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"Power Play: Christ’s Strength Put to Surprising Use"

Oct.21/18 Eph.3:14-4:16


Another municipal election is upon us – have you voted yet? Quite nifty that you don’t even have to leave your home to do it! Tomorrow (Oct.22) is your last opportunity. Pray our local elected councils will govern fairly, justly, and impartially. We need capable responsible thoughtful leaders!

             Power brings with it an awesome, even dreadful, responsibility. Mistakes in judgment can affect many lives. Lord Acton (1834-1902) famously said, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority: still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it.”

             In this week’s newspaper The Citizen, publisher Keith Roulston notes a Globe and Mail article about the rulers of Brazil. “When Brazil was awarded the right to host the 2016 Olympic Games, the Brazilian delegation posed for a triumphant photo.Every single man in the photo, from President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, to the mayor of Rio de Janeiro to the state governor and on down, is either now in jail or facing corruption charges.”

             Let’s hope our local elected leaders fare better! Pray for them...

             But if one’s worldview does not include God, would it not be natural for power to be seen as a means to try to “get a leg up on” the next person? “Big fish eat little fish,” we say. If a person has no fear of God, what’s to restrain them from constantly seeking to take advantage of other people, using them and exploiting or even abusing them for personal gain? In the Old Testament, one of the most sobering phrases summarizing a lawless and morally-bankrupt age comes at the end of the book of Judges: “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.” Contrast that with Proverbs 21:2 “All a man’s ways seem right to him, but the LORD weighs the heart.”

             As we continue on in Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus, he gradually turns from theology (how we sinners are saved by Christ) to ethical application, how we as Christ’s church ought to behave differently if we are who we say we are. In particular, how we handle power and authority is much different than how worldly leaders handle it.


When we think of the word “power”, we usually think of some action occurring. In the world of physics, power is the rate of doing work; work is a force exerted through a distance. But God’s type of power is not just for moving objects from A to B. God’s power is primarily for a DWELLING not a DOING.

             The Apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 3:16, “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being...” STRENGTH - POWER - bring it on! But what for? The beginning of v17 tells us the PURPOSE for which Paul’s imploring God to pour out His power on the church: 3:17a “...so that Christ may DWELL IN YOUR HEARTS through faith.” The condition of our hardened human hearts needs to be modified in order to become an adequate dwelling place for Jesus to live. Jer 17:9 “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” Picture it like our hearts have all these little dungeon-type cells and tiny rooms with huge thick walls of pride, self-focus, past resentments, guardedness and suspicion toward other people. In that sense God’s power comes upon us like a wrecking ball, renovating our insides, smashing those resentments and pulverizing our selfishness so we can begin to allow Christ access into ALL those forbidden areas we’re ashamed for Him to look at. His power comes in to renovate thoroughly, doing a makeover, so we can begin to love again where we’ve been so hurt and disappointed in the past. The cross jackhammers at our stubborn selfishness and callousness.

             We see more of God’s purpose for His power in us in 3:19, “and to know this love that surpasses knowledge— that you may be FILLED TO THE MEASURE OF ALL THE FULLNESS OF GOD.” Now doesn’t that sound crazy?! How can we possibly begin to accommodate the bigness of God, His fullness, in all His God-ness? That’s gonna take more room than an arena or a stadium! But He wants to pour Himself, His goodness and lovingness, into us completely. Jesus taught in Mt 5:48, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” - perfect, complete, fully there, lacking nothing, no shortfall of godliness. We see this again in 4:13, “until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to THE WHOLE MEASURE OF THE FULLNESS OF CHRIST.” How full is that? Back up a couple verses to 4:10, “He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.” Wow! That’s the kind of fullness God wants to pour into us? Paul’s not talking metric or imperial here, kilograms or gallons – the Holy Spirit makes available to you ALL of God, He’s seeking to pour Jesus’ perfect fullness into your life.

             Back in 3:17 the phrase “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” – DWELL there means “to make one’s home, to be at home.” Does Jesus feel “at home” in your life, or is it kind of awkward having him around, like a guest you don’t quite know how to entertain and hope they’ll leave soon? Jesus wants to get out of bed with you, step in front of the bathroom sink with you, get into the car with you to go to work, etc. Your constant companion.


God’s power makes space in our lives for Jesus to be present. Second, His power isn’t coercive, forcing or manipulating others to do what we desire: God’s power finds outlet in loving others and building unity with them, cooperatively.

             Eph 3:17b-19a “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in LOVE, may have POWER, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is THE LOVE OF CHRIST, and to KNOW THIS LOVE that surpasses knowledge...” Three times in as many verses you have the apostle repeating this “love” emphasis. He wants the church to be rooted in love, like a foundation. He wants us to have some idea of the breadth and height of Christ’s love – 3 dimensions PLUS! Wide, long, high, deep. And to know the unknowable – to experience and savour and revel in this love that surpasses bounds of description and explanation. “God SO loved the world...” (Jn 3:16) “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:8) Love that reaches out to save the ‘unlovable’.

             One way God’s love becomes manifested in our midst is in the way we TALK to each other. 4:15 “...speaking the truth in love...” When you get into heated discussion about a topic that you’re passionate about, it’s easy to start using strong language that can actually be hurtful to the other person. We pride ourselves on “speaking the truth” and “getting the facts straight” (at least as WE see them!) yet the way we’re saying it may actually be very hurtful to the other person. How might we re-frame “speaking the truth in love”? What are some other ways of expressing that? “Is what I’m about to say likely to be perceived as loving by the other person I’m talking to?” “How can I say this in a way that won’t leave the other person feeling diminished or belittled or ignored?” “I want to say THIS, but what’s the other person likely going to hear between-the-lines?” “Would it be more loving for me to NOT say this truth than to blurt it out? Is there a better time for me to say it?”

             As we approach this Thursday’s congregational meeting, “speaking the truth IN LOVE” is going to be something very important to keep in mind if our church is to experience true healing. I know the Elders are labouring to communicate in a way that says what needs to be said without making things worse. They are dialoguing with each other and being very careful in formulating their main statement. Before you stand up to speak (as members have the right to do at a congregational meeting), can you first run your thoughts past this “in love” filter and say it very carefully, rather than in a potentially damaging way? Sometimes the loving thing is to NOT say it. Or say it in a different forum, one-on-one or with one or two mutually trusted friends present, rather than in the large group.

             Lord Baden-Powell used to say, “If it’s not FUN, it’s not Scouting.” We could paraphrase that to say, “If it’s not LOVING, it’s not Christian.” So we’re always asking in our mind, “How are these words I’m about to say likely to be received by the person I’m talking to? Will they be built up (edified) OR torn down, cut to shreds?” If the latter – it’s likely not loving, and better left unsaid. Speak the truth, yes – but ONLY when it can be done IN LOVE. Else, zip it! Words are like toothpaste and the toothpaste tube – once they’re out, it’s almost impossible to get them back.

             Eph 4:16 “From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up IN LOVE, as each part does its work.” Each part working, pulling together, exerting ourselves toward the common goal, joined and held together like a team of horses all harnessed up to pull the plow. You can’t have one horse pulling north and the other pulling east! Get together on your direction. That takes coordination, listening to each other, contemplation and consensus, coming to agreement. So the WHOLE body builds itself up in love, as our individual exertions become aligned towards the shared objective. We need each part working, contributing their personal power, each one matters and has something special to add to the group’s movement.

             God’s power seeks expression in love AND ONENESS / unity. Love doesn’t exercise power in a manipulative or coercive way, forcing the other person to do what you want, “or else”. That treats them as an object, a spatula to be used, a tool of your will and desires. No, love seeks what’s best for the other person not your own selfish wants. Love builds unity and oneness rather than creating division and warring camps. Love draws us together to get on the same page in our approach toward common problems. Love seeks what’s best for the whole group, not just ME. Love cares enough for the other person, putting them first, so they feel treated as a SUBJECT not just an object to be used or trampled upon, “thrown under the bus” to accomplish selfish ends.

             [READ TOGETHER] Eph 4:3 “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” Make every EFFORT – there’s the reference to POWER. What’s the effort or energy to be directed towards? “Keeping the unity” (oneness) “of the Spirit through the bond of peace”. Oneness, maintaining the integrity of an organization, takes work, effort. Ask any single parent with young toddlers – you’re constantly picking up and putting things back in order. Entropy makes things wear down and fall apart. If we want to have a strong effective church, we need to consciously be doing what makes for unity and peace. If I see something amiss, good – but what’s the best way to go about correcting it, so that people don’t get unnecessarily hurt in the process?

             By contrast, worldly mentality – “big fish eat little fish” – tends to manipulate others and exploit them. There is no lack of popular speakers who are out to make a name for themselves, sell books, get lots of likes and shares on YouTube. Eph 4:14 “Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.” Lots of “winds of teaching” out there! If you’re feeling bored with traditional teaching and want something exotic, do an internet search for Buddhism, Islam, Wicca, New Age – it’s all there, eager to invade your mind and your home. Sign up for their newsletter and send in your $50. “Craftiness” in the Greek is “methodeia” – the marketers of the new spiritualities have their METHODS. How are you going to prepare yourself and your kids to combat that onslaught, that slick sales presentation? Will you be so soaked in Christian truth that you can spot the counterfeit, the deception, the cunning?

             “Keep the unity...” (4:3) Seven times in 4:4-6 Paul emphasizes repeatedly the SINGULARITY of Christian doctrinal truth: “one body...one Spirit...one hope...one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all...” The goal of the teaching ministry in the church is, 4:13 “until we all reach UNITY in the faith...and become mature...” Let’s get on the same page, people! The page that springs forth from the prophetic/apostolic message entrusted to us down the generations through Scripture by the Spirit’s unveiling.

             Church is not a place to impose my petty preferences on other people. It’s a place where we discern in community what GOD wants to have happen through us, cooperatively, in love that’s so real and mutual it grabs the attention of those battered & bruised by life’s hard knocks out there in the world. Where power is wielded so differently.


Let’s review – God’s power is primarily for a DWELLING not a doing; God’s power seeks expression in LOVE & ONENESS not domination and manipulation; now, third & last – God’s power finds its outlet in GIVING not getting. Our capitalistic society is skewed in the direction of “getting” – TV & radio depend on commercials, ads pop up when you click on that YouTube link, Instagram feed has its “sponsored” ads... The hands of the marketers are ever extended, seducing you to think you’d be fulfilled if only you had their latest product. The Bible sees things differently: 1Timothy 6:6 “But godliness with CONTENTMENT is great gain.” That sabotages capitalism, it unnerves the advertisers. How do you sell something to someone who is convinced they already have enough – rather, ARE enough – without it?!

             Note how God’s power manifests itself through GIVING in these verses, His surplus overflows in goodness to humankind. 4:7f “But to each one of us grace HAS BEEN GIVEN as Christ APPORTIONED it. This is why it says: "When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and GAVE GIFTS to men."” The imagery is borrowed in the first-century Roman world from a conquering general returning victoriously to his capital city with a victory parade distributing spoils from the booty. We live out of Christ’s victory, His GRACE, “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense”. Christ has blessed YOU with forgiveness, mercy, love, goodness, gifts and fruit of the Spirit, healing, purpose, meaning... As you are graced, now YOU can be generous to others.

             Power in the corporate world often is exercised hierarchically, chain-of-command, the “boss” giving orders and throwing their weight around. What position do you occupy on the ‘org chart’ (organizational chart)? Where do you fit in the power-pyramid? One small tweet and you can be replaced!

             Jesus on the other hand inverts the power-pyramid. Power in the church is all about SERVING not being served, carrying RESPONSIBILITY not ordering others around and calling the shots. 4:9f “What does "he ascended" mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.” This is kind of like the famous “kenosis” (‘emptying’) passage of Philippians 2:5-9, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself NOTHING, taking the very nature of a SERVANT, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he HUMBLED himself and became obedient to DEATH— even death on a cross! Therefore God EXALTED him to the highest place and gave him the name that is ABOVE every name...” If you would ASCEND, Jesus’ pattern teaches you must first DESCEND, humble yourself, become obedient. Mk 10:43 “...whoever wants to become GREAT among you must be your SERVANT...” Love expends itself, pours itself out for the other.

             Given that pattern, that example set by Jesus, Paul can then say, 4:2 “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” Because the same Holy Spirit that exhibited those traits in Jesus is going to be present in our lives, working them out, shaping our attitude, prompting us to sacrificial love. Humble.Gentle.Patient. Are those 3 words going to characterize our congregational meeting? Or will there be strife, discord, trying to come out ‘on top’? That’s not the way Jesus ‘ascended’.

             A proud person has trouble being patient. Pride loves to be in control, so becomes impatient very quickly when things aren’t going according to plan.

             “Bearing with one another in love.” Consider how POWER is applied here – ‘bearing with’. The verb in the Greek is literally “to hold up”... When you’re doing renovations in a house, before you knock out a wall to go “open concept” you need to first determine if it’s what’s called a “bearing wall” – holding up the weight of whatever is above. Paul’s saying we Christians need to act like “bearing walls” for each other, holding each other up. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Cain asked (Gen 4:9) – if you call yourself a Christian, you’re more than your brother’s / sister’s ‘keeper’, you’re their ‘bearing wall’. Get in underneath them and support them when they’re going through a challenge. That’s what love does.

             Finally, in 4:11-12 we get to the org chart or power-pyramid in the church, what this is supposed to look like organizationally, corporately, in the way we make decisions and move forward together. 4:11 “It was he who GAVE some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers...” Again, Christ GIVING, gifting, the leaders are responsible and accountable, exercising their authority as a stewardship or trust answerable to the Lord. The root word for ‘pastor’ means ‘to protect’ as a shepherd cares for and protects a flock of sheep, which are notoriously defenceless and vulnerable. What’s Jesus’ style when it comes to leadership? John 10:11 “I am the good shepherd.The good shepherd LAYS DOWN HIS LIFE FOR the sheep.” Not power-over, but sacrificially supporting.

             What are these leadership positions charged to do? Eph 4:12 “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up...” I (preacher) am to prepare you (congregation) “for works of service” – ‘works’ involve POWER. My role is to equip you better to serve, literally ‘works of deaconry’ - same root as “deacon”, to serve, be a waiter at table. The waiter doesn’t do the ORDERING, they don’t come along to you and say, “You’re going to have this and this off the menu.” (!) Our posture as Christians is to be there to serve others, exert Christ’s power to save sinners, sharing the gospel, loving them in practical ways. I’m to equip you / motivate you for “works of ministry” – I’m not ‘the minister’ (that’s a misnomer!), YOU are the ‘ministers’.

             End of v12 reveals the purpose: “SO THAT the body of Christ may be built up.” Body-building requires good nutrition and regular exercise. Something’s wrong with a flabby church, one that’s focused more on itself than on getting Christ’s work accomplished. What do we see when we corporately look in the mirror? How can we get on with His program? Having Him DWELL within us individually and together; expressing His LOVE in unity; GIVING His grace to others?


We began today with an example of corruption amongst leaders from Brazil. Let’s conclude with a better example of a leader from just south of the border many decades ago. Abraham Lincoln offers an example of someone who went against the trends in politics.

             Mr Lincoln was not too proud to suspend important matters in order to serve the least. A biographer tells this story involving Lincoln’s young children... Tad once sought a pardon for a soldier doll named Jack. Tad's older brother Willie had "caught" Jack sleeping on guard duty and sentenced him to be executed. Tad burst into the President's office, thereby interrupting national business, and demanded a pardon for Jack. Lincoln did not immediately issue the document, informing Tad that some sort of hearing would be necessary. While the President's staff waited impatiently, Tad explained that Jack had been sentenced, hung and buried several times, and so mightn't a Presidential pardon save everyone a repetition of all that bother? Lincoln nodded thoughtfully, and agreed that the double jeopardy clause of the Constitution must be applied to Jack's case. An official pardon was written and signed by the President of the United States.

             Another time, someone said to Lincoln, "Mr. President.I cannot understand you.You treat your enemies with such kindness.It seems that you should want to destroy them." Lincoln's answer was, "I destroy my enemy when I make him my friend."

             Love your enemies – Love one another (Mt 5:44; Jn 13:34). It’s not complicated! Just sacrificially demanding. But, He gives us more grace (Jas 4:6)! Let’s pray.