“Fanfare for the Inner Man”
March 13, 2016
Pray that by faith the inner man may grasp and glorify the love of Christ.
I. That Christ may dwell in your inner man by faith (14-17a)
II. That you may know the love of Christ (Ephesians 3:17b-19)
III. That he might be glorified (Ephesians 3:20-21)
Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” is an appropriate background for the Apostle Paul’s “Fanfare for the Inner Man,” Ephesians 3:14-21. Paul’s second prayer for the Ephesians sounds like a fanfare, a glorious call to be celebrated and imitated, a fanfare of strength and power which shows us how to pray for heart issues in the lives of those around us.
By the end of Ephesians 3, Paul has stretched himself to limit in an attempt to portray the greatness and grace of a sovereign God who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ, saved us by grace alone, and called us to be part of his body, his nation, his family, his temple. Paul realizes that only God can make all this real to his readers, so he stops to pray.
The prayer is a model we can use to add substance and meaning to our prayers for those in any struggle, difficulty or challenge, even for those whose specific needs we don’t know because of distance or lack of intimacy. We can pray this prayer for almost anybody, because this is a prayer for the inner man, the inner person in the deep place of their heart. If Paul can focus his prayers on heart issues, so can we. We pray that by faith we may grasp and glorify the love of Christ in our deepest part, and we pray that prayer for others.
Paul begins the prayer by repeating the little phrase ‘for this reason’. He had started chapter 3 with that phrase, and intended to pray, but he got sidetracked into a description of his ministry, of the mystery revealed and shared through him. This second ‘for this reason’ gets him back on track. And ‘this reason’ is all the truth about God and about what He’s doing that Paul has tried to reveal.
Because of the greatness of this truth, as applied to the Ephesians, Paul is moved to kneel before the Father in prayer. Kneeling was unusual in Jewish praying. If you remember Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and tax collector, the Pharisee stood and prayed in his pride. But the tax collector stood as well, at a distance, and beat his breast. Standing was the common posture. Only occasionally in cases of intense emotion, does a person kneel. Paul knelt to pray with the Ephesian elders just before he got on the boat to leave them for the last time. But kneeling is also seen as a mark of submission to God, or to an earthly ruler. ‘Every knee shall bow’ in submission to Jesus when he returns. Paul’s comment that he kneels before the Father probably indicates both his willing submission to God and his intense emotion about the truth he is praying, the request he is bringing before a sovereign God.
He calls God ‘the Father from whom the whole family in heaven and on earth is named.’ It’s ‘the whole family,’ all those united with God through Jesus, and those in the spiritual realm who have always been His. All of these bear the family name, the family character, the family ‘usness.’ As Father, God is intimately sovereign over all, shaping his family to bring glory to his name.
Paul then prays that God would do certain things ‘according to his glorious riches’ Paul has no doubt that God has inexhaustible resources at his disposal, or that out of them he will be able to answer this prayer. John D. Rockefeller, the richest man of his time, had two choices in giving: he could give according to his riches or from his riches. Most often he did the latter. The most famous picture of Rockefeller shows him as a wizened old man, in a top hat and tails, giving a dime to some waif. Rockefeller did this over and over for the press to photograph. But imagine if he had given in proportion to his riches. He would have perhaps given away a grand home, one of the family estates, with masterpieces on the walls, a sculpture by Rodin on the front lawn, a golf course, a river view, the world’s most expensive automobiles. When God answers prayer, he gives according to his riches, in proportion to his riches. Not the scraps from his table, but the best he has, and in abundance.
Paul’s central prayer is that his readers be strengthened in the inner man, in the inner person. “I pray that, according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being” His prayer is a “Fanfare for the Inner Man,” the inner person, the real you, the one only you and God truly know, the person of your thoughts, of your hopes, of your doubts and fears and temptations, the person of the heart.
This is your inner man, the spiritual part of you, invisible to all of us, but visible in the spiritual realm, and clearly visible to God. Paul presumes that your inner person and mine needs strengthening. And it’s true. Look at your own heart. Behind the masks, behind the bluff, behind the false front you use to keep people from really knowing, don’t you need strengthening? I do. Paul knows that his readers need to be strengthened in the inner person, in the heart.
Paul calls on the Holy Spirit to do that strengthening: “to strengthen you with power through His Spirit in the inner man.” Then he says the same thing in different terms, “that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” Stott says: “these two petitions clearly belong together. . . One specifies the strengthening of the Spirit and the other the indwelling of Christ, but both surely refer to the same experience. Paul never separates the present work of the second and third persons of the Trinity. . . It is by the Spirit that Christ dwells in our hearts.”
Is Stott right? Scripture shows it’s equally valid to talk about ‘Christ in us’ and ‘the Spirit in us’ Romans 8 “You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness.” The Spirit in you is Christ in you. In John 14 Jesus says “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever the Spirit of truth. He lives with you and will be in you.” Then he says: “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” Christ dwells in us through the Spirit.
So Paul is praying that his readers would be strengthened with power, that Christ might dwell in their hearts through faith. Is Paul saying these are not believers, that they need saving faith? No, I don’t think so. From the first verses of the letter, he’s been telling them the wonderful things God has done for them. He would not suddenly address them as non-believers. No, he’s praying they will have strengthened, daily faith. Of course, to have that, you must have initial faith, trusting God for rescue from sin, and payment of sin’s penalty. We can’t expect these prayers to be answered in our inner person if we’ve never allowed Christ to dwell there by faith. But that initial faith needs to be empowered every day by the presence of the Holy Spirit who strengthens us.
What is this like? You may know someone, like Stephanie Eddy, who makes pottery. They take common clay, shape and dry it, glaze it and fire it. The clay is soft and weak when you work with it, but when you fire it, in a kiln that ranges from 1200 to 3000 degrees, it becomes strong. It is the same with our inner man. We are too weak to hold something as potent as Christ himself dwelling in. Then the Holy Spirit comes and fires us until we are strong enough to grasp the powerful love and presence of Jesus, a vessel fit for the master’s use.
This is the first part of Paul’s prayer, that we would be strengthened by the Spirit, Christ dwelling in our hearts, prepared for the knowledge of His love. And we can pray this for others. Lord, strengthen them with your power, give them the experience of Christ, settling down to live in their hearts, no matter what their external situation. Make them a vessel to know and experience your love.
The first part of the prayer leads in a straight line to the second part. What are we strengthened for? What is this clay pot being fired for? To experience and deeply know Christ’s love. Look at verses 17-19: that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19and to know this love which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
We pray that we ourselves and the people in our lives, would know and experience God’s love. Paul’s readers are, or are to be, rooted and established in love. It’s not clear from the Greek whether this is a statement that Paul is praying for them, or whether these things are just part of what it means to have Jesus living in your heart by faith. I tend to think it is the latter. If you’ve got Jesus and you are being strengthened by the Holy Spirit, then you are being rooted and grounded in love. There will be a depth to your faith, like the depth of a well rooted tree, a stability to your life, like the stability of firm foundation.
And the unseen cause of that depth, the unseen soil of that stability is love. This is not your love, as some commentators have said, but God’s love. The tree can’t take credit for the soil it grows in. The house can’t take credit for the rock it’s built on. It is only because of the free gift of God’s love we can stand at all, grow at all. In fact, it’s only because of that free gift we can be saved at all. We were rebels, sinners, by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions. It is by grace you have been saved.
So, being rooted and grounded in this love, surrounded by it as it were, Paul’s prayer is that his readers have power with all the saints to grasp that love. This is a corporate as well as an individual taking hold of the love. Though we as a group may not ever get much of a handle on the infinite love of God, we will do better as a group than each alone. Notice that this is again a prayer for strength, the strength to know God’s love. As a mechanical engineer I worked with pressure vessels. When I hear the word strength, I think of pressure vessels, and how we would reinforce them, add thickness or change materials so the vessel would be able to handle the pressure and weight of its contents
I remember doing some calculations on a vessel in California, and they told me that it was supposed to hold water. So I designed the legs a certain thickness and the cylinder, and so on. Later, after I sent the calcs in, I they admitted that the contents were not mere water, but were drilling mud, a very dense fluid that weighs three times as much. So I had to go back and strengthen that vessel so it could hold what they were going to pour in it. In the same way we must be strengthened in the inner man if we are even going to be able to hold the knowledge of the love of God that he wants to pour into us. Romans 5:5 says “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.” Only after we are strengthened can we begin to grasp or comprehend this love, to get a handle on how wide and how long and how high and how deep is the love of Christ. Paul isn’t saying we can put a quantity to these dimensions, but we can know and appreciate that they are far greater than any measure we can apply.
Stott adds a good word to this, saying “Modern commentators warn us not to be too literal in our interpretation, since the Apostle may have been indulging in rhetoric or poetic language. Yet it seems legitimate to say that the love of Christ is ‘broad’ enough to encompass all mankind, ‘long’ enough to last for eternity, ‘deep’ enough to reach the most degraded sinner, and ‘high’ enough to exalt him to heaven.” These concepts have been seen already in this letter.
Ancient commentators went further. They saw these dimensions illustrated on the cross. As an old song says “The width of two arms outstretched on a tree. The length of the road to Calvary. The height of the crown on a cruel cross, the depth of the pain that it cost. All for you. All for me. All for love did he bleed. All to set us free.” The ancients saw in these words what we see when we ask Jesus the question “how much do you love me?” and he answers by stretching out his arms to be nailed to the cross and saying “this much” My prayer for you is that the Holy Spirit, having strengthened you, would get inside and start pushing on your soul, enlarging your soul so that you grasp more of how wide and how long and how high and how deep is the love of Jesus. Not as head knowledge, but as heart knowledge, an experiential knowing that brings awe and wonder not just to the mind, but to the will and to the emotions.
And Paul won’t stop stretching language, for this knowing of God’s love is knowing something that surpasses knowledge, knowing an infinite. You can know for sure that two plus two is four. You can be sure that any two numbers can be added. But you can’t know fully the sum of all the pairs of numbers, because the number of pairs is infinite. In the same way you can know the love of Christ in your experience, you can know it in many specific instances and in the many accounts set forth in God’s word. But you can never know the love of Christ in its totality, because it’s infinite, immeasurable, inexhaustible.
Yet it is in knowing this love that you are filled up with all the fullness of God. Kent Hughes reflects on a time when he stood with his wife looking out on the vast Pacific Ocean, and it occurred to him that if he was to hold a pint jar open to the incoming wave, it would instantly be filled from the fullness of the Pacific. But of course, he could never put the fullness of the Pacific Ocean into the jar. In the same way an infinite God can fill us to overflowing with himself, without ever diminishing the fullness that he himself has. Right now, we can’t completely experience this fullness. We look forward to our final perfection when together we enter the completeness of God’s purpose for us, and are filled to capacity, filled up to the entire fullness of God, everything which human beings are capable of receiving without ceasing to be human.
So we’ve seen two parts of Paul’s prayer for the heart, his fanfare for the inner man. First, Lord, strengthen the inner person with your power. Hold them up, make them strong. Second, Lord, give the knowledge of your love, of its height, its depth, its length and its width. You can pray this for anybody, for any believer. Go through your whole prayer list from your spouse to your parents to your children to your small group to your church community to missionaries to leaders of Christian movements, and pray that they would be strengthened in the inner person against all that strives to weaken them, and that they would know the immeasurable love of Christ on a heart and experiential level.
I often e-mail or text prayers like this from Scripture to people in difficult situations. Years ago I sent an e-mail to my friend Ed Lewis, who has long been with the Lord. Things had been rough in his business, some of us had been praying like this for him. Ed wrote back and said “Bob, I just thought I’d share with you the strength of the Lord's uplifting lovingkindness and support that I’ve sensed the past couple of days. For two weeks the circumstances of my business have increased in difficulty, complexity and frustration. But Wednesday morning, as I studied the Sunday School lesson and looked up the Scriptures, I became aware of a warm sense of God's great love and uplifting. The past two days I have sensed this warm confidence and the presence of God. It’s not because things are suddenly going right, because they are not. But, that sense of God's really being there, never leaving me, has been with me so strongly.”
This is the kind of answered prayer that thrills our hearts: the comforting presence of God. And like Paul in the third part of his prayer, our immediate desire is that God would receive the glory. Ephesians 3:20-21, a great benediction: Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
Paul is always careful - far more careful than we are at times, to make sure that God gets the glory from all he does. Certainly for strengthening the inner person, filling his people with love, allowing them to know Christ, God is to be glorified. Who else but God could receive honor for this? Paul says “he is able to do immeasurably more than we ask or think.” Once we have measured the dimensions of his love, and seen that to know it goes far beyond anything we can contain, even beyond that God is able to do immeasurably more. Paul turns our thoughts back to this infinite power of God. In the first section we learned to pray that people would be strengthened by his power. In the second, that by that power they would know his love. In this third section, that same power is at work in us, in the inner man, and it is able to do immeasurably more than we ask or think.
For the fiftieth time Paul stretches our minds by his use of language. Listen to how he builds this up: (1) He is able to do this work, for he is neither idle, nor inactive, nor dead. (2) He is able to do what we ask, for he hears and answers prayer. (3) He is able to do what we think or imagine; he knows our thoughts and deepest desires. (4) He is able to do all that we ask or think, for nothing is impossible to God. (5) He is able to do more than we ask or think, for his thoughts are higher than ours. (6) He is able to do much more than we ask or think. He does not give us his grace in calculated measure, but freely. (7) He is able to do very much more, far more abundantly than all we ask or think. He’s a God of super-abundance. ‘Immeasurably,’ in the Greek, is one of Paul’s made-up words, a super superlative, like the super-mega-blowout sales that car dealers proclaim, but Paul’s word is about God and is all true.
And this power is at work within us. This is truly the fanfare for the inner man. The unimaginable power that created the universe, the power that super-exceeds even our wildest thoughts is that power that is at work within us, strengthening us and enabling us to know his love. It’s like trying to say that within you is the power of a hurricane, or the nuclear power at work in the core of a sun. No way - no way - and yet Paul says that it is so. If you’ve ever felt the kind of supernatural presence and comfort that Ed described in his note, you have felt that power. The greatest miracle is not really the flashy miracle of healing or mountain moving. It is the transformed heart that is able to trust Jesus by faith, Christ dwelling there by the Spirit. This is what we want for our loved ones: Not the life of external power and success, even in the service of Christ, but the internal power of a transformed heart, a heart that knows God’s love, and cannot be shaken: a heart that gives Him the glory.
To him be glory, in the church and in Christ Jesus. Paul often prays that God be glorified, that all his perfections be recognized and honored. He sees that as the ultimate result of all that a perfect God does. But nowhere else does he use this phrase ‘in the church and in Christ Jesus.’ The church is the vehicle for the outworking of God’s purpose in this age. Even in heaven, in the spiritual realm, it proclaims the manifold wisdom of God, as Paul taught us back in verse 10. It exists, on one level, to give praise and glory to God, as we saw over and over when we looked at God’s blessings in chapter 1.
And yet everything the church does, it does ‘in Christ.’ We are blessed ‘in Christ.’ He chose us ‘in him.’ ‘in him’ we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. We were included ‘in him’, sealed ‘in him’ seated in the heavenly realms ‘in him.’ ‘In him’ those who were far away have been brought near. ‘In him’ the whole building, which is the church, is joined and held together.
So it is no surprise that the glory God works in us individually, in the inner man, is manifest in the church, in Christ Jesus. We are in the church and the church is in Jesus, and as God works in us, the whole thing lights up like a jar full of fireflies. Or like a universe full of stars, as Paul says in Philippians. To him be glory ‘in all generations,’ all of history, ‘forever and ever,’ all of eternity.
This is how we can pray. We can imitate Paul’s fanfare for the inner man. Not all the time, not every prayer, but often. I want to close by giving you the chance to do this. I’ve printed up a paraphrase of this prayer with the traditional blank into which you can insert a name, again from your spouse to a missionary in Timbuctoo. We actually have one in Kathmandu if you want to use them. And in a minute, after we sing, we will close the service by praying the paraphrase together, out loud, but we’ll each say a different name.
Heavenly Father, you are the Father of every righteous being in creation, whether angel or redeemed human. I come before you to ask that out of the riches of your glory, and by the power of the Spirit, you will strengthen _______________ in his/her inner being. Do this by giving Jesus to be present in his/her heart by faith. I pray that he/she will be rooted like a tree in your love, grounded on the foundation of your love, so that he/she will be able to get a grasp on your love, in harmony with all the redeemed. I pray that he/she would be transformed by knowing the love of Christ, seeing its height, its depth, its length, its width, even though this love surpasses all human understanding. I pray that he/she would be filled to overflowing with the fullness of God. Father, you are able to do immeasurably more than all I can ask or think. I believe you are able to put that power to work in ____________. Be glorified as you do this, glorified by every generation of the church, and glorified as the church points to Christ Jesus forever and ever. Amen.