The Abundance of God
What does it mean that God will do exceedingly more than we ask; do abundantly more than we ask; do far more than we can think? And that we have a power that works in us? This exhortation by the Apostle Paul does not mean that Christians will be immune to the ravages of sin. It does not mean that Christians will be prosperous or rich, or indeed without pain or suffering – sin will affect our mortal bodies until we are claimed by God himself. It does not mean we have power of our own making or to be used to our own choosing nor for our good pleasure.
These verses are too often read in absence of the context in which they are given. It is not a doxology, although it certainly sounds like one. It is statement about God, based on His eternal character – who provides the power that works in us. The context is clear – Paul writes from prison and urges the Ephesian church not to ‘lose heart’ over what he was suffering (Ephesians 3:13). He was in prison because of the insight of the mystery of the church which was given Paul (Ephesians 3:4), to which he responded by delivering the good news (the gospel) to the Gentiles (Ephesians 3:5-8). The Jews and others took great umbrage of having the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of the Lord God Most High preached, and responded by imprisoning Paul – there was no freedom of speech then as today. The response of Paul to the revelation that all men and women, irrespective of race, could be drawn together, by the grace of God, into one body and what became known as the church [ekklesia = those called out, an assembly], was the preaching of the gospel, as commanded by God (Ephesians 3:8,9). The purpose is much more than humans – the purpose of this revelation was to demonstrate God’s grace in all rulers of the various principalities and powers – both here on earth, but in particular beyond this earth, which includes the angels (Ephesians 3:10) and Satan – the devil. The gospel of course is the fact that Christ Jesus paid the price of our sins, and of any who will accepts Christ’s payment (or atonement) will be saved – this is “the promise in Christ” spoken of in Ephesians 3:6 – the promise extends to the blessings of grace, of everlasting salvation, and of the eternal, incorruptible, and never fading inheritance in heaven; that we are heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ Jesus, and will inherit all things.
Understanding this last point is of utmost importance. There are no riches, or position or station in life that can even closely resemble the blessings of the grace that followed from the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. We are incapable of comprehending the magnitude of what Christ did, without the revelation of the Holy Spirit – Ephesians 3:18. It is for this reason Paul prays to God that we might come to an understanding, or at least comprehend the magnitude of God’s grace in all its “breadth and length and height and depth”. In Ephesians 3:19 he ties grace to love – God’s manifest grace to us is because he loves us – and Paul alludes to the fact we will not understand this – it is “beyond knowledge”.
Verses 20 and 21 therefore fit into this context – no human could ever have imagined that God would sacrifice his own Son so that we might inherit all things with His son (in him [Jesus Christ] we have obtained an inheritance Ephesians 1:11a). No amount of work could have put us right with God – ie made us holy. But since God “is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think” we have a way salvation thought His son, Jesus Christ. Note that the “abling” is not for ourselves or of ourselves – indeed the phrase is not even looking at us – its focus is God the Father, and what he is able to do – the object of the sentence is in verse 21 – “to him” which is God [the Father] and Christ Jesus.
The second key to these verses, other than the context, is the next phrase – the power is not of ourselves or outside of ourselves – but “according to the power at work within us” (verse 20). What power is this and whose is it? It is certainly not our power – Paul has just shown that God did what man could not possibly imagine. The power is within us and it is at work. This power is the Holy Spirit (see verse 16), that comes into (indwells) everyone who accepts Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and accepts Christ died for our sins: “Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” verse 17. (Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. Romans 8:26a ESV). As Paul has shown in Ephesians chapter 2, God dwells in the body called the church (assembly) by the Holy Spirit and in Christians, whether Jews or Gentiles uniting the two as one: “for through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father” Ephesians 2:18.
What needs to be achieved – why is there a power within us? I believe the purpose of the power is to complete the work of grace. The gospel needs to be delivered to the world – not just in this time and place – but all generations (verse 21b). The starting point is to live Christ – which requires listening to the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, this power of God is used as He pleases for His purpose. His purpose is to rid the world of sin – at which time men will live in peace, prosperously. But this is in His time, which is not right now (although he may come at any minute) - I believe this will be soon. God is able to accomplish great things; we, although weak and without strength, can be used of God to this purpose: Paul being the example, although he was the worst of sinners and writes from prison.
Our current physical or mental state is not what this verse remedies; it remedies the absolute sovereignty of God, who can use every Christian, however poor or weak, for His own purpose – if we allow him, not for our benefit, but for God’s. Even the tiniest grain in the mortar of a mighty building is important, however weather beaten it is; be prepared to be used.