The God Who Is Able
Nick Esch, 7/14/2019 Cornerstone Baptist Church
In reference to prayer John Newton once said, “Thou art coming to a King, so with thee large petitions bring! For His grace and power are such, that none can ever ask too much.” And what we have seen in Ephesians is that Paul has this same philosophy of prayer. Paul has been bringing large petitions to the throne of grace for the good of God’s people. And it seems as though Paul believed that he could never ask too much of God, because what he’s been praying for, if we’re honest, sounds like far too big of a request.
Paul has essentially been praying for the Ephesians and us, that God would grant us to be strengthened with power through the Holy Spirit so that we would have the strength, the ability, the grace to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that Christ would all the more dwell in our hearts by faith, or so that we would all the more be transformed by the gospel and be made more Christlike, until we are filled with all the fullness of God. So Paul prays that God would strengthen us, all the more take up residence in our life, and transform our life. And then he prays that we would know something that surpasses knowledge—that we would know and be amazed by God’s great love for us in Christ: that’s a BIG prayer… Especially when you consider how sinful we are, and that we only deserve God’s wrath… Yet, he doesn’t stop there; he tops this prayer off by asking God to fill us with all the fullness of God; which, as we saw last week really means to make us holy as God is holy, to make us morally perfect, to make us truly Christlike… So again, that’s a BIG prayer.
Paul prays a prayer that would make most of us uncomfortable. Asking for strength and power, for knowledge that’s beyond understanding, and for holiness and perfection even… We tend to pray small; it’s like we try to be more realistic in our prayers. But what that reveals is that we have a small view of God. It’s not a sign of humility to pray small, or not at all… It’s a sign of immaturity and pride. When we don’t pray, or when we only pray small prayers we don’t rightly glorify God. Because when we pray BIG with true faith—with confident expectation—we proclaim to the world the truth that without Jesus we can do nothing (John 15:5), and that God is truly sovereign, good, and all-powerful… That He is able to answer prayer… We display that He is God and we are not, and that we desperately need Him.
That reminds me of George Mueller, who was a contemporary of Charles Spurgeon. Once he was traveling from England to Canada to preach, and he had a major impact on the captain of the ship. The captain said before meeting George he was an ordinary Christian; but those who knew the captain after his meeting with George said he was one of the most faithful and devoted men of God they had ever met. So what happened when he met George Mueller?
Well, George noticed while on the way that the ship had pretty much stopped. So George went and found the captain of the ship and said, “I have come to tell you that I must be in Quebec on Saturday afternoon.” The captain explained that they had slowed down because of fog, and he told him that the fog was so bad that it would be impossible for them to get there that quickly. So George replied, “Very well, if your ship can’t take me, God will find some other means… I have never broken an engagement in fifty-seven years [and I don’t plan to now]…” The captain explained to him that he would help him if he could, but that he was helpless to do anything… So George said, “Let us go down to the chart room and pray.” The captain thought George was crazy, but he reluctantly went with him to pray… But on the way the captain said, “Mr. Mueller, do you know how dense this fog is?” And George replied, “No. My eye is not on the density of the fog, but on the living God who controls every circumstance of my life.” Then he went down on his knees and simply prayed, “O Lord, if it is consistent with Thy will, please remove this fog in five minutes. You know the engagement You made for me in Quebec for Saturday. I believe it is Your will. [Amen].”
When he finished praying the captain thought he should pray as well, but before he could George stopped him and said, “First, you do not believe God will do it; and second, I believe He has done it, and there is no need for you to pray… Captain, I have known my Lord for fifty-seven years and there has never been a single day that I have failed to gain an audience with the King. Get up, Captain and open the door, and you will find that the fog is gone.” And so it was… And that prayer not only led to the fog being lifted and George getting to Quebec on time, but it also transformed the captain’s life. God answered prayer, and then some… He did far more abundantly than all that was asked of Him… And that’s because that’s who God is… He’s a BIG God that answers even BIG prayers exceedingly abundantly beyond what we could ever ask or think… And Lord willing, that’s what we’ll see in our text today. So look with me at Ephesians 3:20-21.
Verses 20 and 21 make up what is known as a doxology. Now, we just sang the hymn that’s known by the name The Doxology. And what did we sing? “Praise God from Whom all blessings flow…” And that’s what a doxology is: it’s worship or praise—specifically worship or praise to God because of who He is and what He’s done; and in the context of Ephesians here, it’s like a worship or praise break. Paul is so caught up in who God is, what He can do, and what He absolutely will do, that he has to stop and praise Him. You see, Paul lays out what he does in verses 20 and 21 because on the one hand, he doesn’t want the Ephesians to think that he’s asking too much of God; he doesn’t want them or us to have a small view of God… But on the other hand, he lays out what he does simply because he cannot help himself; at this point he has to praise God. His theology has given way to doxology. Which is exactly what it should do. What we know about God—about who He is, what He’s done, and what He will do should lead us to praise Him and live for His glory. If we truly know God we should delight in God, and if we truly delight in Him we won’t be able to help but praise Him. As C. S. Lewis once pointed out, “we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment.” It’s a part of the package of delight, if you will…
So Paul begins his doxology in verse 20 saying, “Now to him who is able…” The Himis God. It is the great Triune God of the Bible who is able. This verse makes my mind immediately go to Hebrews 7:25 where we’re told that God is able to save to the uttermost. In other words, He’s powerful to save whomever He chooses. No one is too far gone or beyond the reach of His grace; for He is mighty to save… He is powerful… And that’s the idea here. Actually the word able in verse 20 and the word power at the end of verse 20 are basically the same word. Essentially verse 20 says, “To Him who is powerful to do far more abundantly that all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us—His power in us…”
So Paul first points us to the power of God—to the very powerful nature of God. God is omnipotent—He is all-powerful. Paul doesn’t take the time to completely unpack how God is all-powerful, but he gives us insight into God’s power by tying it to what he’s been praying. In verse 20 Paul says that God is able, He is powerful to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think… So Paul has just been praying this BIG prayer, that God would root and ground us in the love of Christ, and grow us to true Christlikeness… That He would take sinners like us and make us truly holy as the Lord our God is holy. In other words, as Paul says in Philippians 1:6, he’s been praying that God would complete the work He began in us… Or as Romans 8:29 lays out, he’s been praying that God would totally conform us to the image of His Son. He’s praying that God would totally sanctify us; which implies also that He would keep us and hold us fast… And now he says that our great God is able to do this… Not only that, He is powerful to do far more… abundantly more than all we ask or think… So Paul says, “You think my prayer for God to make us perfect is too big? Then you underestimate how BIG our God is… He is infinitely able to do far more than you ask or think because He is infinitely bigger than you think… He is all-powerful”
And beloved, this makes complete sense if you think about it logically. Let me show you what I mean… The world says that everything came from nothing. That once upon a time there was nothing, and then suddenly a big explosion happened that created the universe as we know it, which then gave way to evolution, and now here we are millions of years later. But there’s a major problem with that theory… Nothing doesn’t explode! Existence doesn’t come from non-existence. Something doesn’t come from nothing.Logically speaking, in order for anything to exist something must’ve always existed. The idea that nothing plus nothing equals everything and everyone is illogical… It doesn’t make any sense. But, if we believe that anything exists, that we exist… then logically we must conclude that there has to be something or someone that has eternally existed, from which all things derive their being—their very existence. And God’s Word tells us that this being from which all existence flows is God.
God Himself is the all or the ever-existing One. That’s what He tells Moses, right? He calls Himself, “I Am!” Meaning He is and has always been… Which again is what we see in His Word. The very first words of the Bible tell us that in the beginning, or even before the beginning was God… And then He created everything and everyone… Everything and everyone derives existence from the all-existing One. In order for anything or anyone to exist, something or some One must have already existed… Because something doesn’t come from nothing.And the some One who has always existed, and from Whom all things get their existence is God. He is the God from Whom all things flow, especially all blessings. So if everything gets its very existence from God, then everyone in all their strength and all their power, and everything in all its strength and all its power, derives their strength and power from God, who then must be all-powerful. Whatever power we see in creation is merely a shadow or a mere taste of the power of the Creator. From the fiercest winds, to deep rolling thunder, to the mightiest waves—whatever power we see in this world pales in comparison with the power of the God of the Bible, the God of creation, the God who has always existed… Therefore, He truly must be all-powerful… And therefore, He is infinitely able to do far more than we ask or think because He is infinitely bigger than we think…
We have a bad habit of underestimating God. Perhaps the greatest sin of humanity, even the greatest sin of Christians, perhaps the sin behind all sins is that we underestimate God. We underestimate how big, how powerful, how glorious He is, and thus how good He is… That’s why we’re constantly running to lesser things; that’s why we’re constantly looking to the things of this world for enjoyment and satisfaction instead of to God; that’s why we’re constantly seeking to be self-sufficient. That’s why so many churches revolve everything they do around us, our felt needs, and our desire to be entertained and made much of, instead of around God and who He is in all of His glory. But if we would be faithful, and if we would find true joy and satisfaction we must look to God alone. If we would truly glorify God we must stop underestimating Him, and instead recognize Him to be who He truly is: the all-sufficient, all-powerful God of the universe upon Whom we are desperately dependent whether we recognize it or not; but we magnify His glory and we get great joy when we do recognize it. And part of the way we recognize the very godness of God is by praying BIG prayers.
God is able, He is powerful to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think… I love that Paul adds that last part, because sometimes we think things that we wouldn’t dare pray. It’s like a house Rachel and I went and looked at this week. There’s this really nice remodel right around the corner from us, and they had an open house; so out of curiosity we went and looked at it. While it was an absolutely beautiful home, I’m not sure it was worth the $500,000 they were asking for it. I’m afraid they’re asking for too much, and they’re just going to scare people away. I think some of us are like that in our prayers. There are things we think about asking for, but we just can’t bring ourselves to voice it to God because we think we’d be asking for too much. But here Paul is saying that God is able, He is powerful to answer prayer, even those really big prayers that we aren’t comfortable asking for…
But, this isn’t to say that God will just give you whatever you want, or even beyond what you want… While God is in the business of blessing His children above and beyond what we could ever ask or imagine, He’s not a genie… Notice the last part of verse 20; it says God does this, “according to the power at work within us…” Now on the one hand this means the same power that raised Christ from the dead—that power, the power of the Holy Spirit dwells in us and works on us, in us, and through us… Which all the more points to the lavish and amazing nature of our all-powerful God. But, on the other hand, this points us to the context in which Paul is saying God lavishly answers our prayers. The context to all of this is perseverance and sanctification. Paul has not been praying outlandish or selfish prayers. Even from prison his prayers are not focused on himself or his temporal needs, but on the glory of God and the good of His people.
Some of you think God doesn’t answer your prayers because He’s not giving you the things you’re asking for… But, realize, no prayer of a true child of God ever goes unanswered; but the answer may be no… And though God may say no to what you want, He never says no to what you need. Now you may not see what you need the same way God does, but understand that God gives you everything you need, even exceedingly abundantly beyond what you ask or think… And what we need is Him, is Christ, and to be Christlike… That’s why Paul has been saying what he’s saying and praying what he’s praying; so that God’s people would not lose heart, even in the midst of great suffering, and so that by the grace of God through the power of the Spirit of God, the people of God would be rooted and grounded in the Word of God and the love of God and become all the more like the Son of God. This shows us that Paul is saying that God is able to answer our prayers beyond what we ask or think, and He will do so in so far as our prayers are in lie with His will for His glory and the good of His people… And the ultimate good is being like Jesus and being with Jesus…
It’s like what the psalmist says in Psalm 37:4, “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Again, this text doesn’t mean God is your genie… The context assumes that your heart treasures the LORD; that He is your great delight… And if the LORD is your delight than your desires will be transformed. Though you’ll still struggle with sinful desires, your greatest desire will be for God and His glory. As John Piper says, “The most basic and essential difference between Christians and non-Christians is not godly decisions, good deeds, or genuine doctrines, but glad delights in the glory of God . . . . conversion is the creation of new desires, not just new duties; new delights, not just new deeds; new treasures, not just new tasks.” If God is our delight then He can give us the desires of our heart, because our heart will be infatuated with Him, His glory, and His purposes for this world. And this is why Paul says what he does in verse 21.
If God so answers prayer that His church is filled with all His fullness, if we are made holy as He is holy, if we are enabled to truly know Him rightly, then, verse 21, “to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” In other words, the more Christlike we are, the more we walk in glad submission to God’s Word, the more God will be glorified in and through His. And the only way we’ll walk in glad submission to God’s Word is if we truly delight in Him—if we truly love Him and treasure Him. And Paul knows that if we could get a grasp on who God is in all of His power and glory, and how great His love for us is in Christ, then we would not be able to help but love Him, delight in Him, and treasure Him. I mean God is perfect in all of His attributes… There is nothing in Him not to love and treasure… And when we love Him, delight in Him, and treasure Him then we truly glorify Him.
We cannot add or give glory to an all-glorious God. But we can display His glory as we live in such a way that the world can see that God is our greatest delight and treasure. Our prayers, our words, our actions, our lives as a whole should display to the watching world that God is the greatest treasure in all of existence—that there is more joy and satisfaction to be found in Him than in anything else in all of creation. Our lives should proclaim to the world that they are underestimating God. Specifically, our lives should display that Christ is our treasure: that’s how God is glorified in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever… When the church exemplifies Philippians 1:20-23, living to honor and magnify the glory of God in Christ in their bodies by life and by death, showing that to live is Christ and to die is gain because then we get more of Christ, and that to depart and be with Him is far better than anything this world could give us or take away from us… When we exemplify that then God is truly glorified in His church. We glorify God by treasuring Christ supremely. And, when He is our greatest treasure He will be our greatest delight; and when He is our delight the Lord delights to give us the desires of our heart.
And beloved, while it may sound hard to truly live to make much of Jesus, as we have seen, He is worthy of our praise, He is worthy of our lives. He is God—the all-existing One, the all-powerful One, the all-glorious One, and therefore the all-good One… We can even see His goodness in this last verse. Notice it says that God is to be glorified in His church throughout all generations, forever and ever. Here we see a promise that Christ will build His church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18)… The church will go on. Christ will complete the work He has begun in us. He will grow us and keep us. Neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-29). We may be slandered, persecuted, tempted, and tried, but the church will go on throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. And by the grace of God we will bask in the radiance of the glory of God, enjoying the Son of God with the people of God forever and ever… God gives His people eternal life so that they can magnify His glory by enjoying His Son for all eternity. What a good God!
What we see here are blood bought promises. These are promises for the people of God; for those who have turned from their sin, trusted in, and committed themselves to following Jesus, who lived the life we have failed to live, went to the cross and took the wrath due us upon Himself and died the death we deserve to die for our sin, and rose from the grave in power. God is all-powerful; He is able to save to the uttermost. So if you aren’t a Christian, if you don’t know this God, if you don’t treasure this Christ, repent and believe the gospel. Call upon the name of the Lord and be saved. And for all of you who are Christians, who claim to know this all-powerful God, stop praying and stop living in a way that says otherwise. As Jim Elliot once said, “Forgive me for being so ordinary while claiming to know such an extraordinary God.” Pray BIG prayers, for you are praying to a BIG God. Expect great answers to those prayers, for He is able! Live with reckless abandon for the glory of God, because Jesus is an all-glorious LORD. As John Newton said, “Thou art coming to a King, so with thee large petitions bring! For His grace and power are such, that none can ever ask too much.” So pray for His glory and live for His glory, and watch as God again and again shows Himself able to do beyond what we ask or think.