Strengthened by The Spirit

By Mike Stewart

Strength is a trait that is often sought after in our world full of gyms, sports arenas, and athletic contests.  Accounts of men engaging in strength contests date back to the ancient Chinese practice of lifting heavy stones and cauldrons. Likewise, Ancient Greece and Rome embraced a culture of strength.  While the current culture of strength may be a bit obsessive, without it nations fall, leaders fail, personal health diminishes, and Christians lose heart.  The strength however that is essential to a Christian is not physical, but spiritual, supplied by the Spirit of God.   In his second recorded prayer on behalf of the church at Ephesus, the Apostle Paul prays “…that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man;” (Ephesians 3:16).  The word riches, as you know, points to something of great abundance and value like money or gold.  God the Father has an infinite supply of something infinitely valuable called glory.  What is the connection between the wealth of His glory and the strength that Paul prays for?  God grants this strength in such a way that draws attention to the abundance of His grace by giving it away, not to the strong but needy people.  While human strength gives glory to men by showing “how large,” “how big” and “how strong” men are, the Spirit glorifies the Father by the strength of Christ through weakness.  Therefore, regardless of the size of your biceps, bank account,  church, intelligence or anything owned by you, this strength is not only necessary but available to you according to His greatness and not your own.

Furthermore, the strength that the Spirit gives and that Paul is praying for is “with might” in the inner man.  What is this might or inner power to be used for and how do we know when we have it?  Paul begins his prayer for the Spirit’s strength in the church in verse 14 where he will identify the reason for praying as follow: “For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named.” What is the reason for this prayer?   Paul was made a minister by the gift of grace to preach to the Gentiles who are fellow-heirs of eternal life and of the same body (Eph. 3:6–7).  What is the significance of this statement?  For starters, the original word for Gentiles is ethnos from which we get the word ethnic or ethnicity.  Ethnicity refers to the identification of a group or people based on cultural distinctives such as nationality, culture, food, values, styles, literature, music, etc.

The Lord is gathering together a new people group with a new identity out of the nations or various people groups. This is why Paul prays in Ephesians 3:15, “Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named.” (Emphasis added is mine). The power of the Cross has not only destroyed the barrier of unforgiven sin that keeps us from God but also the walls of separation between people.  In Christ, we lay down the stones that we so often use to build walls of separation and we become the stones that are fitly joined and built as a habitation of God by the Spirit.  What is the Spirit doing?  Building a temple of praise for God (Eph. 2:22).  It is here, in His church, that we are called to live and love together to glorify His grace (Eph. 3:10).  Wherever you find people that have put on the new man, “there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.”  Think of the implications in our current culture of conflict, separation and animosity.  Do you have the power to love, forgive, disciple, help, exhort, welcome, and evangelize people that are not like you?  For this cause, we ask that God would strengthen us with His might by his Spirit in the inner man.

According to the next part of Paul’s petition, this prayer for strength is so that “Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith.”  When you are trusting in God through Christ, you are in possession of this strength.  What does it look like?  Paul gives us two ways that we experience the strength of Christ with what follows: “that ye being rooted and grounded in love.”  A tree has roots that keep it from falling in strong winds and a building does not crumble during an earthquake because of the firm foundation.  The imagery of stability or patient endurance comes into focus with these words.  As an apostle who suffered many tribulations, Paul knew his own as well as our own need for this strength.  Do you feel your need for this prayer?

When we are easily frustrated by traffic delays and construction, we demonstrate that patient endurance doesn’t come naturally.  Failure to endure and love is common today as we can easily observe in relationships such as marriages and churches.  These are two areas that God displays the strength of His love and wisdom to the world although Christians increasingly mirror more of what we see in the world instead.  In our disposable society, we use something up and then throw it out.  The stick-to-it mentality and stability pictured in this prayer is a relic of another age.  Why should we stay the course and endure in hard work and hardships when endless alternatives are beckoning us to leave?  God calls on us to endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ!  The strength to be rooted and grounded is Christ’s call to follow him, to run the race with patience, to finish strong for God’s glory by being small in your own eyes.  When we are being strengthened by His Spirit, when Christ is dwelling in our hearts by faith, rather than draw back when hardships come, we can be rooted and grounded in love.

The strength of Christ indwelling is experienced by love.  In the original language, the word order is literally “in love rooted and grounded.” This order is used to place emphasis on the word love.  Why this emphasis?  Likely because the fruit that remains on the rooted tree and the light that keeps shining through the windows of the grounded building is your love for one another.  “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (I Corinthians 13:13).  Whose love are we first talking about in this context?  Make no mistake, all the commands that follow in chapters 4 – 6 are empowered by this prayer for strength to love others.  But faith must first receive strength before it can work (Colossians 2:6, Galatians 5:6).   How does the love of Christ strengthen you so that you are tree-like and foundation-like in loving others?  Only when you are enjoying his love.

Consider the parallel prayer of Paul in Colossians 1:11 which asserts: “Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness;” (Emphasis added is mine).  Note the parallels of strength, might, glory and stability with the addition of joyfulness.  Paul is praying for their love to grow in knowledge and strength by the Spirit that endures hardships (patience) and relationships (longsuffering) with joyfulness.  What kind of love will keep you going when the horizon looks dark, the clouds are thick and the warmth and brightness of the sun are gone?  What experience of love will keep you on the pathway of obedience in the church when endless roadblocks, temptations and supposed escapes arise?  When His love is your delight!  When the joy of the Lord is your strength! There is no higher calling, no bigger privilege, no greater joy.  For this cause may we bow our knee to the Father and pray for this strength.