Beyond Your Wildest Dreams – Lloyd-Jones on Ephesians 3
Some of the greatest and most stirring words of Scripture are found in Ephesians:
A doxology is an expression of praise to God. There are many doxologies found in the Bible. Consider a few famous ones. In 1 Timothy 1:17 we read: “To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” Or as we find in Jude 24-25: “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.”
One of them that I want to look at here comes at the end of Ephesians 3. What has preceded it has been some of the most incredible and marvellous theological and spiritual truth found in Scripture. If you have not read Ephesians 1-3 lately, you really should.
And often when Paul is dealing with such profound and majestic truths he breaks forth into prayer and praise. That is just what he does toward the end of Ephesians chapter three. The prayer begins in verse 14 and culminates in a stirring doxology in verses 20-21.
So much amazing material has just been presented that Paul has to stop and pray that the saints in Ephesus – along with all us Christians – will grasp what has been said and make it fully a part of their very lives. In his prayer he says he wants them – and us – to “be filled with all the fullness of God” (v. 19).
That alone is so utterly incomprehensible and mind-blowing, that he then moves into a famous doxology in verses 20-21: “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”
Someone had just recently posted that bit about God being “able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think” on the social media, and it once again really hit me. The trouble with being so very familiar with certain biblical passages – having read or heard them hundreds of times – is they can go in one ear and out another. We become much too familiar with them, and therefore much too blasé about them.
So I decided to revisit that passage. It is indeed a most breathtaking text. What can one say about it? There are several dozen commentaries on my shelves on Ephesians, and any one could have provided great insight and encouragement. But I instantly decided I would head to my collection of books by Martyn Lloyd-Jones. That of course includes his 8 volumes of expository sermons on this epistle.
The third volume, which covers Eph. 3, is called The Unsearchable Riches Of Christ. Let me quote from the closing chapters of this as he discusses the last three verses. As to Paul’s phrase about being “filled with all the fulness of God” MLJ says this:
“There is no more staggering statement in the whole range of Scripture than this. We are here face to face with the ultimate in experience, with the highest doctrine of all. We must approach it, therefore, with a sense of awe, and a sense of total inadequacy; and yet, thank God, with a sense of keen anticipation.”
And he reminds of how utterly practical this teaching is:
“The Apostle who wrote these words was an evangelist, a teacher, a pastor; and he was not concerned to give the Ephesian Christians some mystical delight, or some interesting metaphysical problem to unravel. He did not write in order to stimulate them to argue about doctrine; he wrote his Epistle in order to help them in their daily life and living. Something essentially practical, a concrete reality, is here before us.”
He died that we might be ‘filled with all the fulness of God’ – here in this life! Not when you are dead and have passed into heaven and into glory, but here and now! We shall have it in greater fulness there, but we are filled to the brim here and now. That is what Paul was praying for these Ephesians. It is not a vague ideal which he is setting before them; he is praying that they may truly know this, even as he himself knew it.
This is Christianity! To be content with anything less than this is sinful, and dishonouring to the Lord. Do not be content with the mere fact that you believe in Christ, that your sins are forgiven, and that you are a church member. Press on, give yourself neither rest nor peace; offer this prayer for yourself, the whole of it, and go on doing so until you know something of this blessed satisfaction and have realized something of this fulness.
And he says this about verses 20-21:
With these words, a doxology, the Apostle ends his remarkable prayer which he has been offering for the Ephesian Christians. Nothing could be more fitting than this after such a prayer. Indeed, nothing else would be fitting at all. We have seen how the Apostle has risen from petition to petition, and from height to height, until he has reached the climax, the acme, beyond which nothing is possible. Nothing greater can ever happen to us than the answer to, and the satisfaction of, the petition that we may be ‘filled with all the fulness of God.’ Having asked for that, having prayed for that, there is nothing more than one can do, there is no further prayer, there is nothing to do but praise God….
This is not something which can be considered purely objectively. Do we join the Apostle wholeheartedly and feel this doxology welling up within us? I fear that many of us merit the rebuke God administered to the children of Israel of old in the 81st Psalm, when he reminds them of what He would have done for them but for their unbelief. He says: ‘O Israel, if thou wilt hearken unto me’. There is no end to what He will do for them if they will but listen. ‘Open thy mouth wide and I will fill it.’…
Language has never been strained and used to the limit as it is in this doxology. This is so because language is inadequate. The Apostle is now trying to define the undefinable. He is trying to measure the immeasurable. He is trying to put in human terms that which is illimitable – the absolute! See how he piles words one on top of another….
The Apostle comes down to our level and helps us in our unbelief and doubts and hesitations. Sometimes in our prayers we think that we have been somewhat daring, and that we have asked for something which is quite impossible. The Apostle tells us that we must never harbour such thoughts, because God is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we can ask. John Newton understood this, and that is why he urges us in one of his well-known hymns to stop and think, and to remind ourselves of certain things before we begin to pray. We must not rush with our petitions into the presence of God. We must ask certain questions. To whom am I praying? Who is the Being and what is the truth concerning the being I am about to address? Newton answers his own question by saying:
“Thou art coming to a King,
Large petitions with thee bring;
For His grace and power are such,
None can ever ask too much.”
Bring your most daring petitions, bring your most impossible requests, add others to them; let the whole Church join together in their wildest desires and demands! There is no danger of exceeding the limit.
What more can I say? Praise God for his good and glorious gifts to his people!