Praying for Maturity (part 1) … Power in the Inner Man
Scripture Reading: Ephesians 3:14-21
Sermon Title: Praying for Maturity (part 1) … Power in the Inner Man
Sermon Text: Ephesians 3:14-16
Signs of Spiritual Immaturity
Our Father’s Rich Resource
Holy Spirit Power
NOTE: “Scripture quotations are from the NASB." I provide this manuscript as a courtesy. I do not follow the document word for word during the message. I also do not write the document with the intent of publication; there may be grammatical errors throughout. Thanks for understanding.
John Paton was a missionary, in the 1800’s, among savage cannibals in the New Hebrides Islands. His biography is nothing short of amazing. Listen to these quotes:
I had my nearest and most intimate glimpses of the presence of my Lord in those dread moments when musket, club or spear was being levelled at my life.
At the moment I put the bread and wine into those dark hands, once stained with the blood of cannibalism, now stretched out to receive and partake the emblems and seals of the Redeemer's love, I had a foretaste of the joy of glory that well-nigh broke my heart to pieces. I shall never taste a deeper bliss, till I gaze on the glorified face of Jesus himself.
If I die here in Glasgow, I shall be eaten by worms; If I can but live and die serving the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by cannibals or by worms; for in the Great Day my resurrection body will arise as fair as yours in the likeness of our risen Redeemer.
And then, there is this amazing story of God’s deliverance.
One night hostile natives surrounded the mission station, intent on burning out the Patons and killing them. Paton and his wife prayed during that terror-filled night that God would deliver them. When daylight came, they were amazed to see their attackers leave. A year later, the chief of the tribe was converted to Christ. Remembering what had happened, Paton asked the chief what had kept him from burning down the house and killing them. The chief replied in surprise, "Who were all those men with you there?" Paton knew no men were present--but the chief said he was afraid to attack because he had seen hundreds of big men in shining garments with drawn swords circling the mission station.
I bring up John Paton for many reasons.
The first reason is that John Paton was a great man of God who counted the cost of sharing Christ. He had no fear of man nor fear of death. He understood suffering. He understood the need to share the gospel. He demonstrated having the same unwavering faith as the Apostle Paul, and all the people of faith in Hebrews 11. He did not look at the outer circumstances, but forged forward with a great faith in God’s sovereignty.
Another reason to speak about the trials of John Paton is that it is important for us to recognize our battle is not a battle of flesh and blood, but ours is a spiritual battle. Although the men of the tribe saw the angels protecting the Paton household, John Paton did not. He didn’t need to see them. The point is not that we are to try and see the spiritual realm with our eyes. We don’t need to see demonic realm to fight our battles. If God wants us to see the spiritual realm, He will show it to us. The point is that we need to keep in mind that, whether we see them or not, there are spiritual battles taking place all around us. We live in a physical world and we live in a spiritual world. We need to be mindful that our battle is not against the fleshly material world, but principalities and powers in the spiritual world.
John Paton, because he is a man of prayer. Paton’s response to trials in this world is prayer. Of course, if we find our house surrounded by savages’ intent on burning it down, we all would be people of prayer. In reading his biography, we discover Paton is a man of prayer long before his life is threatened. He learned prayer from his father as a young boy in Scotland. God ordains for us to engage in our spiritual battles one way and that is through prayer.
The main point of our message today is that we need to pray God strengthens our inner man so that we attain spiritual maturity. This is how the Apostle Paul prayed for the Ephesian church.
Signs of Spiritual Immaturity
Paul does not randomly pray for the churches. He prays specifically for their spiritual needs. In reading his letters we can see he is in continued contact with the churches. His prayers have underlying reason for their utterance.
The first prayer had reason
In chapter one, Paul prayed that the Ephesians would receive a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of God.
18I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, 19and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. (Eph. 1:18-19)
In reading the prayer and then reading the following three paragraphs of the letter, it is not difficult to surmise that the Ephesian believers were questioning their inheritance in Christ. Perhaps, Judaizers crept into the church and told them that because they were not children of Abraham, they wouldn’t receive Abraham’s promises. We don’t know for certain. What we do know is Paul prays for them to know of their inheritance in Christ and follows the prayer with a lengthy explanation telling how the Gentiles receive all the promises of Abraham.
He then explains to them God’s purpose all along has been to save all the Nations through Jesus Christ the Messiah. They are together alive, risen, and seated with Christ in the heavenly places. And, they are fellow heirs, fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise with the Jews. Both Jew and Gentile are being built up into the household of God. Christ is the Cornerstone, and they are the building blocks.
This prayer has reason
There appears to be a reason for the second prayer. If we look at the last line of the prayer, we understand what Paul desires for an outcome. The outcome is this, “that they may be filled up to all the fullness of God.” Paul desires for them to be mature. When we are filled to the brim with the fullness of God, we attain full knowledge of salvation and we live according to that knowledge; we are spiritually mature.
Paul prays for their maturity because they display spiritual immaturity. They are immature in not trusting in the complete saving work of Christ. They measured their inheritance and believed they fell short of their future glory based on themselves. They did not measure their future glory by the work of Christ’s salvation on the cross.
They need to be taught about having assurance of salvation and receiving their full inheritance in Christ.
Another way they demonstrate immaturity is that they lost heart over Paul’s tribulations and imprisonment. They fail to see God’s sovereignty at work, and that suffering for the gospel is for glory. If they were mature, they would not lose heart, but rejoice in all things. Because of this, Paul tells them that he is praying that they be filled up to all the fullness of God.
Praying to be strengthened in the inner man is for the Ephesian’s spiritual maturity.
Our Father’s Rich Resource
Paul begins by telling the Ephesians who he prays to; he prays to God the Father.
I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory … (Eph. 3:14-16)
The New Testament shift of referring to God as Father is striking. God is mentioned 1,448 times in the Old Testament, and only 15 times He is referred to as Father; about one percent. But, in the New Testament, God is called our Father 245 times of the 413 references; more than half the time.
Paul recognizes the fatherhood of God. Every family is named from God. He is everyone’s Father. We are His adopted children, and we bear His name. Paul expresses the unity of the believers; both Jew and Gentile as well as the unity of all beings created by God.
Praying to the Father is the pattern of Scripture. Jesus prayed to the Father and instructed His disciples to do the same. Paul bows his knees and recognizes God is on His throne and he is a man on the earth. Praying is an act of humility. We don’t demand, we are not entitled, we are in need as beggars before the Lord. But, we are beggars before our Father.
Paul prays that God would grant and fulfill the prayer request according to the riches of God’s glory. It is as though Paul is saying, “God, reach into Your treasure chest that is labeled glory, and fulfill this request. I know Your glory is rich, and from Your glory, this need may be met.”
God’s glory is that He is all-powerful and fully able to meet our needs. God is all-knowing and will meet our needs with wisdom and understanding. God is abounding in lovingkindness and will meet our needs in a caring and gentle way. God is just and will meet our needs in a way which is right. God is holy and will meet our needs with perfection. God is our Father and will meet our needs in a way which a good and loving father meets the needs of his children.
God’s glory is rich, so our needs will be met to the fullest.
Holy Spirit Power
Paul then speaks the very heart of his one request. He prays that God would grant the Ephesians, according to the riches of His glory, that they are strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man. This is the sole request of the prayer. From here on, the prayer speaks of what will happen as a result, that Christ will dwell in their heart and they will comprehend and know the love of Christ. These two results will yield the outcome of maturity. We will talk about these results and the outcome next week.
This week, we want to speak about the request that the Ephesians are strengthened with power through His Spirit in their inner man. The goal is for the Ephesians to have inner strength by God’s Holy Spirit.
Let’s talk first about the Holy Spirit and His work in the believer. God’s Holy Spirit’s power at work in the believer is often misunderstood. For us to best understand what Paul is praying, it is helpful for us to understand the person of the Holy Spirit. When we understand the person, we better understand His role in the believer’s life.
Who is the Holy Spirit as a person and what is His role?
Seeing the Spirit as a Person
First, we need to see the Holy Spirit as a person. Think of how we view God the Father. When thinking of God, the Father, perhaps the image we have of Him, in our mind’s eye, is to see Him sitting on His throne; Lord of Creation and Judge of the Universe. Perhaps we see the Father walking with Adam and Eve in the Garden (Gen. 3:8). Maybe we imagine Him walking past Moses on Mount Sinai (Ex. 34:6) as He declares His glory. When reading Revelation, I picture the Father wiping our last tear from our eyes with His hand (Rev. 21:4). Chances are, when we think of God the Father, a form, a being, comes to mind.
In the same way, we may picture in our mind’s eye Jesus the Son. We see an image of a man, walking in obedience to the Father. He is a man of prayer in the garden. He is a man on a fishing boat with His disciples. We see the image of Christ on the cross or in the Upper Room asking Thomas to put his fingers in His wounds. We have a tangible flesh and body image of God the Son.
However, when we imagine the Holy Spirit, it is more difficult for us to imagine Him as a person. We see Him as having no form. We imagine Him as a Holy Ghost. It is hard for us to imagine Him as a person.
Seeing the Spirit of God
Let’s engage our imagination and see the Spirit of God as a person. When Jesus said, when you see Me you see the Father. God is a spirit. When we see Jesus, we also see the Holy Spirit. They are One.
In Romans 8, the Apostle Paul Interchangeably calls the person of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ, and the Spirit. Paul sees them as one and the same. When thinking of the Holy Spirit as a person, He has the same attributes of God and Jesus. They are not different. There is one God, three persons, in perfect unity.
They are three persons because they fulfill different roles. God is the Father. Christ is the beloved Son and Savior. The Holy Spirit is the Helper.
Seeing the Spirit as our Helper
The Holy Spirit is completely responsible for God’s Word. As we read God’s Word, we read His words. He works in God’s prophets to inspire Scripture. And, He works to open the eyes and ears of God’s children, so we understand. Unless God’s Holy Spirit illuminates a person, the Scripture is not understood (1 Cor. 2:10-16).
God’s Holy Spirit is the person of God who begins the work in God’s people. He works to convict us of sin.
When we are saved, God’s Holy Spirit is poured out in our heart. He indwells the believer as God’s earnest pledge of salvation (Eph. 1:13-14). He doesn’t only serve as a security deposit. He works in our lives to help us live in the way God would have us live. Picture the Holy Spirit as a person, standing beside us, guiding us through storms, dark nights, through perilous and dangerous circumstances, and by helping us see our way through life. He is the person of God who guarantees we make it home.
When we need to understand God’s Word, there He is, helping us. He is the Spirit of Truth and Teacher (Jn. 14:17). Or, when we have lost our way, and we are straying from the path, the Guide (Jn. 16:13) is there; showing us the way, imparting to us God’s wisdom.
There are times in our lives we mourn. We have a sickness, we lose a job, or a loved one passes away. The Comforter (John 15:26) is right there beside us. He is giving comfort and encouragement. He is telling us everything is going to be okay. Know He is present with you when you need Him in the dark and lonely times.
Sometimes we don’t feel as though we belong to God. Perhaps we sin, or we feel lost. In those times, the Witness speaks to our spirit and tells us we are children of God (Ro. 8:16).
There are times we don’t pray well. We lack the words. The Intercessor (Ro. 8:26) prays on our behalf.
If we remember His role, we will sense His presence. When we are comforted, He is there. When we understand the Scriptures, He is there. When we love the unlovable, He is there.
Sometimes we feel bad because we overlook God’s Holy Spirit. He seems like the odd man out. We may say, I think a lot about Christ, but I seldom think of the Holy Spirit. There is a reason. It is because the role of the Holy Spirit is to have us think about Christ (John 15:26). His role is to testify of Christ. The very fact we think about Christ is because of the presence of the person of the Holy Spirit. He doesn’t speak about Himself, but He speaks of Jesus. He whispers the name of Jesus in our ear. He stands beside us and points and says, “Look at the cross.” Or, “Have you seen a more convincing demonstration of love? Jesus’ love is amazing!”
It is important to understand the Holy Spirit is not primarily concerned with our outer man. He is not going to help us gain material possessions; He is not going to help us in the gym to strengthen our muscles. He is not going to help us sing louder. If someone wants to strike us with a fist, the Holy Spirit is not going to give us Superman strength to fight back.
He is helping us on the inside. He is going to do is help us turn the cheek. Or if we are poor and in need of money, He is going to help us be content.
As we read the Scripture and see how the Holy Spirit helps believers, we will see His chief concern is not the outer man and the circumstances in our life. Our outer man is wasting away and He knows that. The outer man, our flesh, is crucified with Christ. He is trying to put off the old man, not get him strong and active.
The Holy Spirit’s chief concern is our inner man. He wants to strengthen our inner man.
17 Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. (2 Corinthians 4:17)
In Paul’s prayer, he is asking God to strengthen the inner man. The outer man is a lost cause. He is asking God to bring in the Strong Man. Paul’s concern for the Ephesians is that they have power. Not a supernatural power that manifests in the flesh, but a power that has the capability of acting and being firm in the faith. He doesn’t want the Ephesians to doubt God’s work in them or to doubt their inheritance in Christ. When the Ephesians hear Paul is in prison, or if they hear Paul is killed while in prison, he wants them not to lose heart and be tossed to-and-fro. Paul wants the Ephesian believers to stand firm. He wants their inner man to be renewed day by day; producing an eternal weight of glory.
In short, Paul wants the Ephesians to turn the other cheek in persecution. He wants them to have the strength to be holy when the world around them is wicked and evil. He is concerned for their spiritual well-being, so he prays for the Holy Spirit to work in their inner man.
Are we immature?
Do we think we fall short of our inheritance? Do we look at our own works as a measure of our future glory or do we measure our future glory by the work of Christ’s salvation on the cross?
Do we rejoice in the circumstances of life knowing God is working all things for good or do we complain and grumble? Do we lose heart and give up when life gets difficult or when we see others going through tribulations?
If we measure our inheritance by our performance or if we lose heart when things get difficult it is a sign of being immature in our faith.
We need to pray for maturity.
Become familiar with the Spirit of God
We need to become familiar with the role of God’s Holy Spirit in our lives. We need to see Him as the Strong Man, helping us to stand firm in difficult times.
In Christianity, too often the role of the Holy Spirit is measured by how much we raise our hands during singing or by how loud we sing. He may help us in that way to have zeal and enthusiasm. However, His primary role is to help us in everyday life. His role is to produce Holy Spirit fruit. He desires to see us have the fruit of His Spirit, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
When people say our church needs to be filled with the Holy Spirit, I hope what they mean is not that we sing with our hands raised and we are dancing in the aisles. That could be an outer man experience. When our church is filled with God’s Spirit, we will be people who are loving, hospitable, kind, humble, joyful and gentle. We will be people with self-control and resisting temptation and sin. We may sing louder. We may not. What we will do is point to the cross and testifying with an open witness in the world the unfathomable riches of Christ. When this happens, we are people demonstrating that we are filled with the Holy Spirit.
Know the role of God’s Holy Spirit and Know Him as Guide, Teacher, Comforter, and our Strength. In knowing His role, we will better sense His presence and work in our lives.
My favorite quote on prayer is from Phillips Brooks. He wrote the lyrics to, “O, Little Town of Bethlehem,” and served as the pastor of Trinity Church in Boston in the late 1800s. He says, “If man is man and God is God, to live without prayer is not merely an awful thing; it is an infinitely foolish thing.”
For us to go about our Christian life without prayer is foolish.
Pray for the inner man, not the outer man
Not only do we need to pray, but we also need to pray biblically. There are great prayers in the Bible. This prayer in Ephesians is one of them. It is good to memorize these prayers, so we pray according to God’s will.
Let me share another Phillip Brooks quote on prayer, “I do not pray for a lighter load, but for a stronger back.” In other words, he doesn’t pray for better circumstances, but for an inner strength to persevere in difficult circumstances. When life is difficult, Lord, make me strong!
We too often focus on the material world. We pray for the outer man and not the inner man. We are fighting a losing battle with the outer man.
It is okay to pray for the outer man. For example, Paul prayed for the thorn in his flesh. However, God’s answer to Paul was related to his inner man. God said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” 2 Cor. 12:9). In other words, “My grace working in your inner man is sufficient to answer your request about your outer man affliction. Your inner man has My grace to give you the strength to persevere through this trial.” We should pray for the outer man, but the majority of our prayers need to be for the inner man.
For example, if we need a job, pray for the job. But, also pray for contentment in God’s answer to the prayer. If we are ill, pray for healing, but also pray we go through our illness in a godly way.
Who among us prayed for Carol’s affliction with her stroke? Did we pray for her inner person? Did we pray for her spiritual perseverance? Did we pray for the comfort of the Holy Spirit? It is right and good to pray for her outer affliction, but we need to pray for her inner strength as well.
When someone asks for prayer for another person, ask about their spiritual condition. Do they know Christ? Pray for God’s Spirit to give the strength and wisdom to persevere.
Pray for the inner man.
Closing: Seek Maturity in Christ
We all know spiritual maturity studying and learning from the word of God brings spiritual maturity. As we will see next week, when we look at the rest of Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians, comprehending the love of Christ is essential for Christian maturity. However, when we start with studying, we are putting the cart before the horse.
Christian maturity does come from renewing our mind, but the first step in renewing our mind is to pray. No matter how many Christian books we read or how many sermons we listen to, if we don’t begin with prayer, it is all for nothing.
We need the power of the Holy Spirit. We need to plead with God and bow before our Father asking for His help. Without the Holy Spirit’s power in our inner man, we will be immature in our faith.
Know the Holy Spirit is there to help us reach maturity. Know God’s Holy Spirit is the person who is leading us home. Pray for God, according to the riches of His glory, to strengthen us with His power in the inner man.