Proverbs 29:1-18, Ephesians 3:14-21
October 8, 2006
We return this morning to these glorious words of Ephesians 3. We read them a few weeks ago when I was concentrating on the first part of the Chapter. Now I want us to focus on the end. This is a wonderful conclusion to Paul’s thoughts that he had been sharing with them about his own amazing call to preach the gospel. It was amazing to him because he had been the Church’s greatest persecutor!
So now he’s drawing those thoughts to a conclusion with this “written prayer” which begins in verse 14. “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father… that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with might through his spirit in the inner man, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have the power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of God which surpasses knowledge, that you be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:14-19)
That’s a wonderful prayer. It’s beautifully written, and it’s full of things that all of us as God’s people should hope and pray for. You’ve heard me say these things over the past year. You’ve heard me quote John Eldredge, who said, “Too many people have substituted ‘knowing the right things’ for ‘knowing God’.” Well that’s what Paul describes here. Knowing God fully. Being strengthened by God. Knowing the love of God. And being filled with all the fullness of God. That’s what God’s people need! They are the center of the life of faith. If we leave here with those things, we will be the people God calls us to be.
Then he gives this final thought. And this almost reads like a benediction. But what it really is is a description of the results of that life lived knowing the fullness of God – the way he just described. “Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to do far more abundantly than all that we can ask or think, to him be glory…” God living in us, God’s power in us is able to do far more than we ever expect!
That’s what I want us to be thinking about today. The power within us. And notice, in contrast to some of the worldly philosophers, I’m not talking about “the inner power of us.” You can go out and find all kinds of help for that these days. What Paul is talking about here is not our power within us, but the power of God within us. He’s talking about “being strengthened with might through [God’s] Spirit in our inner selves.” He’s talking about “Christ dwelling in our hearts…” That is where our power within comes from!
Perhaps you remember that passage from the book of Zechariah. That’s one of the “Minor Prophets.” It comes between Haggai and Malachi. There in the fourth chapter, the word of the Lord came to Zerubbabel, (one of the leaders of the people) saying, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, says the Lord of hosts.” (Zechariah 4:6) It’s by the power of God’s Spirit. That’s where whe power comes from. And when we seek God’s power within us, that power is not limited to what we can ask or think. It is much more abundant than that.
The worldly philosophers will promise that by building up the your inner power, you can reach your highest potential. Paul promises us that we can reach a much higher potential than that! By seeking God’s spirit and God’s power within us, we can reach God’s potential! And God’s potential is much higher than ours. Its far more abundant than we can ever ask or think!
That’s great. But let me warn you of one thing we do have the power to do. And this seems almost ironic. We have the power to limit God’s spirit and God’s power within us. God doesn’t force himself on us. By our attitude we can quench God’s spirit within us. And notice, that doesn’t limit God’s power! It only limits our ability to have that power working within us! I hope you see the difference.
Whenever we say – either by our words or our attitudes – “Oh, God can’t do great things in me,” guess what? He can’t. Even Jesus was limited by that kind of attitude. Remember when he was in his own town, and they questioned his power and authority, because he was “someone they knew.” There we’re told, “He could do no mighty works among them because of their unbelief.” (Matthew 13:58) If it can happen to Jesus, it can happen to us!
Instead, we need to look to God’s power within us. And we need to practice being open to, and not limiting, that power. We need to seek to be in that spiritual state where we can feel God’s touch on us. We need to open ourselves to God to the point where he can use us, and where he can do those abundant things in us! Friends, that doesn’t happen automatically! It takes intentional choice on our part. It takes time. It takes effort. It takes discipline. And of course, “discipline” is at the heart of the word “disciple.”
Well, maybe by now you’ve been wondering what the Proverbs passage has to do with any of this. Sure, it sounds great. It has a lot of good proverbial wisdom in it. And there are times on Sunday mornings when the Old Testament readings don’t have much to do with the New Testament reading, or the subject at hand. And that’s fine. Maybe you think this is one of those times.
Well, as you know by now, it’s not. In fact, this time I actually started with the Old Testament reading. Because contained in that reading is a verse I first heard a long time ago. As I thought about it, and as I read Ephesians with that verse in mind, it strengthened in my mind this idea of the power of God within us.
The verse in question is verse 18. Listen to it again. “Where there is no prophecy, the people cast off restraint.” Now, that sounds good, but what does it mean? Another way of saying that would be, “Where there is no personal interaction with God speaking through and to the people…” That’s what prophecy is. “Where there is no personal interaction with God, the people cast off restraint.” That is to say, “They throw away the personal rules of governance of their lives.”
That’s a wise observation. People need personal rules to govern their lives. Everybody needs some kind of inner restraint. Everybody needs a personal ethic, a moral code by which they run their lives. And despite the popular notion, we are not free to do anything we want in this country.
This proverb tells us that without the spiritual connection and interaction with God, people throw off those restraints. Then we have a world that has pushed God away, and it wonders why such things as decency and ethics and morality have gone away, too!
Well, that’s a good thought. However, that’s not the way I originally heard this verse. Because I heard it first in the King James Version of the Bible. And the meaning in that version makes this more powerful, and more spiritual. Listen to what it says. “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18 KJV)
That sounds so different. It’s really not, though. “Where there is no vision…” That doesn’t mean vision as in our ability to see. It doesn’t mean just vision, but visualization. It means the ability to see beyond. It means foresight. It means imagination. And of course it also carries with it the notion of revelation or prophecy – the connection and interaction with God. And when that’s absent in people’s lives they don’t just loose the anchor or the direction for their lives. “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” They die inside. Have you ever known someone who was dead inside? They have no hope in them, no life, no joy.
When I first moved to Kansas, I saw two sayings that cracked me up. One was on a bumper sticker that said, “Welcome to Kansas. Please set your clocks back… 20 years!” But the other, an even more cynical sentiment was expressed on a poster I saw in someone’s office. It was a picture of one of the more desolate scenes in the state, and the caption read, “Dying in Kansas is redundant.”
Someone once described this lifeless “inner state” by saying “I know people who have been dead for years. It’s just taking their bodies a while to ‘catch up’.” Do you know people like that? Do you ever feel like that yourself? Like you’re dead inside? Like all this talk of the power of God is foreign to you? That’s not what God wants for you!!!
Contrast to that these words from another of the Minor Prophets. In Joel chapter 2 we read, “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit on all flesh. Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy. Your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions. Yea, even upon the menservants and the maidservants in those days I shall pour out my spirit.” (Joel 2:28-29) Do those words sound familiar? Where else have we heard them? Pentecost!
Friends, we may not ever be “Pentecostals.” We may not experience or seek to experience the manifestations of the Spirit as they do – things like speaking in tongues, or prophesying. But God wants us to have the power of that Spirit within us. He wants us to be open to his Spirit, to seek to know the Spirit’s touch, to know his strength, his love, and his fullness. That’s what he wants for all believers.
So, as you go today, think of that phrase, “The Power Within Us.” Look for that power in your own life. Pray for the power of God’s Spirit. Be open to that spirit working within you. And know that he is able to do far more abundantly than we can ever ask or think.
Eternal God, we seek your touch. We seek your power in our lives. Help us to know that now today, help us to continue to look for it in the days to come. And grant us the courage and strength we need to follow you and to be the people you would call us to be. For we pray in our Savior’s name, Amen.