This message was originally delivered at Ohio Valley Baptist Church on the 9th day of December 2015:
Christmas: A Christ-Celebration
Christmas is a pretty big deal. It’s the biggest celebration of the year with decorations of lights, Christmas trees, wreaths, garland, candles, ribbons, and much more. It is a time of buying, wrapping, and giving gifts. We have foods that celebrate Christmas and colors that celebrate Christmas. There is even an entire genre of music dedicated to celebrating Christmas. And while it is true that the majority of the celebratory elements of Christmas have pagan origins, it doesn’t mean Christians today can’t celebrate Christmas. John Piper said recently,
“So my counsel is to give all your efforts to making your children as happy as they can possibly be with every kind of surprise that is rooted in the true meaning of Christmas. Let your decorations point to Jesus. Let your food point to Jesus. Let your games point to Jesus. Let your singing point to Jesus. Out-rejoice the world, out-give the world, out-decorate the world, and let it all point to Jesus.”¹
In any case, we should celebrate during this Christmas season. What happened Christmas night has never happened before, and there will never be anything like it again. It was the day that Jesus entered into human history. Christmas at its epicenter is a celebration of Christ. In fact, that’s what the word Christmas actually means. It is made up of two words: Christ and Mass. Christ meaning Messiah, and mas or Mass meaning a celebration or festival. Christmas is a Christ celebration.
But why celebrate Christmas? Because Jesus entered into human history. We will see in our passage of Scripture for today exactly why we should celebrate. In this passage, the author of the third Gospel gives us a brief account of the day that Jesus entered the world. It is the Christmas story which is found in Luke’s Gospel, and it is cause for great rejoicing. We will see that the birth of Jesus was historic, messianic, and humble. And we will see the great implications this has for God’s plan of salvation. So let’s read the text:
The Text: Luke 2:1-7
“In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”
I. The Birth of Jesus Was Historic (2:1-3)
First, we see that Jesus’ birth was historic. There were certain historical circumstances surrounding His birth and entrance into human history. There were actual events, also recorded in extrabiblical literature, which God brought about by His sovereignty. They were things which God orchestrated to ensure that Jesus would be born fulfilling the requirements for being the Messiah. Listen to vv. 1-3:
“In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town.”
Luke is describing the historical circumstances surrounding Jesus’ birth. He says that Caesar Augustus issued a decree for all the world to be registered. This decree was for the purpose of assessing taxes. It was tax time, and Caesar decreed that everyone in the Roman world be registered for this taxation. This registration for taxes was for “all the world,” that is, all areas of the world under Roman rule. For the Israelites and the people of Jesus’ day, this was their whole world – Rome dominated most of the territory. The Romans were mighty in power then and they continued to be many centuries later of course. But God was mightier in power, and He used this decree for His own purposes (as we shall see later).
Apparently, this was the first taxation when a man named Quirinius was governor of Syria. According to history, he was an administrator and a soldier who was usually victorious in his battles. And in v. 3 we read that everyone was submissive to this taxation: “And all went to be registered, each to his own town.” This taxation required Jews to travel back to their ancestral homeland. They would have to go to their own city to be registered. So in order to obey the law, Jews would need to go back to their homelands where they were born and raised to register for the taxation. It is important to take note of this because Mary is about to give birth, and she is not in Bethlehem where Jesus was supposed to be born. Micah 5:2 promises that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem: “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.” If Mary gave birth to Jesus anywhere else, then Jesus couldn’t be the Messiah. He must fulfill what had been previously spoken about Him. You see, Mary was apparently in Nazareth with Joseph. Nazareth was her hometown: “In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David” (Luke 1:26-27a). Mary is about to give birth to the supposed Son of God, but they are in Nazareth. If her water breaks in Nazareth, then the Christmas story no longer exists, there can be no Messiah, and God’s promise would have failed; the people of Israel would need to keep waiting for the real Messiah. That’s why the taxation is so pressing for making sure that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem—Joseph would have gone to his hometown to register for the tax. And where would he need to travel in order to register for the tax? Bethlehem. That’s what we happening next. Joseph goes to Bethlehem with Mary right before she gives birth, and ends up giving birth to Jesus in the exact place where the Messiah was prophesied to be born.
So what we have in vv. 1-3 are the historical circumstances surrounding Jesus’ birth. He was born in real time just like any of us. We were all born at a certain year, when a certain president was in office, when certain things were taking place. If a baby were to have a biography written about his birth today, it might go something like this: “__________ was born when Barack H. Obama was president in 2016, nearing the end of his presidency because Donald Trump won the election.” Jesus was born in history. God was moving Caesar to issue that decree so that Jesus would be born in His prophesied birthplace. God was using history for His story.
II. The Birth of Jesus Was Messianic (2:4-5)
So we’ve seen that the birth of Jesus is historic (2:1-3), but secondly we see that Jesus’ birth was messianic. He was born under several circumstances that would make Him the Messiah. We see in vv. 4-5 that the baby in Mary’s womb would be the long-awaited Messiah who would save God’s people:
“And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.”
Luke now focuses on the family of the child to be born: Mary and Joseph. They leave Nazareth and go to Bethlehem, because that was Joseph’s hometown. Joseph is compliant with the decree, and goes back to his ancestral hometown to register for this taxation. And he takes Mary with him on his trip. The mode of transportation is not stated—either they walked, rode donkeys, or took a caravan up to Bethlehem—but in any case, he and pregnant Mary went to Bethlehem.
It is interesting to see that Luke emphasizes messianic themes in describing their journey towards Bethlehem. They went to the “city of David,” and Joseph was “of the house and linage of David.” Why even point that out? Because somewhere down the line, Joseph is related to David. If you were in the lineage of David, it was considered royal—a privilege. David was Israel’s greatest king, and for those who knew the Old Testament, they would have known that the Messiah was prophesied to come from David’s family. He would be born in David’s royal lineage. The Messiah would be the seed of David, He would be David’s great grandson. Listen to these clear testimonies:
“And he said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:13-14).
“For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this” (Isaiah 9:6-7).
“There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.
And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,
the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and might,
the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord” (Isaiah 11:1-2).
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’” (Jer. 23:5-6).
It is palpable that this Messiah-Redeemer-Savior will be born in David’s royal lineage. And who would be Joseph’s son? Jesus. He wouldn’t be Joseph’s son by intimate conception, but he would be his son by divine conception. If Joseph marries Mary, then Jesus would be born in David’s royal lineage.
So, they leave Nazareth and are now in this place called Bethlehem, which is the city of David. They went because this was Joseph’s city—he was of the “house and lineage of David.” They still weren’t married, for Luke says that Joseph went with “Mary his betrothed.” Their marriage had not yet fully consummated. They were still only pledged to be married.
Now, she was not required to be registered with him, but she goes with him anyway. Of course, no couple would want to be separated at such a crucial point in their relationship. So they went together to the city of David to register for the census. Jesus’ birth was about to be messianic. If He was going to be born in Bethlehem, He would be the long awaited Savior who would suffer for sin and bring salvation to God’s people.
III. The Birth of Jesus Was Humble (2:6-7)
We have seen that the birth of Jesus was historic (2:1-3), and that the birth of Jesus was messianic (2:4-5), now finally we shall see that Jesus’ birth was humble. He was born under very humble conditions—as a helpless baby in a manger. Luke concludes the narrative of Jesus’ birth in this way:
“And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”
When they arrived in Bethlehem, it was time for Mary to deliver. She was having contractions, and her water broke. They had better find a local hospital, or an inn (which was a public motel), or somewhere to give birth to the Son of God. They had better let everyone know what’s about to happen. They better roll out the red carpet. But they didn’t—none of that happens.
Jesus was born in very humble circumstances, as a helpless, crying baby in a manger. The time came for her to give birth, says Luke, and she gave birth to her firstborn. Jesus is called here her “firstborn son,” signaling that He would have all the benefits of an inheritance. The firstborn son was always given the family inheritance. That is yet another important detail suggesting that He would receive the benefits of Joseph’s royal lineage. It also indicates that she would have other children after Jesus was born (see Matthew 13:55-56).
Once He was born, Mary wrapped Him in swaddling cloths. These were pieces and strips of clothes bound together, believed to keep the limbs of a child straight. They were wrapped around newborns to help their limbs grow correctly. And she laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the public motel, the inn. The manger, which was an animal feeding trough was the first King-size bed there ever was. This was not a bright and beautiful night, as depicted by many of our Christmas cards today. It would have been dark, smelly, and unsanitary. The birth of the Son of God doesn’t get any more humble than that.
If God has been sovereignly orchestrating the circumstances surrounding the entrance of Jesus into human history, then why didn’t He have a royal place for Jesus to be born? God was clearly working behind the scenes to get Caesar to issue a decree. He was obviously ensuring that Mary and Joseph would be in a relationship, and eventually go to Bethlehem – so why didn’t God prepare a royal throne upon which Jesus could be born? Because the manger was not outside of God’s sovereign decree.
God chose that manger as the place for Jesus to be born. It was a demonstration of His humility—God became a man and took on flesh. Though He was God, He took nothing for Himself—not even an appropriate birthplace. Paul expounds on this in Philippians when he writes,
“Though he [Jesus] was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:5-8).
The birth of Christ was historic, messianic, and humble. Just as God has been in control of this world since the beginning, God was in control of the circumstances surrounding His birth. The entrance of sin in the world didn’t throw off God’s plan of salvation – His plan to eradicate sin happened through the entrance of Jesus in the world. Rome’s crucifixion of Jesus didn’t throw off God’s plan of salvation – God’s plan of salvation in Jesus started with a decree issued from Rome. Having no royal place to be born didn’t thwart God’s plan of salvation – He was laid in a borrowed manger at His birth, and He was laid in a borrowed tomb at His death. In God’s sovereign plan, there was a time for Jesus to be born and there was a time for Jesus to die.
God came to earth that wonderful Christmas night so that He would grow up, live the perfect life, and die in our place on a cross, satisfying God’s wrath against us because sin. Then he would raise from the dead on the third day, and anyone who trusts in Him can be saved and have eternal life. Let us celebrate this historic, messianic, and humble Jesus this day. Let everything today be a Christ-celebration.
“Rethinking Santa,” article by Tony Reinke on December 13, 2013; accessed December 24, 2016. http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/rethinking-santa
From the Desk
March 7, 2015
Marriage is among the most weighty, yet heart-warming teachings in the Bible. Many people do not perceive it to be this way, but marriage presents theological truths in ways that nothing else can. And despite the attempts in our culture today to redefine marriage, God has established the standards for marriage, with its many purposes. From these purposes, it can be easily seen that any attempt to redefine marriage by any other standard will fail and cannot legitimately be called marriage. Since God created and ordained marriage, we are not the determiners of what is right and wrong in marriage—God is. So then, among these purposes for marriage revealed in the Scriptures are:
One of the most important purposes for marriage is procreation, that is, populating the earth. God says in Genesis 1:28, “And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth . . .” Necessary for populating the earth is a man’s seed and a woman’s womb. This is because God created man and woman to complement each other in every way, and through sexual intercourse, children are borne to men and women (Psalm 127:3-5). This is one of the foundational purposes of marriage.
When God finished His creation work, the author of Genesis says, “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Gen. 1:31a). Something interesting happens when God takes Adam and puts him in the garden to “work and keep it” (2:15). We read, “Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him” (v. 16). Notice that God saw that it was not good for man to be alone. So God made Eve from Adam’s rib and Adam liked what he saw! Adam said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man” (v. 23). Then, the author states that the very existence of man and woman mandates marriage: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (v. 24). So one of the purposes for marriage is companionship. God created man to be in companionship with woman. This is another way they complement each other. God’s purpose in marriage is lifelong companionship—being in union with another human who shares your cares and burdens, laughs and tears.
A third purpose for marriage is family. Many people do not take this into consideration, but family is God’s idea. Malachi 2:15 demonstrates this purpose, perhaps better than any other passage of Scripture. Malachi says, “Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring” (2:15a). One purpose of marriage is to create a stable home in which children can grow and thrive. Marriage should create an environment where a child can be taught, loved, disciplined, and grow in the faith. If family were not God’s plan, the church would lose its relevance and would likely not exist, for it is “the family of faith” (Gal. 6:10).
A fourth purpose for marriage is for sexual purity. In our world today, as in Bible times, sexual temptation runs rampant. The Bible says that the ultimate cure for sexual immorality is marriage: “But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband” (1 Cor. 7:2, emphasis mine). There are temptations all around us, and because of this (not being the only reason) men should seek wives, and women should seek husbands. Our sexual desires should be fulfilled by our spouse. This is because sex within the bounds of marriage is honorable and right in the Lord’s sight: “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous” (Heb. 13:4).
This is the grandest purpose of marriage. This is where the Bible’s teaching on marriage is at it’s highest peak. According to the Bible, the purpose of marriage is to represent Christ’s unbreakable, covenant love for His church, the Bride of Christ. Paul says in Ephesians, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (5:25). This statement is doubly informative. First, it tells us how husbands should love their wives. They should love their wives like Christ loved the church. Second, it tells us how Christ loved the church. Here, marital love informs Christ’s covenant love, and Christ’s covenant love informs marital love. That is, the way a husband loves his wife is how Christ loves the church, and the way Christ loves the church is how husbands should love their wives. This tells us that, just as a husband has an exclusive, unbreakable love for His wife, so Christ has an exclusive, unchanging, unbreakable love for His church. And this theological truth only works with a Bride and Groom (Rev. 19:7-8). Anything that seeks to redefine that standard for marriage is shattering the greatest picture of all: God’s own love for us in the gospel. That’s why marriage cannot be redefined.
Those are the fundamental purposes for marriage as revealed in the Scriptures. No legal document or equality-rally can thwart God’s purposes for His divine ordinance. He alone has authority to say what is right and wrong in marriage. We see from these what we should pursue in our own marriages, and if we are engaged, what we should prepare for.
The following message was delivered at Ohio Valley Baptist Church on March 16, 2014:
While studying this text, I have asked why would Paul need to pray here? He’s already prayed in 1:15-23, why would he need to pray again? I discovered why when I began to note the literary differences in 1:1-2:22 and 4:1-6:24. Ephesians 1-2 is all about who you are in Christ and what God is like in salvation—one of the most crucial types of knowledge about God that you can have. These chapters consist of information, doctrine, and statements.
Notice: Ephesians 1:3-14, you are: elected (1:4), holy and blameless before Him (1:4), predestined (1:5), adopted (1:5), redeemed (1:7), forgiven (1:7), sealed with the Holy Spirit (1:13). Didn’t find any commands there.
Ephesians 2:1-22, you are: no longer dead in trespasses and sins (2:1), no longer following the course of this world (2:2), no longer following Satan (2:2), no longer living in the passions of your flesh (2:3), no longer children of wrath (2:3), loved by God’s great love (2:4), given new spiritual life (2:5), seated with Christ in the heavenly places (2:6), saved by grace through faith (2:8), God’s workmanship—created in Christ Jesus for good works (2:10), brought near by the blood of Christ (2:13), united in one body through the cross (2:14-17), no longer strangers and aliens (2:19), fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God (2:19), a dwelling place for God by the Spirit (2:22).
Even in Ephesians 3, you are “fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus” (3:6).
But look at the difference in language in the latter chapters of Ephesians:
Ephesians 4:1-32—live in unity and live as a new person.
Ephesians 5:1-33—walk in love, wives submit to your husbands, husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church.
Ephesians 6:1-20—children obey your parents, slaves obey your masters, put on the whole armor of God.
So Ephesians 1-2 explains what you are, and Ephesians 4-6 tells you what to do. But just knowing isn’t enough—they always say knowing is half the battle. But it is only half. You need the strength and resources to carry out those commands—the power to live out Ephesians 4-6. That is exactly why Paul prays here—that his readers would have the strength to carry out those commands. Imagine that you as a Christian are an engine. Paul has described all the parts of that engine in the first two chapters, and in the latter chapters that engine is running and working and doing. Somewhere in between you have to get that engine started. So then, the prayer that follows is sort of like Paul saying, “Gentlemen, start your engines!”
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. 20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
INTRODUCTION TO THE PRAYER (3:14-15)
Verse 14 reads, “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father. . .” Remember 3:1 where Paul says the same thing? “For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus. . .” Remember that he interrupted his prayer and explained the nature of his apostleship and the different aspects of his ministry. Here in v. 14 is where he picks up again on that prayer. Again, like with the last time we studied this, he states “For this reason” which points back to the salvation and privileges that belong to his readers through Christ. Just read chapters 1-2. That’s the reason Paul “bows [his] knees before the Father.
The Father has been central to what Paul is saying here in Ephesians. Paul indicates here, like the rest of the Scriptures that every member of the Trinity is necessary for salvation. (You just read about it throughout this letter). In the Bible, God is always seen as acting as a tri-personal team. The Father plans your salvation, the Son carries out your salvation by dying on the cross, and the Spirit of God applies your salvation by giving you new spiritual life and sustaining you till the end.
So Paul prays here to the Father, “from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named” (v. 15). All those in heaven (angels and peoples alike) have their origin from the Father, and all living beings (families of people, families of insects, families of animals, etc. every family) have their origin from the Father.
It’s true that when someone or something is named, it provides a description of what that thing is or who that person is, but also for someone to give a “name” to something must mean that they possess some type of authority to do so. You name your children because your children belong to you and you have the right to name them. Same principle here. For God to give creatures a name isn’t simply to provide them with a label. But it signifies that God has authority over them and every right to give them names. All things depend on God for their existence.
DESCRIPTION OF THE PRAYER (3:16-19)
The reason Paul points to God’s authority here is because of what he is about to say in the description of his prayer. Paul is going to focus mainly on God’s power in the body of his prayer. Think about it: God’s authority points to His sovereignty and His sovereignty points to His power.
Paul’s First Prayer Request
So we will look at Paul’s first prayer request for God’s power in v. 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.”
First he says “that according to the riches of his glory” He may do this for you. Notice that Paul doesn’t say “out of his riches.” There’s a difference—a big difference. If God gives “out of his riches” then He would give a portion from the amount that He has. But if God gives “according to the riches of his glory” (like the Bible says He does) then He would give in some accordance with what He has. If you go to a rich man and say, “I need $500.” The rich man gives you $4. He gives out of his riches. If you go to that rich man and say, “I need $500” and he gives you $1000, that is giving according to the riches that he has.
God always gives in accordance with what He has. “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” (Eph. 1:7). “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).
And Paul prays here that God would give according to His riches, in accordance with what He has, that these Ephesians would be “strengthened with power through his Spirit in [their] inner being.”
Let’s break down this prayer:
Paul’s prayer: That they would be “strengthened with power.”
How it happens: through the Holy Spirit.
Where it happens: in your inner being.
The Inner Being—Strengthened Through the Spirit
It will not happen any other way—if out “inner beings” are to be strengthened, they will only be strengthened through the power of the Holy Spirit. And the only way to be strengthened by the Holy Spirit is to yield yourself to Him, and fill your mind and heart with the Bible—because the Bible is the Spirit’s thoughts on paper and we need to allow the Spirit to fill our mind with His thoughts and that only happens through considerable time with His Book.
The Holy Spirit can’t call to your mind any Scripture that you haven’t read before. What about when you are tempted? Do you know that the Scriptures say that God provides a way of rescue (1 Cor. 10:13)? What about when you are joyful? Do you know that the Scriptures say to delight yourself in the Lord (Psalm 37:4)? What about when you are sorrowful? Do you know that the Scriptures say to “lift up your soul to the LORD (Psalm 25:1)? If you aren’t filling your mind with the book that the Holy Spirit inspired, then He cannot bring these passages to your mind when you are faced with situations that would compromise your fellowship with God.
You will not remain in a neutral state—there will be something that will take place of the thoughts of God if the thoughts of God (in the Bible) are not filling your mind! We need to write these things on the tablets of our hearts (Deut. 11:18), and meditate on these things day and night (Psalm 1:2) so that we can think the thoughts of God in our inner beings, and the Spirit can dominate our thought pattern.
If you wonder why your always thinking about things that you shouldn’t be thinking, then you need to back up a little and start immersing yourself in the Word of God. Because, when you are yielding yourself to the Spirit of God, being filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18), allowing Him to control your mind, actions, walk, and influence everything about you—then you will be strengthened in the “inner being,” that is the inside part of you. That’s what Satan is targeting when you are tempted. That’s what sin affects when you are weak. And it’s a daily Christian struggle. Paul expresses this in Romans 7. He says that he wants to do right, but he finds himself always doing what he doesn’t want to do: “21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members” (Rom. 7:21-23).
But where does Paul find the solution? “For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:2). We need to pray as Paul did here, that God would strengthen us with power through His Spirit in our inner being. And we need to yield ourselves to the Spirit of God with each passing moment.
Paul’s Second Prayer Request
Paul bows his knees before the Father (v. 14) and prays first that his readers would be strengthened with power in their inner beings through the Spirit (v. 16) Now we read his second prayer request: “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” (v. 17a).
Paul prays “so that” Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. That makes all the difference because in order for Christ to dwell in their hearts through faith, something previous would need to have taken place—that is, being strengthened in the inner man through the power of the Holy Spirit. If you’re not strengthened with power through the Holy Spirit, then Christ cannot dwell in your heart through faith. That’s what Paul is saying here.
I want us to look for a moment at the word “dwell” here. I’m going to give you a Bible study tool for free tonight. 1) The NT was penned in Greek. That was the language used at that time. 2) The Greek language is complex. Many of the characters in Greek consist of what looks like our letter X and O (Maybe God was writing a love letter when He inspired the New Testament). 3) Often times the same English word is used for different Greek words. John 21 is a prime example. Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” three times. The first two times He asks Peter, the word love is agapao which means a “God-like love.” In other words, “Do you love me the way I love you?” The third time, the word love is phileo, which means “to appreciate.” And we read that Peter wept because Jesus asked him that the third time.
Well, the Greek word for “dwell” here is katoikeo. It’s more complex than meets the eye. Split that term in half and katoi means to dwell or to reside in. And keo means to be at home—or to be comfortable in a home. Put those two terms together and you have “to dwell comfortably in a home.” Now read it that way: “So that Christ may ‘dwell comfortably in your hearts’ through faith. . .” Makes a huge difference.
Your Heart—Christ’s Home
This is Paul’s prayer that Christ may dwell comfortably in their hearts but not before they are strengthened with power through the Spirit. Would you say that Christ is not comfortable in the hearts of His people sometimes? Of course. I know that to be true in my case. Often times, in the hearts of His people, Christ goes where He would never choose to go. And listen to me, Christ can’t settle down and be at home in our hearts because He’s always up cleaning the place up all the time because it’s such a mess!
But if our “inner beings” are being strengthened with power through the Spirit and we are allowing God to do with us as He pleases and we are giving Him all the room He needs to work in our lives, and we are opening up every door to Him, then Christ will finally be able to settle down and be at home in our hearts. But He must have full access to every part of your life.
So you get saved and Christ comes to dwell in your heart (now picture your heart like a house as the Greek here would imply). He goes into the library—the control room where all the thoughts are stored. Jesus says, “Alright we’ve got to get these books out of here—too many bad ideas here and lustful thoughts and such. We’re going to burn up these books, and replace them with My Book.” You say alright, Jesus you’re right. He goes into the living room—where you have fellowship. That’s where you leave Jesus when you neglect Him. Jesus says, “Hey you maybe want to sit down and spend some time together? We need to talk.” You say alright Jesus, you’re right. He goes into the dining room—that’s where your appetites are. He says, “Oh I see, this is what you hunger for—pride, prestige, lust, money. . .” Jesus about has the place cleaned up when this terrible odor comes from inside your closet. Because the cleaner the house, the worse it smells. He says, “Hey what’s in that closet?” You say, “Really Jesus? I’ve given you everything, that’s my only closet! You can’t want that—its’ 2×4 at the most!” You see that’s the room in your life where you keep thing from God. You think they’re secrets—but God knows them anyway. These are the things you really don’t want to reveal to God.
That’s the way Paul is relating here: Christ can’t settle down and be at home in your life until the garbage is cleaned out of it, and that will only happen when the Spirit of God has strengthened you in the inner man to give you victory over sin. We must give God access to all the rooms of our life if Christ is to settle down and be at home in our lives. The Spirit of God will do the cleaning—that’s what God does after you’re saved right? He cleans you up. Conversion is only the beginning.
Where in your life is the Spirit of God stifled or hindered? What areas in your life do you need to open up to the Spirit of God?
Paul’s Third Prayer Request
Paul has prayed that the Ephesians would be “strengthened in the inner man through the power of the Holy Spirit,” and he has prayed that Christ would be able to be comfortably at home in the hearts of these Ephesian believers. And in the latter part of v. 17 he says “that you, being rooted and grounded in love.” Paul is assuming that they are already “rooted and grounded in love.” Like it’s something that has already happened because Christ is at home in their hearts. Let’s read this text where Paul names his third prayer request: “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. . .” (vv. 17-19)
Knowing the Surpassing Love of Christ
Here we have Paul’s third prayer request: that they may know the love of Christ. Paul prays that they may have strength to comprehend what is the “breadth and length and height and depth” of the love of Christ. That’s a wordy phrase there. Paul simply is pointing to the fact that the love of Christ is far-reaching. He is evoking a sense of immensity and greatness of the love of Christ. And even every type of measurement—like is named here, cannot comprehend the love of Christ.
You know, people say, “I wish I had more love for somebody. I wish I had more love for the Lord. I wish I loved more the things of God and hated the things of the world. I wish my love was properly directed.” It’s just not that simple, people. It’s not enough to have a desire to do that. You need strength for that. Back up! Is Christ really at home in your life? He isn’t unless you’ve been strengthened by His Spirit in the inner man. If you don’t love, Christ is not at home in your life because you are not strong in the inner man, because you are not yielded to the filling of the Holy Spirit. Start at the beginning, and love will be the byproduct.
In v. 19, the Greek for “know” here, is kata lombono. Which means to “seize and make your own.” They always say that you will never know love until you experience love. That’s the idea here. You’ll be able to seize the very love of Christ and make it your own. You will know the “love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.”
You ever see two young people in love? Man everything is just bliss. They’re holding hands, love is just everything—and that’s true. Love is everything when you experience love. Now if human love can do that, imagine what divine love would look like in our lives.
The Fullness of God
Paul has prayed here that the Ephesians would 1) Be strengthened with power through the Spirit in the inner man, 2) Have Christ at home in their hearts, 3) Comprehend the “love of Christ” that surpasses knowledge. Now all that must take place for the end of v. 19 to make any sense. All this must happen for you to be “filled with all the fullness of God” (v. 19b).
This doesn’t mean that you become God or God becomes you. It just means that God’s very essence flows through you and permeates your very being. You see, because if the Spirit is strengthening your inner being, Christ is at home in your heart and He’s not having to be up cleaning it up all the time, and you are really grasping and experiencing the love of Christ in your life—then God can do whatever He wants through you and you will be filled with all the fullness of God!
That’s the only way that vv. 20-21 make any sense. Often times people favorite these verses because they promise that God is able—but there is more to this text than just “God is able.” Now, God is able. God is able to do far more. Far more abundantly. Far more abundantly that all that we ask or think according to this passage of Scripture.
Now often times we underestimate the fact that God is able. That’s bad enough. We underestimate God and think He isn’t hearing our prayers—when we know that He tells us “call to me and I will answer you and show you great and mighty things” (Jer. 33:3). We underestimate God and think that He doesn’t have forgiveness for our many sins—when we know He says, “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool” (Isaiah 1:18). We underestimate God and think that He isn’t sovereign over our lives and circumstances—when we know that He says, “[He] works all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28).
But you know what is absolutely bone-chilling for me? When God asks us a question. When God asks the questions in the Bible, something really stirs in me. When we underestimate God, He asks, “Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for me?” (Jeremiah 32:37).
God is Able—Through Us
Now it’s bad enough that we underestimate God’s power as it is . . .but read the rest of this verse . . . “according to the power at work within us.” The Bible doesn’t just say here that God is able—it says that God is able through us. If we underestimate God’s power as it is, how much more will we underestimate His power through us?
That power will not be at work within you—and God will not be free to do what He wants through you until you have first experienced what Paul has talked about above:
1) Be strengthened with power through the Spirit in the inner man,
2) Have Christ at home in their hearts
3) Comprehend the “love of Christ” that surpasses knowledge.
THE DOXOLOGY (3:20-21)
So you’ve got all these things—and God is at work in your life “according to the power at work within you.” You’re a real spiritual big-shot. It’s all going well for you.
But Paul says something in the end of this prayer that keeps you from being prideful: “to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations forever and ever” (v. 21). Who gets the glory? Man gets it? No. God gets it. The purpose of God in salvation is to give you Himself—in turn He gets the glory. You enjoy God, He gets glorified—God’s passion if for His glory.
Paul writes to these Ephesians—that’s great if all these things happen for you—just remember that God gets the glory in both the church and in Christ Jesus.
And this will happen for “all generations forever and ever.”
Are we praying this prayer? Are we allowing the Spirit to strengthen us in our inner being? Are we allowing Christ to settle down and be at home in our lives? Are we allowing God to give us the strength to comprehend His love? Are we being filled with all the fullness of God?
You’ve Got Questions: Can I Know God?
The Bible teaches that God is knowable. While God can never be exhaustively understood, He can be known truly, personally, and sufficiently. God is personal, has definite characteristics, and has personally revealed Himself so that He can be truly known. The multiplication of grace and peace in our lives is dependent on knowing God (2 Peter 1:2-3), and this knowledge provides sufficient resources for life and for becoming the people God wants us to be.
Knowledge of God in Christ should be our greatest delight (Jeremiah 9:23-24; 1 Cor. 2:2; Gal. 6:14). It is the basis of attaining eternal life (John 17:3); it is at the heart of life in the new covenant (Heb. 8:11-12); it was Paul’s primary goal (Phil. 3:10); and it leads to godly love (1 John 4:7-8). God will never be known absolutely, but we can know things about Him that are absolutely true, so much that we can be willing to live and die for those beliefs. God has provided knowledge of Himself that is personal, relational, and sufficient for fruitful, faithful, godly living. No one will ever be able to say he lacked the necessary revelation to know God and to start living as God intends.
What are the implications of the knowability of God? Well, God’s personal and sufficient revelation of Himself should foster solid conviction among believers. We need not to live in ambiguity and uncertainty about who God is and what He demands of His creatures. This increasing influence of Eastern religions on the West, certain postmodern views of truth, and religious pluralism all emphasize God’s incomprehensibility so much that He is eventually made to seem unknowable. It then becomes impossible to say anything definitively true or false about Him, and people then think that the only heresy is claiming that there is heresy at all! On the contrary, because of His gracious revelation and illumination, God can indeed be known. God’s knowability should lead to eager, diligent, devoted study of God’s Word so we can understand Him as He has revealed Himself and avoid any false view of God that will dishonor Him. We should never grow apathetic in seeking to know God because we are in fact able and equipped to know Him and please Him with our lives.