“On Bended Knee”
(Pastor Jim's last Sunday at Pineda PC)
Before reading: The Letter to the Ephesians can be divided cleanly into two sections: theology (chapters 1-3) and ethics (chapters 4-6) or another way to say it is “thinking and doing.” Our passage today ends the thinking about who God is and who the Church is. Paul ends these opening three chapters of theology with prayer and doxology. He moves from meditating upon God to praising God. I think Paul’s methodology leads us to understand how we live as Christians. Paul begins chapter 3 by explaining why he is a prisoner for Christ for the sake of “you Gentiles.” He tells them of the mystery of God’s will by referring to the Gentiles and Jews being made one people in Christ. In our passage, after he has explained the mystery of God’s will: “the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel,” (3:6) Paul wanted to encourage the church not to lose heart in the world of the early church where Christians were persecuted and where racial ethnic groups did not meet together to eat or worship as one body; therefore, in verse 13 of chapter 3, Paul wrote, “I pray therefore that you may not lose heart over my sufferings for you; they are your glory.”
Listen to the Word of God from Ephesians 3:14-21.
1. Over the past two weeks, we have scrutinized together Paul’s letter to the Church at Ephesus and shared some heavy weight theology. We took a close look at the doctrine of predestination, the doctrine of reconciliation, and doctrine of sanctification. Paul wrote, “(God) chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will.” (1:4-5) Then, we remembered how important over this past year and a half “the dividing wall of hostility” was, not between Jews and Gentiles as in Paul’s time in the church, but for Christians with different world views as related to responses to the coronavirus global pandemic. This Sunday as I come to the end of my service as your pastor, along with the Apostle Paul, I offer prayers for you and me, and Pineda Presbyterian Church as the body of Christ.
2. I suspect that you have known one or two people in your life that glowed with the Spirit of God, someone who wreaked of God and smelled of holiness, and the love of Jesus flowed from him or her. It is like that person shed God’s Spirit off his or her life onto others by her or his actions, works, and prayer. Can you think of one of those people who shined the light of Christ on you and others? It seemed like that person was consumed by holiness and love. Paul was one of those people who was consumed by God revealed in Jesus Christ. Some of those holy people have lived among us here at Pineda. Paul and those people you have remembered were consumed by God and becoming a growing, holy temple in the Lord. Early in chapter 3, you may remember, Paul stated that he was a prisoner for Christ Jesus “for the sake of the Gentiles.” Paul talked about the mystery of God’s will again. Immediately before our passage, in 3:13, Paul wrote, “I pray therefore that you may not lose heart over my sufferings for you; they are your glory.” I pray that neither you nor the Morans may lose heart over the next several months.
3. “For this reason (that is, that the Ephesians not lose heart) I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name.” (3:14) Not only the words of Paul in the prayer is critical but also the posture of Paul, “I bow my knees before the Father.” What does the posture of Paul say about his prayer? On bended knees before the Father, Paul prayed. Prayer has been part of the life the faithful people of God since before the story in Genesis of Abraham and Sarah when Abraham prayed to God to heal King Abimelech, who had mistakenly taken Sarah. Moses prayed for the plagues of frogs and flies to leave Pharaoh alone. King David prayed often. One time after offering to build God a house instead of God’s continuing to live in a tent and God’s telling David through the prophet Nathan that God was going to build David a house, King David went in and sat before the Lord, and said, “Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far? And yet this was a small thing in your eyes, O Lord God;…” and he prayed and praised God, as he sat before God. You remember the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus “threw himself on the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” (Matthew 26:39) At one point or another I suspect each of us have been lying next to Jesus praying, “Father God, if it is possible, let this cup pass…”:
It may have been the time you sat by the bedside of a grandfather holding his hand, his grip soften and he passed, transferred to the church triumphant; or when you no longer had a job and the impossibility of finding one quickly to pay the bills and you fell on the bedroom floor in the prayer; or when the darkness of life’s tunnel surrounded you and there was no light – no hope – no way forward, and you prayed, “Father God, if it is possible, help me, help me, help me, help me, Lord.” Prayer for a safe journey to Charleston, South Carolina or prayer for a Savior from unrelenting stress. Prayer for the discernment to follow the will of God or for freedom to not follow the will of God.
4. Paul prayed: “I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit….” (3:16) Other letters of Paul echo in this prayer: “So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.” (2 Cor. 4:16) Maybe Paul was thinking of the strengthening in their inner being coming from the Spirit, which is like putting on a garment: “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” (Gal. 3:27) Paul knew that it is Christ who strengthens us in the Spirit. He prayed that the Ephesians be strengthened for life.
5. Paul continued in his lifting up the Ephesians by praying that “Christ may dwell in (their) hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.” Surprisingly this image of Christ’s dwelling in them is not Paul’s usual image of the relationship between Christ and the believer. Ordinarily Paul wrote about “being in Christ” like in Romans 8:9-11: “But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit hat dwells in you.” Christ dwells in the heart of Christians through faith.
6. The dwelling of Christ in us happens, Paul wrote, “as you are being rooted and grounded in love.” (17b) I am afraid that when we profess our faith in Jesus as our Lord and our Savior, we are not finished products, but at the beginning of the faith assembly line. We have to live out the faith and not stand stone-still like the Beefeaters at the Tower of London, stuck on the place of our salvation. To get quite specific about the meaning of these words the NRSV translates “being rooted and grounded,” we need to understand the grammar. Both of these verbs are past perfect participles, which means that they describe “something which has already taken place and is continuing as a stable and constant condition.” (133, Mitton, NCBC) A clearer translation might be: “As you have been rooted and grounded in love.” These words remind us that the particular event of their professing their faith in Christ and also the event of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross for us was the beginning of their “rooting and grounding in love.” (G. B. Caird, 69) The grammar of the sentence tells us not only that but also that that beginning continues to affect our lives today. One commentary described the image of “rooting and grounding” like this: “A deep-rooted tree can remain firm and healthy in spite of hurricane and persistent drought; and in building with strong foundations reaching down to the rock can withstand the onslaught of wind, rain, and flood…. The whole phrase means that the controlling spirit is love. This is the result of Christ’s dwelling in the heart. He is in control of the springs of life, which means that self is no longer the master, and Christ likeness, an unselfish concern for others (love), has taken its place. The first-named fruit of the Spirit is love (Gal. 5:22). A Christ-directed life is one which is expressed in love.” (133, Mitton, NCBC)
7. Part two of Paul’s prayer speaks about the power to comprehend the love of Christ; that is, “the breadth, the length, the height, and the depth and to know the love of Christ that is beyond our knowing. Paul is telling us that the love of Christ is all-encompassing like what Paul wrote in Romans 8: “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Then Paul stated the purpose of the prayer: “to that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (3:19)
Conclusion: If that happens, that we be filled with all the fullness of God, then the Lord’s Prayer would be fulfilled, because God’s will would truly be done on earth as it is in heaven. When you and I are filled with all the fullness of God, we can move into chapter 4 of Ephesians, where Paul applies his theology to real life, and live in the love of God and fulfill our purpose as human beings: to glorify and enjoy God in all that we think, say, and do. We can live as faithful Christians on the ground of the theology Paul wrote in the first three chapters. And may we never lose heart. Rooted and grounded in love and on bended knee with Paul, I promise you that I will not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. (1:16)