Filling up with God

November 26, 2017 sermon
By John Ulrich, Lead Pastor

Ephesians 3:14-21

Although Thanksgiving is a time of filling (food, relatives, shopping, sports, etc.), Paul, in Ephesians 3:14-21, prays for a different kind of fullness: “that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God”.

The Goal: To be filled with God
Notice that Paul does not pray here for: comfortable circumstances, happiness, or even good behavior. He prays for something much deeper – for the Ephesians to know God’s love to the point of that their hearts are full of God, with no room for anything else. The Spirit of God helps believers have more of God by strengthening them “with power through his Spirit in your inner being”. (Eph.3:16) It is not about how much of us God has, but it is how much we have of Him. Our part is using our will to decide to have faith, “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith”. (Eph.3:17) and then the Holy Spirit will help us give God control of all areas of our lives, and God will change us, filling our hearts with the wonder and love of God.

The Path: Three Steps to being filled with God

  1. Invite God’s Spirit to work in your heart. (Eph.3:16) God’s Spirit (the comforter, counselor, helper) walks along side the believer to comfort and counsel us: helping with prayer, marking us as belonging to God, giving us joy, and especially helping us to recognize spiritual truth.
  2. Exercise faith in Christ. When Paul prays for the power of the Holy Spirit “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” (Eph.3: 17a), “to dwell” in Greek means to make yourself completely at home. Paul calls us to really believe Jesus (not just laws and rules): His claims about Himself, His story in the Gospels, the things Christ did for us – that we were chosen, adopted, ransomed, forgiven, and have purpose and an inheritance in Him. For Christ to be at home in our hearts through faith, we are to look at Scripture, at our life, and at our world, through the eyes of faith in Christ.
  3. Explore the Love that surrounds you. In Eph.3:17-19, Paul wants us to recognize and know and explore God’s love. Being “rooted and established in love” (Eph.3:17), we operate from the foundation of the love of Christ. But more than this, the love of Christ is the realm we explore…all its dimensions (Eph.3:18). As we explore the love of God through the power of the Holy Spirit, we will see spiritual truth. And if we believe that truth in faith, we will find ourselves surrounded by God’s love in ALL areas of life. The Holy Spirit will continue to show us any areas of our own lives which are locked away from God, but if we turn those areas over to God in faith, His Spirit will disperse the darkness and transform us. And as we do that, we will continually be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. We will learn that the love of God is far larger than us as we see the world through the eyes of faith.

Discussion Questions

  1. What areas of your heart have you closed to God” What will you have to displace in your heart to be filled with God?
  2. In your words, according to Ephesians 3, how can we be filled with the fullness of God?
  3. Can you be a Christian and not be filled with “all the fullness of God”? Eph.3:19
  4. Describe what our eyes of faith in Christ might see that the world does not.
  5. Do you believe or have you experienced that God “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine”? Eph.3:20

Introduction

It’s good to see you guys today! I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving! We had a blast! As you can see, we had family in. We played games. We ate. We celebrated Dad/s 80th Birthday. All in all, we had a great thanksgiving weekend!

I was thinking about Thanksgiving this week. Thanksgiving means a lot of things to a lot of people. One thing Thanksgiving is for just about everybody is a time of filling up! Thanksgiving is a time of fullness. Chances are, as we come to the Sunday after Thanksgiving, you have just about had your fill of several things. Ladies, how many of you have had your fill of football? Sorry there’s 2 ½ months left! Guys, did some of you get your fill of shopping this weekend? Chances are we’ve all had our fill of certain relatives this weekend. You love ‘em. You’re glad to see ‘em! But you are probably ready to have your house back. As someone once said to me, “We can’t miss you ‘til you’re gone!”

So we get our fill of all these things. Then there’s the food. Every year I tell myself I am not going to do it, and every year I eat myself into a coma! I finally realized this year: It’s not the turkey. It’s the sides! Kelley asked everyone in the family “What two dishes really make it Thanksgiving for you?” Then she fixed them all! I counted. This year we had 14 dishes at Thanksgiving! I have to eat some of everything out of respect for the cooks, so politeness compels me to eat myself into a coma! Anyway, my point is Thanksgiving is a time when we fill up.

Now, what does that have to do with my sermon? Almost nothing, but I needed a Thanksgiving illustration! Just kidding. Actually today we are going to look at a passage that talks about fullness, a passage that talks about filling up – not on football, or food, or even relatives – but a passage that talks about filling up on God, a passage where Paul talks about “being filled to the measure of the fullness of God.”

Turn in your Bibles to Ephesians 3:14-21. Today we are going to finish our series on Ephesians 1-3 called “Foreign to Familiar.” We’ll start our Christmas series called “the Star” next week. We’ll pick up the rest of Ephesians early next year. Today Paul is going to finish the first half of Ephesians – the sort of doctrinal, theological half of the book. He’s going to prepare us for the second half of the book – the sort of practical, applicational half. The way he’s going to do that is with a prayer, a prayer that has as its goal that we would be experience the fullness of God.

Now that may be a strange phrase to many of us, something we don’t understand. It was Paul’s heart desire for the Ephesians, and it’s my desire for us as well. So today we are going to do two things as we look at this passage:

  1. We are going to start with that big goal of Paul’s prayer and see what that’s all about and what it means to be “filled with God.”
  2. We’re going to see in Paul’s prayer the path to get there – three steps that he prays us through that build on each other to bring us to the state of being filled with God.

There’s something for each of us in this passage today. None of us lives out this passage perfectly, but I think each of us relates to what this passage says in a particular way. Maybe some of you will hear this today and say “Yes, that’s the basic direction of my life” and be called to go deeper. Others of you might hear this passage and say “OK, I’ve got a ways to go, but I want to know the fullness of God.” Maybe some of you are here today and you would say “God just isn’t a big part of my thinking right now.” If that’s you, I think this passage is going to encourage you to open your heart to God, to experience faith and see the love that’s around you, and to move toward being filled with God. So there’s something for every one of us! So let’s just read Ephesians 3:14-21. Paul concludes his discussion of the blessings we have in Christ, and all that he’s done for us, by praying this:

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

We are going to look at this prayer kind of backwards. We’re going to start with the end or the goal of the prayer which is this:

The Goal: To be filled with God

Paul gives us this goal. Look at what he says:

and to know this love that surpasses knowledge (here’s the goal ) that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
– Ephesians 3:19

Paul wants us to be filled to the measure of God with God. That’s what he really wants. Now we’ll talk about what that means in a minute, but for now notice what Paul is NOT praying for, because he does not pray for a lot of the kind of things that we tend to pray for. What he asks for is not what I, or probably you, normally ask for when we pray for people. Did you notice that?

Paul doesn’t pray for them to have comfortable circumstances. There’s nothing here about health and wealth and isn’t that much of what we pray about? Paul doesn’t pray for them to be happy. In fact, Paul doesn’t even pray for good behavior, which is interesting because he’s going to spend the rest of this book – the next three chapters – talking about how Christians should behave! He’s going to give instructions about all kinds of things – everything from marriage to employment to honesty to forgiveness to truthfulness. But he doesn’t pray about their behavior at all.

What he does pray for is one thing. It’s something that is much deeper than circumstances, or feelings or behavior. What Paul really wants is for the Ephesians to know God’s love to the point that they are filled with Him. He wants them to be filled with God. What Paul wants is what the Bible elsewhere calls “being full of the Holy Spirit.” It’s not about doing spectacular things. That’s a different kind of filling. It’s not about how much of the Holy Spirit or God we have. It’s about how much of us he has! Paul wants the Ephesians to be filled with God – filled with love for him, filled with amazement at who he is, filled with worship of him filled with joy – so that there isn’t room for anything else in our hearts! He wants their hearts to be full of God.

Let me give you an illustration, and I don’t mean this to be self serving. It’s kind of like my relationship with Kelley. My heart is filled with love for her. Kelley owns all of the romantic part of my heart so that there just isn’t room for anyone else from the first time we met at K-Mart. Actually the first time we met, we didn’t like each other, but from the time we started dating Kelley had me. It took me a year to get up my nerve to ask her out, but once I did we went out 30 straight nights. I never dated another girl after that. About two weeks in, I told my Mom “Mom, this could be the one!” She said “I can tell!.” Then she got to know Kelley, and she said “John, we like her better than we like you, so she is the one!”

Just kidding. I’m not setting myself up as the ideal husband, but listen: All of the romantic part of my heart belongs to Kelley. That doesn’t mean I don’t know that other women exist. But my heart is full of her. There’s no part of my heart that she doesn’t have access to. There’s not a part that I hold back. I have integrity in my heart. There’s not a part of my heart that loves Kelley and another part that is scheming for how I can get the next girl to notice me. The romantic part of my heart is filled with Kelley.

Paul wants that kind of love in our hearts toward God. He wants us to know God’s love to the extent that we are filled with him. He doesn’t want us to have the religious part of our heart and the rest of our heart. He doesn’t want Jesus to have most of our heart, but then for us to have certain little parts that we hold back. He wants Jesus to have it all.

The other day Kelley and I were talking to one of our New Member Candidates. Jesus is just doing big things in this person’s life. When we were talking, I just said “When I look at you and see the joy on your face and talk to you, I feel like your life is like this house and Jesus is just going from room to room to room, just pulling back the drapes and opening up the windows and letting life in there one room at a time. It’s so cool just to watch Jesus move into new areas of your heart.” That’s what Paul is praying for. He wants Jesus in every room of our heart!

That’s a much deeper prayer than the other things we so often pray for. Circumstances change. Our money, our job, our relationships, our health – they can change. But if Jesus is in every room of our heart, we can thrive in any circumstance. Happiness can fade and emotions change. But whether we are going through sad or happy times, Jesus can give us hope if we are filled with him. Even our behavior. We can change our behavior through warnings and promises, through a sense of obligation or peer pressure. The deeper issue, the one that really matters, is what fills our hearts. If our hearts are filled with the love and wonder of God through Jesus, then the commands Paul gives in the rest of the book of Ephesians won’t be rules that are there to control us. They will be instructions that are there to guide the way we act out our love for Jesus. Those are two very different things!

Go back to my relationship with Kelley. You can give me all the “Don’ts” you want: Don’t flirt with other women, don’t look at pornography, don’t form an emotional attachment to another woman. That can make a difference in my behavior. But the real issue is whether or not my heart belongs to her. That’s what Paul is calling us to! That kind of love for God!

Let me ask you a question: Don’t you want that? Don’t you want that kind of relationship with God, so that you can live a life of integrity, a life of one direction informed and guided by Him? Can’t you sense that that is what you were really made for? To be full, not of religion, not of rules, not of obligation, but full of God? Isn’t that what we all want?

But we resist, don’t we? Don’t we all have little doors in the houses of our hearts that we try to keep locked off from God? Little areas where pride keeps us from yielding? Little rooms – maybe our finances, maybe our hobbies, maybe our sex life, maybe our career or something Got has called us to do. But we want him to stay out, because we’re sure we know what’s best for ourselves.

Don’t we have those? For some of you if you’re honest, you’re holding back most of your heart. You want God to come into the front door. You want everyone to know that you’ve invited him in, but maybe you just want to keep him in the entryway and out of the house. You don’t want him to control your life, because you are afraid of what he might do if you really give him your heart.

Can I tell you something? As I worked on the sermon this week again and again, the thought came to me that some of you might be right there, just trying to keep God’s hands off your life trying to hold onto control of your little kingdom. I thought “How tragic how exhausting.” Let me tell you – I’ve been there and I so don’t want that for you.

If you followed the news this week, you saw that it was a really big week for our little African nation of Zimbabwe. They finally forced Robert Mugabe, the dictator of the country, to step down after 37 years and an incredible amount of damage. What was once the breadbasket of Africa with the highest literacy rate in the continent and the strongest currency in the world is now the second poorest nation on earth with more than 90% unemployment. Most of the resourceful people have left the country. It’s been such a tragedy!

As I read the news, I thought “What an incredible picture of the damage we can do by clinging to control when we should just let go!” There were people in Zimbabwe who could have helped, people who could have led the country well. I remember the day when Robert Mugabe got on state television in the midst of the chaos and said “No one can run this country as well as I have.”

How tragic! We have the capacity to do the same thing in our lives as we hold on to power and try to keep Jesus out of certain areas of our hearts. Paul doesn’t want that for us, so he prays that the Ephesians and that we will be filled with God.

So that’s the goal: to be filled with God. I think most of us recognize the goodness of that goal. Our desires aren’t perfect, but we basically want that. But if you’re like me., there’s a problem. We don’t know how to get there! How does a person get to the point that they are filled with God?

Well luckily, Paul doesn’t just give us the end goal in this prayer. He also gives us the path to get there. If we look closely at this prayer, we will see that Paul gives us a path – three steps to being filled with God. So if you’re not filled with God or if you need to be more full of God, and I think we all do, Paul lays out a path for us. He gives us:

The Path: Three Steps to being filled with God.

The first step is this:

1. Invite God’s Spirit to work in your heart

Look at the way Paul starts this prayer. Look at his first request:

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name and here’s what Paul asks
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

That’s the first request that Paul makes – that the Holy Spirit God’s Spirit would work powerfully in their hearts. He invites the Spirit to work in their hearts. If you are a Christian, it doesn’t matter whether you are young or old whether you are a new Christian or have been a Christians for 50 years. God’s Spirit lives in you! His presence is there in your heart ministering to you.

The Spirit does a lot of things for God’s people. He prays for us. He marks us as belonging to God. He gives us joy. One of the main things that God’s Spirit does in the hearts of his people is help them to recognize truth. Several times in the Bible the Holy Spirit is given the Greek name “parakletos.” It’s sometimes translated comforter or counselor or helper. There’s really not a good one-word English translation. What that title parakletos described was someone who was called alongside a person in a situation to comfort them, if they were discouraged, or to counsel them, if they were confused or even to rebuke them, if they needed it. In other words, a parakletos spoke truth to people.

That’s one of the main things the Holy Spirit does. I think that’s what Paul is talking about when he prays that the Holy Spirit will strengthen us in the inner man. I think he’s praying that the Holy Spirit will help us to see Spiritual truth. OK, so the first step to being filled with God is to invite the Holy Spirit to work in your heart, to help you recognize spiritual truth. The reason that is the first step is because the second step is this:

2. Exercise faith in Christ

In other words, believe the Spiritual truth that the Holy Spirit shows you. Here’s why Paul is praying for the enablement of the Holy Spirit:

so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.
– Ephesians 3:17a

Paul wants Christ to dwell in their hearts through faith. When he says that, Paul is talking about way more than just asking Jesus into your heart or just believing that Jesus died for your sin. The word Paul uses there is katoikeo. It’s translated here “to dwell,” but it means way more than that. There are other words that mean “to dwell.” Katoikeo means to make yourself completely at home.

Over the weekend, we had a lot of people in our home. Two of our visitors illustrate this word katoikeo. First, Elisabeth brought her friend Aysha. Aysha is this wonderful girl of Pakistani heritage. She was like a perfect guest in our home. She didn’t go anywhere without asking. She was very polite. She helped with the dishes. The only really bad thing she did was beat me at our family card game right after we taught her to play it! She was a great guest, but she didn’t katoikeo. Elisabeth also came home. Now Elisabeth is pretty polite when she’s around, but she definitely katoikeo’d . She made herself at home. She went wherever he wanted to go in the house if she was hungry She got something out of the fridge (or asked Kelley to!) If she wanted to watch TV, she just grabbed the remote and turned it on. She made himself at home!

That’s what Paul is saying about Christ. He is to be at home in our hearts. Paul isn’t just talking about our obedience or affection like we were a few minutes ago here. He’s saying Christ is to be at home through faith. This is a call to believe Jesus, to really have faith in him. This is a call to believe, really believe, Jesus’ claims about himself. That he was divine, that he was sinless, that he was the only way to the Father. This is a call to believe the story of Jesus in the gospels, to believe that that really happened and is really true. It’s a call to believe that that story is the punch line the main point of the big story of the Bible. This is a call to believe the things that Christ did for us. Remember all the things Paul listed earlier in Ephesians that we have in Christ? We were chosen in him, adopted in him, ransomed in him, forgiven in him. We have purpose and an inheritance in him. This is a call to believe all of that.

When Paul says Christ is to be at home in our hearts through faith, this is what he means. We are to look at Scripture, at our life, at our world through the eyes of faith in Christ. Here’s the thing: if we do that, we’ll be ready for the third step that Paul gives us. If (1) the Spirit is active in our hearts, he will guide us into truth about Christ. If we (2) then believe that truth about Christ, if we choose to think and act as if what the Bible says about Christ is real, then we’ll be ready for step three which is:

3. Explore the Love that surrounds you

Paul says this:

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.
– Ephesians 3:17-19

Paul has a third request. He wants us to recognize and know and explore God’s love. Look at the passage again. He expresses that desire in three ways:

First in verse 17, he wants us to be “rooted and grounded/established in love.” “Rooted” is the name of our Youth Ministry. It comes from this passage and a sister passage in Colossians. The idea is that Paul wants the love of Christ, the love that we see through faith, to be the soil in which our hearts grow. He wants the Love of Christ to be the foundation from which we operate.

Secondly, Paul prays that operating out of that love we:

may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,
– Ephesians 3:14-21

In other words, he wants the Love of Christ not just to be the foundation from which we operate, but also to be the realm we explore. Paul lists four dimensions here: how wide, and long, and high and deep and different explanations have been given for those dimensions – that they relate to who God reaches to and how far he will reach and the height of his love and the depth to which he will go to give us grace. Other people see in this the shape of the cross. I don’t think the main point is the individual measurements that Paul lists. I think the main point is that if the Holy Spirit enables you to see Spiritual truth and, if you believe it, then you are going to find that you are surrounded by the Love of Christ. If you see life through the eyes of faith, no matter which way you turn, you’re going to see God’s love. It’s not just the foundation from which we operate. It is also the realm we explore.

This week I asked myself “Where do I actually see the Love of God?” I quickly realized the answer is this: If I’m looking through the eyes of faith, I see it everywhere. Everywhere. I see love in the way God tells us to live and in the commands of the Bible. Do you realize that? If you look at the instruction that the Bible gives us about how to live without faith, it’s just a bunch of restrictive rules and regulations that limit your freedom. But if you really believe what the Bible says about our Creator and that we are made in his image and that he made us, and our families, and our societies to operate a certain way, then you quickly see that his instruction is for our good – that happy societies, and happy families, and happy people live according to it. Those rules are an expression of God’s love.

I see the love of Christ in the things Paul says that Christ did for us. All those blessings that we mentioned a minute ago that were listed earlier in Ephesians. Many of those were things that we didn’t even know God did for us, like choosing us and adopting us. I see God’s love there.

I see God’s love in the gospel story in what Jesus did for us. In a minute, we’re going to sing “How Great Thou Art.” I’m always amazed at that verse that says: And when I think, that God his Son not sparing, sent him to die I scarce can take it in. That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing, he bled and died, to take away my sin. What an amazing expression of God’s love!

I see God’s love in his forgiveness of our sins, in the fact that there is enough forgiveness for all our sins, no matter what we’ve done, no matter how far we’ve fallen. That’s love! I see God’s love in the lives of you, his people. I love you, guys, and I’m so proud of the way I see God’s love flowing through you from time to time. Let me give you one example although there are lots of others:

Two weeks ago, Neil Nagamos was working on an out of town job. One night, someone broke into his stuff and stole all his tools. One of our lead team members caught wind of it, and he didn’t make an announcement or make a big deal out of it. He just quietly put the word out that this had happened and asked if anyone wanted to help. By the end of the service, he had $1,000. When we gave that to Neil and prayed for the person who stole his tools, Neil had tears in his eyes. He had experienced the Love of Christ through you.

Here’s my point: If the Spirit opens your eyes to spiritual truth, if you have faith in Christ and see the world through the eyes of faith, you are going to find God’s love no matter which way you turn. Paul finishes his thought on love with a seemingly nonsensical statement. He says:

and to know this love that surpasses knowledge that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
– Ephesians 3:19

He’s saying “I want you to operate from the base of God’s love. I want you to explore God’s love, and I want you to know God’s love so well that you will know that you can’t know how deep his love really is.” That will result in being filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

If we invite the Spirit to work in our hearts, we will exercise faith in Christ. We will see the world through the eyes of faith. If we do that, we will find love no matter which way we turn. If we do that, we will want everything that God has to offer. We will be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Let me ask you a question today: Do you want to be filled with the fullness of God? Do you want him to fill your heart completely?