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11. Becoming Spiritually Mature

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For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:14-21 )

How can we grow spiritually? What steps must we take?

In Ephesians 3:14-21, Paul prays for the Ephesians to become spiritually mature. His prayer is like a pyramid—each successive petition builds upon the other.1 As we study this passage, not only do we learn general principles of prayer, we also learn how to mature spiritually.

Big Questions: What are the successive steps to spiritual maturity as demonstrated by Paul’s prayer? How can we apply these to our lives in order to grow?

In Order to Mature Spiritually, Believers Must Know Their Identity in Christ

For this reason I kneel before the Father (Ephesians 3:14)

Interpretation Question: What “reason” is Paul pointing back to in verse 14 that now prompts this prayer?

Paul is referring to the previous passage where he teaches that God made believing Jews and Gentiles one in Christ, and that God’s eternal plan has been to teach the angels about his multi-colored wisdom. However, Paul is probably not only pointing back to these truths, but to all the truths taught in Ephesians chapters 1 and 2 about the believer’s identity in Christ. Believers have every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. They were elected before time, redeemed by his blood, and forgiven of their sins. They were delivered from spiritual death and from following the world, the devil, and the flesh, and made alive with Christ.

When Paul considers all that God did for believers, he is prompted to pray for their spiritual maturity—he wants them to live out their identity in Christ. And this should be true for us as well. When we consider all that God has done, it should challenge us to pray for spiritual maturity in ourselves and others—and to actively seek spiritual maturity. It is the most reasonable thing we can do considering all that God has done in our lives.

Paul says something similar in Romans 12:1: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.” “Therefore” points back to all that Paul teaches in chapters 1-11 about salvation.

When we truly understand what God has done for us, we are challenged and encouraged to grow up into our divine calling. But from these passages, we also understand why so many are not growing. They aren’t growing because they don’t understand who they are in Christ and what God has done for them. Therefore, they continue to look just like the world. Like the Corinthians, they continue to be worldly—living like “mere men” (1 Cor 3:1-3). They are prone to materialism, division, lust, and even hopelessness.

If we are going to pursue spiritual maturity, we must understand the “reason” Paul desired it for the Ephesians. We must know our identity in Christ and all that God did for us. It has often been said that the Christian life is understanding our new identity in Christ and learning to live it out.

Do you know your identity in Christ? Do you know that on the cross, Christ broke the power of sin over your life (Rom 6:1-11)? Do you know that you are God’s workmanship, created in Christ for good works (Eph 2:10)? God has good and wonderful things planned for your life. Do you know that God seated you in the heavenly places with Christ and that one day you will rule with Jesus and even judge angels (Eph 1:3, 1 Cor 6:3)?

The more you comprehend of your eternal destiny, the more you will be pulled out of worldliness and sin. You will be encouraged to offer your body as a living sacrifice unto God, and to pray for your spiritual growth and that of others.

Application Questions: Why is knowing our identity in Christ and what God did for us important for spiritual growth? How can we come to know and live out our identity in Christ? In what ways has learning your identity in Christ helped you to grow in grace, and to be set free from specific sins?

In Order to Mature Spiritually, Believers Must Pray

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being (Ephesians 3:14-16)

As Paul considers all that God did for the church, he is prompted to pray for the church’s spiritual maturity. This means that prayer is an essential part of the process of a believer’s spiritual growth. Before Christ went to the cross, he prayed in a similar manner for the church (John 17). He prayed that God would sanctify them by the Word of God, that they would be kept from the evil one, and that they would be united. If we are going to grow spiritually, we must pray for ourselves and for others.

In fact, when considering Paul’s prayers throughout his epistles, we don’t see him pray for the church’s material needs (physical healing, finances, etc.). His prayers focus on the spiritual condition of believers, and this must be our priority as well. This doesn’t mean that we don’t pray for physical healing or material needs, but it does mean that our own spiritual condition and that of others should be our focus.

Also, as we consider Paul’s prayer we learn many characteristics of godly prayer. I say “godly prayer” because it is possible for our prayers to be ungodly. In Matthew 6, Christ warns the disciples not to pray like the Pharisees and pagans because they will not be heard by God (v. 5-8). Such prayer is unacceptable to God.

Observation Questions: What are some characteristics of Paul’s prayer, and thus godly prayer in general? How can we incorporate these characteristics into our own prayer life?

1. Godly prayer is inspired by Scripture.

As already mentioned, Paul’s prayer is informed and inspired by Scripture. As he considers what God does for believers, he is prompted to pray. This should be true for us as well. Scripture and prayer always go together. When a need arose for the Grecian widows to be cared for, the apostles said they could not do it because they had to give themselves to the ministry of the Word of God and prayer (Acts 6:3-4). These two always go together.

Not only should the Word of God inspire and inform our prayer, believers should also consistently pray Scripture. When Christ was dying on the cross for our sins, he prayed two scriptural prayers: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” and “Into your hands I commit my spirit.” These were both from the Psalms (22:1, 31:5). While Christ was being murdered on the cross, Scripture not only prompted his prayer— it was his prayer. We should constantly pray the Word of God, especially since it is God’s revealed will.

Application Question: How do you use Scripture in your prayer life?

2. Godly prayer is humble.

While praying, Paul was kneeling. The normal way for Jews to pray was standing up (cf. Mark 11:25).2 To pray on one’s knees represented humbling oneself before someone greater (cf. Ps. 95:6) and also intensity or great passion, as seen when Christ fell to the ground while praying in Gethsemane (Mark 14:35-36; cf. 2 Chr 6:13, Ezra 9:5–6). This is how our prayers should be.

One might ask, “Is it possible to pray any other way before God?” Why, certainly. When the Pharisee and the publican prayed before God, the Pharisee’s prayer was prideful. He said, “Thank you, Lord, I am not like this publican. I fast twice a week. I give a tithe of all I own” (Luke 18:11-12). His prayer was prideful and selfish. Selfish prayer says, “I am the focus—not God and not others.”

Christ warns the disciples not to pray loud and long in order to be seen by others (Matt 6:5-8). Many people put on a show for others when they pray, making much “Christian” prayer a charade. In contrast, Christ tells the disciples to go into their closet and pray privately—to be seen only by God.

In fact, we probably get a picture of this with the issue of tongues at the church in Corinth. Many commentators believe that when Paul says a person who prays in a tongue edifies himself and he who prophesies edifies others (1 Cor 14:4), he is referring to people speaking out loud in tongues without interpretation. These people are glorifying themselves instead of thinking about the others who were present. However, Paul commands that everything in church worship be done for the edification of others (1 Cor 14:26). Many Christians are like that—their prayers are meant to be seen and heard by others rather than God. Be careful of prideful prayer.

When we pray, we must remember that God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble (James 4:6). Only those who pray with humility receive grace. This certainly is implied by Paul’s posture, though one can pray in any posture to the Lord.

3. Godly prayer is familial.

Paul says, “from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name” (Eph 3:15). He not only recognizes God as his own Father, but also as the Father of all believers in heaven and on earth. In fact, when Christ taught the Lord’s Prayer, he taught us to pray, “Our Father” (Matt 6:9). The prayer is not individual but familial, as it considers other family members God cares for. When praying, we must remember that we are part of a family. We must constantly remember others in our prayers. This does not mean that we shouldn’t pray for ourselves, but that even these prayers should be offered in consideration of our family.

4. Godly prayer is God-sized.

Paul says, “I pray that out of his glorious riches” (Eph 3:16), using a phrase that can be translated literally as “according to his glorious riches.” This is important. It has been said that if a billionaire donates ten dollars, he gives out of his riches, but if he donates one million, he gives according to his riches. This is Paul’s prayer for believers, that God will strengthen them with power according to his glorious riches. Macdonald adds:

Since the Lord is infinitely rich in glory, let the saints get ready for a deluge! Why should we ask so little of so great a King? When someone asked a tremendous favor of Napoleon it was immediately granted because, said Napoleon, “He honored me by the magnitude of his request.”

Thou art coming to a King,
Large petitions with thee bring;
For His grace and power are such,
None can ever ask too much.

—John Newton3

When praying for ourselves or others, we should pray great petitions. We should pray for God to abundantly supply needs, to greatly use others for his kingdom, etc.

Application Questions: What are some other practical principles concerning prayer? What disciplines have you found helpful in your prayer life?

In Order to Mature Spiritually, Believers Must Strengthen Their Inner Being

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. (Ephesians 3:16-17)

The next aspect of Paul’s prayer is that the Ephesians will be strengthened through the Spirit in the inner being. In Ephesians 1, Paul prays for the believers to know God’s great power working in them, the same power that raised Christ from the dead (v. 19-20). But here, he prays for that power to be “turned on”—to strengthen believers. Someone said, “If God took the Holy Spirit out of this world, most of what we Christians are doing would go right on—and nobody would know the difference!” 4 Sadly, this is true. Most Christians live without this power, and therefore live ineffective lives.

Application Question: How can we allow the Spirit to strengthen us?

1. Obviously, the Spirit empowers us as we pray.

This is clear from the context of Paul praying for believers to be strengthened. Christ fasted and prayed for forty days, and left the wilderness empowered by the Holy Spirit (Lk 4:1, 14). In Acts 4:29, we read that the early church gathered to pray for God to give them boldness to proclaim the gospel even while under persecution. After they prayed, the building was shaken and they all left filled with the Spirit of God. The Spirit empowers believers when they pray.

Are you living in prayer?

2. The Spirit empowers us as we abide in God’s Word.

Second Timothy 3:17 says Scripture “equips the man of God for all righteousness.” Scripture empowers believers to do the righteous works God called them to do. If we are to be empowered by the Spirit, we must live in the Word of God.

Are you abiding in God’s Word?

3. The Spirit empowers us as we worship.

There is a story in the Old Testament about Jehoshaphat, the king of the Judah, fighting a battle against a nation through worship. Second Chronicles 20:21-22 says:

After consulting the people, Jehoshaphat appointed men to sing to the LORD and to praise him for the splendor of his holiness as they went out at the head of the army, saying: “Give thanks to the LORD, for his love endures forever.” As they began to sing and praise, the LORD set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated.

Similarly, when Elisha was approached by Jehoshaphat and Ahab about whether to go to war against another nation, he asked for a harpist. The harpist played, and the Spirit of God came upon Elisha to prophecy (2 Kings 3:15). God inhabits the praises of his people (Psalm 22:3, paraphrase) and his Spirit empowers us when we worship. In fact, Paul commands us to “Give thanks in all circumstances for this God’s will for your life. And do not quench the Spirit.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18-19). The implication is that when we worry, complain, and argue instead of giving thanks, we quench the Spirit’s work in our lives. However, when we give thanks and praise to God, he empowers our inner being.

Are you living in worship and thanksgiving, or in bitterness and complaining?

Interpretation Question: What exactly is the inner being?

Wiersbe’s comments are helpful:

This means the spiritual part of man where God dwells and works. The inner man of the lost sinner is dead (Eph. 2:1), but it becomes alive when Christ is invited in. The inner man can see (Ps. 119:18), hear (Matt. 13:9), taste (Ps. 34:8), and feel (Acts 17:27); and he must be “exercised” (1 Tim. 4:7–8). He also must be cleansed (Ps. 51:7) and fed (Matt. 4:4). The outer man is perishing, but the inner man can be renewed spiritually in spite of outward physical decay (2 Cor. 4:16–18). It is this inner power that makes him succeed.5

Paul says, “For in my inner being I delight in God’s law” (Rom 7:22). We need to be strengthened in the inner being to desire God’s Word, to conquer sin, and to worship God. If our inner being is weak, we will not desire the things of God. In fact, we will find that we desire worldly things more than the things of God.

Observation Question: What is the result of having one’s inner being strengthened with power?

Paul says that when a believer is strengthened in his inner being, Christ dwells in his heart through faith (Ephesians 3:17). What does this mean?

Doesn’t God indwell every believer? Certainly. In Ephesians 1:1, Paul calls the Ephesians “saints”—meaning that each of them were saved by Christ, set apart for righteousness, and indwelled by him. However, our position is often different from our practice. The Corinthians are also called “saints” in 1 Corinthians 1:2 (KJV), but in 1 Corinthians 3:3, Paul calls them “worldly”—mere babes in Christ. They practiced sexual immorality (chapters 5 and 6), were suing one another (chapter 6), and abusing spiritual gifts like tongues (chapter 14), but they were still saints—set apart by God and indwelled by him (1 Cor 6:19).

The word that Paul uses for “dwell” means to “to settle down and feel at home,” in contrast to feeling like visitor.6 The reality is that Christ cannot be at home in a believer who is not living an empowered life through the Spirit. When we are not empowered by the Spirit of God, we live as slaves of sin, instead of as free men (cf. 2 Cor 3:17, Romans 6:16). We talk and walk like the world, even though we are not of the world. In a life like that, Christ can never feel at home.

Is Christ at home in your heart? Or is he like a visitor? Is he comfortable with your entertainment and how you spend your free time? Is he comfortable with your thoughts and friendships? Paul says this to the Corinthians:

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

Interpretation Question: What does Paul mean by Christ dwelling in the Ephesians’ hearts “through faith”?

When Paul says that Christ will dwell in their hearts through “faith,” he seems to be saying that empowerment by the Spirit creates a life of dependence upon the Lord. Christ says, “I am the vine and you are the branches, he who abides in me will produce much fruit, apart from me you can bear no fruit” (John 15:5, paraphrase).

A life empowered by the Spirit is one that is totally dependent upon God—a life of faith. This believer fears dishonoring God by any compromise or sin, knowing that it will diminish God’s power in his life. He does not want to grieve the Holy Spirit. As a person matures in Christ—living more by faith than in the flesh—he is empowered by the Spirit of God in the inner being. This results in a life where Christ is at home.

Is Christ at home in your life? Or is he like an unhappy visitor—uncomfortable and constantly grieved?

Application Questions: How do you think Christ feels about your life? Consider your thoughts, words, friendships, hobbies, work, etc. How can you make him more at home?

In Order to Mature Spiritually, Believers Must Grow in Love for God and Others

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love (Ephesians 3:17b)

In praying for the Ephesians to be “rooted and established in love,” Paul uses terms from botany and architecture. The root is where a tree or plant gets both its nourishment and its stability. Also, the foundation of a building is the most important part of a structure. If the foundation is off, one cannot continue to build.

Wiersbe’s story about a building program at one of his churches is helpful:

In my second building program, we had to spend several thousand dollars taking soil tests because we were building over an old lake bed. For weeks, the men were laying out and pouring the footings. One day I complained to the architect, and he replied, “Pastor, the most important part of this building is the foundation. If you don’t go deep, you can’t go high.” That sentence has been a sermon to me ever since.7

Without a root and foundation of love, a believer cannot grow spiritually, for it is the springboard for spiritual growth. With that said, although Paul does not share who the believer should love, he no doubt refers to love for both God and others (cf. Mk 12:30-31).

Our sinful nature is identified by self-love and love for the things of the world—immature believers are often still identified by these loves. Instead of serving others, they are consumed with themselves. Instead of building God’s kingdom, they are consumed with building their own kingdom. However, when believers start to mature, they start being identified by love for God and others. As they continue to grow, we see more and more acts of love.

In explaining why he and the other apostles serve God, and specifically why they evangelize, Paul says, “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died” (2 Cor 5:14).

What does he mean by Christ’s love? He probably means that his love for Christ compelled him to witness and serve others. But he also means Christ’s love working through him. Romans 5:5 says, “The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit.” God gives each believer a divine ability to love, and this love must be the foundation of our spiritual lives if we are to grow.

Application Question: How can believers build a strong foundation for their spiritual lives by growing in love?

1. Believers grow in love by acts of the will.

Paul is referring to agape love, which is not primarily an emotional love; it is an act of the will. This is why we can obey God’s command to love our enemies (Matt 5:44). A believer might not feel pleasant emotions about his enemy, but he can act in love towards him because God commands it. Romans 12:20 says, “If your enemy is hungry, give him something to eat; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.” As an act of the will, we must choose to serve, forgive, and encourage all we encounter—especially believers (Gal 6:10).

Therefore, we grow in love by choosing to selflessly love those around us. Even our love for God is an act of the will. Christ says, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teachings” (John 14:23, paraphrase). He essentially makes love and obedience synonymous. We grow in love by choosing, as an act of the will, to love God and others.

2. Believers grow in love through prayer.

First Thessalonians 3:12 says, “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.” As we seek God for grace to love, he enables us by his power. If we lack love for someone, including God himself, let us earnestly pray for God’s grace to love (cf. Matt 7:7-8).

Application Questions: Is there a specific person or group of people that God is calling you to show love towards? How is God calling you to grow through practicing acts of love for him and others?

In Order to Mature Spiritually, Believers Must Grow in Their Understanding of Christ’s Love

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge (Ephesians 3:17b-19)

Paul’s next prayer is for the Ephesians to understand the greatness of Christ’s love. Understanding how much someone loves us is very powerful. For children knowing their parents’ love during their formative years helps protects them from a life of fear, insecurity, and rebellion. Those whose parents aren’t around because of work or other factors often struggle because they don’t perceive themselves as being loved. This is why many of the young men and women in gangs, prison, and drug, alcohol, and sexual addiction come from homes missing one or both parents. Knowing and experiencing our parental love is very important, but more important than that is knowing God’s love.

For this reason, Satan works very hard to make believers doubt the love of God. When Satan attacked Eve, he tempted her to believe that God was keeping the best from her. When Satan tempted Job, he tried to get Job to curse God to his face. Both temptations were essentially aimed at making one doubt the love of God. Just as not knowing one’s parents’ love can damage a child, doubting God’s love will seriously damage a Christian. In fact, such doubting can lead to all types of sin and destruction, as it did with Eve.

Paul does not want believers to just have head knowledge of Christ’s love, but also experiential knowledge. When he prays for them to know “the love of Christ” (v. 18), he is praying for them to continually know and experience this love.

However, as he prays for them to comprehend and experience it, he introduces a paradox. He says, “to know this love that surpasses knowledge” (v. 19). This love is impossible to know fully, but we must continually seek to know it nevertheless. It seems that in heaven, when we are made perfect, we will then be able to fully comprehend it. Paul says this in 1 Corinthians 13:12: “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” When Christ comes and removes the sin from our bodies, then we will no longer know in part, but we will know him and his love fully.

Interpretation Question: How can we grow in our knowledge of Christ’s love on a daily basis?

Though there are many ways, such as studying God’s Word, prayer, serving, etc., Paul focuses on just one in this text. He says, “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ” (Eph 3:17b-18). It is only together, “with all the saints,” that we can truly comprehend Christ’s love.

Macdonald and Stott’s comments on this provide insight:

Before we consider the dimensions themselves, let us notice the expression, with all the saints. The subject is so great that no one believer can possibly grasp more than a small fraction of it. So there is need to study, discuss, and share with others. The Holy Spirit can use the combined meditations of a group of exercised believers to throw a flood of additional light on the Scriptures.8

We shall have power to comprehend these dimensions of Christ’s love, Paul adds, only with all the saints. The isolated Christian can indeed know something of the love of Jesus. But his grasp of it is bound to be limited by his limited experience. It needs the whole people of God to understand the whole love of God, all the saints together, Jews and Gentiles, men and women, young and old, black and white, with all their varied backgrounds and experiences.9

Interpretation Question: What is Paul referring to when he talks about the width, length, depth, and height of Christ’s love for us?

Paul could just be using poetic hyperbole in referring to the vastness and completeness of Christ’s love. However, if he is referring to specific aspects of Christ’s love, they must come from his previous teachings in Ephesians 1 and 2. MacDonald says this:

1. The width is described in 2:11–18. It refers to the wideness of God’s grace in saving Jews and Gentiles, and then incorporating them into the church. The mystery embraces both these segments of humanity.

2. The length extends from eternity to eternity. As to the past, believers were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world (1:4). As to the future, eternity will be a perpetual unfolding of the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us through Christ Jesus (2:7).

3. The depth is vividly portrayed in 2:1–3. We were sunk in a pit of unspeakable sin and degradation. Christ came to this jungle of filth and corruption in order to die in our behalf.

4. The height is seen in 2:6, where we have not only been raised up with Christ, but enthroned in Him in the heavenlies to share His glory. These are the dimensions, then, of immensity and, indeed, infinity.10

We must continually endeavor to know Christ’s love not just intellectually, but also experientially, and this happens through our fellowship and struggles with his people—the body of Christ. Though imperfect, they are necessary participants in our sanctification, and our ability to know Christ and his love.

Application Questions: Share a time where your awareness of Christ’s love for you grew in a special way. In what ways have you experienced or come to know Christ’s love for you through other believers?

In Order to Mature Spiritually, Believers Must Be Fully Controlled by God

that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:19b)

The next step in the believer’s path to spiritual maturity is being filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. It seems that it is better to translate this as “unto the fullness of God.” Commentator F.F. Bruce says this: “The preposition ‘unto’ suggests a progressive experience. The believer is to pray for God to constantly fill him, to constantly flood him with all the fullness of God.”11 

Being filled with God is to be the constant experience of believers. Now of course, this seems impossible. How can a believer be filled with the fullness of God? If the heavens cannot contain him, how can we?

Interpretation Question: What does it mean to be filled with the fullness of God?

MacDonald’s book says this: “We can use illustrations to throw light on this verse, for example, the thimble dipped in the ocean is filled with water, but how little of the ocean is in the thimble!”12

Certainly, all of God cannot fill us, but we can nevertheless be full of him. Being full of God means:

1. The believer must be less full of himself.

If a glass is half full already, it can only be half filled with something else. This is a continual problem in our relationship with God. It is not really that we need more of him, but that we need less of ourselves. We need less pride, selfish ambition, lust, anger, etc. Paul says, “I have been crucified with Christ, I no longer live, but Christ in me” (Gal 2:20a, paraphrase). For Paul this was not just a positional experience on the cross, it was a daily practical experience. He gave up his career, religion, family, and everything else, counting them “rubbish” to gain Christ (cf. Phil 3:7-8).

What is keeping God from filling you completely?

2. The believer must be fully controlled by God.

MacArthur’s comments on the word “full” are helpful:

Plēroō means to make full, or fill to the full, and is used many times in the New Testament. It speaks of total dominance. A person filled with rage is totally dominated by hatred. A person filled with happiness is totally dominated by joy. To be filled up to all the fulness of God therefore means to be totally dominated by Him, with nothing left of self or any part of the old man. By definition, then, to be filled with God is to be emptied of self. It is not to have much of God and little of self, but all of God and none of self. This is a recurring theme in Ephesians. Here Paul talks about the fulness of God; in 4:13 it is “the fulness of Christ”; and in 5:18 it is the fulness of the Spirit.13

It should be our daily aspiration to crucify self and exalt Christ in our lives. It should be our daily endeavor to allow God to control our speech, our thoughts, our actions, and our relationships.

Certainly, we accomplish this by renouncing all sin in our lives, filling ourselves with God’s Word, submitting to him, and obeying him. As we do this, God fills and controls us. Similarly, Ephesians 5:18 says, “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.” Like an alcoholic constantly sipping to become intoxicated and therefore controlled by wine, we must constantly drink from God’s Word, prayer, worship, fellowship, and serving so God can completely fill and control us.

Are you daily seeking for God to fill and control you?

Application Questions: Why is it necessary for believers to be continually filled by God? How are you daily seeking his filling?

In Order to Mature Spiritually, Believers Must Have Faith in God

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21)

No doubt, some might have scoffed at the idea of being totally filled and controlled by God. I often counsel young believers who feel that God’s biblical standards are too high, and therefore impossible to meet. Here, Paul’s doxology was meant to help the Ephesians believe that God could establish their root and foundation in love, and enable them to live lives where Christ was at home in their hearts. God could enable them to comprehend the depth, the height, the width, and the length of Christ’s love for them, and ultimately, God could fill and control their lives and use them for great things. Paul wanted them to believe this.

He says, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (v. 20). Essentially, he is saying that God is able. His power is at work in believers to do greater things than they could ever ask or imagine. When David was the least in his household, caring for sheep, he probably never imagined that God would make him king of Israel and bring the messiah through his lineage. When Joseph saw his father and brothers bowing down before him in a dream, he probably never imagined being second in command over Egypt, and saving many lives. The same power that raised Christ from the dead is working in us. However, we must have faith to access it.

In Paul’s doxology, he tried to stretch the Ephesians’ faith to help them believe that God could not only mature them, but also use them greatly for his kingdom. He says this in Ephesians 1:18-19a:

I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.

This incomparably great power is working in all who believe. Certainly, it is available to every believer, but it is only applied to those who have faith. Christ says that if we have faith the size of a mustard seed, we’ll be able to move mountains (Matt 17:20).

God raises mountain movers. He raises Noahs, Moseses, Pauls, and Peters to build his kingdom. And why does he do this?

He does this for his glory—that glory will go to him through the church and Christ for all generations forever and ever (Eph 3:21). God raises mountain movers for his eternal glory!

The following comment by MacArthur provides an encouraging conclusion to this discussion:

When the Holy Spirit has empowered us, Christ has indwelt us, love has mastered us, and God has filled us with His own fullness, then He is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think. Until those conditions are met, God’s working in us is limited. When they are met, His working in us is unlimited. “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go to the Father. And whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it” (John 14:12–14). There is no situation in which the Lord cannot use us, provided we are submitted to Him.14

Application Questions: Why is faith so necessary for God to move in our lives? How can we grow in faith?


What are steps to becoming spiritually mature?

  1. Believers must know their identity in Christ.
  2. Believers must pray.
  3. Believers must strengthen their inner being.
  4. Believers must grow in love for God and others.
  5. Believers must grow in their understanding of Christ’s love.
  6. Believers must be fully controlled by God.
  7. Believers must have faith in God.

Copyright © 2016 Gregory Brown

Unless otherwise noted, the primary Scriptures used are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ®, Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by the International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NASB) are from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972,1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked KJV or AKJV are from the King James Version or Authorized (King James) Version of the Bible.

All emphases in Scripture quotations and commentators’ quotations have been added.

1 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1986). Ephesians (p. 100). Chicago: Moody Press.

2 Hughes, R. K. (1990). Ephesians: the mystery of the body of Christ (p. 114). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

3 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1929). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

4 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, pp. 31–32). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

5 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 32). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

6 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 32). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

7 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 32). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

8 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1930). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

9 Stott, J. R. W. (1979). God’s new society: the message of Ephesians (p. 137). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

10 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1931). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

11 Teacher's Outline and Study Bible - Commentary - Teacher's Outline and Study Bible – Ephesians: The Teacher's Outline and Study Bible. 

12 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1931). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

13 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1986). Ephesians (pp. 111–112). Chicago: Moody Press.

14 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1986). Ephesians (pp. 112–113). Chicago: Moody Press.

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