Within the last 7 days I’ve heard three separate sermons from the same passage. This doesn’t happen all the time. Well, for starters, usually I don’t even hear three sermons in a week. But the Moody conference last week gave me 12 general session messages to choose from. And when I get three in the same week, I think it’s time that I sit up and listen a little more closely.
The third sermon of the bunch was from a guest speaker at our church on Sunday. It honestly wasn’t even that interesting, was pretty shallow. But, it got me turned back to that passage. The other two messages were from D. A. Carson and Tony Evans. Now those will get your attention. 🙂
The passage in question is Ephesians 3:14-21:
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith–that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
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.
Tony Evans laid it out this way: Paul is praying for us to have more intimacy with Christ. Intimacy provides capacity, and the capacity provides power – God’s power. In other words, if we are lacking intimacy with Christ, our capacity for God to work in our lives is diminished. On the other hand, if we pursue intimacy with Christ, our capacity for God to work in our lives is increased, “more abundantly than all we ask or think”.
D. A. Carson, though, had the illustration while teaching this passage that will stick with me the longest. His question was this: why does Paul pray that “Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” when he’s talking to Christians, who presumably already have Christ in their life? He told this story, which I’ll paraphrase in the first person:
“When my wife and I bought our first house, it was what they call a “handyman’s dream”. You know what that means… it needed a lot of work. There was black and silver wallpaper in the bedroom. The previous owners had two dogs who were rarely let out – there was still dog poo in the corners of the house. The walls were dingy. It needed lots and lots of work. When we bought the house and moved our stuff in, it was ours, we lived there, but we didn’t really inhabit the place yet.
“But as we continued to live there, we starting working on the house. We knocked down a wall to expand the kitchen. We painted. We took down the black and silver wallpaper. We cleaned up the dog poo. Had we stayed there longer, we undoubtedly would have built on an addition when the kids were born. After some period of time, we could step back, look at the house, and say, ‘wow, we really live here.'”
This, Dr. Carson says, is the difference Paul is talking about in Ephesians 3. When we first accept Christ, our lives are a lot like that handyman’s dream house. There’s black and silver wallpaper on the walls. There’s dog poo in the corners. (“Dog poo” is an exact quote from Carson, by the way. :-)) Christ is living there, but He doesn’t really “inhabit” the place in the way that Paul means. What God wants to do is to clean us up, to do that painting, take down the wallpaper, and remodel the place so that our Christ is really inhabiting our lives.
This illustration was the most striking, insightful picture to me from the whole conference. I want to let Christ continue transforming my life, until it just radiates from me that “Christ lives here”. With three sermons in a week, I think God was trying to tell me something. I hope I’m paying enough attention.