Text: Ephesians 3:14-21
“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me,” so Paul tells the Philippians in the midst of considering all of the many troubles he had endured as he is closing his letter to them. Jesus, in response to questions of frustration from the disciples about why they could not cast out a demon, said this in Matthew 17:20, “’Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, “Move from here to there,” and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.’”
We have read these verses, and others like them, countless times. We have meditated on them. We have prayed over them. We have studied them. We have trusted them. We have claimed them, as the saying goes in some Christian circles. We have even used them as proof for our summary judgments against others or even ourselves. “If we just believed enough, this wouldn’t be a problem.” “If you just had more faith, the illness would be gone.” Just believe, and our world will be healthy, wealthy, and wise, and we will enjoy life once again as God fulfills our every desires.
So I wonder this morning: have any of you moved a mountain lately? Or ever? Not a metaphorical one. Not some hardship that felt like a mountain. I mean a real, true, dirt and rock and plant and animal-infested rise of the earth that is piled at least 1,000 feet high (because that’s the definition of what it means to be a mountain, at least here in America). Yeah, I haven’t either. Yet, Jesus clearly says that if we have faith that corresponds to just a mustard seed, such a deed would be as easy as writing our name or laying down on a pillow. Indeed, He promises that nothing will be impossible for those of us who have faith.
We go about our day to day living more or less untroubled by the obvious fact that so little that is truly astounding happens among us. Clearly, certainly no American Christians have faith that even measures the size of a mustard seed. We do not expect the impossible to be accomplished among us. We are highly reasoned, heavily influenced by the desires of the Enlightenment Age to give a rational, reasonable explanation for everything. We are perfectly fine with leaving the impossible, the amazing, the mysterious, the supernatural parts of our faith unexplored. They are too edgy, strange, bizarre, and – most of all – unexperienced for us to be concerned with them.
The last part of the third chapter of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, bringing us now halfway through the book, is a second prayer of Paul’s on behalf of his readers. Bowing his knees before God, Paul pleads on their – and our – behalf that they would experience the work of the Holy Spirit in giving them strength equal to their task. Paul had just finished explaining how the church was to be a testimony to all of the world and even to all of the heavenlies concerning the riches of Christ and the grace and love of God made manifest through God’s mind-boggling plan of uniting Jews and Gentiles into one body of believers as fellow heirs. The church is to testify about the Gospel, this great mystery and work of God in his creation. And to do so, the church needs the strength of the Spirit. And so Paul bows on his knees and prays that the church in Ephesus would know the strength of the power of the Spirit working in and through them.
Church, hear this. We are stronger than we think we are. God is particularly and strongly interested in you and in me and in all of us together. We are missing out if we are satisfied with anything less than achieving the impossible. We are missing out if we are satisfied with just the mundane, same-ole, same-ole of the status quo where nothing changes and nothing exciting happens. God is in the business of revealing this mystery long hidden, and we are part of the revealing. We are part of an amazing, impossible story in which the amazing and the impossible are routine players. We are part of a story in which mountains do, in fact, move from here to there on command. We are part of a story where, in fact, nothing will stand in the way of God achieving His goal and plan, and so nothing, in fact, is impossible through and in Him.
Do you believe that? Do we believe that as a congregation?
We are stronger than we think we are. And we need to be reminded. We need people who are avid and interested in our faith and in our work and in our fellowship to take up the mantle that Paul wore for the Ephesians and who will bow their knees before our Father and plead with Him that we as Monte Vista Baptist Church will be “strengthened with power through his Spirit in our inner being.” What might we achieve if we let go of the mundane satisfaction with the humdrum of life and listen to the Spirit challenging and empowering us from within? What might we accomplish? Only the impossible.
The strength that is available to us is directly proportional to the riches of God’s glory. Can you fathom how rich God is in glory? Neither can we begin to fathom the degree of our strength. God seeks to make His glory known, and He is doing so through the strength that He is giving to us. We are as strong as God is glorious. We are stronger than we think we are.
We are stronger than we think we are, Paul attests, because we are loved more deeply than we believe or know. Paul’s reasons for asking God to strengthen the believers at Ephesus through the power of the Spirit is so that they might have the strength to be able to comprehend the vastness of God’s love for them (and for us) – the length, the breadth, the height, and the depth of it. God’s love is beyond measure. It defies the limits of what we can understand. And that is why Paul prays that we believers might have the strength to be able to comprehend it.
The entire story revealed to us in Scripture, from creation through fall to salvation and into the new creation is a testimony of God’s great love on vivid display. Salvation itself is a testament to God’s love, for God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son. We tend to think that God’s love has limits, though we might never voice such thoughts. Our tendency is to believe that if we go one step too many, God will give up on us, throw us to the devil, and never look back. In short, our tendency is to believe that God loves the way we do.
We love conditionally. We love based on what we see. As one writer put it that I read this week, in our view of love, loveliness must precede love. That is, the object of our love must be worthy of our love before we give it our love. That’s conditional love. There must be a reason for us to love something. We must get something out of the deal. And we take that view of love and transfer it back to God. There must be something that God expects of us, wants of us, demands of us for His love. We must clean ourselves up, get ourselves right before we even dare approach God, for surely He would reject us if we were to come as we are, all grimed up and dirty.
But none of this is true. God’s measurements of love are nowhere in the same league as ours. God’s love is vast. Vaster than we imagine or reckon. God’s love allows for the story of the loving father, who has two sons. One stays and works hard, the other demands that his father go ahead and be as dead to him that he might have his inheritance. This son heads off and enjoys all the things that his father’s hard earned money can purchase for him, until it is all utterly spent and he finds himself longing after the slop he is throwing to pigs.
When the son comes to his senses and realizes that he would be better as a servant in his father’s household, he starts the journey home. And, to the son’s surprise, the father has been waiting for him, standing on the porch looking out in the distance. Probably each and every day since he had left. And when the father finally sees his son’s shape crossing the landscape, he disregards himself and all manner of social protocol and runs to his son, throws his arms around him, dresses him in his best cloak, and kills the fattened calf. Indeed, God’s love is vaster than we think.
It is, in fact, impossible for us to go beyond the reach of God’s love. However far astray we might go, whatever sneers and jeers we might cast back, God’s love prevails and goes farther. No matter what insults or evils we can muster, God’s love is prepared to welcome us back. It is long, it is high, it is deep, and it is broad. More so than our minds can grasp. And when we finally, like that prodigal son, realize the reaches of God’s love, we can begin to glimpse the power that is available to us. For God’s love is in proportion to His power. They are both limitless.
So what do we do with this great strength that is coupled with this vast love? We should do far more than we ask or think. You see, because God’s love is so vast and because the strength we have available to us in Him is so limitless, we can do more than we dare to imagine. God’s love is vast, and God’s desire is that everyone knows about His love for each of us. That is where His love and His power collide. It is in that place where we are obeying the command to take this good news to every nook and cranny of the world that we will find that the mountain that is in our way will be moved, the stumbling block overturned, and the impossible suddenly accomplished. Nothing will get in the way of the loving father running to his prodigal son or daughter. We are the means.
So often we claim that verse about nothing being impossible with God for what are in reality small things. We claim them for things like job loss and financial distress and dire diagnoses and traumatic events. Those are comparatively small things. God has far too often clearly demonstrated His ability to heal and provide and carry through. I call these troubles small not because they in any way seem small in our lives as we deal with them – indeed, they often loom quite large over us – but I call them small because these are all merely symptoms of the problem.
Cancer, disease, financial meltdown, hunger, and so on are only problems because sin has entered the world. These things are conquered in the same way our atonement is offered: through the cross and through the empty tomb. Don’t get me wrong, God is interested in your struggles from day to day. But He is primarily interested in your adoption into His family. He is primarily interested in your salvation, in my salvation, and in the salvation of all of the rest of the now 7 billion people who inhabit our globe. God’s love is so vast, it reaches to every one of those souls. He loves each and every one of them as much as He loves you or me. He died as much for any one of these 7 billion as much as he died for you or for me or anyone else in this room.
His power is going to reach to us and be provided to us as far as that power will further the demonstration of His love. And no further. I pray, Paul says, that you will be strengthened in the inner person by the Spirit so that you might be able to comprehend the vastness of God’s love – it’s length, breadth, height, and depth – and so that in comprehending the vastness of it, we might be filled with the fullness of God and then, through the power that is at work in us, accomplish far more abundantly than all that we ask or think. What would be more abundant to God than the proclamation of His Gospel to all of His creation?
Your personal health and prosperity are not enough to satisfy God’s love and power. Our greatest strength as individuals and as a church will come as we live out the Great Commission and proclaim boldly and loudly to the people around us, indeed to the world over, that God is a God whose love is beyond comprehension, whose love reaches out to each and every person who breathes air. Our greatest strength and our greatest accomplishments will happen as we share this vast love with our neighbors, family, friends, and strangers anywhere and everywhere.
If our strength is small, it is because our comprehension of God’s love is small. If we do not move mountains, it is because we are not traveling a path of proclamation that requires mountains to be moved. God is glorified and the angels sing with each person that comes to a saving knowledge of what God has done for them in Christ. That is where the love and power collide in tremendous displays of strength.
We are as strong as a church as we are busy about doing the Kingdom work of proclaiming the Gospel.
We are stronger than we think we are. We can be stronger than we are now. We – and all of the world around us – are loved more deeply than we have dared to imagine. God desires to accomplish more through us than we have ever dared to attempt or plan. So then, let us be bold in our plan and work for the Gospel, for the love of God for us and the world. Let us seek out this grand knowledge and comprehension and let us be changed and empowered as we reach higher and farther to spread the knowledge of God’s love. We can do more. We must do more. The love is evident. The power is available. The strength is unending.
Just what are we waiting for? It is time that we stop lounging, stop thinking that we have earned some kind of retirement or are too busy earning some future retirement, and instead start doing the part of the power brokers that we are. Ministry is not left to the big names and large churches and far-placed missionaries only. Let’s be bolder. Let’s plan, and let’s plan grandly.
Will you join with me and pray with me today and tomorrow and each day this week and this month and this year and the ones to come, that we would grasp the grand vision that God has for us. That we would tap into this incomprehensible power that He desires to make available and to utilize through us. Will you join me in making Monte Vista Baptist Church the strong, powerful part of the Kingdom of God that we are made to be?