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Sunday, November 1, 2015

The Love of God (Ephesians 3.6-19)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; November 1, 2015
Text: Ephesians 3:6-19

:: Sermon Audio (link) ::
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:: Some Music Used ::
Hymn of Praise: O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus (arr. Enfield)
Song of Response: The Power of Your Love (Bullock)
The Word in Music: The Love of God (arr. Ferguson)
Offering of Music: Maggie Slade, piano
Communion Music: Rick Bean, Piano
Hymn of Sending: And Can it Be (arr. Enfield)
Postlude: Rick Bean, piano

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf)::
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.

Today will be more of a short devotional sermon. Our context is most of Ephesians 3 though we will focus on the love of God described in vv. 14-19. But before we talk about the love of God, let’s consider what has come before.

The Message

I chose the Message translation for this part (vv. 6-12) because I knew we wouldn’t have time for me to preach through the whole thing this morning. This translation does a great job of capturing the context for us. And there are two key parts of the context to mention here.

First, the essence of the Message is found in verse 6: “…people who have never heard of God and those who have heard of Him all their lives stand on the same ground before God. They get the same offer, same help, same promises in Christ Jesus. The Message is accessible and welcoming to everyone, across the board.”

We’ve talked about that in recent weeks as we’ve worked through chapter two of Ephesians and as we’ve looked at the story of the Prodigal Son. There were those who had grown up hearing of God – these were the people of God called the Jews. Many of us have grown up hearing of God – also the people of God called the Church. There were and are also those who are outsiders… wanderers… far away; whether Gentiles or way outside the influence of the Church. And an essential part of the Message – God’s Good News – is that being in or out of Israel, in our out of the Church, in our out of cultural Christianity, doesn’t give you advance standing before God. Whether preacher’s daughter or gypsy wanderer, you get the same offer, same help, same promises in Jesus. The Message – and Jesus – is accessible and welcoming across the board.

Second, Paul introduces as his “life’s work” helping people understand and respond to this Message. Noting his own insufficiency to present the Message to those with no background in God’s way, he says nonetheless that God gave him what he needed. But that’s the Apostle Paul – a superhero, if you will. Here’s the part I want to highlight in verse 10: “Through followers of Jesus like yourselves gathered in churches, this extraordinary plan of God is becoming known and talked about even among the angels!”

Let me say that again with language that should be familiar around here:

The ordinary work of the church – you and me – is to help people near and far to God understand and respond to this Message.

What’s the Message again? It’s that people near and far to God ALL have access and welcome with God – the same offer, same help, and same promises in Jesus. Helping people near and far to God understand and respond to that is the everyday work of the church, of you and me. And THAT is God’s extraordinary plan!

God’s extraordinary plan to love and rescue the world is to use ordinary people like you and me to help people near and far understand and respond to God’s love in Christ. So let’s see what Paul has to say about the love of God.

Humbled by Love

Where all this reflection on the breadth of God’s offer and salvation leads Paul is to a kind of song or prayer of praise. Indeed he writes, “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father…” (v. 14) Bowing the knee is not only a posture of prayer, but also an expression of humility. Paul has been humbled by God’s love and now leads us in prayer or song about that love. (And after the sermon, a choral ensemble is going to lead us similarly in song about the love of God.) Let’s briefly walk through what Paul says in this humbled reflection.

...from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name (v. 15) – Having explored God’s love for those near and far, Jew and Gentile, rule-bound and prodigal, we remember that God created all human life. We ALL derive our name and our being from God. When God made the great covenant-promise with Abraham, God blessed Abraham and his descendants as His people, but also said that they were being blessed to be a blessing to ALL the nations of the world… all the human family. Likewise, God has blessed us, calling us together as His Church through Jesus in order that we might be a blessing to the whole world. Again, that is the everyday and ordinary work of God’s Church.

That God would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man (v. 16) – Remember Paul’s own testimony in v. 7? Paul thought himself as the last person qualified for this work, but God saw to it that he was equipped… nothing to do with his natural abilities. It’s an old saying, but a true one rooted in this passage: “God doesn’t call the equipped; God equips the called.” You and I are called together as the Church; and God promises to give us what we need for the work we are to do. We are simply to show up, ask God what He wants us to do, and do it faithfully. And that starts with inner spiritual resolve, also a gift out of the “riches of God’s glory!”

So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith (v. 17) – An interesting statement, that. Scripture tells us that when we trust in Jesus as Lord and Savior, he DOES dwell in our hearts through the Holy Spirit. But here it is linked to our actions. I often hear people say, “I just don’t FEEL it; how do I know God is in my heart?” I think this passage is giving us a great key to this question: we feel it when we say ‘yes’ to God’s work. Imagine making the football team and then never going to a practice or game. Would you feel like a member of the team? God says you don’t have to be the star; you don’t have to score or even be particularly skilled. Just show up to practice and the games and listen and follow the coach’s directions. Even better, this coach can impart to you exactly what is needed for the particular situation!

That you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend…the love of Christ (vv. 18-19) – How are we “rooted and grounded in love?” It is through this ordinary and everyday participation in the extraordinary love-in-action of God. That’s what it means to BE the church; that’s what it means to BE a follower of Jesus. And when that happens, we will share in what followers of Christ (aka “the saints”) have known in every age and time: the fullness of the love of Christ – the breadth, length, height, depth… surpassing knowledge. You will be “filled up to all the fullness.” (v. 19)

The Love of God

How do you experience the fullness of the love of God? You participate in living out the love of God. It reminds me of that chapter from Jeremiah that we’ve studied several times (ch. 29): how were God’s exiled people to experience the peace (shalom) they longed for? They were to pray for and seek it for their city… the city of their captors!

Or maybe you realize you don’t really know much about the love of God. God’s love is not giving you what you want when you want it. Think about the best parents you know: good, deep, meaningful love protects, serves, honors, guards. You can learn more about it in 1 Corinthians 13 or here in Ephesians 1-3 or in the stories of Jesus like the Prodigal Son or in the actions of Jesus, who served and loved and sacrificed for others.

How do you know when you’ve understood or experienced the love of God? I think Paul’s reaction was representative: he bowed his knees before the Father because he had glimpsed just how extraordinary the love of God was. It shouldn’t be something that you have a quick and easy definition for that you can whip out for a dinner party conversation. It should feel more like being knee deep in the crashing waves of the ocean, realizing you are in the midst of something vastly larger and more powerful than you can imagine; yet there you are!

With Paul, I pray that you may come to comprehend and know more this day and in the days to come what is the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of God in Christ. Amen.

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