A while ago I read about a Vietnam veteran Bob Campbell, of Baltimore. After Vietnam, Bob became an alcoholic. However years later – Bob says – quote - “I gave my heart to God. That night the old Bob went away. Up to that moment, I was drinking Scotch from 6.30am until 8pm at night. But after that, I didn’t drink again - and I haven’t to this day.”
I read that simply to raise the question of what we expect God to do in our lives today. For Bob there was very real action by God in his life. Very tangible and immediate effect of knowing God. I wonder what we think of that? If we are Christians – or if we were to become a Christian – what would we expect God to do in our lives today?
Let me paint two possibilities – which are extremes: some Christians talk a lot about what God has done for us in Christ in the past – died for us so we can be forgiven. They talk about how one day God will act so we will go to heaven. But there is almost nothing said about God acting in our lives now. It’s all back then – or still to come.
The other extreme is to see God very active in our lives now – these Christians are often talking about how they had a problem – they were late – but they prayed and God helped them be on time – and it’s very present day – God’s acting in my life now. But it can be about God solving my problems – making my life easier. God becomes my divine PA. And while there’s lots of God acting now – I set the agenda that God works to.
These are extremes but you get the idea. How does God act? It’s all back then, or still to come but there’s nothing for today. Or - it’s all about today – but it’s all about me.
We’re going to look at Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians – see what answers that gives us.
I want to start by looking at the overall goal of this prayer – where it’s going. Then we’ll break it down a bit. So first - the big picture - Paul prays for
Power to realise Christ’s likeness
So Paul prays for God to do various things – but it all builds up to - so that end of v19 – here’s the goal – READ. He’s praying we’ll become the fullness of God.
Now that phrase – the fullness of God, or fullness of Christ – I think that means being fully like Christ. Full of his character and loves and hates – it’s full of him – or fully like him.
Now you might think – why didn’t you just say – Paul is praying for power – to be like Christ. Why did you use this odd phrase – power to realise Christ’s likeness.
Let me try and explain. Back in chapter 1:23 – we’re told Christ has died, risen and he’s head or Lord over everything – and I quote “for the church – which is his body, the fullness of him”. So the church is the fullness of Christ – or fully like Christ. It’s done and complete.
But when we get to chapter 4:12,13 – Paul says church should work in a certain way – so that the body is built up, until – one day – “we become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” So here – we’re not fully like Christ yet – it’s something we’re working towards and growing in.
So chapter 1 – we’re fully like Christ already. Chapter 4 – growing towards it.
The difference here is the difference between how God sees us because of Christ – and what we are in practice. Or what is true of us – spiritually – and what is true of us - on the ground.
Because of Christ – in God’s eyes - we are fully like Christ. Spiritually that is true of us. We’re washed clean, perfect. Fully like him.
But in practice – on the ground – we do things wrong, we fail, we’re weak – but we’re changing and gradually becoming like Christ.
That is why I said Paul is praying that we would ‘realise Christ’s likeness’.
There are two senses of ‘realise’. First of all we realise by ‘taking something in’. Grasping it. Paul is praying that we’d realise we are fully like Christ, chapter 1. Because of his death and resurrection God sees us as Christ. That’s who we are to him. So Paul prays we’d realise that’s true – that we’d get it.
But secondly realise can mean – make it real in our lives – live it out in practice. And Paul is praying for that – that we would actually become like Christ in our lives, and words and actions.
A couple of year ago I went with the kids to see Good night Mr Tom at the theatre. Don’t know if you’ve read the book or seen the play. It’s the story of a boy called William who has a terrible upbringing with an abusive mother – then in the second world war he is an evacuee sent to live in the country with Mr Tom.
On his first night – Mr Tom says it’s time for bed – shows him his room – and William starts to get on the floor under the bed. Mr Tom, says what are you doing, get in the bed. But you get a little insight into what his life has been like. Another time Tom takes his belt off – innocently – but William cowers in fear – because he thinks he’s going to get beaten.
The story is about how William changes. It’s a beautiful story of seeing him stop being so frightened and grows in confidence, and relationships. Starts doing new things – turns out he’s a wonderful artist – he makes friends – he’s funny - he comes out of himself and grows into this lovely sweet creative boy.
You could say he realises himself. He takes in – discovers - who he really is and then he lives that out.
That’s the sort of thing I mean by saying - we are to realise Christ’s fullness. To take in who we are now – we’re like Christ. To grasp that is how God sees us – so that’s the real us.
And then to live it out – make it real. To gradually become like Christ in our daily lives.
Now that is the big picture on this prayer. To get there Paul prays for two others things.
Power to realise Christ’s lordship
This word ‘dwell’ – doesn’t mean arriving somewhere – or visiting somewhere. It means staying somewhere permanently - making your home there.
And this Christ who dwells - is the Lord – raised above all powers and authorities. So Paul is asking that this supreme Lord would make his home in us.
I imagine a lot of us are or have lived in rented flats/houses. Thing about a rented place is that you can’t change it very much. I used to live a rented house that had shocking wall paper – you know that embossed stuff – felt like a padded cell. If you had Velcro on your clothes you had to be careful – you could end up getting stuck to the wall.
But we couldn’t do anything about it – wasn’t our house.
But imagine if you bought the place you rent – so you own it. Well first thing I would have done would hold a wallpaper stripping party. You’d start making the changes wouldn’t you? Carpet, furniture – things out, things in.
It takes some time and effort. But the longer you are there – the more you would make it what you want it to be. Until one day you could imagine your friends would look at your place and say – this place is really you.
Well Christ is in us, and he’s not renting. He’s our Lord – he owns us. And so Paul prays that Christ would make his home in us – increasingly make our lives what he wants them to be – some things out - getting rid of some things we do – some things in – adding new character and habits.
So that one day people will look at us, and say to Christ – they are very you. They reflect your tastes and character and values. Because we are Christ’s likeness. That is what Paul is praying for – power to realise Christ as our Lord.
Now do we see we the idea of ‘realising’ here. You could say all Christians have Jesus as their Lord – there’s no need to pray for it - that’s what it means to be a Christian – to accept him as your Lord or King.
But Paul prays we’d realise that. Firstly in the sense of take it in – to increasingly grasp - that Jesus is raised, ascended, he’s really in charge – and so he’s in charge of us. Paul prays we’ll get that more and more. And then realise it in the sense of living that out – so we increasingly live with Christ in charge of us – so he makes our lives what he wants them to be.
As we do that – we become more like Christ.
Now I don’t know how you’re feeling about this – what reaction this is bringing on. I imagine some of us might react to this with some pessimism or cynicism. You are well aware of how you are not like Christ – you’ve learnt how hard it is to change. Because you’ve tried and failed. So hearing Paul’s prayer – and me talk - about becoming like Christ - makes you feel fed up and cynical - because you think – that’s not going to work.
Well I have some sympathy with that. But I find it encouraging here how Paul’s prayer talks so much about God’s power at work in us. V16 READ.
Pessimism in some ways is right – we won’t change easily, habits run very deep. And Paul knows that – knows it’s an enormous job to change us –– so he asks for God’s even more enormous power. We might feel change is impossible. And it would be impossible – if we didn’t have God’s divine power – working out of his glorious riches. Or v20 READ – we can’t even imagine what God can do - that’s how powerful God is.
And with that power – there is hope. Change might be slow and hard, two steps forward, one step back – but we can have hope – whatever we’re battling with at the moment – whatever we’re tempted to give up battling – or have given up - we can have hope – we can pray this prayer – look to God – for power to realise Christ’s Lordship.
Second thing he asks for,
Power to realise Christ’s love
Now – again - straight away - you could say if we are Christians, we know Christ loves us. That’s first base, that’s Christianity 101. But again Paul wants us to realise – to take in and live out – the enormity of Christ’s love.
Heart of sin is to not trust that God loves us. Back in Genesis 3 the snake says to Eve – God said don’t eat the fruit – because he knows when you eat it you’ll be like him. In other words –– God is keeping things from you – he doesn’t really love you. Disobeying God will be better, fuller and richer.
We probably don’t say that explicitly – we might not always recognise it. But that is very deep in us – the suspicion that God doesn’t really love us, and going your own way will be better for us.
I’ve noticed this in me – how I can think that obeying God fully will mean I’ll miss out. That’s the boring option where you lose out. And while we doubt God’s love we’ll never fully trust God, and obey and be like Christ.
So Paul prays we will realise Christ’s love for us. He prays we’ll be convinced there is nothing higher, wider, deeper – nothing bigger than this in the universe. Nothing more certain or real.
Because if we get that then we’ll see that living his way – being like Christ – is the best way to live.
And so convinced of his love – we live like Christ.
I asked a moment ago how you were reacting to this ‘being like Christ’ prayer. I said we can be pessimistic about change – but we should take hope from God’s power. Another reaction we could have is – reluctance. We understand all this – but frankly we don’t particularly want to be like Christ – that idea doesn’t grab us – doesn’t excite us – it feels like a duty we know we should do but don’t really want to. Be more fun doing our own thing.
Again I have some sympathy with that – but I’ve found it helps to remember what we’re saying here – that God loves us. He’s not out to give us a hard time. Spoil things. He loves us beyond belief – he’s absolutely devoted to us – Christ died for us – he’s given everything for us – so of course he wants the best for us. That means living his way really is the best way to live.
In fact this life like Christ – is the way we were made to live. It’s about being truly and fully who we are – as God intended.
It’s a bit like in Goodnight Mr Tom, William gradually becomes the boy he really was – the boy he was made to be. And it’s wonderful and beautiful to watch.
It’s the same for us - as we fight sin, and say no to things, and yes to other things, and love others and serve and give – as we become like Christ – we are becoming the true us – as we were made to be. We’re becoming the best us.
We can embrace this – not reluctantly – but eagerly. As we grasp there is nothing bigger in the world than God’s love for us.
I started by asking what we expect God to do in our lives. There’s the “it’s all about the past and future – but nothing for today” camp. Or it’s all about today – but it’s all about me, my needs camp.
Well this is a long way from ‘nothing for today’ isn’t it? This is God is active and working in our lives. With power, by his Spirit. Yes it’s based on the past and it will be completed in the future – but now - Christ is making his home in us. So God is very active today, powerfully changing us.
But it’s also very different to – ‘it’s all about me’ – because this power and change is very much on God’s terms isn’t it? It’s a long way from making me have a nice time – and solving what I think are my problems - rather it’s all about God’s plan to make me like Christ.
Now that will affect things in our daily lives, the problems we face of course – that’s the terrain in which we work this out - but it’s his agenda – not ours. We see that in the ultimate purpose of all this – v21. Ultimately his work in us, making us like Christ – is about his glory. So it’s change on his terms, not ours.
God is powerful and active in our lives today – very much so – this week we can pray to him – pray this prayer - ask him and expect him - to work in us with power - so we’ll realise Christ’s lordship and love – so we become like Christ – so ultimately he receives glory.