May 17, 2020, Pastor Cliff Bergman
Ephesians 3.14 – 21
Most of the attention given to the coronavirus epidemic centers on topics like protection, transmission, discovery, treatment, containment, and ultimately elimination. It is comforting to know that attention is being given to these important facets as we look forward to a return to what undoubtedly will be a new normal. This week I reviewed the newly published Guidance For Places Of Worship in Alberta. While we don’t live in Alberta, it is likely similar restrictions will be put in place in Manitoba, and it gives a bit of insight into what the future may look like. Some practices which we value as the corporate body of Christ and we took for granted, will be no more, at least for the near future – no more visiting or sitting in close proximity with one another, certainly no handshakes, let alone hugs. Entering and exiting through separate doors, no more food, and not even beverages. One stipulation stood out above the rest, “congregational singing is a high-risk activity and is not allowed.” Don’t panic just yet as this applies to Alberta, but nevertheless, the virus in Manitoba is no different from Alberta.
Let’s remember, none of the developments over the past months are a surprise to God, nor have they upset His agenda or His provisions. Unlike governments around the world who are discovering their lack of preparedness, such is not the case with God. He was, and is, fully prepared. Hence some questions to ask ourselves are, “What does God want me to get out of this? How does He want me to respond and react?” His desire is surely more than for us to just cope with it, and grin and bear it, and eventually we will get to the other side. It is surely first of all an universal invitation from God to all people to turn to Him in submission and seek His care, direction and intervention. Imagine if political leaders and scientists seeking to understand this virus and discover a cure for it would genuinely turn to God and seek His input and insights, how might that hasten the discovery of a vaccine? Coronavirus represents an invitation for all people to place their faith and trust in Jesus as their Savior, and for those of us who already have a relationship with Him, it is an opportunity to grow in our understanding of who God is and how we might live in closer communion with Him.
The portions of scripture I have recently turned our attention to from the first 3 chapters of Ephesians make it clear that God desires us to experience the working of His power in our lives and have an ever deepening relationship with Him. That has an experiential component to it as we are strengthened with power through His Spirit in our inner being (3.16), but underpinning that experiential reality is the word of God. Our experiences would be short lived if they were not secured to His bedrock truths expressed throughout the pages of scripture. It is there where we learn our experiences are an outflow of our relationship with our awesome God who has transformed us from death to life when He saved us (Eph 2.1-10; John 5.25; 2 Cor 5.17). It is quickly apparent, progress in our journey to Christ-likeness has a supernatural element to it. It is God who strengthens His children with power in their inner beings – in the very essence of who they are. It is God, who in a manner that certainly defies adequate explanation, takes up residence within us. To that end we need to provide a residence where He is welcomed and at ease.
In Paul’s second prayer for the readers of his letter, recorded in Ephesians 3.14 – 21, he made 4 specific requests. We previously considered the first two,
I. Be Strengthened Where You Need It Most (Eph 3.16)
II. Be Home To The Abiding Presence Of Christ (Eph 3.17a)
Today I want us to focus on the third. It too, stretches the earthy limits of our comprehension. The italicized portion in the following passage details it.
Ephesians 3:14–19 (ESV) 14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 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.
III. Be Strengthened With The Unfathomable Love of Christ (Eph 3.17b-19a)
All four of the requests are interconnected and all involve supernatural intervention for them to be realized, hence the reason for Paul to turn to God. The place to begin with understanding the unfathomable love of Christ, is,
1. The Source of This Love
Notice how the petition begins, that you, being rooted and grounded in love. The terms used are foundational terms, the first from agriculture and the second from architecture. Years ago we lived in Lethbridge which is surrounded by southern Alberta’s rolling plains through which are cut rivers and streams. It is the Oldman River which makes its way through Lethbridge. Jutting out into the plains above the river valley are what are referred to in southern Alberta as coulees. Native cactus is common on those hillsides, as are rattle snakes, but the key covering is deeply rooted prairie grass, its roots go many feet below the surface to sustain the grass during lengthy periods of drought. They mirror the image of the deeply rooted tree in Psalm 1 or in
Jeremiah 17:7–8 (ESV) 7 “Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. 8 He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.”
The second phrase, grounded, is an architectural term highlighting the critical role of a firm foundation if a building is to prevail. Consider Jesus’ words contrasting building one’s house upon a rock rather than upon the sand (Matthew 7.24-27).
The exciting truth is this. Those who know the Lord are deeply rooted and grounded in the Lord. This is characteristic of who we are in Christ, it isn’t something we need to do, it is simply so. While it isn’t something outstanding to do, it is something that we need to realize. It is a dimension of the truth expressed in chapter 2 where we are told we are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, (Eph 2.19-20). Christ is the Source of this love. The passage goes on to expand on,
2. The Substance of This Love
Paul’s petition is that we might have strength or capacity to comprehend the magnitude of this love and its significance to us. We must not use the love common to this world as the measuring stick for this love. The love we are to lay hold of, or grasp, or apprehend, is not the superficial and sentimental love, and so often, fickle love, characterized by the world, but the supernatural and eternal love of God. Thus we need God’s strength so it doesn’t slip from our grasp.
The love in view here prompted Jesus to come to earth to do what no one else in the entire universe could accomplish, to be an acceptable sacrifice for our sins.
Romans 5:8 (ESV) but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
John 3:16 (ESV) 16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
It is the kind of love described in
1 Corinthians 13:4–7 (ESV) 4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
While these verses are often recited at weddings, we frequently don’t spend much time considering what their application looks like not only in marriage, but in the affairs of the Church, or in our interaction with the world at large. Even a fairly superficial review confirms our inability at achieving the lofty standard apart from God’s enabling strength. Not only do we require God’s enablement to live out the love He exemplifies, but we need His strength to even comprehend, or grasp it. Apart from God’s work in our hearts and minds, we will miss out on an appreciation of the magnitude of God’s love towards us and others.
3. The Scope of This Love
As we make our way through this passage, don’t miss the phrase, with all the saints (3.18). The love Paul prayed his readers would comprehend or grasp, isn’t reserved for an elite class of Christians, but for us normal, everyday kind of people who are dealing with whatever the Lord allows to pass through His hands, like COVID-19. It is for ALL the saints, not just some. The singular qualification is that you know the Lord, that you have repented of your sins and have been born-again. However, while it is intended for all Christians, apart from receiving God’s supernatural enablement to fully lay hold of this love, it is possible for much of it to elude us. This love is out of reach for the unsaved, apart from turning to Jesus in repentant faith, but it is in reach of all the redeemed. Hence it is appropriate to pray that other Christians will grasp this supernatural love, as well as ourselves. It is not merely a matter of human reasoning, or coming up with the best definition, all of those attempts fall short. But with the supernatural enablement of God a panoramic view of the unfathomable love of Christ is set before us.
As we consider the magnitude of God’s love, our finite minds are stretched with – what is the breadth and length and height and depth. The description envisions all the dimensions, the breadth – its extent left to right; the length – front to back; height – how high; and depth – how deep. The implication is that God’s love has no boundaries, it is beyond measure, it is infinite in nature and is dispensed from God’s inexhaustible supply. It is at least as big as the accumulation of people’s sins stretching from Adam and Eve’s first sin in the Garden of Eden extending to the last sin committed before Jesus returns to establish the new heaven and new earth at the end of the age. The magnitude of those accumulated sins is beyond our measure and comprehension, but God’s love is even bigger. It is unfathomable!
Similar language to that found in Ephesians 3.18 is used in
Psalm 103:10–12 (ESV) 10 He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. 11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; 12 as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
Paul prayed that his readers might have the strength, be given the capacity to grasp the incomprehensible magnitude of the scope of God’s love. We never need to concern ourselves that we have stepped beyond its reach. God’s love knows no limits!
Coupled with the scope of God’s love for His children is
4. The Security of This Love
The eighth chapter Romans begins with these memorable and encouraging words
Romans 8:1 (ESV) There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
As we read these words, especially when we are having a tough day, or month, or longer, they are a ray of light shining through an otherwise bleak and dark time.
But the assurance given in Romans 8 isn’t limited to this single verse. God knew we would have a lot of “What if?” questions about the security of His love, so He expanded considerably on the topic and answered the entire scope of all imaginable “What if?” questions. In the following verses we are reminded about the sufficiency of Christ’s death on the cross, the indwelling Holy Spirit in every believer, the authenticity of our salvation, the certainty of our future resurrection and inheritance as a child of God. And along this journey the Spirit is interceding for us, particularly when we are weak. (We learn a few verses later Christ is interceding for us as well (34)). And then he launches into a discussion of struggle, and hardship, and adversity, that we as Christians face, beginning with the often quoted verse.
Romans 8:28 (ESV) And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
Never think for a moment when we face hardship that God has withdrawn His love. God knows it is especially when our backs are against the wall, when we are overcome with fear about the future, when our loss exceeds anything we ever imagined, and the pain we feel is unbearable, that it is then when we are most prone to doubt His love and care and what our standing before Him is. He knows that when we face adversity we can easily misunderstand what is going on. Take the time to read Romans 8.29 – 39 where every conceivable “What if?” is raised and answered about what could possibly separate one of God’s children from His infinite love. Remember despite God’s infinite love for His Son, He sent Him to the unfathomable pain of the cross. Initially Christ’s death appeared to be a defeat of His mission, but on the third day, as He had promised, He was raised from the dead and is now seated at the right hand of His Father. There is no possibility of a child of God being separated from the love of God.
Romans 8:35 (ESV) Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?
Romans 8.35 includes a comprehensive list of “What ifs,” all of which are serious, but none can isolate a believer from the love of Christ. The list of possibilities considered encompasses life and death, the entire universe, not just the present life, but all of eternity, and not just the seen, but the unseen realm as well, and we are assured that even after all those conceivable possibilities are taken into account, none of them is capable of separating God’s children from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:37–39 (ESV) 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 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.
I think it is reasonable to conclude that COVID-19, nor any of its destructive and painful consequences, will be successful in separating a follower of Jesus Christ from His love either. I surely don’t want to minimize any of the real hardships many people are experiencing. Some have lost jobs, some are facing tremendous financial hardship, thousands have watched their loved ones die, often in isolation. But God’s world is far bigger than what we observe, and His love extends from before our known universe to beyond the farthest reach of the new heaven and new earth.
God undoubtedly wants to get everyone’s attention during this crisis which surely exposes the inabilities and limitations of humankind, He wants people to recognize their desperate need for Him and turn to Him in repentant faith. And those of us who know Him and seek to follow Him, He wants all of us to be more intentional in our relationship with Him and seek to become more Christ-like. Oh that we might come out of this more Christ-centred, Spirit-empowered, and Mission-focused than when it began.
The hymn, The Love of God, which many of you are familiar with, expresses the scope, magnitude and certainty of God’s love. It is filled with rich theological truth. As you follow one, or all of the links below, may God strengthen you with His unfathomable love. In my search for YouTube videos I found several.
The first is sung by the Mennonite Hour Singers whose four-part harmony is moving and many of you will especially appreciate their ministry, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IeBSv4dQ6BU
Unfortunately, they didn’t sing the second stanza which adds more depth to the composition. The only selection I found with all three stanzas is the following with Dave Hunt, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7qPoEnUosRQ
And if you want yet another blessing, listen to Wintley Phipps, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3OzpQF97zU8