holy Spirit dwells in the Christian only insofar as the Christian has the word of God dwelling within him. In other words, this view says that the Holy Spirit does not personally dwell within the Christian. Instead, the Spirit inspired the scriptures (cf. 2 Pet 1:21) and dwells in the Christian through the scriptures. The more a child of God knows the Bible the more the Holy Spirit dwells within him.

There are serious problems, in my thinking, with that view.

One: If the Spirit dwells within the Christian only through the word, then alien sinners can have the Holy Spirit dwelling within them.

On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit inspired the apostles to speak the word of God in foreign languages. Peter stood and proclaimed the deity of Jesus, the fulfillment of prophecy in Jesus, and Jesus’s death and resurrection for mankind. That was most certainly the word of God!

That word penetrated the hearts of alien sinners and that word dwelled in those sinners. “When they [alien sinners] heard this [the word of God] they were cut to the heart” (Acts 2:37).How could these alien sinners be cut to the heart with the word of God if it did not penetrate their hearts?

Furthermore, “those who received [Peter’s inspired] word were baptized” (Acts 2:41). Before these Jews were baptized, they were alien sinners, separated from God, and full of sin. However, they “received his word.” If these non-Christians received the word, didn’t the word dwell within them?

In explaining the Parable of the Sower, the Lord said, “Those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold” (Mk 4:20). Again, how can you accept the word of God and it not be a part of you?

To become a Christian, the word of God must be a part of you. If the Spirit only dwells in the Christian through the word of God, does that not imply that the Spirit is dwelling in your before you are baptized into Christ?

Second: What about those who forget the word of God?

As I read scripture—especially the Old Testament—I’m often rediscovering episodes I had forgotten. Does that mean that part of the Holy Spirit left me because I had forgotten those parts of holy writ?

What about someone who has memory issues and forgets the word of God? Are you really going to tell me that a faithful child of God who has Alzheimer’s and forgets every word of Scripture has the Holy Spirit leave him? This view seems seriously lacking.

There are many others who believe the Spirit personally dwells within the Christian and comes into the Christian when he is immersed into Christ. When the crowed at Pentecost called out in horror at their sins, Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the. Name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). The question before us really comes down to this question: “What is ‘the gift of the Holy Spirit?’” Grammatically, the Greek could mean one of two things.

  1. This could be a “subjective genitive,” meaning the Holy Spirit is the subject of a sentence (e.g., “The gift of the Holy Spirit gives.”). Those who accept this grammatical interpretation see the “the gift of the Holy Spirit” as forgiveness. In other words, the Spirit gives the gift of forgiveness of sins when one is immersed into Jesus.
  2. This could be an “objective genitive,” meaning the Holy Spirit is the object of an implied verb (e.g., “God will give you the Holy Spirit as a gift.”). This understanding seems to flow much more naturally with the text. In other words, the new child of God receives the Holy Spirit as a gift when he is baptized.

Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians implies the Holy Spirit personally dwelt within the hearts of these disciples. He was praying that they be strengthen with power, rooted and grounded in love, comprehend with breadth and length and height and depth, to know the love of Christ, and to be filled with all the fullness of God.

Notice most importantly what Paul specifically wrote at verse 17: “So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” Yes, Paul said “Christ,” not “the Holy Spirit.” However, God is one; therefore, if Christ dwells in one’s heart through faith so does the Spirit. I don’t understand everything about the Spirit’s dwelling in the Christian; however, I’m convinced that he dwells in our hearts through faith. What does faith have to do with the Spirit’s indwelling? Why is faith important for the Spirit’s indwelling?

As we speak about the Holy Spirit’s indwelling, some of our brethren get nervous because of the errors taught about the Spirit. I must admit that I find it terribly problematic that teaching what the Bible says could ever make someone nervous.

There are serious problems taught about the Spirit today. Modern Pentecostalism began in 1901 in Topeka, Kansas under the leadership of Charles Fox Parham, a former Methodist preacher. Parham was the one who formulated the doctrine of “initial evidence” – that the initial evidence that one has received the Holy Spirit is speaking in tongues – after one of his students, Agnes Ozman, experienced tongue-speaking in January 1901.

The modern Pentecostal movement began a few years later in Los Angeles at what has become known as the Azusa Street Revival. In 1906 William J. Seymour, a Holiness preacher, founded the Apostolic Faith Gospel Mission on Azusa Street. This revival attracted attention from such secular media as the Los Angeles Times and quickly became a local phenomenon. Several individuals who would become leaders in various Pentecostal denominations attended this meeting and were thus converted to Pentecostalism. This meeting was held every day from 1906 to 1909.

Characteristics of Modern Pentecostalism.

Pentecostals teach that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is subsequent to the new birth. In other words, Holy Spirit baptism comes after water baptism.

They use Acts 8:14-17 to teach this. The Christians in Samaria had only been baptized in the name of Jesus, and the Holy Spirit had fallen on none of them. Peter and John come down and pray for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit.

There are two main problems with saying the baptism of the Holy Spirit is subsequent to the new birth:

  1. In the Bible, Holy Spirit baptism did not always follow Christian baptism (Acts 10:44).
  2. The disciples in Samaria did not receive the Holy Spirit directly from heaven – they received him through the laying on of apostolic hands.

Pentecostals also teach that the baptism of the Holy Spirit must be earnestly sought.

They use Acts 10:30-31 to teach this. Cornelius had been fasting and praying. An angel told him that his prayers had been heard and that his alms were remembered before God. There are problems with saying that Cornelius was earnestly seeking the Holy Spirit:

  • Cornelius may not have even know the Holy Spirit existed; he was a God-fearer and may, therefore, have been somewhat familiar with the teachings of John the Baptist.
  • Cornelius was not seeking the Holy Spirit – he was trying to honor God.

Pentecostals also teach that the initial sign of baptism in the Holy Spirit is speaking in tongues.

Acts 10:44-46. All Christians must, therefore, according to Pentecostals, speak in tongues.

Pentecostals speak of the “full gospel.”

Forgiveness of sins isn’t the whole thing – there’s more. They teach that holiness of mind and heart, healing of the body, and the baptism of the Holy Spirit is what God has in store for all Christians.

In its essence, modern Pentecostalism is evidence of a weak faith—these folks, with all due respect, need to “see” and “feel” God in order to believe in him. That’s not the way it works.

This Bible class was originally taught by Dr. Justin Imel, Sr., at Church of Christ Deer Park in Deer Park, Texas.

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