Pastor David B. Curtis

HOME | STUDY INDEX

Media #696 MP3 Audio File Video File

A Prayer for Power

Ephesians 3:14-17

Delivered 03/02/2014

We are continuing our study of the Epistle to the Ephesians, we are presently in chapter three. This chapter has three major divisions: Verses 1-13 describe the mystery which has been entrusted to Paul and its relationship to his ministry; verses 14-19 contain Paul's second prayer for the Ephesian saints, a prayer based upon the revelation of this chapter; and verses 20 and 21 conclude the first half of the Epistle to the Ephesians with a benediction.

Our text is Paul's second prayer for the Ephesians (the first was in 1:15-23). He started to pray in 3:1, but he interrupted himself and went into a digression about his ministry on behalf of the Gentiles in light of God's purpose for the ages. Now, he comes back to his prayer:

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, Ephesians 3:14 NASB

"For this reason"—this takes us back to 3:1 where Paul says, "For this reason," and then gets distracted and goes over the mystery of Jews and Gentiles being one in Christ. So now he goes back to his prayer and says it again, "For this reason," which looks back especially to 2:19-22. Paul is saying, "Because Elohim saved you by His sovereign grace and brought you as Jews and Gentiles into one New Man, the Church; and because you are being built together as a dwelling place of Yahweh in the Spirit; therefore, I pray." What he prays is that Yahweh would give them strength, that He would empower them.

"I bow my knees before the Father"—Paul could have said, "I pray," but instead he says, "I bow my knees before the Father." He is not mandating a posture for prayer so much as he is revealing an attitude for prayer.

For the Jew, it wasn't a custom to kneel and pray. Most of the Jews stood and prayed. In fact, if you go to Jerusalem today, you'll see them at the Wailing Wall where they're all standing and praying. Abraham prayed standing:

Then the men turned away from there and went toward Sodom, while Abraham was still standing before the LORD. Genesis 18:22 NASB

That was a typical Jewish way to stand with your hands up as if offering a prayer, ready to receive the answer. Abraham stood and prayed to the Lord over Sodom.

For the Jew to kneel and pray meant that it was something extraordinary, something unusually passionate that the person that was praying was doing. If you look at the Tanakh, when King Solomon was praying to dedicate the Temple, he knelt:

When Solomon had finished praying this entire prayer and supplication to the LORD, he arose from before the altar of the LORD, from kneeling on his knees with his hands spread toward heaven. 1 Kings 8:54 NASB

It was a special event when he knelt, and we see this throughout the Scriptures. Ezra fell upon his knees to pray (Ezra 9:5). Daniel prayed upon his knees three times daily (Daniel 6:10). Yeshua knelt down to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:41). Stephen knelt as he forgave his enemies (Acts 7:60). Peter kneeled down to pray before raising Dorcas from the dead (Acts 9:39-42). At his farewell speech to the elders of Ephesus, Paul and those he was addressing knelt down and prayed together (Acts 20:36). Paul did this again with other disciples (Acts 21:5).

Paul kneeling was not some ritualistic, outward conformity to a rule, but it was mirroring the disposition of his heart! The fact that he was on his knees physically was demonstrating that inwardly his spirit was on its knees, metaphorically speaking, before Yahweh—a posture of submissiveness.

There is no official posture for prayer. The Bible reveals people offering prayer as they stand, sit, lay prostrate, and even from inside a fish. Kneeling revealed reverence, submission, humility, and adoration before Yahweh. Paul is suggesting that the way we ought to approach Yahweh is with the spirit of humility.

Now whenever you talk about prayer. you'll have someone ask, "If God is sovereign, and has ordained everything that comes to pass, why pray?" The answer is, because Yahweh has ordained prayer as part of the process by which He works all things after the counsel of His will (Ephesians 1:11). And, because there are examples in Scripture of godly men praying for what Yahweh has already said that He would do. Yahweh promised to restore the Jews to Jerusalem after the 70 years of Babylonian captivity, but both Daniel and Nehemiah turned that promise into prayer (Daniel 9; Nehemiah 1).

Let's think about this for a minute. If Yahweh wasn't sovereign, what would be the use of praying? Why pray to a god who couldn't answer your prayers? The sovereignty of God, when properly understood, is an encouragement to pray, not an excuse to fall into fatalism.

Let's look at how the New Testament saints dealt with situations in light of the sovereignty of God. In the fourth chapter of the book of Acts, Peter and John are threatened by the Jewish Sanhedrin and commanded not to speak any more of Yeshua. When they shared this with the other believers, the response was, "Well, Yahweh is sovereign, I guess He'll do what He wants to do." NO! This was not their response. Their response was prayer:

And when they heard this, they lifted their voices to God with one accord and said, "O Lord, it is You who MADE THE HEAVEN AND THE EARTH AND THE SEA, AND ALL THAT IS IN THEM, Acts 4:24 NASB
"For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Yeshua, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur. "And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence, Acts 4:27-29 NASB

We can clearly see from verse 28 that they believed in the sovereignty of God. It didn't cause them to fall into fatalism, but was an encouragement to pray. Prayer assumes the sovereignty of God.

Paul, more than any other New Testament writer, taught the Church about the sovereignty of God, and he lived trusting in that sovereignty. But notice that he still encouraged believers to pray:

At the same time also prepare me a lodging, for I hope that through your prayers I will be given to you. Philemon 1:22 NASB

Prayer was the expression of his confidence in the sovereignty of God. God's sovereignty does not negate our responsibility to pray, but, rather, makes it possible to pray with confidence.

Paul's prayers are models for us to pray for others and for ourselves. It is significant that although he was in prison when he recorded this prayer, he does not mention his need for deliverance. When he finally does get around to asking prayer for himself (6:19-20), he asks them to pray that he will be bold in making the Gospel known as he should. I wouldn't have thought that Paul needed prayer for boldness, but he did!

And I think that it's very telling that you never find Paul, with the exception of the exercise of the gift of healing, praying for anybody's physical needs. Interesting isn't it? But when Paul comes rushing into the presence of Yahweh what is on his heart is not the physical. Every prayer that Paul prayed while a prisoner was a prayer for somebody else's spiritual welfare. In Philippians chapter 1, he comes to Yahweh in prayer, and what does he pray about?:

And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, Philippians 1:9 NASB

We see the same thing in Colossians chapter 1:

For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, Colossians 1:9 NASB

It's all spiritual stuff—praying for understanding, for wisdom, for insight, for the fruit of righteousness, for joy.

Now I certainly don't think that it's wrong to pray about physical things. But the preoccupation must be the spiritual. It's nice that the Lord would heal someone's asthma, but that is totally inconsequential in the light of eternity. We are so preoccupied with the physical, when it is the spiritual that really matters.

What is prayer? The bottom line is: prayer is asking God for things. I know that we should come to God with more than asking. We should come with confession, thanksgiving, and praise. In a broad sense, prayer includes all that. But, speaking precisely, prayer is asking God for something.

God's will is that we, His creatures, ask Him for things. And it is not just His will, it is His delight:

The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD, But the prayer of the upright is His delight. Proverbs 15:8 NASB

If prayer is asking God for things, and He delights in our prayer, then God loves to be asked for things. But why does Yahweh delight in our prayers? I think that it is because prayer is an act of dependance. It is an opportunity to express our devotion to Yahweh and our dependence upon Him. It is an act of dedicating ourselves, saying, "Yahweh, I need You." The biggest reason we don't pray is that we don't feel a dependence upon God. We think we can do it ourselves. Ever since Adam and Eve, man has vastly overestimated his ability. So we think, "I don't need to pray, because this is something I just do." Our biggest problem is admitting we need God's help. You have to be honest to God, "I admit I am inadequate. I am helpless. I need Your help in this situation."

As long as you think you're self sufficient, prayer can have no meaning for you. You think you've got it all together. Prayer is an act of dependance: "Yahweh, I admit I have a need. I need Your help in my life." Prayer is a declaration of dependence upon Yahweh. It's our way of saying to Elohim, "I need your help, I can't do this myself." And Yahweh is glorified in man's dependance.

So let me ask you, "Do you pray? Or are you so self sufficient that you don't need Yahweh's help in your life?" Paul had a prayer list for the Church—shouldn't we? From Genesis to Revelation we find believers praying to the Lord. Abraham, Joseph, David, and Daniel offer wonderful examples of believers bringing needs and praises before the Lord. They did so consistently, even if it meant personal peril. Prayer was a priority for them. We can surmise that one of the critical reasons for their deep spirituality was that prayer had a place of priority in their lives.

The same is true in the New Testament. We see that our Lord gave priority to prayer. We follow through the book of Acts and see the early believers praying privately and corporately. Paul's Epistles are filled with examples of his own prayers, demonstrating that he gave priority to this spiritual discipline.

Prayer is vital to a believer's spiritual health. Prayer is a life priority; it connects me with Yahweh, and it connects me with Yahweh's provision for my life. The great preacher, Robert Murray McCheyne, once wrote, "What a man is on his knees before God, that he is, and nothing more." That is a very powerful statement.

Notice something about this prayer—it is short and to the point. It takes less than a minute to recite this prayer. There are longer prayers recorded in the Bible. There is nothing wrong with a long prayer, unless you are praying with a group, or giving thanks for food. If you are alone, you can pray as long as you like. But you should not think that just because you make your prayers lengthy or repetitive, that you have more chance of God taking your prayers seriously.

Back to our text. Paul prays to the "Father"—in that culture "father" was not only a term of intimacy, but also of authority. The father sought the good of his family and ruled the family as he saw best.

The idea of having a heavenly father is very common to us. But in the days of the Apostle Paul, in the days of Yeshua, it was not common at all. In the Tanakh, so far as I can tell, there is no instance in which an individual prayed to Yahweh as his Father individually. So that when the Lord Yeshua said, "Pray, then, in this way: 'Our Father who is in heaven.'" That is new, that crucial statement indicates that this prayer is in a family context. Prayer is limited to those who have Yahweh as their Father. In Christ, the Son of God, we now have a familial relationship with Yahweh as our Father.

It is important to understand that Scripture limits the privilege of prayer to the members of God's family. It is amazing how so many people can go through the routines of prayer and never stop to think whether they are being heard or not. They can be very sincere in their prayers. The prophets of Baal were so sincere and earnest that they were willing to mutilate their bodies in order to get Baal's attention. But all of the sincerity and mutilation did not change the fact that there was no Baal—there was no god to hear them. Yeshua limits the privilege of prayer to those of His family. John wrote:

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, John 1:12 NASB

The right to be the children of God is limited to those who believe in Yeshua. His name refers to who He is. Those who believe in Yeshua the Christ are the ones who have the right to be the children of God. That narrows it down.

What about those who don't believe that Yeshua is God? What about Buddhists, Muslims, and Hindus, and everybody else who rejects Christ? This verse says that the right to be the children of God belongs to those who believe in Yeshua the Christ. Salvation comes only through Yeshua, who is the Christ:

"And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved." Acts 4:12 NASB

It is only those who have trusted in Yeshua who have Yahweh as their father and can go to Him in prayer.

There is a textual discrepancy in our text. Notice that the NASB ends with "Father," but other translations have:

For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Yeshua Christ, Ephesians 3:14 YLT

So the NASB leaves off, "of our Lord Yeshua the Christ." Why? It is because some manuscripts have this and some don't, and they see the manuscript evidence as in favor of ending with, "Father." Also, internally, this is the only time in the New Testament where this form is used. It really doesn't matter which reading you accept, because Paul has already taught us that God is the Father of the Lord Yeshua the Christ in:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Yeshua the Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, Ephesians 1:3 NASB

So no matter what manuscript evidence you choose it doesn't alter the truth that Yahweh is the Father of our Lord Yeshua the Christ. Paul clearly teaches this, but maybe not in Ephesians 3:16.

from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, Ephesians 3:15 NASB

This is the only time in Scripture where the term "family" is used to describe the saints, although that idea is implied many times by the use of the word "brother" or "sister" when referring to a fellow believer.

There is a play on words between "Father" (patros) and "family" (patria). The word patria is a collective term for the descendants of the same father. Let's compare the NASB with Youngs' Literal:

of whom the whole family in the heavens and on earth is named, Ephesians 3:15 YLT

The NASB says, "every family" and Youngs' says, "the whole family." The problem is that the anarthrous adjective pas could be translated: "every" or "whole" family. Scholars disagree on whether the verse should say "every family" or "the whole family." If it is the former, then it means that human fatherhood, as imperfect and distorted as it is, has been patterned after God the Father. But if Paul intends to say, "the whole family," then he is referring to "God's household" (2:19), the family of the redeemed in Christ.

The Greek expression is ambiguous, and in the light of the fact that a similar expression occurred in verse 21 of chapter 2, and there we read, "In whom the whole building"—and that is clearly not "every" building; so this is not "every family in heaven and in earth," but, "all the family in heaven and in earth." He's talking about one family.

Some consider "the whole family" an impossible translation because the definite article is missing. Others, such as Clark and Wilson, observe that 2 Timothy 3:16 also lacks the article, but there it must be translated: "the whole Scripture.":

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 2 Timothy 3:16 NASB

It is not "every" Scripture, but "the whole" Scripture. If the grammar is inconclusive, the context strongly favors "the whole family." Paul has been emphasizing the unity of Jews and Gentiles in the one body of Christ. Why would he interject this new idea of every family, which implies individuality, not unity? With all this talk about the Gentiles being "members of God's household" (2:19), and then how they have been called to "one hope" under "one God and Father" (4:4-5), it is more likely that Paul is speaking in line with the context, referring to the family of the redeemed.

"The whole family in heaven and on earth"—Paul was referring to all of the saints, whether in heaven or on earth. He used this expression to emphasize to the Ephesians that they were no longer Jew or Gentile, but that they all belonged to God's new family, or household (2:18), the Church.

The word of God teaches that the family is one, that the body is one. And when we divide up the family and call one family the Baptist family, and another the Presbyterian family, and still another the Anglican family, it appears to me that we are dividing up the body, which is plainly contrary to the teaching of the Bible. We should make every effort to observe the oneness of the body of Christ in all of our Christian activity. If someone is trusting only and completely in the Lord Yeshua as their Savior, they are part of the Body of Christ and are our family members.

Paul says that the whole family "derives its name"—from the Father. In Hebraic thought a name is not merely an arbitrary designation or a random combination of sounds. A "name" was not just a means of distinguishing one person from another. The name conveys the nature and essence of the thing named. It represents the history and reputation of the being named. In English we often refer to a person's reputation as his "good name." The Hebrew concept of a name is very similar to this idea. You can replace the word "name" in the Bible with "character." So we could translate this: "The Father, from whom the whole family in heaven and on earth derives its character." The whole family of God derives its character from Him, and we are to be known and recognized as His children by that character.

Paul now starts his prayer:

that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, Ephesians 3:16 NASB

"That" is a purpose clause—"in order that." Paul prays that God "would grant" the Ephesians these blessings. Grant is from the Greek didomi, which means: "to give freely." This recognizes that anything we receive from Yahweh is a gift, we don't receive anything as a result of our merit. All we receive from Him is from His grace.

"According to the riches of His glory"—this phrase, "the riches of the glory," occurs five times in the New Testament (Rom 9:23, Eph 1:18, 3:16, Phil 4:19, Col 1:27). There's one place in the Tanakh where the phrase occurs, and which, because there's nothing else to refer to, should be the benchmark for the intended meaning in the New Testament.

The opening verses of Esther give the reader the picture of a magnificent display of grandeur in the banquet to which King Ahasuerus invited many:

in the third year of his reign he gave a banquet for all his princes and attendants, the army officers of Persia and Media, the nobles and the princes of his provinces being in his presence. Esther 1:3 NASB

It was to these notables that Scripture records that the king displayed the riches of his glory:

And he displayed the riches of his royal glory and the splendor of his great majesty for many days, 180 days. Esther 1:4 NASB

In other words, what the king did was to bring before his guests the marvels of his own kingdom—whether they were the great treasures of gold and silver, fine materials, or even the celebrated performers and entertainers for which his kingdom would have been renowned. It wasn't just the wealth of the throne which came on display, but a revelation of the grandeur of the kingdom.

So the riches of God's glory are measureless. Paul does not ask God to give out of the riches of His glory, but according to those riches. If a billionaire gives you $100, he gave out of his riches. If he gives you ten million dollars, he gave according to his riches. The point is, God is not lacking in resources to meet our needs. Now notice his specific request, "to be strengthened with power through His Spirit"—he prays that they will be strengthened with power. The word "power" is from dunamis, which means: "power, might, strength, force." Our word dynamite comes from this word, but dunamis is not an explosive kind of power like dynamite. It speaks of inherent ability that carries the potential to perform or accomplish a task. Paul's prayers contain a strong emphasis on our need of the inherent power of God that He has made available to us through the Spirit.

What is the "inner man"? Many commentators take this "inner man" to be the same idea seen in:

Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. 2 Corinthians 4:16 NASB

They see this as teaching that the "inner man" is the new nature and the "outer man" is the body. But the context of this is a contrast between the Old and New Covenants, not two natures:

who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. 2 Corinthians 3:6 NASB
For if that which fades away was with glory, much more that which remains is in glory. 2 Corinthians 3:11 NASB

So we have a contrast of covenants, one is fading away, and one remains. We looked at 4:16 that talked about the outer man decaying, now look at 4:18:

while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:18 NASB

The outer man is the Old Covenant, and the inner man is the New Covenant. This understanding really caused me to struggle with Ephesians 3:16 because the phrase "inner man" is only used three times in the New Testament and only by Paul. I know his use of it is covenantal in 2 Corinthians, so I figured Paul would not change meaning of the same phrase in different texts. But then I discovered that though the NASB translates it "inner man," in 2 Corinthians 4 that is not what the Greek says. The Greek in 2 Corinthians 4:16 simply has esothen (inner), and the word man (anthropos) is not in this text. So Paul actually only uses the phrase "eso anthropos" twice; in our text in Ephesians 3 and in Romans 7.

I think that when Paul uses "eso anthropos" here and in Romans 7 he is talking about the mind, the thinking process. Paul's phrase, "the inner man," (3:16) is synonymous with the heart (3:17). And the heart is another reference to the thinking.

So I see Paul as praying here that these Ephesians would be strengthened with the power of the Spirit in their thinking. He is praying that their thinking would line up with the Word of God, primarily in the area of what he taught in chapter 2 of the Jew and Gentile being equal before Yahweh as the one New Man. It was critical to the unity of the Church that their thinking aline with the concept of "one New Man" in Christ. No more Jew and Gentile, just Christians, sons of the Living God. If their thinking does not line up with this, they will fraction into a Jewish Church and a Gentile Church. So it was a huge deal for them to think right. It is still a huge deal that believers think right.

John Piper writes, "It is almost certain that you will not be filled with the power of the Holy Spirit if you are not filled with the Word of God." I say Amen to that. He goes on to say, "If you want the power of the Holy Spirit in your life, if you are tired of being a weak replica of ordinary non-Christians, then change your routine and immerse yourself in the Word of God. Read it, think about it, memorize it, use it." Amen, preach it, Piper!

so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, Ephesians 3:17 NASB

"So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith"this first half of verse 17 is what grammarians call an apposition—a restatement of what was said previously using a different word or phrase to communicate a different aspect of meaning.

"To be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man" in verse 16 is an exact parallel of "that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith" in verse 17. Paul is not asking God that the Spirit might strengthen you, and then subsequently that Christ might dwell in your heart through faith. This is one in the same action, according to the riches of God's glory! "Christ dwelling in your heart through faith" is an explanation of how it is that God will strengthen you in the inner man!

"So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith" —"so that" is another purpose clause—in order that, or with the result that, Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. You often hear talk in churcheanity about "inviting Christ into your heart," but this is the only text in the New Testament that uses that sort of imagery, and it refers to Christ dwelling in the hearts of those who were already believers. It is not an evangelistic verse. In Revelation 3:20 Christ pictures Himself as standing at the door and knocking. He promises to come in and dine with anyone that opens the door. But the text never states that it is the door to your heart. And, He is speaking to those in the church of Laodicea, who already professed to be Christians.

Dwell—is the aorist tense of katoikeo, which comes from two words, kata and oikeo. Oikeo means: "to be at home, to dwell at home." Kata means: "down." Whenever you have a verb in the Greek, and they add a preposition to the front of it, it intensifies it. So kata added to oikeo means: "to really be at home. To settle down and be at home." So what is stressed is a deep indwelling. It was the word that was used of permanent residents. If you spoke of dwellers in the city of Jerusalem, you would use this word katoikeo, which indicates a permanent abode.

He prays that Christ may be a permanent resident there, and the idea is the idea of domination and control. For Christ to "dwell" in a person is for him to "settle down." It emphasizes the pervasive and permanent influence of Christ, the person's conformity to the character of Christ.

The word translated: "dwell" in this verse is from the same root that the word translated: "habitation" is in verse 22. So again, we have a connection between the prayer and the conclusion of chapter 2.

Christ is to dwell in their hearts (minds) by faith. Faith simply means: "belief," and it is the mind that has this belief. To believe something is a mental state or activity. The verse, then, means: "that the mode of Christ's dwelling in our minds is through faith," and "The power and strength we derive in answer to Paul's prayers come through and are proportionate to our grasp of Scripture." How does faith come? By the word of God. It's through the study of the Holy Scriptures.

I also want you to notice that this prayer is Trinitarian: Paul prays to the Father that Christ may dwell in their hearts through the power of the Spirit.

So in our text for this morning Paul is praying that the power of the Spirit will empower them that they may live out the unity of the faith, that they would in practice be one New Man:

...so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross... Ephesians 2:15-16

This is the truth of their position. Paul prays that the Spirit would empower them to understand this truth and live it out to the glory of Yahweh.

Media #696

Continue the Series

Berean Bible Church provides this material free of charge for the edification of the Body of Christ. You can help further this work by your prayer and by contributing online or by mailing to:

Berean Bible Church
1000 Chattanooga Street
Chesapeake, VA 23322