Exceeding Abundantly Above
Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen” (Ephesians 3:20,21).
Paul was no stranger to doxology. Numerous times throughout his writings in the New Testament, one will find the great apostle burst forth in a heightened admiration and exalting of our God and Savior. This fact reveals that Paul's deep theology reached more than just his head, but also his heart. The glorious truths of Holy Scripture stretch our minds to great lengths, which should produce joyful worship from us. Another lesson we learn is that faithful prayer should frequently involve both supplication and adoration. The Psalms, for example, often contain something of a “dance” between fervent petition and joyful thanksgiving and praise. After Paul lifted the lofty petitions of Ephesians 3, he closed his prayer with a doxology (which is also part-petition!) Let's note these elements of the doxology: Power Beyond our Capacity; Personal Encouragement; The Worthy Aim.
Power Beyond our Capacity
Do you ever feel like you are praying to a God who stands about 5'10” with a slim build and average intelligence? That's how I feel sometimes because those features are mine! We see a need so great and when we pray, we feel sinfully defeated and desperate because we are praying as if God's resources look like our resources. We can think as if God is like us: limited in capacity. That's why the doxology of Ephesians 3 is so correcting and inspiring. Paul is quick to point out that he is petitioning and lauding a God who is able to do far beyond our capacities.
Now, you have to really stop and think through the wording of this one. He is able to do above what we can ask or think. That's really good. But, wait! He is able to do abundantly above. That's even better. Hold on, there's more! He is able to do exceeding (a modifier of abundantly) abundantly above. Language scholars say this is a rare double-compound superlative adverb. Now that may sound boring, but here is the point: the Holy Spirit is inspiring Paul to use unusually expressive and descriptive language to really “lay it on thick”! The Spirit is revealing to us here that God is very much able to answer our prayers. He is able in a way that far surpasses our thoughts and imaginations. He has power beyond our capacity! That fact should make us worship...and ask!
Now, if God is able to do exceeding abundantly above all we can ask or think, that means there are times when we He will grant grace to His people that we hadn't even thought of before! He may answer prayers in ways that we would never have imagined or designed on our own. This reminds us that not only His power, but also His loving wisdom is superior to our own. We all know the experience of praying fervently for some God-honoring petition only to find ourselves disappointed in apparently few results. Recognizing with humble submission that both His power and wisdom are beyond our capacity helps us to keep trusting, worshiping and asking. My dad has often said, “God may have solutions to our needs that we have never thought of.” Well said! Furthermore, He surely responds to our prayers in ways unexpected or unanticipated. Why? Because He is able to do far above what we can ask...or think.
In thinking of God's unlimited capacity, remember the scope of this prayer: the “whole family” is mentioned in verse 15. “All saints” are referred to in verse 18. Stop for a moment and think of the needs of your own soul personally. Spiritual strength. Closer communion with Christ by clear-eyed faith. More consistent remembering, enjoying and being influenced by Christ's love. Now, think of the spiritual needs of those in your church body. 30 members? 60? 150? Regardless, it will take a large supply to meet those needs. Now, think of all Christians in your city. Your state. Your country. Think of believers in Africa, Latin America, Europe and beyond. Our minds get overwhelmed quickly in such an exercise. Our capacity to think through those needs easily is exhausted. Contrast this with the God Paul is exalting. For all the saints in all places in every season, He is able to do exceeding abundantly above all we can ask or think!
Is this infinite power of God just something to be gazed at from afar? No, Paul's words declare that this Divine power is presently “working in us.” That is, the double-compound superlative adverb power is present tense (right now!) working in you, believer. The same power that created the world and sustains it; the same power that brought up our Lord Jesus Christ from the grave; the power that is truly super-human is at work within the people of God today.
This is a truth of Scripture to be embraced by confident trust. The reality is, we don't always feel that power. Sometimes, we don't feel it because we have neglected the means through which God is in the habit of granting and manifesting that power: the Word, prayer, worship, life in the church, etc. Sometimes, it's just a product of our human condition and the weakness of our flesh. But, it is no less true. Use this truth to stir yourself up to endure in service to Christ and His people. Use this truth to encourage yourself when you see glaring flaws in your Christian character. Use this truth when you struggle with fear and worry. Use this truth when you are tempted to sin and feel that you have no way of escape. Use this truth when you feel like a failure and want to go into a hole of self-pity. Be encouraged! His power is at work in you!
The Worthy Aim
At the end of the day, what is the point of this fervent prayer? We might answer that question by asking another: what is God's aim in all of His doings? The answer is His own glory. Ephesians 1 reminds us that God saves with the goal of “the praise of the glory of His grace.” Earlier in Ephesians 3, Paul notes that God is displaying His wisdom in bringing unity between Jew and Gentile through the work of Jesus. So, Paul closes this prayer by ascribing glory to God in the church through Christ forever! And this very doxology is also the purpose of prayer for spiritual strength, comprehending Christ's love and being filled with all the fullness of God.
God is glorified in all His works. He is glorified in Creation and in Providence. He is glorified and will be glorified in the judgment of His enemies. But here, Paul highlights God being glorified in His prized possession: His beloved people. In Ephesians, we find the people of God referred to in various ways: the church, His body, His workmanship, ex-foreigners but now fellow-citizens with the saints, the household of God, heirs, the whole family, saints, children, and as Christ's bride. What rich and varied description of the blessed position of God's people! In Ephesians 1, a long list of spiritual blessings is mentioned that belong to these people, such as: election, forgiveness of sins, adoption, eternal inheritance and more. In these highly favored ones, may God be glorified by Jesus Christ in every age continuously!
Since “church” is specifically mentioned in verse 21, we are reminded that the local, visible expression of the people of God is the gathered church. In that committed body of believers where the word is preached, the saints edify and forgive each other, where gifts are exercised for the body's good, where longsuffering and meekness are prevalent, where married couples, parents, children and singles all seek to live out the gospel...may God be glorified in every age without ceasing.
Is Ephesians 3:21 your aim? Whether you are a pastor or a 15-year old or 75-year old follower of Jesus, God being glorified through you is of higher value and importance than anything else. Know this—Paul's doxology is being fulfilled. In every age, God will get glory to Himself through His people. The Lord will always sustain His workmanship, His heirs, His body for His glory in every age. May He receive great glory in this day and age!