The Immeasurable Greatness of God's Power
December 31, 2006
As we study the end of the
first chapter of Ephesians this morning, I want you to think about how you think
about God’s power. How do you picture His might? How do you conceptualize His
strength? In your mind, are there some things that God cannot do? Maybe you
don’t like to think about certain aspects of God’s omnipotence, that He has all
power and does with it what He will. Maybe you don’t like to think that God has
all of this power, and then chooses not to use it for what you think He should.
How do you think about the power of God?
In our text this morning, we will get a clear picture of God’s strength as Paul ends his intercessory prayer that we began looking at last time, and he focuses clearly on this attribute of God’s power, and then He gives us an example of that power in the resurrection, exaltation, and dominion of Christ. We will then look at the way in which God’s power in Christ is beneficial for the church. Let us read then all of chapter 1, focusing specifically on vs. 19-23.
I. Excursus: A Look at God’s Power
If you remember from our last time in Ephesians, we spent time looking at three points of knowledge that Paul wanted every believer to know and hold to as they lived their lives between the inauguration and consummation of Christ’s Kingdom. He spoke to us about knowing “what is the hope of His calling, what is the wealth of His glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of His power for us who believe, according to the working of His powerful might” (vs. 18-19). We saw how these three great truths are the result of having the “Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge [of Christ]” (vs. 17-18). The more we seek after these points of knowledge, the more we will have confidence in the work of Christ on our behalf.
But this last piece of knowledge seems to be particularly important for the believers in Asia Minor to understand. Not only does Paul list it last in the series, but he now turns his attention from His intercessional prayers for these believers to an excursus, teaching them about this last point of knowledge that he prays for them: that they might know “what is the immeasurable greatness of His power for us who believe, according to His powerful might.”
What is this power? What does it do? How does it affect us? These are all important questions that we should ask as we read these verses, and Paul goes on to answer them for us beginning in vs. 19.
A. God’s Power is “Immeasurably Great”
First, we see that God’s Power is “Immeasurably Great.” The idea of God’s power is all through Ephesians. Think of these verses: “Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of His power” (Eph. 3:7); “that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being” (Eph. 3:16); “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us” (Eph. 3:20); “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might” (Eph. 6:10).
In each occurrence, you get the idea that Paul thought highly of the power of God. Think of the one being in the universe who has no limits on His power. We work and toil everyday, but we are confined by our very nature. There are certain things that we simply cannot do. But God does not have this constriction, because by His nature, He has all power. He is omnipotent. His power is massive. It is huge. You cannot think too big of God’s power!
But Paul not only speaks of the greatness of God’s power. He goes further to say not only is it a massive power, but it is that of which you cannot think fully. God’s power is immeasurable. If you find yourself putting limits on God’s power, then step back and realize that you do not have a biblical view of His power.
Think on this. Begin to try to wrap your mind around the fact that God has such immeasurably great power. To manipulate Anselm’s great dictum a bit, think of the greatest power that can be thought, but I dare say that you have not exhausted what it is to know God’s immeasurably great power.
B. God’s Power is for “Those Who Believe”
Secondly, we see that God’s Power is for “Those Who Believe.” Here we see the focused intent of God’s power. If you ever saw the movie Ghost Busters, they would use these contraptions called “proton guns” to capture their prey, but these proton guns were so powerful that they could rarely be focused on what they were supposed to shoot. This kind of unbridled power is not the picture that Paul is painting for us. This immeasurably great power that God has is in perfect control and is focused on those who believe.
Actually, Paul says it is “for us who believe.” The “us” here includes Paul, a Jew, in with this group of Gentiles as those for which God’s power works. Paul recognized that God’s power was not for ethnic Israel, but for spiritual Israel (Rom. 9:6-7). It was for those who believe.
C. God’s Power is in accordance with “The Working of His Powerful Might”
Thirdly, we see that God’s Power is in accordance with “The Working of His Powerful Might.” We get a further picture of what it is to have God’s power working for us. We see that His power is in accordance with the working of God’s powerful might. God’s immeasurable greatness of power is not at odds with what God’s work in the world is doing. It accords with it. All that God is doing, or working, in creation works alongside His immeasurably great power that is for those who believe. This is the idea of Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” And further in vs. 31 of that chapter, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” If God’s powerful might is working for us and our good, in line with His will and decree, then we have nothing to fear.
So take comfort, believer, and have fear, unbeliever. For God’s power is the source of both comfort and fear; both salvation and judgment. Do not look at God’s common grace that is shown to all mankind as a clue that God is really ok with your life. We don’t look at our lives and think that since we have “our best life now” that God must be accepting of our sin. No, we must always look to Christ if we are to know our state. Outside of Christ, you have no cause for comfort. Seek Christ, and live.
II. Where Do We See God’s Power?
So, we see that Paul has given us a full diagnosis of God’s omnipotence, but if we stop with verse 19, we are left wondering what exactly this power actually looks like. Is this power helpful? Is this power related at all to God’s redemptive plan? Ultimately, we want to answer the question, “Where do we see God’s power displayed?”
Paul answers this question, and answers it by pointing to the power of God in the example of Christ. Usually when we talk about Christ as an example, we look to His life as an illustration of how we should live morally and spiritually. But Paul gives Christ not only as an example of ethical living, but also of what God’s immeasurable power does in the lives of those for whom it works. And we see this power of God in three instances of Christ’s life after His crucifixion.
A. The Resurrection
First, the resurrection. Paul begins illustrating God’s immeasurably great power for us who believe by showing how that power worked in Christ at His resurrection. “Which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from death” (vs. 20). This power of God is life-giving.
Now why do you think Paul holds this aspect of God’s power up as an example to us of God’s great power? We will see an answer in a few verses, but for now understand that this power that was worked in Christ is the guarantee of our future resurrection. “And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power” (1 Cor. 6:14); “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Phil. 3:21).
It is God’s power working through Christ that enables us to live. This is true in a general since for all creation. It is Christ who upholds the universe by the word of His power (Heb. 1:3). It is in Him that all things hold together/consist (Col. 1:17). If one atom is bound to another, or if one chemical reacts with another, it is because God’s immeasurably great power is at work through Christ.
But we must also recognize that if this general work of power happens in all of creation, it is for one purpose, and it is related to those who believe. As we have already seen, the immeasurably great power of God for “us who believe” is “in accordance with the working of his powerful might.” Any work of power that God does is for the good of His chosen. Why? Why would God in a since focus Himself to working for this people who trust in Him? Well, for that answer we must wait a bit, until a few verses later.
Secondly, we see God’s immeasurably great power in Christ’s exaltation. So we see that Paul has highlighted God’s resurrection of Christ as a picture of God’s power, but he continues in illustrating this attribute of God by pointing to the exaltation of Christ as a further example. “…and when He raised (Him) at His right hand in the heavenlies far above all rulers and authorities, and powers and dominions, and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in the one coming” (vs. 20-21).
These verses refer back to the OT and Psalm 110, where in vs. 1 of that Psalm we see David writing, “The LORD says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’” Paul uses this verse in reference to Jesus. And if you think too hastily that this is simply Paul reading too much into the life of Jesus, do note that Jesus Himself claimed this verse was referring to Him. When being interrogated before Chiaphas in Matthew 26:63, the high priest said, “‘I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.’ Jesus said to Him, ‘You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of power and coming on the clouds of heaven.’” And then in Mark 12:35, as Jesus is teaching the crowds, He says, “How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? David himself, in the Holy Spirit, declared, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet.’ David himself calls him Lord. So how is he his son?” So is Jesus here pointing to the fact that He is not the Christ? Well, look at how Mark phrased the crowd’s reaction: “And the great throng heard him gladly.” The crowd understood what Jesus was saying. He was pointing to Himself, the son of David, the One to whom the promises were given and guaranteed, as the Christ.
Well, back in Ephesians 1, we see that Paul points to this fulfillment of promise as another example of God’s immeasurably great power at work in Christ. When Jesus was taken up into the clouds and seated at the Father’s right hand, we are seeing the inauguration of His reign as King of kings. As Murray Harris has said, “The Resurrection proclaims ‘He lives – and that for ever’; the Exaltation proclaims ‘He reigns – and that for ever.’”
The fact that Jesus was seated shows that His task was complete. There is nothing more for Him to accomplish on His earthly mission. And the fact that He sits on the right hand of the Father shows that Jesus is in the place of honor. In Psalm 80 verse 17, Asaph states, “But let your hand be on the man of your right hand, the son of man whom you have made strong for yourself.” To be seated at the right hand of the Father shows that Jesus was ruling from that same throne, as in Revelation 3:21 where Jesus says, “The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.”
Jesus, in His exalted state, is ruler over the cosmos. The son of Abraham, the son of Israel, the son of David; the Son of God, yet the son of man. Seated in the heavenlies, the same place in which as we have already seen believers are given every spiritual blessing. The King of creation holding and dispensing spiritual blessings to those who trust in Him, who were chosen from before the foundation of the world in Him.
And all of this was accomplished by the immeasurably great power of God. But not only by the fact that He was resurrected, and not only by the fact that He was exalted, but also that He was put in a place of authority over all other beings. As Psalm 110 said, “until I make your enemies your footstool.”
1. An Ontological Dominion
This is what Paul points to in vs. 21 by saying that Jesus was “far above every ruler and authority and power and dominion and every name that is named not only in this age but also the one coming.” This is an ontological dominion – by His very being or nature, Jesus has dominion over all things. These “rulers and authorities and powers and dominions” were an angelic hierarchy that intertestamental Jews had come up with so that they could rank the differing “powers” that they thought may be helping or hindering them as they went throughout their day. We’ve seen reference to this in Sunday School as we’ve been going through Colossians. But whatever these angelic powers may be, we see that even the greatest of them, in fact “all” of them, “every name that is named” or “every title that has been given,” has been put into subjection under Christ. There is no power that is not subjected to Christ’s rule. Jesus reigns over all. And His reign is by the immeasurably great power of God.
2. An Economic Dominion
In vs. 22, we see further the dominion over which Jesus rules as King: “and He put all things under His feet.” Paul here partially quotes Psalm 8 vs. 6, where David praises God by saying: “You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet.” David is here referring to the dominion of man over creation. Specifically, this can be said ultimately of Adam, who in Genesis 1:26-28, we see was given all of creation over which to rule, to have dominion:
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens, and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
We see in this passage that God gave all of creation to Adam to have dominion. Looking back to the Psalm 8 passage, we see that is what David was referring to. And now Paul, taking up this thought, shows that Christ has had “all things put under his feet.” This is Christ’s economic dominion – His managerial ruling of all things.
Do you see what Paul is doing? He is drawing a family tree of humanity. There is Adam, and there is Christ. The first Adam had all things given to him, and he foolishly ruled over the creation. Jesus is the last Adam, and He too has had all things given to Him, and He rules over that creation as the Creator and Sustainer who always does what is best for it because it honors His Father.
Christ, right now, sits at the right hand of the Father in the heavenlies, and sovereignly rules over all creation. You cannot get away from this idea in the NT. In some places this rule seems as though it is still in process, or not fully completed, such as Hebrews 2:7-8, where the author says: “You made him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor, putting everything in subjection under his feet. Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. Though, at present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him.” In other places, His reign is shown to be complete, such as Col. 2:15, “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.” This shows the complete and present domination of those that Jesus is to subdue.
This already but not yet theme is where we are currently, just as the believers in Asia Minor were in Paul’s day. Christ rules over all, subjecting all, reigning supreme. But as long as rebellion against His Father’s Law continues, Christ continues to subdue. John Eadie said well: “The brow once crowned with thorns now wears the diadem of universal sovereignty; and that hand, once nailed to the cross, now holds in it the scepter of unlimited dominion.” Christ reigns over all.
3. The Purpose of Christ’s Dominion
But why does Christ reign over all? As we’ve already seen in vs. 19, God’s immeasurably great power is “for us who believe.” And if the dominion of Jesus over all things is an illustration of God’s power in Christ, then wouldn’t His rule in some way be “for us who believe?” For our benefit?
Well, in the end of vs. 22 we see that is exactly what Paul is saying. “He gave Him as head over all things for the church.” It is for the benefit of the church, those who believe, that Christ rules. The idea of “head” here derives its meaning from the frequent OT usage which uses the term to refer to a leader or ruler. It has the idea of priority. As Paul said in Col. 2:10, “You have been filled in Him, who is the head of all rule and authority.” Paul does not use the term “head” here in relation to the “body” in vs. 23. That is an independent idea that Paul develops in vs. 23. Christ is not only the head of the body.
Here in Ephesians 1:22, Paul points to the fact that Christ is the “head over all things for the church.” He is the ruler over all things. That has been the impetus of his argument since vs. 19. As one writer has said, “Christ is head not because the church is his body, but because all things have been subjected under his feet.”
But He is the head over all things “for the church.” According to Greek syntax, this is a dative of advantage. It shows the benefit that the indirect object, here “the church,” receives. Christ’s headship over all things benefits specifically the church. Again, Dr. Eadie has said well: “Under His ‘over all’ Headship, everything that happens benefits His people – discoveries in science, inventions in art, and revolutions in government – all that is prosperous and all that is adverse.” Whatever we have need of, we go to Christ. Calvin says, “His speaking here of the subjection of the whole world is to show that whatever we have need of, if we can resort to our Lord Jesus Christ, he is able to succour us, for he has the wherewithal to do it.” Do you have need this morning? Then go to Christ. He has the immeasurably great power of God working in Him.
And this immeasurably great power works through Christ’s dominion over all things is for the church. The ecclesia. The gathering of all believers, both in heaven and on earth. The church, both militant and triumphant. All of those who have received the spiritual blessings of which Paul wrote in the first 14 verses of this chapter.
And Paul in vs. 23 goes on to give a description of the church: “which is His body, the fullness of the One who fills all in all.” The church is looked at metaphorically as the body of Christ. Playing off of his use of the word “head” in the previous verse, Paul now describes those who benefit from Christ’s rule over all things. The church is the body, which gains its nourishment from that which the head supplies. In Ch. 4 vs. 15, we see that is the picture that Paul had in mind: “…we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”
And from this picture in vs. 23 we get the idea of “fullness.” In the OT, the word “fullness” brought to mind the glory of God filling the temple. Used by Paul, it points to the fullness of God’s glory, the visible manifestation of His attributes, showing forth through the church. Answering the question from earlier, “Why would God work for the chosen, His church?,” Paul tells us that God works for the church because it is through the church that He has chosen to show forth His glory. Paul says in Col. 2:9-10 that, “in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him.” In some way, God’s fullness dwells in His church. Though Christ is the head of the cosmos, it is only in the church that He has shown a particular relationship as His body.
We must be careful, then, to never take our relationship with God through Christ for granted or assume it to be true. We are the body because of God’s grace. Taken away from Christ, we have nothing. It is He who gets praise from our being His body. Why? Because through His work on our behalf, it exposes even more the immeasurably great power of God.
III. Why Should We Care?
As we’ve been going through this text, looking at how God’s power has been manifested in the resurrection, exaltation, and dominion of Christ, you may be thinking, “What does this have to do with me? Why should we care what God’s power has done for Christ?” That is a great question, and one that Paul answers for us. Though vs. 23 ends chapter 1, we must remember that these chapter and verse divisions were added to the letter much later, so we must be careful to look at the context of the words that Paul wrote. Paul goes on to tell us how God’s great power has worked in Christ for our benefit, and how we partake in that power.
As I’ve already preached in the first 10 verses of Ch. 2, we’ve seen that Paul begins vs. 1 of Ch. 2 with “and.” He links what he is about to say with what has gone before. And he jumps right into painting a picture of our former state in sin. He covers us with descriptions of our past lawlessness: we were dead, we walked in the course of the world, we followed Satan, we lived among the sons of disobedience, we lived among the passions of our flesh, we carried out the desires of the body and mind, and we were children of wrath. Not a very grand picture of those who are the fullness of Christ, eh?
But in vs. 4 of Ch. 2, we see that Paul gives an adversative view of our present state. “But God,” Paul says. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”
Do you notice the parallels here? Because of our union with Christ, we experience the immeasurably great power of God in Him. Was Christ resurrected? God made us alive together with Him. Was Christ exalted? God raised us up with Him. Was Christ seated next to the Father to rule? God has seated us with Him in the heavenlies. The power that was exerted in Christ affects us directly. We are beneficiaries of God’s power and love for the Son. Though we are not seated at God’s right hand, as was Jesus, we experience His victory over all powers as those who are in union with Him.
Does the fact that Christ rules from the right hand of the Father give you comfort? Does the fact that all things have been put under His feet cause you to seek Him more? Does the fact that all of God’s power works through Christ for the benefit of the church cause you to desire more and more to be found among the saints? Or do you even think about Christ’s dominion and God’s great power?
Consider these questions today. Are you in union with Christ? If not, why? “Because He has not drawn me,” you say. Why do you let that stop you? You disregard all else that He has done in your life. Look at this Jesus, whose birthday we just celebrated. Look at His love. Look at His grace. Look at His mercy. Look at His power. Do these not lure your wanting heart? Do these not satisfy your desires? Is your heart stubborn? Is it because you do not seek Him? Is it because you are too interested in the “stuff” that surrounds us? None of these are good enough reasons. Overcome them. Think past them. Seek Christ while He may be found and find God’s immeasurably great power for those who believe.
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