Sign of an Healthy Church: Christ our Foundation
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Ephesians 3:16-21 “that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.”
a. I’ve been thinking about what I read recently by what Dr. MacArthur said. John MacArthur said that the Holy Spirit is the one who builds the church and not us. The point of his statement was to show us that if we seek to build the church, we must draw nearer to God. As we draw nearer to God, we will seek to build the church in a manner that honors God and not ourselves. But apart from this truth, we will end up hurting the church even as we seek to build it.
b. So I’ve been thinking about this as I started a series on signs of an Unhealthy Church. We went over the first sign was the Church doesn’t know its identity and secondly, it is a partial church. Lastly, the reason these things happen is because the church is build upon the wrong foundation. How do we build the church with the wrong foundation? We see 3 things that Paul prays for the Church of Ephesus. In his prayer, Paul prays that God would do these three things so that the church would be strong. If we take the opposite, we know that the church will be weak.
a. Strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit (3:16-17)
i. In Paul’s prayer that he begins in verse 14, his plea in his prayer starts in verse 16. In verse 16, Paul prays for the saints at Ephesus that God would grant them, He would provide for them to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man.
ii. There’s a lot to unpack here. Paul is praying primarily here for strength. The context here starts in verse 13, which is why in verse 14, He prays for his readers. Most likely, by context, we know that Paul was suffering tribulation on behalf of the saints at Ephesus. This could also tell us that the church at Ephesus was also suffering trials as well. This is what caused Paul to fall on his knees. The emphasis here is that Paul resorts to prayer.
iii. Paul finds strength in prayer and that’s something we have to notice. If we live devoid of the Holy Spirit, ultimately, we will not be relying on the power of God, but on our own strength. Paul is asking his readers not to lose heart, don’t give up. Don’t fall to the tribulations and heartache that you are encountering. He is telling his listeners because he knows them and he knows their situations. But he's encouraging them, don’t lose heart. Don’t give up. Pray to God.
iv. The end of verse 13 is precious. He says that their tribulations are their glory. This is similar to what Paul writes in 2 Timothy 2:10, referring to the fact that Paul suffers for their glory just as the glory we as believers have through the death of Christ. Paul is making known that his suffering is their glory, that through his suffering, they might see and know the riches of their salvation in Christ.
v. This is a beautiful picture of what ministry should look like. But it is also a reminder of the reality of what ministry is when churches don’t do this. We can see what a vibrant church that is alive looks like, but on the other hand, we can also see the reality of what an unhealthy church looks like. An unhealthy church from verse 13 is a church that doesn’t bear each others burdens. It is a church where everyone lives in solitude. It is a church where there are people but everyone feels alone.
vi. I hear this often where people come to me and tell me they feel alone. So we think of ways, how do we make people not feel alone? We think, well then we should make more ministries. We should do more events. We should do more and more. But the reality is, the only thing we really can do is pray for one another. We need to pray for the Holy Spirit to strengthen them. What I am learning more and more is that feeling alone is the result of my separation from Christ. Look at what Paul is praying for here. He’s not asking for the church to meet more of spend more time together. That’s not to say we shouldn’t. We should absolutely spend more time with each other and encourage one another. But the crux of his prayer is that they would be strengthened through His Spirit in the inner man.
vii. How are they to be strengthened? According to the riches of His glory. It is by the infinite riches of God’s glory. This goes back to 1:18 where Paul prays that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know the hope of His calling and what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints. This two fold aspect of knowing the hope of His calling and the riches of the glory of His inheritance are the aspects of knowing His glory. It is to know the hope we know in Christ and to know the riches of what that means in salvation. When we know these two fold truths, they are to strengthen the inner man. That is the plea that Paul is asking for in His prayer.
viii. What is the inner man? The inner human being, then, is the interior life of the person, which God, by his Spirit, can strengthen with divine power. It’s the part of us that knows we should read the Bible, we think about it, but we lose and end up doing something else. Galatians 2:20 tells us perfectly what it is. It is the part of us that is joined to union with Christ. It is the spiritual part of us that knows Jesus by faith. Paul is asking God to strengthen this part of his listeners. That they would not be discouraged by the persecution they see, but that by faith, by their union with Christ, they would be able to continue to persevere.
ix. But what is an unhealthy church? It is a church that doesn’t seek to encourage the inner man, but only deals with the external/physical man. Unhealthy churches don’t talk about the inner man. We don’t talk about our faith and our struggles with our faith. We merely talk about external things. It’s not simply talking about our struggles. It’s talking about our walk with Christ. It’s about being specific about our struggles.
b. Understanding the love of Christ (3:18-19)
i. When we think about the strengthening of the Holy Spirit, what is He teaching us? How is He strengthening us? Verse 18-19 tells us exactly this. When we think of what Paul is praying for here, He is not praying that these people have a superficial union amongst each other. Paul is praying that they would grow in their inner man, that their union in Christ would be brought to life. In turn, as they grow in their love for Christ, they develop a love for each other. This is why in Ephesians 4:1-2, He implores his readers to bear one another in love.
ii. This is a direct picture of a healthy church. A healthy church is a church where the members of the church are all united in Christ. It is not a superficial one to one union. Rather, it is a union with each other through their union in Christ. That’s the most beautiful thing about the church. It is that we are not united to each other because of some superficial knowledge or interest. We don’t love each other because we all love to do the same thing or we have the same hobbies. We love each other because we have been brought near to each other by the love of God.
iii. Verse 17 tells us that Christ may dwell in your hearts. The connection that we have is that Christ dwells in the hearts of all those who love Him. This is how we share union with each other. We have a union through our knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is to know the riches of His love, that we might be filled up to the fullness of God. That is the connection we have with each other.
iv. But what is an unhealthy church? It builds its connection on fleshly things apart from their union in Christ. I am not standing here telling any of you that we shouldn’t be friends or enjoy each others company. I am telling you that if our relationships with each other don’t exceed friendship, then we will never really know each other, and if we don’t know each other, eventually, our relationships will deteriorate.
v. Why do I say this? Because union with Christ and union with each other is directly related. We always mention this idea of building the church. We must build the church. But it’s impossible to build the church apart from our union with Christ. Building the church begins with building my relationship with Jesus. It is through my walk with Christ that I recognize my struggles and it is through this struggle where other brothers and sisters in Christ can come alongside and encourage us and build up the inner man. When we are encouraged in the inner man through others, that friendship, is what builds the church. That bond, that union with each other through our union with Christ, is what causes the church to grow. That’s what it means to build the church. But when we build the church externally with more activities and external friendship apart from Christ, ultimately, we will all be together alone.
c. Working by the strength He provides (3:20-21)
i. Paul completes his prayer that he started in 3:14 by closing with an unbelievable closing statement. He prays for his saints that they would know the love of Christ for a purpose. Paul’s prayer is that they would be filled up to the fullness of God, that they would be spiritually mature not so they could boast about their faith. No, but rather, that they would be fit to share the love of Christ with others. Paul is asking for the fullness of God to be given to these people not so they can have amazing Bible study, or so that they can have an infinite knowledge of God.
ii. What I love about Paul is that he saw things that others have never seen and he never boasts about it. Why? Because this prayer reveals to us what a person who loves God desires. A person who loves God is a person who loves other people. They love people so that they would be willing to grow together.
iii. Paul closes his indicative portion of Ephesians pleading with God on behalf of the saints in Ephesus so that they would know the love of Christ so that they would walk in a manner worthy of their calling (4:1).
iv. But here in 3:20, Paul writes stating that these saints can walk in a manner worthy because of Him. Look at verse 20. Paul writes now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we think or ask. Wow such beauty in this statement. Do we believe what Paul just wrote here? When we pray to God, do we believe that God can actually do the things that we pray to Him for? This is what Paul prays for in 1:18, that the eyes of their heart might be opened and that they might comprehend the riches of His glory. What does this mean? That they would be able to pray and trust in Him who is able to do all and beyond of what we ask.
v. How do we know this? According to the power that works within us. This is why in verse 20 Paul prays for strength in the inner man, so that they would see the power that is working within us and as we see it, we would be encouraged.
vi. This is what defines a healthy church. A church who is praying, seeing the strength that is working in us and being encouraged is what allows us to build the church. It is through our walk with Christ, that as we are being built, which allows us to build each other. Folks, we can’t build the church if we are not growing.
vii. John 15:5 is what I would like to close with. I think this verse makes so much more sense to me now after I started growing my vegetables. When Jesus says that He is the vine and we are the branches, all those who are attached to the vine will grow. If you look at vine, and the branches that are connected to the vine, they bear fruit. But when you look at leaves that have fallen from the vine, they wither and die.
viii. This is the same picture of those who are building and growing in Christ. If you are focused on your walk with Christ, if you are abiding in Christ and connected to the source, then you will be fed from the vine. Thus you will bear fruit. But if you are cut off from the source, you may live for a couple of days, but eventually you will wither and die. This is the same thing when we build the church. A healthy church is a church that is connected to the vine. It is a church that is connected to Christ and growing in the strength that He provides. It is a church that is connected and trusting in Him that is providing us the strength we need to grow.