Inviting the Holy Spirit Into Our Hearts
[Ephesians chapter three]
Last week as we concluded chapter two of the Book of Ephesians, the apostle Paul had just concluded his comments regarding the status of everyone who believes in Jesus Christ and follows his commandments. All are “fellow citizens and members of God’s household”. In 21st century terms, we have all been legally adopted into the Family of God, having become permanent members. As we study chapter three today, we find as we would expect, which is Paul taking up where he left off, beginning in verse one of chapter 3.
“For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles: Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the Gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 3, verses 1-6, NIV)
The apostle Paul’s reference to being a prisoner is historically very accurate, since he was appealing a court decision against him that ultimately resulted in his execution (see the book of Acts, chapters 23-28). When he refers to his “revelation”, he is writing of his conversion experience on the road to Damascus as it is recounted in the book of Acts, chapter nine. After Paul’s conversion he immediately began preaching and teaching about the salvation of Christ. At first he preached mainly to a Jewish audience since that was Paul’s heritage, only to find himself soundly rejected and even vilified by his peers. After putting up with this, probably for longer than he should have, Paul decides to write off his Jewish peers and former friends and begins preaching to non-Jews, or Gentiles, instead (see Acts chapter 18, verses 5-6). Prior to this, having anything to do with Gentiles is beyond the scope of Paul’s experience, and this tradition continues within the Jewish nation to this day. I would compare Paul’s ministry in his lifetime with that of a Rabbi showing up in the studio audience of a televangelist on Christian TV. But that is the very essence of the “Mystery of Christ” that Paul writes about, “through the Gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus”. “Sharers in the promise” means that the free salvation of Jesus Christ is available to everyone on an equal basis. I will mention a little more about the Biblical concept of equality in just a minute. Bearing that in mind, let’s continue now beginning at verse 7.
“I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of His power. Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory.” (Ephesians 3, verses 7-13, NIV)
Paul’s reference to being “less than the least of all God’s people” reflects his life before being chosen by the Holy Spirit to preach to the Gentiles. This was a time prior to Paul’s conversion when he was still known by his original name ‘Saul’, a time when he actively and zealously persecuted the early Church. The Bible even recounts Saul’s direct participation in the stoning death of Stephen as it is told in Acts chapter 7, verses 54-60, concluding in chapter 8, verses 1-3. He provides to the church the definition of his ministry as he sees it, which is “to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ”. Remember that back in Paul’s time the whole idea of a Jew preaching the Gospel to a non-Jewish audience was very radical stuff and completely out of the ordinary. This was something that just wasn’t done back in those days, it was virtually unheard of. But Paul taught correctly that the “riches of Christ” are available to anyone who wants it, and all without cost or preset conditions. This sacred concept of unconditional equality, first taught by the leadership and perfect example of Christ, is present throughout the four gospels, the book of Acts and most of Paul’s writings, among others. Paul sums it up by writing, “In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.” Only through Jesus can anyone even dare to approach God, but the good news is that through Jesus we most certainly can. And if we can all do this through Christ, how much more is there that we can do? The answer is that the sky is the limit (provided we do not sin), just as Paul wrote in another one of his letters to the church that we will study later, “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me”. And now let’s conclude today’s lesson beginning at verse 14.
“For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his entire 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 in us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3, verses 14-21, NIV)
What a magnificent piece of prose these final seven verses of chapter three are! Paul was clearly a well educated man, and a better writer than he gave himself credit for. I have always wondered if this was the original ending of Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus, only to add chapters 4-6 on second thought before sending off his letter which later became a part of the New Testament as we know it today. I’m no Bible scholar, having never attended any seminaries (Jesus is my teacher!), so I can’t say for sure. This may be one bit of church history that has been lost to the ages. Dear old Paul summarizes his thoughts with, “… 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…”. This is what happens when any person allows themselves to walk in the Holy Spirit, possessing the internal dwelling of that same Spirit in their hearts, souls and minds. We find ourselves running right into the unfathomable love of Christ, a love that is beyond human comprehension. Jesus once said, “No eye has seen, and no ear has heard, of the wonderful things God has in store for those who love him”. This is exactly what the apostle Paul was referring to when he wrote those words, in spite of the fact that he had never heard them himself. That’s the Holy Spirit at work. He does the same for me whenever I ask – provided my intentions are good – and He is more than willing to do the same for you. If you have never asked that of Jesus before, why not pause right now and ask him for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit? Go ahead, you’ll be glad you did. And if nothing happens right away, do not be concerned. I waited 16 years for the baptism of the Holy Spirit, which takes one’s walk with Christ to a whole new level. But the first step is to invite the Holy Spirit of Jesus to enter your heart, and to live there from now on. You can be sure of that prayer being answered first. You know, Jesus is returning soon. The time to begin getting ready for His return is right now. Go ahead and ask him into your heart today. You’ll be glad you did!