Ephesians 3:14-17 “For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.”
When I was a kid I was fascinated by things like fire, and knives, and guns. Fortunately, I had good parents who kept these things off limits until I was approaching my teens. Part of the fascination may have been the fact that these were all “forbidden fruit.” We want what we can’t have. Another factor in my young obsession, I believe, has to do with power. To wield fire, to wield a knife, to wield a gun, is to possess power. They empower you to do things far beyond the limits of your mere personal strength. They may be tools for good or for destruction. But they all offer the prize of power.
Historically, humans haven’t handled power very well. We all know the saying, “Power corrupts.” As exhibit A, we have the two-ring circus called Washington D.C. Like my first matches, knife, or gun, political power can be a tool for good or destruction. But we know the temptation to pervert and twist power to serve self at the expense of others is strong.
Power is a central concern of Paul’s prayer in this letter to the Ephesians, a prayer one commentator has called “the greatest of all Paul’s prayers.” Paul wants these people to have it. It is a unique power in that it is above the possibility of misuse. That is why I join Paul and every pastor in praying for your power. Cultural forces made living as a Christian hard for the Christians in Ephesus. There are always challenges to maintaining our faith and living a life consistent with it. One of the challenges for the Ephesians came from the dominant religion of their city. Ephesus was the unofficial capitol for worship of the goddess Diana. You may remember that while the Apostle Paul was doing mission work in the city, the silversmiths, who made idols of the goddess, started a riot to protest this new religion. If you were a Christian in Ephesus, chances are your neighbors were Diana worshipers. They thought you were weird, maybe a little dangerous, for following this foreign God, Jesus.
Like most of the churches Paul started, this congregation was also a mix of former Jews and former Gentiles. Historically, these two groups had been separated by culture, race, and religion. They didn’t like each other very much. Now their shared faith in Jesus formed them into a single family. This wasn’t easy to make work. At the same time their former faiths and former ways of life pulled at them, tempting them to come back.
How do you deal with the forces pulling Christians away from Christ, tempting them to adopt the beliefs and values of the culture around them? That is no insignificant force! “Peer pressure” doesn’t end in high school. If it were just a matter of people having polite conversations about different ways of looking at things, it might not seem so serious. But the non-Christian world is not so kind to the Christian faith and life. We face ridicule for believing in creation. We are considered narrow-minded for believing Jesus is the only Savior. We are evil for limiting sex to a married man and woman. “Give it up,” they say. “Christianity needs to evolve. Let your outdated thinking go, and the insults and disrespect will all go away.”
Paul understood that his people needed strength, they needed power, to keep their little church in Ephesus going. He could have simply written them a list of instructions about how to live. In the coming chapters he was going to do just that. He painted a picture of what Christian faith and life look like.
But these people needed more than a task list to survive. Notice how his language is all about what is going on inside of them: “the Spirit…your inner being…your hearts…through faith.” Paul is saying, “I am praying for God to change you, to make you a different person. I am asking God to transform how you think, what you believe, the way you feel, and what you want, all with a certainty that won’t let it go.”
The secret to escaping the penalty our sins deserve starts outside of us with Jesus’ sacrifice at the cross. The secret to having and holding on to his forgiving work begins with his Spirit working inside of us. Then Christ can live in us by faith, and give us the power to resist the forces pulling us away from him.
One thought on “A Prayer for Power”
Thanks, John! Great devotion for our times.