Summary: Paul’s prayer with emphasis on the fullnes of God.
Sermon for 7 Pent Yr B, 27/07/2003
Based on Eph 3:14-21
Grace Lutheran Church, Medicine Hat, Alberta
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
“The fullness of God”
Cindy’s husband, Jim, pulled his tools out of the garage and began fixing the back deck. The city had warned them that they had to comply with a work order or they’d be fined. As Jim conscientiously followed the city’s strict building code, he created beautiful railings. When he’d finished, he stepped back to admire his work and checked the original notice; it was then that he saw the words: Permit required! 1
Unlike Jim and Cindy, our passage from Ephesians today reassures us that WE ARE GIVEN PERMISSION AS A GIFT FROM OUR TRIUNE GOD. PERMISSION TO LIVE IN THE FULLNESS OF GOD. Paul, in this prayer, cast in very flowery language, prays for the Gentile churches—asking for the fullness of God. The prayer is itself an outpouring of generosity and goodwill towards the Ephesians. Just as Jim built beautiful railings by following strict building codes without a permit; how much more are we as God’s people given the permission to live and build beautiful lives, thanks to the fullness of God. What is this fullness of God then that Paul speaks of so eloquently today?
First of all, Paul describes it like this: “I pray that, according to the riches of his (i.e., the Father’s) glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.”
Notice that Paul emphasises here the activity and the initiative of God the Father. THIS IS NOT OUR WORK OR INITIATIVE OR ACTIVITY, IT IS NOT SOMETHING WE ACCOMPLISH ON OUR OWN IF WE THINK MORE POSITIVELY OR TRY TO WORK HARDER AT BEING A BETTER PERSON—RATHER, THIS IS ALL A SUPERABUNDANT GIFT FROM GOD. Notice too, that it begins INSIDE OF US—our “inner being” is given strength and power through the Holy Spirit, so that Christ is able to “dwell in our hearts through faith” and we can become “rooted and grounded in love.” We remember that this emphasis on our inner being is very consistent with the teachings of Christ himself in the gospels where he insists that it is what is within us that defiles us: “For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (Mk 7:21) That is why if all of these things are driven out and replaced by the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit; by Christ himself dwelling in our hearts through faith, and by being rooted and grounded in love—then our words, thoughts and actions will be God-pleasing and make a difference in our personal lives as well as build up the lives of others.
If a tree has deep and healthy roots, then the whole tree will be healthy and produce beautiful and plentiful fruit. So we as God’s people will be healthy and produce beautiful, plentiful fruit if we are rooted in Christ’s love; if our foundation is solid in Christ’s love, just like a solid foundation keeping an entire building on solid ground. So, then, what is given to us out of God’s fullness and placed inside of our hearts will influence, instruct, and motivate our thinking and feeling, our speaking and acting—and determine how we live.
Secondly, Paul continues his prayer with these words: “I pray that you 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 Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
Paul’s all-inclusive language here most certainly refers to the saving activity of Jesus Christ suffering and dying on the cross and being raised from the dead. This saving activity, says Paul, is so large that it encompasses the entire universe! According to Jerome, one of the leading biblical scholars of the church back in the fourth and fifth centuries:
The upper arm of the Cross points up; the lower arm points down; and the crossing arms point out to the widest horizons. Jerome said that the love of Christ reaches up to include the holy angels; that it reaches down to include even the evil spirits in hell; that in its length it covers the people who are striving on the upward way; and in its breadth it covers the people who are wandering away from Christ. 2
IN OTHER WORDS, NO ONE AND NO THING IN ALL OF CREATION IS BEYOND OR OUTSIDE OF THE SAVING POWER OF JESUS CHRIST’S CRUCIFIXION AND RESURRECTION.