The Lord's Day Morning
January 15, 2006
“What to Pray For One Another”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
When we were together last, we were looking at verses 14-16 — to be precise, verses 14 to 16a. We only got half way through verse 16, and we said there that we learned why Paul was praying the prayer; we learned a little bit about to whom Paul was praying the prayer, what Paul thought about this God to whom he was praying; we learned how Paul prayed the prayer, and we learned in light of what great reality Paul had prayed the prayer: that is, we saw that Paul's prayers for blessing on the Ephesian Christians and on you and me were prayers in light of the glorious gift of God's grace to us in Jesus Christ.
In Ephesians 1 we explored God's saving plan to adopt us and justify us from before the foundation of the world in Jesus Christ.
Paul's teaching in Ephesians 2 set forth this glorious plan for God to build Himself a people, a temple, a family in which His Spirit would dwell and bear witness to His truth and love in the world.
And out of that enormous blessing and out of Paul's sense of the enormity of his blessing, he prays for more blessing; so, his prayers are not prayers for blessings out of poverty — his prayers are not prayers of a beggar who's not been given anything by God, so that he's not going to God saying ‘Well, Lord, You’re pretty stingy, but maybe you’ll give me a little drop of blessing here or there.’ No, he's going to God out of a sense of the enormity of the blessing that God has already given him, and he's saying ‘Lord, bless us yet again with these blessings.’ And that attitude is absolutely essential to the way we pray.
And then we saw that the Apostle Paul was self-conscious in praying to a gracious, sovereign, adopting heavenly Father. He prays to the Father from whom every family of Christians in heaven and on earth is named. He's conscious that this is his Father who has adopted us all into His family. He's the sovereign God, yes, but He is our Father through Jesus Christ. And He's not just the Father of those of us who are here, He's the Father of those who have gone before. You remember the story that Wordsworth tells of the man speaking to the little girl, and she was one of seven children, but two of them had died. She’d explained this to the man, and so the man said to her, “So, how many are you?” And she responded, “Seven.” And he said, “But you told me two of them have died.” And she said, “We are seven, sir.” And that's the reality to which Paul is speaking. He's the Father not only of those of us who are gathered here, but of our brothers and sisters in Christ who have gone on before, and they are just as real and just as live today as they were when they were with us here. And one day by God's grace we will be united with them and with our heavenly Father.
And then we saw that Paul's prayer was a prayer of reverence. He bows his knees; he prostrates himself before the God of heaven and earth. He's earnest, and he's aware of God's awesomeness, and so he's reverencing this great God. In Paul's mind God is big! We live in a day and age where God is small in the minds of people, but for Paul God was big and so he reverences Him.
And then we also saw that Paul prayed in light of the unfathomable abundance of God. You’ll notice at the very beginning of verse 16 how he prays that God would grant us “according to the riches of His glory.” God has no lack of supply out of which to give answers to His people's prayer, and so prayer is not ‘Lord, maybe, if You’re able to…maybe if You have enough…maybe You could possibly….’ No. Out of the abundance of the riches of His glory, Lord God, grant this prayer. And we said that that very introduction to this prayer frames the way we appreciate its every phrase.
Now, there are different ways to outline this prayer. You could outline it in two petitions from verses 16-19, or you could outline it in four petitions. You might even outline it in five petitions. I really don't care how you outline it, as long as you don't miss a drop of it! Now to that end let me just say there is no way I'm getting through this outline today! We’ll have to come back to it again next week, but I hope that we can maybe look at the first two points of the outline that I have given you.
I want us to see first of all Paul's prayer that we would be strengthened with power; and, secondly, I want you to see why he prays that you would be strengthened with power: so that Christ will dwell in your hearts by faith. Let's see if we can get through that today, and then we’ll come back to this prayer and continue on, God willing, next week.
Before we read God's word and hear it proclaimed, let's pray and ask His help and blessing.
Lord, this is Your word. Speak to us by it, we pray. Bring it to life in our hearts. Teach us to pray with it. Give us the desires of Paul. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.
This is the word of God.
“For this reason, I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man; so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.
The Apostle Paul's prayer for the Ephesians is striking. It's striking because it's so different form how we often think and pray. It shows us something of a window into his heart, what he most longed for in the lives of the people that he was called to shepherd and to feed, to minister to.
And it gives us a guide as to how we ought to pray for ourselves. One thing we ought to be asking ourselves as we go through this prayer is ‘Lord, do I pray this way? Do I pray this way for me? Are these the kinds of petitions that I ask You for me? And, Lord, do I pray these kinds of requests or petitions for my best Christian friends, the ones that I love the most and know the most and cherish the most? And do I pray these prayers for my children and for my fellow congregation members? And for all the Christians? Is this how I pray?’
Well, Paul is, like Jesus in the Lord's Prayer, teaching us how to pray for one another even as he records his prayer for us. Let's look at it together. Today, just two things: first, look at the first words of verse 16. The prayer stretches back, of course, to verse 14, “I bow my knees before the Father, that He would grant you…” and then the final words of verse 16, “…to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man.” Now, already you will have noticed three parts to that petition: To be strengthened with power, through the Spirit, in the inner man.
The Apostle Paul is praying for God to supply spiritual strength for the life to which we are called, and that is very instructive. In fact, there are three or four things I want you to see just in that little phrase, that prayer that you would be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man.
I. Spiritual strength for the life to which we are called.
The first thing I want you to see is that it is a Trinitarian prayer. For some of us the doctrine of the Trinity is abstract, theoretical, speculative, and of absolutely no significance for our daily lives. It's better left to egg-headed theologians to contemplate in their ivory towers. But notice how the doctrine of the Trinity shapes Paul's prayer. Note how the prayer starts off, verse 14: “I bow my knees to the Father…; verse 16, “…that He [the Father] would grant you through His Spirit …; then, verse 17, “…that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith.”
The Father, the Spirit, Christ…notice how the doctrine of the Trinity works its way into the practical petitions of Paul's prayer: he prays to the heavenly Father, who has received us into His family as children; he prays that the Father's Spirit would work Christ into our hearts, so that the work of the Father and the Spirit and the Son all converge on the same goal in us, so that the Father, Son, and Spirit — three persons, one God forever — are working together for their glory and our everlasting spiritual good. It's a very practical thing, and so that belief in the Trinity is more than just some theoretical thing that Paul assents to, it's at the very life of the Christian. We come to the Father by the Son, through the Spirit. The Spirit forms the Son in us; the Spirit enables us to cry “Abba, Father.” The Father exalts the Son in our eyes, the Son exalts the Father in our eyes, the three persons — one God forever — working to the same goal, to the same end in us. That's the first thing we see.
But the second thing that we see — and I don't want you to miss it — is this: that Paul prays that you would be strengthened with power. Now, that's striking. For the Apostle Paul the Christian life is not about God's mercy saving you out of sin and destruction and bringing you into His marvelous light and into His family and saying ‘OK, now that I've cleaned you up you’re on your own. Do the best you can. I've saved you from condemnation, I've saved you from damnation, I've put you in My church. Now you just do the best you can do.’
No, for the Apostle Paul the Christian life is a matter of dependence upon divinely supplied strength, and so he prays that the Spirit would strengthen you with power for the living of the Christian life. This is absolutely essential for us to understand. There is never a moment in our Christian life when we are not dependent upon God, never a moment. We need His strength. The work of the Holy Spirit isn't to do a work in us and then to go away and leave us to keep on doing the best we can. Day by day the Spirit is strengthening and working in us, that we might live this Christian life, and the Apostle Paul is emphasizing that: that we need divinely supplied strength to live the Christian life.
But secondly, notice that he says that he would have us strengthened with power through His Spirit. Notice that the Apostle Paul's call is not that you would look within and find the strength to live the Christian life. There are hundreds of Christian teachers that have adopted what is an essentially pagan outlook and worldview and said that what you need to do is you need to look inside yourself, and you need to awaken the giant within you! Or, you need to unleash the latent forces and energy that are in you; or, you need to discover the champion in you…and on and on and on you could go with mottos that are designed to say that somehow there's this latent power in you that you need to unleash, and if you can do that you can live the Christian life. And notice that that is not the Apostle Paul's message.
His message is not that you need to look deep within you and find the power to live the Christian life. No, he says you do need a power within you, but that power within you that you need does not come from within you. It comes from the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit bringing a power that is not in you into you that you need. The help you need is not in you, it's outside of you. It's from God, and God's Holy Spirit is the one who can give — and only can give — that spiritual strength. So you look outside of yourself for the strength you need.
Notice how over and over in the Christian life, not only in justification but even in sanctification, we look to God for His supply of strength. And my friends, the more you know yourselves, the more you know your struggles against sin, the more you know the way the world, the flesh, and the devil work on you, the more you realize you need power from without yourself within yourself in order to live the Christian life.
You know those thoughts, those feelings, those words, those desires that are within your heart. And you know that you need a power from without yourself, not only if you are going to resist them, but also if you are going to pursue righteousness; if you’re going to pursue God and His kingdom first, you need a power from without yourself.
And so the Apostle Paul not only says that we need to be strengthened with power, but that that power does not come from us, it comes from God, and it is the Spirit who supplies it, and so we must be constantly dependent in prayer upon God, asking for His Spirit to work in us.
But Paul's not done in this petition. Notice how he says “…that you would be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man.” Now, you know that for the Apostle Paul there are two constituent aspects to our humanity: there is the inner man, and there is the outer man. And in our day and age we are far more interested in the outer man than we are in the inner man! But our outer man is falling apart. Every day my outer man has less and less hair! Every day I feel more and more the aches and the pains of a body that is growing old. I can feel more and more in my joints the down-lineman who stepped on my hands in high school, and when it's cold in a room I can feel the arthritis coming on in the joints in my left hand. And I can find parts of my body that are shifting! And I find a great need for more exercise and never ever find the time to do it, and there are more and more body parts that aren't working (or aren't working as well as they used to). But we spend a lot of time on our outer man. We put makeup on our outer man so our outer man looks better. Some of us take a long time to get our outer man ready before we even go out in the morning (and it's taking longer, my friends, than it used to, even for me!)
And then, of course, we pray for one another when our outer man is under the assault of disease or illness or injury. And it's only appropriate that we do so, for after all, the Christian hope is not simply that we will be pure, spiritual, disembodied beings floating around in some angelic future. No, our Christian hope is that one day these bodies that are decaying will be raised with resurrection power and will be like the resurrected body of Jesus Christ and united with our souls forever, so that embodied divine work in us would issue forth in us being a full person, body and soul together forever, loving the Lord, serving the Lord, being in fellowship with one another. But until then, our inner man is housed in this decaying outer man. And we pray for one another in the outer man. If you come to prayer meetings, we pray for one another a lot, and it's only appropriate that we do so. When we have friends that are fighting with cancer or dying of various diseases, it's only appropriate that we pray for them and what their outer man is enduring.
But let me just ask you this: Is our prayer for our outer man balanced by an equal biblical concern for our inner man?
And notice what Paul prays for: “I pray that they would be strengthened with power in the inner man….” because the Apostle Paul knows that even when that outer man decays away, the inner man is still there, and the inner man is the seat of our character. It is from the heart that issues the spring of life, so that our words and our deeds are a reflection of what is in our heart. And the Apostle Paul wants a heart, an inner man, the seat of the soul, the seat of our thinking, of our willing, of our believing, of our action — he wants that inner man to be strengthened with power.
You know, if you’re like me, every once in a while you wonder, “What in the world would I say if I were under the influence of anesthesia and all the constraints of polite society that my mother has taught me were taken away. What would I be like? What would I say?” Or maybe you've wondered, “Lord, what if I had one of those illnesses that disconnect my mind not only from the outside world but even from the memories of my life, and there was less and less contact with the immediate memories and with all of the things that I have learned? What would be left of me? What would I be saying? What would I be like in those hours?”
I remember Doug Kelly telling me that even after his mother had advanced deep into Alzheimer's that she retained a simple graciousness and child-like faith. And I've wondered, “What would I be like if all of the outward constraints were stripped away?”
Well, the Apostle Paul is saying ‘I want your inner man so formed and strengthened by the Spirit that when all the outer trappings are taken away, there's nothing left but a soul conformed to God in Jesus Christ.’ And I want to know if we pray for one another that way. In the midst of all the temptations of world and flesh and devil, are we praying for one another that God's mighty power would be displayed in the domain of our being that controls our character and prepares us for heaven? Paul is praying, you see, that the power of God would form what we are in the deepest part of our being, so that even if this outer shell were to melt away there would still beat the heart of a Christian.
He's praying that for these Ephesians. And this is a man who knows the pressures and the torment of life in this outward shell, this outer man. He’d been beaten, been persecuted, he’d been deprived…and he prays that God would strengthen them in the inner man. Why? Well, you see it in the very next phrase. Look at verse 17:
II. The indwelling of Christ in our hearts.
“…so that Christ may dwell in our hearts by faith.”
You see, Paul is praying that we would be strengthened by the Spirit with power in the inner man so that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith. He's praying for the indwelling of Christ in our hearts. In other words, the purpose of the Spirit dwelling in our hearts is so that Christ may dwell with us. Some of our charismatic friends will say first get Jesus, and then later on you can get the experience of the Holy Spirit. Notice here the Apostle Paul says the work of the Spirit in your heart is to form Christ in you! It's not an extra, added on, supplementary thing; the work of the Spirit is to form Christ in us.
And what is the Spirit to do? He is doing divine home renovation. He is making your heart a suitable place for Christ to take up habitation. He is praying, as the Puritans would say, he is praying that the Holy Spirit would form Christ in believers, so that you would become a suitable dwelling place for Christ, and your heart would be a place that Christ would be at home in.
Some of you have bought “fixer-uppers.” And when you got there, there were old fixtures in the bathrooms, there was garish wallpaper in the living room, it was out of date. And over five, ten, fifteen years you worked and worked and now that home is your home, and it bears the marks of your personality and your taste, and your good friends who know you well walk in and they can say, “This home looks like you!”
Well, it is the Holy Spirit's job to move into your heart, so that if someone were to go in there they would say ‘You know, this place looks like Jesus. The desires here I see are Jesus’ desires; the loves here are Jesus’ loves. The things that Jesus hates, oh! this heart hates those things too, and this heart loves the Savior.’ The Spirit is doing divine spiritual home renovation so that your desires are godly, your affections are godly.
Jean Sophia Piggott, the wonderful hymn writer, captured what Paul was saying here perfectly in her hymn when she says,
“Make my life a bright shining of Thy life, that all may see
Thine own resurrection power mightily put forth in me.
Ever let my heart become
Yet more consciously Thy home”
so that your heart, your inmost being, a place wherefrom issues all the springs of life, is a place which is a suitable home for Christ. And the Apostle Paul is praying that for the Ephesians and for you and for me. And I just want to know, are you praying that for yourselves? Are you praying that for one another? Are you praying that for your children? For your best Christian friends? Is it part of your heartbeat–“Lord God, in the depths of my being, I want to be a Christian”?
We sing that song sometimes, don't we? “Lord, I want to be a Christian in my heart.” That is exactly what Paul is saying: ‘Lord God, by the power of Your Holy Spirit, make these Ephesians Christians in their hearts.’
Lord God, we do want to be Christians in our hearts, and we want that Christianity to overflow in every aspect of our lives, but we know that this begins with heart dealings by Your Holy Spirit, so we pray for power. I pray that You would, heavenly Father, strengthen this congregation with Your power through Your Spirit in their inmost being, so that Christ would dwell in their hearts by faith and they might be made a suitable habitation for the Lord of glory, Jesus Christ. In His name we pray. Amen.
Let's sing to God's praise the first stanza of O The Deep, Deep Love of Jesus.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus the Messiah. Amen.