Strengthened by Christ

Strengthened by Christ

Home Church Service 10/23/2021

These sermons began as devotionals for my family as we met during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. We have now begun to include our friends and the devotional has now become a full sermon. We are also recording our service and will begin posting those videos in the near future.

When my family and I meet for worship, we like to discuss what we are learning, in the moment. Sometimes that happens right after the message and at other times we will address something during the message. This message was designed to be interactive, discussing what we are learning right after I have addressed each point of the message. You will find the questions at the end of each section. In most formats they will appear in bold. Use these questions as a guide to meditate on the points Paul is making. Allow the Holy Spirit to search your heart and above all, be honest with yourself and the Holy Spirit. After all, He knows any way!

Therefore I ask you not to lose heart at my tribulations on your behalf, for they are your glory. 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. Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.   

                                                                         Ephesians 3:13–21 (NASB95)

We have come to the final message on the Position of the Christ follower. The first five messages have been slowly building to this final message, preparing us for the vast love of Christ and the strength we need to live out our lives in today’s world. Thus far we have been called, sealed, filled, made alive and given boldness in and with Christ Jesus.

Our message today provides the answer for all of what has come before this message. Our calling, sealing, filling, being made alive and given boldness all serve a purpose in the life of the Christ follower and today we learn that none of it would matter without being Strengthened by Christ.

Paul does not lose heart in tribulation for he is being Strengthened by Christ, grounded in love with all the saints, to know His love which goes beyond knowledge, filled up to the glory of God. He can do far more abundantly beyond what Paul can ask for or think of so that He receives glory from the church and Christ Jesus forever and ever.

Regardless of our circumstances, we never give up for we are Strengthened by Christ through faith and love. We are bound with other Christ followers to know His unknowable love, filled by the Father, the One who is able to give more than we can ask for or think of, always for His glory through the church and His Son, Christ Jesus.

In this message we seek to answer the question, “What is the importance of being Strengthened by Christ?”

We are Strengthened by Christ through faith and love to the fullness of the Father.

1). As Christ followers we are Strengthened by Christ to face every circumstance that comes upon us.

The Spirit brings power to our inner being that Christ may live in our hearts.

We begin this final message on the Position of the Christ follower with a look back. The words “Therefore” and “For this reason” ties in what we have previously learned that we are called, sealed, filled, made alive and have been given boldness in and with Christ. Paul lays these truths before us by causing us to look back. Paul has been given the ministry of enlightening the Gentiles to the mystery, these are the truths Paul lays before them. In our passage the ministry of Paul has led to suffering – in particular, suffering for the Gentiles.

In Paul’s mind this suffering is an integral part of his ministry, this is not something new or a surprise to Paul, for he had been forewarned by Christ on the road to Damascus. Keeping in context with our passage, Paul says his suffering is “on your behalf,” that is, for the Gentiles and, in fact, “they are your glory” – a glory in which all Christ followers participate now and fully at the return of Christ. Paul had made it clear that suffering is a prelude to glory and in some cases can lead to salvation and life for others.

The same holds true for the Christ follower today. It is now WE who have been given the ministry of revealing the gospel message to others. Elsewhere Paul calls this the ministry of reconciliation. Whatever we choose to call it, our ministry is to tell others of the truths found in the gospel message. Once again, this need be nothing more than telling your story in Christ, including the good times and the troubled times. Jesus tells His disciples they will find trouble in this world. Jesus gives this warning, along with several others, in His most intimate time with His disciples, John 13-17. Jesus has given us ample warning that we will suffer in this world.

The prayer of Paul in verses 15-19 is one long sentence in the Greek. There are two petitions in this prayer, the first for strength and the second for knowledge of the love of Christ. We are going to concern ourselves with the first petition – to be strengthened in the inner man or person. Paul’s petition for his readers, then and now, is that God may strengthen them inwardly, by the power of His Spirit. Notice that Paul specifically says “according to the riches of His glory” – meaning the resources to fulfill this request are limitless! The glory here is God’s radiance or splendor which conveys the perfect character of God and His activities. God’s glory is often conjoined with His power and paralleled by His goodness. The One to whom this prayer is directed gives richly and generously!

The place where this strengthening is to occur is the Christ follower’s inner man or inner person. This is the focal point – the very center of a person’s life – where the Spirit does this strengthening and renewing work. It is the Christ follower’s inner person that is in need of empowering and for daily renewal, given our struggle against sin and the evil forces at work in this world. This is Paul’s referral to the outer person of the Christ follower wasting away while the inner person is being renewed each day.

Paul explains his request by saying, “that Christ may dwell within your hearts.” Paul equates “in your hearts” with the “inner man” or “inner person, while the dwelling of Christ more fully explains the strengthening of the Spirit. The Greek word used by Paul is a strong word that indicates a permanent indwelling rather than a temporary home. This indwelling of Christ happens through faith, that is, as we trust Christ to make our hearts His home. The implication, the greater the empowerment of the Spirit, the greater the transformation into Christlikeness.

Now, put all of this into context with all that we have heard form Jesus – abide in My love; you in Me and Me in you; you are the branches, and I am the vine and apart from Me you can do nothing – and we can understand the strengthening we are given for our inner person. To abide in the love of Christ and not the lies of the enemy is a tremendous battle – one that calls for daily strength and renewal. To remain in Christ and Christ in me calls for a focus fully on Christ. As a branch we must remain attached to the vine or risk certain death, thus making it clear we can do NOTHING apart from Christ – our strength!

Questions for discussion/reflection:

How can your suffering help others have life and come to salvation?

How have you felt God’s unlimited power in your life this week?

Where did you experience God’s power and goodness this week?

We are Strengthened by Christ through faith and love to the fullness of the Father.

2). As Christ followers we are Strengthened by Christ to understand the love of Christ which goes beyond knowledge.

There is nothing that compares to the vast love of Christ shared by all Christ followers.

The second petition that Paul makes is that we might know the love of Christ. Notice here that Paul notes we are “being rooted and grounded in love.” Paul uses two metaphors to help us picture the love he speaks of, one botanical and the other architectural. As Christ followers who are empowered by the Spirit, we are to have deep roots and firm foundations. These terms bring to mind, first, a well rooted tree and secondly, a house built on a firm foundation. Love is the soil in which the Christ follower’s life is to be rooted and love is the foundation on which the Christ follower’s life is to be built.

This is possible because of the strengthening of the inner person of the Christ follower by the Spirit and the indwelling of Christ living in the heart of the Christ follower. It is the love of God in Christ that enables the Christ follower to love others, thus those who have been and are being strengthened by the Spirit and have Christ living in their hearts have lives rooted and grounded in love. We need deep roots and firm foundations to know the love of Christ – a love that us unknowable.  

Paul adds a second element here, to comprehend “the breadth and length and height and depth…” Is Paul talking about the love of Christ here? Or perhaps some other characteristic of God? Notice there is an “and” following depth – “and the love of Christ” almost as if the love of Christ is in addition to the four dimensions. Most commentators warn us not to over analyze or over interpret these dimensions. Still others say it is safe to say the love of Christ is broad enough to encompass all people, long enough to last through eternity, deep enough to reach the most vile of sinners and high enough to exalt Him in heaven.

But couldn’t we say that about everything we have seen thus far in Ephesians? Couldn’t we say that about the power of God? The extraordinary power that raised Jesus from the dead and now works in us seems to fit as something so vast as Paul expresses! What about the mystery of salvation? The death of Christ on the cross bringing peace between a holy God and sinful people certainly fits in the category of vastness. What about the manifold wisdom of God? The multi-colored wisdom that brought the into existence the multi-colored, multiracial church in a very public demonstration is certainly an act of vastness!

Perhaps it is all four elements – the power of God, the mystery of salvation, the manifold wisdom of God and love the love of Christ! Try putting that in a box and shoving it into a corner on some shelf! The vastness of those four elements is certainly explained, reflected and revealed by the vastness of the created order – are they not?! If we are to know the unknowable love it is going to take all of the saints. It is going to take all of God’s people to know all of God’s love. All of us together, Jews and Gentiles; black, white, red and yellow; old and young and all of our backgrounds and experiences.

Follow me on this now – all of us in this room and all of those who may be reading this message later, have all experienced the love of Christ in a different way. Even our combined experiences will only “scratch the surface” of the vast love of Christ. We would need to know every Christ follower, including their backgrounds and experiences, throughout history to have some sort of picture of the vast love of Christ – and even then, it wouldn’t be a complete picture or fill the vastness that Paul is picturing here. We need deep roots and firm foundations to know the love of Christ – a love that is unknowable.

As Christ followers we are to be empowered to know the love of Christ – a love which surpasses knowledge. We need the power of God Almighty to comprehend the vastness of this love, this needs to be more than a mental exercise – this must be a personal knowledge. We need to be empowered to experience this love in our own experience. As Christ followers who are being strengthened by the Spirit, as Christ dwells in our hearts through faith, we now know in a more personal way the vastness of the love of Christ.

Questions for discussion/reflection:

How did you experience being strengthened by the Spirit this week?

How did you experience the vastness of the love of Christ this week?

How do the experiences of other Christ followers help us experience or picture the vastness of the love of Christ?

In the first five messages of this portion of Ephesians we have learned that we are called, sealed, filled, made alive and given boldness. Each massage built upon the one before bringing us to the final message of this part of Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus.

The final message of this section of the letter serves to provide the answer for all that has come before. We can do nothing without being Strengthened by Christ, even our best efforts will fall far short of our desired outcome.

So, how does all of this fit into our faith walk? How do we live this out as Christ followers? The five previous messages have all been building towards this final message on the Position of the Christ follower. First, remember to continue revealing the gospel message. In today’s world this takes a boldness not of this world to share your story in Christ. The boldness we need comes from the confidence in the One who has called, sealed, made us alive and fills us. We are not filled with cockiness or arrogance but a confidence that comes from Jesus alone.

Secondly, and this is a little tougher, continue to live in the strength of Jesus. So many times, we try to do things in our own strength, meaning that we try to do things our way, in ways that are known to us and require great effort on our part. If we are honest with ourselves and really stop to think about this, we will find that even our best efforts tend to fall far short of our desired outcome. Remember the context that Jesus gives us. We are but branches dependent upon the vine to keep us alive. He will provide all we need if we remain in Him, relying on His strength. Apart from Jesus we can do nothing.

Thirdly, remember to tend your roots and maintain your foundation. My wife and I tried our hand at tomatoes this year. We learned a lot about strong roots. Tomato plants are very sensitive to overwatering or underwatering. We needed to learn when and how much to water, and that is not as easy as it sounds, especially when you have a rainy spring! Once we figured out what our plants needed, they began to produce fruit – and plenty at that! We have gotten well over one hundred tomatoes from our plants this year! The same is true for the Christ follower. We need to feed our roots so they can grow strong and deep.

Feed your roots by washing them with the living water of the word. Give them plenty of sunshine through meditating on the word and give them the power to grow by spending ample time in prayer with your heavenly Father. Then maintain your foundation. Any home that is built is only as solid as the foundation it is built upon. Is it bedrock or shifting sand? Did the builder pay attention to the details of pouring a proper foundation? You too must maintain your foundation. Is it built on the solid rock of faith in Christ Jesus? Or do you have a misplaced faith built on a mixture of faith in Jesus and worldly standards? Only faith in Christ will stand when the shaking begins. We need deep roots and firm foundations to understand the vast love of Christ.

Finally, remember we have only just “scratched the surface” of the vast love of Christ. Even with all the Christ followers we know or have met, each having their own experiences with the love of Christ, we only have a small sampling of just how vast His love truly is. His love is broad enough to include all people, long enough to last through eternity and beyond, deep enough to reach the most vile of sinners, and high enough to exalt the risen Christ in heaven. Even still we will never know the vastness of the love of Christ until He returns to claim us as His own.

We do all things for the glory of God through Christ our Lord.

Amen and amen.

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