From the long-ago bygones a simple tune lingers. Mr. Chamberlain was an unlikely song leader. His audience—a dozen young Greek students. Hardly the context for singing but he was so intent on getting across the extravagance of the Greek text’s meaning that he taught us a song that still floats through my head today. “Huper ek perissou. We will see what God can do… “(OK, so I don’t remember any of the rest of the words, but the message has stuck over all these years.) The idea is taken from Ephesians 3:20—“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…”. In the Greek an unusual compounding of words is used to stress the lavish nature of what God can do—‘exceedingly abundantly above’ all we ask or even think! Incredible.
What I have tended to miss is the point of this power at work in us, as used in this context.
Paul has just been talking about his calling to make known the ‘unsearchable riches of Christ’ to the Gentiles—this good news which had only recently been revealed to mankind. It had been a mystery not fully understood up until this age of the Church—now it is unveiled. But catch this, Paul says this unveiling isn’t just for us, the redeemed ones, but that through the church the principalities and powers in the heavenly places will see God’s multi-faceted genius! (Eph.3:10) This is what the power at work in us is for—God’s glory.
Paul goes on to outline the plan, you might say, starting with the reminder that as believers they now have unhindered access to God. Then he prays for spiritual strength to be given to them to really ‘get’ the tremendous dimensions of Christ’s love for them—the breadth and length and depth and height of it. Why? So that they’ll be ‘filled with all the fullness of God’ so that corporately, as the ‘church’, they will bring glory to God before all the hosts of good and evil in the heavenly realms. Incredible.
I can see how that might be true of the New Testament church, at least the very early church? But it seems Paul wasn’t referring just to the early era of the church, or even of some future era where it would be especially beautiful to behold…His benediction tells me that this is God’s intentions for you and me in our modern mixed-up and sometimes floundering churches. Unto him [be] glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Eph.3:21. And I’m encouraged. We too have all the resources needed at our disposal– through the Spirit living in us and the access granted to us into God’s throne room. No hocus-pocus or hyper focus needed, just prayer—and a great big God who is able to do abundantly above all that we could ever think to ask! This is Good News!
Why have we let it become so complicated? There are all manner of distortions of the Gospel ‘out there’—all sorts of quests to find ‘power with God’, to get a special dispensation of ‘His presence’, to figure out some way to tap into ‘supernatural power’ that will make the world see we are something to take notice of… But here Paul just prays and makes a simple request for a profound revelation of God’s love which will fill them with the ‘fullness of God’. Is there more than that?! The Gospel itself is said to be the power of God for salvation to everyone that believes (Rom.1:16) Have we mislaid it? Have we misunderstood it?
For ages and generations the Gospel was a mystery even angels longed to understand (I Pet.1:12) but we in the Church age have been let in on the secret: “Christ in you, the hope of glory!” (Col.1:27) If we fail to grasp the implications of this power at work within us, this love extended to us, and this hope prepared for us we will reflect it poorly to our neighbors and more than that, we will be easy prey for false teaching.
Just as satisfaction with one’s own mate is the surest safeguard against infidelity in marriage, so godliness with contentment is our safeguard against enticing teachings that promise us a degree of reality and power that we haven’t known. Without strong confidence in the present and sufficient work of God in our hearts through His Word and by His Spirit, we can be drawn into deceptive short-cuts that will undermine that very relationship.
An affair is enticing. It promises passion and relief from the steady humdrum of committed relationship; it makes one feel deceptively ‘alive’—but it doesn’t deliver. Its passion is short-lived and then comes the aftermath… Could this be what John meant when he concluded his epistle with the plea: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” He has just underlined the things we know to be true by way of reminder: “We know the Son of God is come and has given us understanding that we may know Him that is true, and we are in Him that is true, even in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life!” (IJn.5:20,21) It’s as if he’s warning: ‘Accept no substitutes!’ We can become so intent on ferreting out some secret key to effective life and witness that we trade in the essentials of the Gospel for the ‘fix’ of a sensational teaching or a ‘new’ set of ‘truths’.
Deception doesn’t come in a marked package. It’s more like a refreshing drink laced with antifreeze! If it were unmixed with truth it would not be deceptive! Its messengers don’t come across as ‘devils’ but as ‘ministers of righteousness’ (II Cor.11:15). Its appeal may be a deeper spirituality, a greater passion, a more powerful witness…but if it veers from the foundational truths of the Gospel—of Christ in you the hope of glory– it is a heady brew that will bedazzle and blind us, but leave us ever thirsty for MORE. Godliness with contentment is great gain.(I Tim.6:6)
Have I taken a rabbit trail here and jumped on a soapbox? What does this have to do with the glory of God being displayed in the heavenlies through the genius of the Church—a host of redeemed creatures, transformed by the power of the Gospel?!
Everything! When we turn aside from the Gospel and follow false teaching in hopes of finding something more to satisfy our longings, we actually harm the cause of the Gospel. “And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed.” (II Pet.2:2) It happens. Noone sees these lapses more keenly than those who already regard our faith with suspicion and skepticism.
Are we immune to being misled? I read somewhere that if you think you are above deception, think again, you’ve already been deceived! It’s easy to see somebody else’s blindspots, but not so my own. How then do I safeguard my life from deception? Even in my zeal to cultivate a healthy relationship with my Hero I can pursue the wrong means.
There are plenty of Bible passages that describe and warn against false teachers…(I John, IIPet.2, Jude 1, I Tim.4-6…) In fact, I started to amass a list of characteristics of false teachers but then I came back to Ephesians and found this…once again, the genius of the Church:
Paul describes the living organism of the Body of Christ, with all its various gifts given to build up the whole ‘until we attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ’. Why is this so essential? So that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the Head, into Christ…”(Eph.4:13-15)
We need each other and the unique God-given contribution of each to keep us on track. Isolation is a hazard as are clumps of noses with no eyes! Or bodies without hearts, or kidneys! The Body of Christ reaches beyond our denomination, or our small group. Often we settle comfortably into fellowships that suit our gifts. Could it be we’re missing the complementary parts of us in our congregational segregations? Doctrine’s important. Distinctives are dandy. But it’s good to take a peek into another’s window and get to know the left hand of the Body, or that little pinky toe. Practically, how does this work…
Start a prayer walk. Join a hobby group. Attend a Bible study from another church. Visit churches in your area and enjoy the fellowship that happens just because we belong to the same Family. Encourage/get involved in inter-denominational initiatives in your community… I don’t know how it will work for you. But I do know that we need each other in order to grow strong and steady. We’re designed that way.
And this is where the glory of Christ’s church shines–—all these redeemed earthlings exalted to sonship and immortality, corporately comprising the very Body of Christ, their head, –a concept the angels long to comprehend (I Pet.1:12), a spectacle to the unseen hierarchy in the heavenlies (I Cor.4:9), a testimony to God’s brilliant wisdom being worked out meticulously down through the generations and now glimpsed in the Church age. And still the plan marches on. Still ahead lies our ‘hope of glory’ (Col.1:27) Only in the coming ages will ‘the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus’(Eph.2:7) be fully shown. Only then will we be fully like him, because at last ‘we shall see Him as He is.” (I Jn.3:2)
Then we shall be where we would be,
Then we shall be what we should be,
Things that are not now, nor could be,
Soon shall be our own.
In the meantime we, the church, in allegiance to our Head bring Him fame before all the powers of heaven and earth…as we cling to Him who is the Head “from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.” (Col.2:19) Which brings us full-circle to another of Paul’s prayers counting on the Power that is at work in us who believe… I find myself praying it often, for myself, for my kids, for other members of this great Body we share…
“…that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory,
may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him,
having the eyes of your hearts enlightened,
that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you,
what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,
and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ
when he raised him from the dead
and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,
far above all rule and authority and power and dominion,
and above every name that is named,
not only in this age but also in the one to come.
And he put all things under his feet
and gave him as head over all things to the church,
which is his body,
the fullness of him who fills all in all…” (Eph.1:17-23)
Thanks for listening. I more than welcome your feedback.
“Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. AMEN.” (Jude 24,25)
P.S. Interested in thinking about how different kinds of believers can integrate to minimize their weaknesses and maximize their strengths? Check out The Word and Power Church by Doug Banister. (Review available here.)