Ephesians 3:12-21 Bible Study - Great Expectations

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Bible Study Series: Ephesians - The Third Heaven Epistle

Ephesians 3:12-21 Bible Study - Great Expectations 

by I Gordon

Ephesians 3 Bible Study Great ExpectationsWe come now to the end of the first section in Ephesians. Now you might say, 'ahhh yes, so we are. The first section. It's over. Ended. Finished. Finito. Um, actually, what's the first section again?' The first section, if you remember the first message in this Ephesians series, is what we call the 'sit' section. One way of dividing this letter up is to see that it can be split into the headings of 'Sit, Walk, Stand'. Ephesians chapters 1-3 are about the 'sit' - that is, the believer is encouraged to see their position in Christ, seated with Him in the heavenlies, and rest in that. Chapters 4-5 are about the 'walk'. How is our walk to reflect this position and blessings of grace that He has given us? And finally, in chapter 6, we have the 'stand'. We are to stand firm against the wiles of the enemy.

So this is the last message on the 'sit' section and I want to use it to focus on some outcomes that should be seen in the life of the seated believer. We'll explore Ephesians 3:12-21 and I've called this message 'Great expectations'. It's possible (but not likely) that someone may have snuck in just before me and used that title for their own work (without my permission), somewhere around 160 years ago. I won't hold it against them. But I called it 'Great expectations' because as Paul sums up this section and prays again for those in Ephesus, you see a great encouragement to live with confidence, boldness and well, great expectations in God.     

And we need to focus on that. As you just possibly may have seen, there is plenty in this world that pulls a person down. So in the midst of bad news around the world, we need some good news. To be blunt and straight to the point - The world is a mess... but the gospel is good news. And we should, if we see that correctly, have hope, joy and confident expectations in God. So that's what we'll finish this section of Ephesians with today. It is about the results of 'sitting' in Christ. It is about...

  • Our confidence, boldness and freedom before God
  • Our encouragement in sufferings
  • Our source of our inner strength 
  • Our prayerful expectations of 'immeasurably more'

Confidence & Freedom

Eph 3:12 In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. 

So we start with a noticeable result for those that have learned to 'sit' in their position in Christ. For those that have that solid foundation based on the grace of God, there is freedom and confidence in approaching God. Other versions such as the NASB and NKJV use the word boldness - 'in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him'. Boldness, in relation to approaching the God of the Universe, is a very strong word. We might even feel a little nervous approaching an earthly King or Queen, but approaching the Almighty, eternal, all knowing, all powerful God who dwells in dazzling purity and brightness? Boldness you say? You sure? Yep I'm sure. Because that is what the word of God tells us. 

So where does our boldness come from? And do you come boldly before God or are you unsure of your position in the Lord? The basis of our boldness can be seen in various New Testament scriptures. Examples are:

  • Our justification before God which gives peace with God: Rom 5:1-2 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. 
  • Our High Priest, Jesus, who understands our weaknesses and a throne of grace Heb 4:15-16 For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
  • Our new and living way to approach God through the blood of Jesus Heb 10:19-22 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.
  • Our position in the new covenant that makes us 'competent' and provides hope and boldness 2Co 3:6,12 He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant--not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life... Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold.

So let me ask you again, do you come boldly before God? Do you have confidence before Him? Always remember that it is 'In Him' and 'through faith' that we have confidence1. It is living in the reality of who Jesus is and what He did for us. So don't be robbed! Don't let the enemy steal from you! There is a great little story (and warning) in Pilgrim's Progress that speaks so clearly to this. It is the story of a good man from the town of Sincere, called Little-Faith.  

Little-Faith in Pilgrim's Progress

Then said Christian to his friend Hopeful, “Now I remember something I was told about a good man who once lived in these parts. The name of the man was Little-Faith. He was a good man, and he lived in the town of Sincere. The story I was told was as follows:

“Upon a part of this highway near us, Little-Faith encountered a road called Dead Man’s Lane, which joins the highway from Broad-Way Gate. It is called Dead Man’s Lane because of all the murders that are commonly done there. This man Little-Faith, who was going on his pilgrimage just as we are now, happened to sit down and fall asleep close by this dangerous lane. Now it just so happened that around the same time, three sturdy rogues named Faint-Heart, Mistrust, and Guilt (three brothers) were coming down the lane from Broad-Way Gate. They saw Little-Faith and came galloping up to him at full speed just as Little-Faith was awakening from his sleep and was preparing to continue his journey. Being taken thus by surprise, Little-Faith was powerless to run and, being outnumbered, was powerless to fight. The rogues demanded with threatening language that he stand up and hand over his wallet and money. White as a cloud with fear, Little-Faith stood up but was slow to hand over his money, reluctant to part with it. So Mistrust ran up to him, thrust his hand into his pocket, and pulled out a bag of silver. Then Little-Faith cried out, “Thieves! Thieves!” But Guilt struck Little-Faith on the head with a club, knocking him flat to the ground where be lay bleeding profusely. Heedless of the wounded man, the thieves just stood by, counting the stolen silver. But finally they heard someone approaching on the road, and fearing it might be Great-Grace who dwells in the city of Good Confidence, they ran off and left Little-Faith to tend to himself. After a while, Little-Faith came to and, gathering what strength he had left, got up and tended his wound as best he could and hobbled on his way. This was the story I was told.”

“Did the three thieves steal everything he had?” Hopeful asked. Christian reported, “No, they did not find his jewels that he had hidden. But as I said, the good man suffered for his loss, since the thieves stole most of his spending money. And even though they did not find his jewels, he was still left with barely enough money to finish his journey. Unless I am misinformed, he was forced to beg for enough food to sustain himself as he went on the rest of his pilgrimage. He did not sell his jewels, so he was left to beg and do what he could as he went on his way. I am told that he was hungry and malnourished for most of the rest of his journey.”

So thanks to Great-Grace from the city of Good-Confidence, Little-Faith was able to finish his journey but was hungry and malnourished for the rest of his journey having been robbed of his money and bashed by Guilt. Bunyan paints a great picture here. There are believers that are like that living in fear instead of freedom, guilt instead of grace, struggling to overcome their doubts and difficulties.

As a personal example, I have been corresponding recently with a person that is struggling to believe that God is for them. They believe that Jesus is the Savior but have a very difficult time applying that saving power to their own life. They are perpetually afraid that they haven't received salvation or if they did, have now lost it. They do believe... but it is 'little-faith'. They find it difficult to move past this great fear. And, to be honest, it is not easy to help them because they are far quicker to believe that God is angry with them than they are to believe that He is for them. Little-Faith would be a good name for them. They have definitely been robbed by the three rogues Guilt, Mistrust and Faint-Heart. Thankfully, as Bunyan wrote, there is 'Great-Grace' who assists in their journey. We can only pray that those beaten by guilt and mistrust will not stay as a victim, poor, hungry and malnourished, for the rest of their journey. 

Encouragement in sufferings

Eph 3:13-15 I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory. (14) For this reason I kneel before the Father, (15) from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name.

So Paul continues briefly mentioning his current situation and suffering for the Gospel. So what about suffering? Should we have great expectations there? That almost sounds like an oxy-moron but the Bible repeatedly shows that God has a habit of bringing good things out of tough situations. And those that have learned to rest in the Lord, have learned to see the good hand of the Lord in the most trying of circumstances. Our expectation, like that of Paul in this passage, is that out of the sufferings will come glory. But note again what Paul says here. He asks that the believers not be discouraged because of his sufferings and imprisonment.  

Again, like Little-Faith above, the enemy is always ready to bash us over the head and try steal our encouragement, take our confidence, and rob us of our joy. He is a thief. Always has been, always will be. So be on guard Christian! If you feel yourself being discouraged, if you feel yourself being weighed down with a heavy heart, I encourage you to do what Paul did here in this passage. 

  • He renewed the mind of the believers with the truth that God causes even sufferings, for believers, to be for good and for their eventual glory. 
  • He knelt down in prayer and gave thanks (and as we shall see, prayed for inner strength and a solid foundation of love for the believers)
  • He remembered, and reminded the believers, that we have a Father who loves us and are part of 'the family'. A family that is not only in every country of this world, but is in Heaven as well!
Forget the movies... Meet the real 'Godfather'

To illustrate the blessings and confidence we should expect from being in this family, you have probably heard of the 'Mafia'. It is an organized crime syndicate originating in Italy before spreading through the U.S. The word 'mafia' can be translated as 'boldness' or 'bravado' and certainly that is how its members act. You see all mafia members are part of 'the family', under a powerful 'Godfather' who watches over and protects his own. That gives them boldness. Unfortunately, we are talking about thugs caught up in a crime family here... so I'm not encouraging you to join that family! But, in its own odd way, it does partially illustrate the true family for believers. There is a greater family, one who has members in Heaven and on Earth. And it has the real 'God-Father' who watches over and protects all in His care. And He does so without exhortation, bribes or criminal activity! This 'God-Father' gives courage to His own as well in all that they go through for He is the One ultimately in control and overseeing their life!

The prayer of Paul for then and now

Eph 3:16-19 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, (17) so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, (18) may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, (19) and to know this love that surpasses knowledge--that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

So Paul now begins his prayer for the saints in Ephesus and, by extension, for all believers throughout the ages. It is a four-fold prayer that dives deeper on where our boldness and confidence comes from. And what should be on our heart and lips if we are lacking in these areas. Paul prays that:

  1. You would be strengthened with power
  2. Christ may dwell in your hearts
  3. You would grasp the love of Christ
  4. You would filled with the fullness of God

Now this is a great prayer and prayers definitely don't have to be long to be great!2 So let's zero in on the specifics of this prayer...

Source of our inner strength

Eph 3:16-17 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, (17) so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith...

Paul starts with what we all need... power in our inner being. He prays that we will be strengthened with power through His Spirit. And boy do we need that! Have you seen that in yourself you lack power? We can be like Peter saying 'Lord, even if everyone else does that, I'll never do it...' And then we do it. You want to be more but fall short. That is fallen humanity unfortunately. We need to remember that it is only through the Holy Spirit's life and action in us that power comes. This should keep us prayerful. It should keep us watchful, of our own heart. Yet thankful at the same time for each true believer has now received the Holy Spirit. 

As I said at the beginning, times are becoming very difficult. This world in many ways is going nuts. Temptations abound. Difficulties increase. Confusion reigns. We need the inward strengthening that comes from Christ dwelling in our hearts. But there is a challenge in this. What type of home does He have in your life? You see, this verse is not speaking of the fact that Christ indwells all believers. That is true but it is not the emphasis of this verse. The famous Greek Scholar A.T Robertson writes that the word for 'dwell' is 'katoikeo' - which is 'an old verb to make one’s home, to be at home.' Chuck Smith writes the same:

The word dwell in the Greek is to settle down and to make himself at home, that Christ might really be at home, be comfortable, be at ease. There are places where you go and you feel out of place the moment you are there. You feel uncomfortable, you wish you had not come, you are not in harmony with what is going on. Then there are other places where you go and you feel so comfortable, so at ease, so relaxed. Now, "that Christ might be at home in your hearts" means that your heart might be so in tune and all with Him that as He dwells within your heart there is no strain, there is no embarrassment for Him.3

The 'strawberry mix' for the believer

Eph 3:17-19  And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, (18) may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, (19) and to know this love that surpasses knowledge...

So what is a heart where Christ may find His home in like? Or what type of heart allows the grace of God and the life of the Lord to grow? The word of God tells us that is grows if we are 'rooted and established in love'. Hmmm. What love is this? Whose love is this? And are the roots of our faith really that important? Let's start with that latter through an illustration involving my attempts at growing blueberries. 

Blueberries & the need to be rooted in love

Like 99.99% of the world's population (ok, I just made that statistic up but I wouldn't be surprised if it is accurate!) I love blueberries. Out of all the berries they are my favorite. And so, being such a fan, I decided to grow my own. I planted several plants and poured out my love upon them. Well, that might be overstating things a little but I tried pretty hard. I watered, fertilized, probably sang a song or two to them. The result? Nothing. Nada. A big old fat failure. They barely grew and their fruit... well, it's best not mentioning it. To make matters worse, my friend Brett planted some that grew over the roof of his house and were giving many ice cream containers worth of berries each year. And he wouldn't tell me his secret! Grrrr. So finally giving up, I pulled my terribly underperforming blueberry plants up and could see that their roots just hadn't grown. They weren't happy... something wasn't right!

Well, I found out what it was. After speaking to a local blueberry grower, he said a large part of a blueberry plant's success came down to what they are planted in. Blueberries love to be rooted in a free draining acidic soil and suggested planting them in a bag of 'strawberry mix'. So I started again and planted them in the right stuff... Strawberry mix. And wow... they have grown huge with fantastic fruit. The difference is amazing! Now what planting in strawberry mix does for blueberries, being 'rooted in love' does for believers. It provides the right basis for growth and fruitfulness. And what being planted in the wrong soil does for blueberries, trying to grow in guilt, fear, law and uncertainty does for believers... Stunted growth with little to no fruit.

 “Love is the soil in which our life must have its roots; and it is the rock upon which our faith must ever rest.”
W. Graham Scroggie

But where does this love come from? Paul in Ephesians prayed that we would be able to grasp and comprehend how wide, long, deep and high is the love of Christ. As written about elsewhere:

  • The width of the love of Christ - is expressed in Eph 2:11-18 . The love of Christ is wide enough to include everyone and exclude none! It reaches out to us gentiles, those 'having no hope and without God in the world'. His love doesn't look at race, colour, sex, wealth, or status (the very things some do judge by!) but includes all.
  • The length of the love of Christ - is expressed in Eph 1:4, 2:7 . It stretches from eternity to eternity. That's how long it is! In love we were chosen before the foundation of the world. And even in the age to come we will be a demonstration of God's love, kindness and grace. (Eph 2:7 )
  • The depth of the love of Christ - is expressed in Eph 2:1-5 . The depth of His love is shown by the depth of our sin that Jesus took upon himself to free us. How far He descended so that we could ascend. 'Dead in our sins', 'by nature, children of wrath', 'sons of disobedience'. Yet His love for us was such that He humbled Himself - even to the death of the cross.
  • The height of the love of Christ - is expressed in Eph 2:6 . Not only did Jesus plunge down to our depth, but he also raised us up to His heights, seating us with Him in the heavenly places. Is this great position only given to the cream of His disciples? No, His love has performed this to for the lowliest sinner who simply, truly believes.

Sometimes, when you have been a believer for many years, you can get a bit cold. The thorns can slowly move up and begin to choke the plant. You can move away from your first love. That actually happened to this very church in Ephesus, They were doing well initially at the time Paul wrote this letter, but by the time of Revelation (written in 96AD) Jesus said the following to them:

Rev 2:3-5 You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. (4) Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. (5) Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.

Starting afresh...

If you have moved from Jesus being your first love, repent and do what you did at the beginning. I recently decided to go back and read the gospels like I hadn't read them before. To see His love. See His compassion. See His willingness to help. See how He treated people. That is Jesus. The love that He showed was incredible. But what type of love is it? Is it a 'I wuv eeeeww' type of thing? As we say in New Zealand - "Yeah, nah!" 

The Greek word for love here in Ephesians 3:17-18 is 'agape'. This is God's unconditional love. As you read the gospels you see this love expressed in action. It is a love that reached out to the outcasts and touched the untouchable (Mark 1:40-41). It is a love that would travel across the sea into Gentile territory to free a single man... a man called Legion (Mark 5:1-3). It was actually the love of Jesus that caused an amazed Peter to say 'depart from me for I am a sinful man Lord' (Luke 5:8). It was the love of Jesus that a rich chief tax collector to want to give away his riches (Luke 19:8) and caused a harlot to pour out and anoint His feet with a costly jar of perfume (Luke 7:36-38). It was a love that caused many to leave all they had and follow Him. And it still has the same affect today!4

Conclusion - Great expectations

Eph 3:20-21 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, (21) to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

To sum up, the essence of this message, and the essence of this passage before us, is to have confidence and great expectation before the Lord. And this is probably no better expressed than in this last verse. We often think that some things are easy and some things are hard. Which, for us human beings at least, is true. The problem comes though because we apply that same thought to God. We think, even if it is just subconscious, that some things are hard for Him and some easy. Which is obviously not true! Jesus could calm the seas just as easily as He could calm a person's heart - with a word. He could heal physical blindness as easily as He could heal a hurt in someone's life - again with His word. So Paul in this passage wants to remind us that God can do so much more than we normally ask or imagine! But again... often in our prayer life we are like those praying in Acts 12. Do you remember that story? Let's close with it. During the days of the earl church, Peter had been arrested and put in prison. This caused the church to wisely jump straight in to 'constant prayer' (Acts 12:4-5). This was something serious. It fell into the 'hard' category. You can imagine what they were praying...

"Oh Lord, we ask that you free Peter. We ask that you bring him back safely to us. Lord you are able to open the prison doors and do so much more than we think and ask. So we ask this in Jesus' name." 

So what did the Lord do? Well, He answered it. Straight away. He sent an angel that actually opened the prison doors, removed the chains and led Peter out safely back to them. A fantastic work of God in answer to prayer. And then we read what happens when Peter starts knocking on their door.  

Act 12:12-16 So, when he had considered this, he came to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose surname was Mark, where many were gathered together praying. (13) And as Peter knocked at the door of the gate, a girl named Rhoda came to answer. (14) When she recognized Peter's voice, because of her gladness she did not open the gate, but ran in and announced that Peter stood before the gate. (15) But they said to her, "You are beside yourself!" Yet she kept insisting that it was so. So they said, "It is his angel." (16) Now Peter continued knocking; and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished.

Did you note their response? They are praying that Peter will be safe and released. God answers that yet they don't believe that it could actually be Peter at the door! 'No, no, no Rhoda... it can't be him. He's locked up!' They even thought that maybe it was his angel! 'It could be his angel... but it can't be actually Peter because... well... I know we are praying that God will release him... but God wouldn't have actually done that... already... would He?'

As you go about your week, I encourage you to have confidence and faith as you come before the Lord and have great expectations in what He will do. 

May He, as verse 21 says, be glorified in the Church. May He be glorified in and through your life. And, as we have seen above, may He find a good home in which He can dwell, in your heart. 

  1. And of course this boldness and confidence will hopefully come out in your life. You might remember what was said of Peter and John in the early part of Acts by the elders of Israel. They noted their boldness and courage! Act 4:13 Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus.'

  2. I liked what J. Vernon McGee wrote about the prayers of Paul and those in the Bible:

    "Have you noticed that Paul's prayers are brief? Both prayers here in Ephesians and his prayer in Philippians are brief. In fact, all the prayers of Scripture are quite brief. The Lord Jesus said that we are not to use vain repetition as the heathen do—they think they will be heard for their much speaking. Moses' great prayer for Israel is recorded in only three verses. Elijah, on top of Mount Carmel as he stood alone for God against the prophets of Baal, prayed a great prayer which is only one verse long. Nehemiah's great prayer is recorded in only seven verses. The prayer of our Lord in John 17 takes only three minutes to read. But the briefest prayer is that of Simon Peter, "… Lord, save me" (Mat_14:30). He cried out this prayer when he was beginning to sink beneath the waves of the Sea of Galilee. Some people think that was not a prayer because it was so short. My friend, that was a prayer, and it was answered immediately. If Simon Peter had prayed like some of us preachers pray on Sunday morning, "Lord, Thou who art the omnipotent, the omniscient, the omnipresent One…." he would have been twenty feet under water before he got to his request. I tell you, he got down to business. Prayer should be brief and to the point."


  3. Smith continues with the following great application

    You remember how that Ezekiel, that interesting prophet, how God dealt with him in many strange ways, was taken by the Spirit to Jerusalem. There was this wall there and God said, "Dig a hole through the wall," and he dug a hole through the wall and crawled in. And he looked and here was all kinds of pornography all over the walls. Ezekiel said, "That is horrible, filthy pornography. What's that all about?" God said, "I have allowed you to go within the minds of the leaders of Israel. These are the things that they are thinking, these are the things they are seeing."

    When Christ dwells within your heart and looks on the walls, is He at home, is He comfortable with what He sees? Or when He knocks on the door, do we say, "Wait a minute," and we go around and try to cover everything, or turn things around backwards?

  4. Some who don't understand grace often get worried that speaking too much about the love of Christ and freedom will give too much liberty leading to sin. What they miss is that that same love that saves and gives freedom, also controls, constrains and compels the believer. It works mightily in their heart. That is what the word of God says and has been my experience. From the Amplified Bible:

    2Co 5:14-15 For the love of Christ controls and urges and impels us, because we are of the opinion and conviction that [if] One died for all, then all died; (15) And He died for all, so that all those who live might live no longer to and for themselves, but to and for Him Who died and was raised again for their sake.