EPHESIANS 3:1, 14-21
January 19-21, 2013
Second Sunday after Epiphany
Pastor Tim Smith
3 For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles— 14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. 20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (NIV)
The Bible talks about several different unions between God and his creation. There is a union between God and creation—the Concurrent Union—in which, as Paul says, “all things hold together” (Col. 1:17). There is a union through which God preserves and cares for the world, as Paul also says: “God richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment” (1 Tim. 6:17). There is a unique union of God and man in Jesus Christ by which our Savior was both under the law and the lawgiver so that he could save us from our sins (Gal. 4:4-5). There is also a sacramental union of Christ’s body and blood with the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 10:16). But here we learn about another kind of union altogether. It is the union of God, and here in particular, Jesus Christ, with each of us who believe in him.
Last week, Pastor Sutton showed us that “God looks at the heart.” Today, the Apostle Paul shows us that God also dwells in our hearts, and although we often think—correctly—of the Holy Spirit as the one who dwells in our hearts—and he does that beginning at our baptism—Paul’s point before us in Ephesians 3 is that Jesus Christ himself also dwells in our hearts. And it’s as we contemplate this truth that we meditate on this theme: HOW WIDE AND LONG AND HIGH AND DEEP IS THE LOVE OF CHRIST.
How WIDE is the love of Christ! – Paul reminds us in verse 1 that the work of Jesus includes the Gentiles. It was not limited to the Jews. This came as a surprise to people who were used to the idea of gods and devils being localized, so that if you had trouble with your luck or your fields or your finances, you might just move to a new place, and worship the local gods, and find better fortune. Even the Greeks thought that the Jewish God was for the Jews, and the Jews fell into thinking that the Jewish God was for them alone. But Paul points to one horizon with one hand, and to another horizon with the other hand, and he visually spreads out the hands of Christ on the cross—these are the people for whom Christ died. Not just a few. Not just those who love him. Not even just those who know him. No—Christ died for all. That’s how wide is the love of Christ.
How LONG is the love of Christ! – Paul describes the length of Christ’s love when he says this: “For this very reason I was shown mercy, so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who believe on him and receive eternal life.” (1 Tim. 1:16). This is the love that Paul says “Surpasses knowledge.” This is the love that is patient with the sinner, patient with you, and you don’t know why. All you know is that, if God were not patient with you, you don’t know what you would do. You would be lost. If God embraced his anger over your sin, if God lost his temper with you and let go, how much more terrifying would that be than anything you can imagine? This of course is what it would be like to be in hell, where God’s anger over sin is never tempered by patience, never quenched by atonement, never satisfied that it has come to an end—God’s anger in hell lets God’s wrath fly at maximum velocity at the condemned, at full force, full tilt, and does not let up.
When you are caught in a bitter winter wind you have the hope that soon you will be in your car, in your house, or at your destination soon, where the wind can’t get, and where it’s warm and quiet and comfortable. The love of Christ has pulled us from the full vent of the wrath of God and brought us not into the eye of the storm, with storm and more storm all around, but into the love of God where the storm of his wrath will never blow.
The love of Christ has rescued us, so that we are, as Paul says, “Filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Filled to the top—like when you hold a glass of water under the sink and let the faucet keep filling and filling and filling. Grace, or as the Apostle John says, “Grace upon grace,” more grace after we’re filled with grace, keeps on filling us up, without danger of waste, and without end, because God’s grace never stops coming. It lifts us out of our sinfulness, and lifts us up. How high?
How HIGH is the love of Christ! – Jesus Christ dwells in us. Listen to Paul’s words again: “I pray that he may strengthen you with power…so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” That’s not just a way of saying that Paul hopes that you have Christ in your heart the way that you keep the memory of your loved ones in your heart—No, this dwelling of Christ in your heart is how you are “Filled to the measure—filled to the top—of all the fullness of God.”
Our Savior lifts us up and carries us to the Father in heaven. In the Old Testament, the High Priest could only come before God in the Holy of Holies through the blood of sacrificed animals, through the ceremony of the scapegoat and the sprinkling of the blood of the goat that didn’t escape, and with that blood covering his sins, the one man on that one day under that one condition could enter for that one moment a year. But Christ’s blood covers us all, forever. We can enter into the presence of God the Father for eternity because our sins have been covered by the blood of the Son of God, and no other sacrifice will ever be required. You know the Taylor Swift song: Say the words with me and say them to your sins through Christ’s red blood: “We are never ever ever getting back together.”
How DEEP is the love of Christ! – The last verses of our text are also the last verses of this chapter and the hinge on which this letter to the Ephesians turns. Christ “is able to do immeasurably more that all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.” What are your fears? What are your doubts? What are your questions? The answer is in Christ. Jesus Christ penetrates our inner selves, dwells in us, and he knows our thoughts and our misunderstandings, our misgivings and our mistakes.
Do you know a parent—maybe you yourself are one—a parent of a child with a disability, or a birth defect, a syndrome or a spectrum or a deficit or some other disorder—there is no parent of such a child who doesn’t love and cherish that child.
You and I, all of us, are God’s children, and every one of us is a child with special needs. We have our unique sins, our private or personal or public temptations and missteps. And yet, our Father in heaven loves us. That’s why Paul has made these points. Before he goes on to the Ephesians about the way they should show their love for God, their lives of Sanctification, their lives of saying “thank you” to God with their words, and actions and reactions and even their thoughts—he wanted them to know just how deeply God’s love goes.
They say—they don’t know for sure—that at the center of our earth there is a heart or a core of superhot iron-nickel alloy, as hot as the surface of the sun. If we were able to tunnel down into the infinite heart of God we would still find the same love, burning hotter and hotter for us, and never fading. It is the love of God, the love of Christ which dwells in us.
Imagine for a moment that you are adrift at sea in a small lifeboat. You might have a paddle or even a rudder, but these things don’t accomplish much against the vast rolling waves of the sea, which have been carrying you along for many days without hope. Then another boat appears and comes right alongside—in your thirst and delirium, you’re too exhausted even to grab hold, but the boat tosses a line and a sailor even ties your lifeboat so that now you’re being towed to safety. There is now a tie, a connection, a union between the boats. You realize that you are being taken to where the other ship is headed. You are not in command, but you are being saved. You also realize that you’re main task is to see to it that you don’t untie that line. Don’t cut it. Don’t let it go. Try even not to trip over it. Cherish that line, that connection; relish the knot that has connected you to safety. If you cast off again, you will be lost.
This is something like the mystical union between God and us. He has rescued us, and we are now connected to him. In fact, he dwells within us. We are no longer heading wherever we wanted to go in our sinful state. And we shouldn’t care. That was what got us lost in the first place—let it go. But now God himself is steering the boat, and we go where his will drive us. We must never imagine that in doing so we somehow have ourselves become divine, and equally we are compelled never to cast off the ties that bind God to our hearts, the bonds of faith, of God’s love and of his forgiveness. So we turn as he turns us, we yearn for those things for which he yearns. We strive to be better Christians, better citizens, better parents, better spouses, better people, better Christians, precisely because Christ himself is here. His presence makes the devil cringe and cower, and makes us rejoice and revel in his love. He lives in us, and we live in him.
How wide and long and high and deep is Christ’s love. Love for us, love for you.
“Know this love that surpasses knowledge,
that you may be filled to the top
of all the fullness of God.” Amen.