The story has been told that just before World War II in the town of Itasca, Texas, a school fire took the lives of 263 children. There was scarcely a family in town which was not touched by this horrifying tragedy. During the war Itasca remained without school facilities. But when the war ended, the town, like many others, began to expand and they built a new school which featured what was called “the finest sprinkler system in the world.” Civic pride ran high. Honor students were selected to guide citizens and visitors on tours of the new facility to show them the finest, most advanced sprinkler system technology could supply and money could buy. Never again would Itasca be visited by such a tragedy. The town continued to grow, and seven years later it was necessary to enlarge the school — and in adding the new wing it was discovered that the most advanced sprinkler system had never been connected.1
Everything was in place but it was not connected to its water source. Unfortunately, this is the way many Christians live their lives. They look good on the outside. They attend church, use Christian terms, listen to Christian music, but are actually powerless because we are not connected to the source of power.
In the prayer of the apostle Paul for the Ephesians at the end of Chapter 1 Paul talks about being connected to the source of power. Last week we looked at the beginning of the prayer. Paul prayed that they (that we)
- Might know God better
- Would have our eyes opened to understand the privilege, riches, and power that have been given to us.
I hope you are beginning to see that being a Christ-follower is not about mastering information. It is about living in relationship with God with a new power. It is about overcoming sin and transforming the world. God wants to change our heart, to open our eyes, and to bring us to faith. He does this by giving us His power.
Living in God’s power is a significant theme in Paul’s letter. We see it in this prayer where Paul talks about “his indescribably great power. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, “ In chapter 3 Paul gives another prayer,
For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, (3:14-16)
Paul wants us to understand that the power that is ours through Christ is a power superior to anything we have ever seen or known. It is life-changing, world-changing, circumstance-altering power. It is the same power that put the stars in place, that spoke the world into existence, and created all there is. It is a power greater than any hurricane or tornado!
Because this power is so beyond words Paul, as a good speaker does, gives examples of that power at work. He shows us this great power in the person and work of Christ. This is the power
20 which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come..
Demonstrations of His Power
The first illustration of God’s Power is seen in the Resurrection of Jesus. Not only was it a spectacular (and cornerstone) event, it s a great picture of what happens to us spiritually.
From all appearances it looked like Jesus had been defeated. It seemed the bad guys had won. Jesus was put in a borrowed tomb and Satan swelled with the feeling of victory. However, the Resurrection turned that “victory” into Satan’s greatest defeat. Death was overcome. The power of sin was defeated. Satan was shown that he would not win the battle. He was inferior to the power of Christ.
This is the power that is now in us! Think about it. We consider death to be our greatest enemy. It overcomes everyone irrespective of power or position. We are all going to die unless the Lord comes first. The Resurrection of Jesus shows that this power that terrorizes us . . . is a power that Christ overcomes.
The Resurrection of Jesus is a picture of what will happen to everyone who truly trusts Christ. Because of His magnificent grace we too will be raised from the dead. We will not only go to Heaven, but one day our bodies will be raised and we will live on the new earth which God will make for His followers. We will truly live even though we die!
Practically, this means we no longer need to fear death. It is natural to be apprehensive about the “process of dying” because it is a road we have never traveled; it is the unknown. However, being dead need not terrify us. This has great implications for how we live. Much of our life is governed by our fear of death. Once that fear is conquered we can get rid of some of the tentativeness that envelopes our lives. Our goal no longer has to be to live “longer”. We can now focus on living “well” and serving God fully.
The second example of the power of God is the Reign of our Lord,
and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come..
The power of God not only raised Jesus from the dead but it also seated Him at the right hand of the Father in Heaven. According to ancient practice the seat at the right hand signified equality and authority.
Notice two things. First this authority extends over “ALL rule, authority, power, and dominion.” This means that Christ is the Ruler not only of this world but also over the supernatural world of Satan, angels, and demons! He reigns over EVERYTHING.
In our country when the Supreme Court rules on a matter it becomes the law of the land. There is no higher authority in our government. Paul tells us that when the Lord Jesus rules on something . . . it is a done deal. When He commands, His command is obeyed.
In the book of Hebrews we are told that Christ is our intercessor. In other words He is our advocate before the God over all. He is pleading our case. He is on our side. Our advocate is the ruler over all. If God is for us . . . who can be against us!
In Romans 8 Paul asks, “What can separate us from the love of Christ?” The answer is NOTHING! No one and no thing can get between us and Him. Since Christ’s power and position is his FOREVER it means there are no term limits. We don’t have to worry about a change of administration. His rule is certain and unshakeable.
This is important because it means no matter what happens in life, things are not “out of control”. No matter how big the mountain that stands before us, our Lord is stronger, bigger, and more capable. Because He cannot be defeated it means that those who stand in Him cannot be defeated either.
We take all kinds of precautions against the assaults of life: we buy insurance, we install alarms, we put money in savings, we take classes on first aid, we enroll in self-defense classes, and we even cultivate relationships in order to protect ourselves against people or things that will do us harm. Yet, many people leave our greatest resource untapped! The Lord Jesus offers us His protection, life, and power and people remain “unconnected”. It seems a little foolish to me.
The third illustration of God’s power is the church.
22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.
As if we might miss the point of Christ’s ultimate authority, Paul points out that the power of God has made Christ the head of the church. He is the head of the church because we are His body. We serve at His direction and purpose. Christ has His own army . . . it is the church!
Paul will talk a great deal about the church in Ephesians. However, it is important to stop and make sure we hear the words of the text. Imagine if you sat down with a group of people and had them complete this statement “The Church is . . . . “ You would likely get a number of answers,
- The church is a way for us to learn about God
- The church is the conscience of society
- The church is a place that helps people
- The church is a place that is good for families
- Some might say the church is an obstacle to progress
- Other that the church is a place where bad people go to feel better about themselves.
Some of these things are good things but they all miss the point. The church is the body of Christ! The church is made up of the people in God’s Kingdom who work together to accomplish His purpose and bring Him glory. Our job is not to build our Kingdom or our name . . . it is to build His Kingdom! We are not to promote our church but HIS church. If we would understand this several things would happen,
- We would stop competing with other believers and start working with them.
- We would resolve issues in the church by prayer and an appeal to the Word of God rather than by enlisting support so we could win a vote.
- We would spend less on constructing opulent buildings and spend more on genuine attempts to win others to the truth of the gospel.
- We would evaluate every program, group, and expenditure not on the popularity of the program or event but by the effectiveness of the program to reaching our goal of advancing Christ’s kingdom.
- There would be less talk about “what the church is doing for me” and more talk about “how I am contributing to the work of Christ’s church”.
Implications of God’s Power in Us
Paul prays that we might know the transforming power of God in our lives. It is a power over death, a power that transforms circumstances, and a power that makes us into a new community of people. The key question of course is “How do I connect to this power?” Perhaps an analogy will help.
If you want to fix electrical problems in your home you don’t begin by sticking a screwdriver into the socket or grab the power line! Instead you first learn from the experts, read books, and take some classes on how electricity and circuitry works. I think it is the same way with God’s power. We must learn how to tap into and use that power.
If we want to tap into God’s power we need to also do at least three things.
- Turn to Christ as Rescuer and King. If you have no source of power, all the knowledge in the world will not help you. People who are not true followers of Christ will be frustrated in their desire for power because they are not connected to the power source. Only those who put their trust in Christ have this resource.
- We tie into God’s power through prayer, reading the Bible, and by learning from the counsel of those who are more mature in the faith. It might help you to think of these resources as the schematics, the recipe, the rubric, the protocol or the paradigm for power. God has given us the instructions we need to utilize His power and strength. We need to use these resources.
- If at all possible (sometimes it is not possible) we should start by stepping out in faith in small things; Electricians start their training by learning about very simple circuits. Then they keep adding to that knowledge. In the same way, an Olympic Gymnast doesn’t start by doing routines on the high bar. They learn technique, strengthen muscles and then they practice maneuvers over and over using spotters and guide wires. They do all this before they ever compete.
When it comes to God’s power we learn by relying on God’s power in little things. These should be things over which we have no control so that we really are depending on Him. They might be things like:
- Initiating a difficult conversation (often with non-believers);
- Stepping into a new responsibility for which you feel unequipped;
- Doing something you know is right even though you know it will be unpopular with those around you and you don’t know how they will respond.
- Reaching out to someone who is hurting deeply even though you have no idea what to say or do.
These steps of faith in God’s power will help you to learn to trust and effectively use the power of God that is within us. Once we have become familiar with this power of God in our everyday lives we will know how to tap into that great power in times of testing, crisis, opportunity or temptation. God will enable us to do what previously we thought was impossible.
The problem is that every one of us tends to look at ourselves and our ability to overcome or contribute as the basis of our strength. In other words, we trust OUR power. Think about how differently we would function in life if instead of looking at our inadequacies or phobias, we could rest in His power! We have access to the power of the ever living, forever reigning, unequalled, Lord of the Universe! We have living within us (by the Holy Spirit) the power of the One who cannot be defeated or overcome. We may be weak (we are weak) but He is strong.
Paul was a prominent Jewish leader before He met Christ. He went from being on Jewish promotional posters to being on wanted posters. To some, he went from being a celebrity to being public enemy number one. Paul had many opportunities to test the power of God. In 2 Corinthians 11 he shared some of his story as a believer,
Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.
Paul is not bragging about his life . . . he is bragging about God’s ability and sufficiency to sustain him through every circumstance. Paul had learned that he could “do all things through Christ who gives him strength.”
The people of the early church were facing persecution. Paul knew the journey would be scary. However, he also knew the greatness of the power that lived inside of everyone who believes.
Some of you really need that power desperately. Perhaps you are paralyzed with fear because of something that stands in the middle of the road of your life. It may be a horrible trial, a seductive temptation, or it may be an opportunity that will stretch you beyond where you have ever gone before. It could be a new job, a new relationship, a new status or a new assignment. Perhaps you face the wrath of those who oppose the message of Christ. No matter what threatens your peace . . . Paul prays, I pray, and you should pray, that you might find and rely on the unequalled power of God that is within you. You can survive this test not by your strength, but by His.
Paul prayed that we might know God with a new intimacy. He prayed that we might understand the wonderful privilege and the rich inheritance we have been given by God’s magnificent grace. And he prayed that we might know the power of God that is at the disposal of everyone who believes. Does not this prayer address the very deepest needs of your life?
We must stop viewing our Christianity as another “thing to do” or an “obligation to manage”. Our faith can’t be just one of our many interests. Paul prays that we will see our relationship with Christ as an all-consuming passion. He prays that we will see God’s greatness so clearly that every other pursuit will pale by comparison. He wants us to recognize that Christ is our strength, our hope, and our life. In Christ, we can face ANYTHING. And if we do this together, as a community of faithful people, we can demonstrate to the watching world that Jesus is not only the Savior, He is also the King.
May God help us to know Him, to love Him, and may He help us use the power He has given to live faithfully and to bring Him the glory He so richly deserves.