Our super-abounding God

adapted from PCC Prayer Meeting Exhortation on 14 Oct 2011

20 Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, 21 Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen” (Ephesians 3:20-21).

The epistle of Paul to the Ephesians is a beautiful letter about the Christ and His Church.

It begins with a magnificent treatise on what God the Father, the Son and the Spirit has done, is doing and will do for the Church.

  • In chapter 2 we have a wonderful explanation of how the children of God’s wrath, dead in trespasses and sin, could be reconciled to God and have fellowship with Him.
  • Chapter 3 is autobiographical in nature, but it contains some of the most profound statements concerning the wisdom and power of God in his special providence on behalf of the Church of Christ.
  • In the 4th chapter, Paul begins to explain how the Church of Christ must walk together in unity and love.
  • This extends to the 5th and 6th chapters, which deals with the domestic life of members of the church of Christ before finally ending with a splendid description of the Spiritual Armour and the battles that the church militant and every member have to engage in.

This is the letter in a nutshell. But interestingly, if you search through this gloriously instructive letter, you will find in it, not a single explicit statement of promise!

There are many statements that are based on the promises of God, but not one where the promise itself is stated clearly. Nevertheless, there are several statements in the letter that echoes the promise upon which it resonates so distinctly that you can hardly read them without thinking of the promises in themselves.

One such statement is the famous doxology which Paul wrote at the end of chapter 3—

20 Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, 21 Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen” (Eph 3:20-21).

In this study, we want to consider this doxology and the implied promises it contains.

In the context, Paul is telling the Ephesians about his prayers for them. No doubt, the more he wrote, the more his heart is filled with expectation, just as the more we pray, the more our hearts ought to fill up with expectations.

So filled with praise and expectation was Paul that he could not end the chapter in any other way than by a doxology. A doxology is a word of high praise. Paul’s doxology is both eloquent and awe-inspiring. But it is also very comforting. In particular, we may derive three comforting promises from it:

  • First, from the words, “Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think,” we may infer the promise that God will super-exceed our expectations.
  • Secondly, from the words “according to the power that worketh in us,” we may infer the promise that God has and will continue to work in us.
  • Thirdly, from the words “Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end,” we may infer the promise that God will Glorify Himself through Christ and His Church

Let’s look at the second point first…


1. God Has & Will Continue to Work in Us.

20 Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us,

In order for God to be able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, it is essential that God must have absolute power.

A hint of this great power of God may be seen in the greatness of the galaxies created by God, and by the massive energy generated by the stars and by our own sun. It may even be seen in the natural disasters such as hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and tsunamis.

Very few of us would have seen hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and tsunamis. But all true believers, ancient and modern, would have already experienced this great power of God.

In what ways have we experienced it? We have experienced it when we were raised from the dead! We were, remember, dead in sin and trespasses. Spiritually, we were dead and rotting like Lazarus in the grave. But God quickened us and raised us with the same power that he used to raise Lazarus and indeed the same power with which He raised our Lord from the dead.

So we’ve experienced the resurrection power! Our bodies have not been raised, but our souls have already been raised with the same power. By this power our hearts were changed; we were transformed by the renewing of our minds; we were translated from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light. From haters of God and willing slaves of Satan, we were made sons and daughters of God and grateful disciples of Christ. From workers of darkness and sinners who sinned in everything that we did, we were empowered not only to do good works, but also to desire to do good works.

And this power has not ceased to work in us. Paul says: “according to the power that worketh in us.” Notice the present tense. In the Greek it is a present continuous tense. So Paul is really saying, “according to the power that is working in us.”

This is remarkable isn’t it? Paul tells the Philippians, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Phil 2:12-13).

Brethren and children, if you love the Lord, you must know that God is not done with you yet! God is not done with us as a church of Christ yet!

This is God’s promise. This is why the Spirit of Christ is given as an earnest of our inheritance. This is why He is called the “Spirit of Promise” (Eph 1:13).

God is in Christ doing a wonderful work in each and every trembling heart in this church. He who has begun a good work in us will perform it unto the day of the Lord Jesus Christ. Let us wait upon Him patiently. Let us be patient with one another as we cling on to God’s promise that He is working in us and will continue to work in us.

But secondly, let us consider how…


2. God Will Super-Exceed our Expectations

Paul has just been telling the Ephesians what he has been praying for them for. He was praying that that they might be strengthened with might in the inner man (v. 16). He is praying that Christ might dwell in their hearts by faith (v. 17). And He prays that they might be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height of the love of Christ that they might be filled with the fullness of God (v. 18-19).

Paul’s heart must have been filled with thanksgiving, awe and wonder as he thought about what it would be if God answers his prayers fully. So thrilled was he that his heart burst forth in doxology.

20 Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think,…

This a fully loaded statement! When you read it in the Greek, you get the sense that Paul is really trying to use words to convey what is beyond words.  He wants to say that God is able to answer our prayers and much more! He wants to say that what we may think to be impossible is nothing to God.

God is not only able to do some of what we ask for. He is not only able to do most of what we ask for. He is able to do all that we ask for.

Nay, He is able to do more than what we dare to ask. Nay He is even able to do more than what we even dare to dream. Nay, He is able to do abundantly above what we can even imagine. Nay, He is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think!

Matthew Henry puts it beautifully when he says:

“There is an inexhaustible fullness of grace and mercy in God, which the prayers of all the saints can never draw dry. Whatever we may ask, or think to ask, still God is still able to do more, abundantly more, exceedingly abundantly more.”

Did you ask for a cup of cold water? God has an ocean of pure sparkling, cold and refreshing water, enough to quench a million worlds. Would you ask for a loaf of bread? God has a mountain of the most nutritious and delectable bread enough to feed a thousand generations.

In other words, we can never have too high an expectation for God. Ask however much and we can be sure that God can do it. And if it is within God’s will, He will do it.

How shall we respond to this fact? Shall we not pray in faith? Shall we not pray with understanding? Shall we not pray with great expectation?

If we believe we are praying according to God’s will, we must not be too eager to try to protect God’s reputation by only praying prayers in such a way that God cannot fail to answer. Have we not been guilty of that? Have we not often prayed not what is the desire of our heart, but what we feel God is able to do?

Someone has a genetic disorder, and so we do not pray for God’s healing. Another one has what is known as an incurable disease, and we cease to pray for restoration. Yet another one has a personality problem we assume that the Spirit cannot change him.

We look at harvest field which is white for harvest. We look at the state of the vineyard. Look at our own congregation. No one seems to be willing to lay down his life for the Gospel. Look at the indifference in our own congregation. Look at the worldliness. Everyone seems so busy in their career. Have we prayed about the situation? Have we prayed that the Lord will revive our hearts? Have we prayed that God will raise labourers from our midst?

Why have we not prayed for these things? Why pray about work and illnesses and exams, but not about the sin and worldliness and the lack of fear of God in our midst? Why do we not pray that the Lord will raise up more labourers in our midst? Could it be we do not believe that He can change the situation?

We look at Singapore. We are overwhelmed by the materialism and religious moral indifference. We cannot imagine that we could become a Christian nation. And so we do not pray that God may give us Singapore. Remember how John Knox, prayed “Give me Scotland, or I die!” John Knox had greater faith and the Lord heard his cry with a great Reformation in Scotland which is still affecting the world today!

May we not pray with the same faith and expectation, beloved brethren? The apostle Paul invites us to do so in his doxology! We must be convinced that God is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we can ask or think.

It is true that God
does not always give us the desire of our hearts. It is also true that where providence suggests that God may not do according to our desire, we ought to be more tentative in our prayer. So we should say: “Lord, grant, if it be thy will…” But no, it does not mean we should not pray. So long as we know that a prayer is legitimate and according to God’s revealed will, we may pray. And we may pray for things that are impossible for man. If it is in God’s will, He hears us! The apostle John says: “…if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us” (1 Jn 5:14).

And nothing is impossible with God. The very fact that poor sinners like us are praying is evidence of the exceeding power of God that has worked in us and waiting to be unleashed through the prayer of the saints.

But now, finally, Paul’s doxology reminds us that…


3. God Will Glorify Himself through Christ & His Church

As the apostle thinks about the greatness of God in terms of His power already displayed and the power that is yet to be displayed, his heart overflows with praise.

21 Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end.

Paul is ascribing praise and glory to God the Father. God who is infinitely powerful will glorify Himself through Christ and His church.  This is an implied promise.

What does Paul mean when he says, “Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus”? What he is essentially saying is that the church must glorify God in and through Christ Jesus, the head of the Church. The church is the body of Christ, she is to be the instrument of God’s glory.

She is to glorify God in her worship. But Christ is the leader of worship, the worshipper-in-chief. This is why we insist on worshipping God in the way appointed by the Word of Christ.

This is why we insist on singing only the words of Christ, the psalms. We can have the assurance that when we sing the Psalms, Christ sings with us as our King leading in worship. We can have no assurance that when we sing uninspired songs that Christ would sing with us, for we would be doing our own thing rather than falling behind Him and letting Him take the lead.

Again, the church must glorify God by her good work. But Christ is the leader of good works, the servant-in-chief. This is why unless we are born again or become new creatures in Christ, we can have no good works. We are created in Christ Jesus unto good works. And no good work is a good work unless it is done in the name of Christ. This is why He teaches us in the Parable of the Sheep and Goats that we should give cups of cold water in His name.

The church should be unabashedly Christian. Brethren and children, may I urge you to be unabashedly Christian!

Whenever you are seeking to be helpful to anyone, let us not fail to acknowledge that we are but unprofitable servants of Christ.

Whenever we organise anything, whoever organises it, please make sure that we pray together when we start. It may be a picnic. It may be a cycling trip. It may be a hike. Let us not forget to pray together that we may know we are gathered in the name of the Lord.

We believe that as a church we will glorify God by Christ Jesus only when we worship and walk in union with Christ.

Notice how the apostle Paul speaks of the Church glorifying the Father “throughout all ages.” The Church existed in Old Testament times. She was glorifying God. The church is glorifying God today. The church will glorify God for all eternity, “world without end.”

We will never be separated from Christ. He is our head, we are His body. We will forever and ever glorify the Father in and through Christ.

One day, we shall glorify and enjoy God without any inhibition or interference of sin. We shall delight to worship God and shall never tire of worshipping Him. But thank God that even today, though our worship and service is tainted with sin, it is acceptable to God. Why? Because it is sprinkled with the blood of the Son of God, our Saviour and Lord.


Conclusion

Let’s conclude with a brief recap of our three lesson points:

(1) God has and will continue to work in us. We have a foretaste of His power. Let us look at what the Lord has done for us in our redemption and sanctification and hope. This is our foretaste of God’s power; and as we have tasted a little, let us both expect greater things and find assurance that God is able to do them for us individually and as a church.

(2) We are taught that God will Super-Exceed our Expectations. Let us learn, beloved brethren and children to be bolder in prayer. Let us not be afraid that God cannot answer. If our request is according to God’s will, He will give us the desire of our hearts.

(3) We are reminded that God will glorify Himself through Christ and His Church. Let us learn, beloved brethren, to praise God both with our lips and with our lives,—in a way that will glorify God. And let us seek the Lord’s help to ensure that our children will do the same:

20 Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, 21 Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.