Pray for progress.

“For this reason,” Paul writes to the Ephesians, “I bow my knees before the Father” (3:14 ESV). Paul’s prayer of petition on behalf of his Ephesian brethren has everything to do with them making meaningful spiritual progress. Paul defines the purpose toward which these saints are progressing as being “filled with all the fullness of God” (3:19 ESV). As Christians press toward this purpose, Paul identifies the critical component of their success as knowing “the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” (3:19 ESV).

How, one might ask, can an imperfect being be full of the extent of God’s divine nature? How can anyone know something that surpasses knowledge? Paul answers these implied questions by reminding the Ephesians that God “is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us” (3:20 ESV). The things that seem impossible to humans are not impossible for God. Christians recall this reality when they see the power of God demonstrated through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The power God once used to do what transcended human comprehension—inhabiting a human body, dying, and living again—is the same power God works in the lives of Christians to mold them into the people He desires them to be. It is God’s power that enables Christians to be like Christ, so it is for the bestowing of God’s power that Paul ultimately prays.

As Paul shares his deep concern for the Ephesians, evident in his prayers on their behalf, several things about spiritual progress become abundantly clear. First, spiritual progress is that which takes a Christian from familiarity with the love of Christ to the experiential knowledge of His love that requires living the way in which He lived. Second, this aspiration is one held by individuals within a community of believers who are observably far from attaining it. And finally, given this awesome aspiration and the flawed people striving to attain it, every Christian is in dire need of the strength of God.  

It is not primarily the study of Scripture but the living of it which challenges Christians most. While “there are some things…that are hard to understand” (2 Peter 3:16 ESV), and sections of Scripture certainly stretch the mind, all Scripture convicts the heart. As Christians functioning within God’s family, the community of believers with whom they work and worship will present its own challenges. Christians at different levels of spiritual maturity will strive to present themselves as the living embodiments of Christ through the way in which they live their lives. More times than anyone can count, they will fail. Since these failures occur within a community, the consequences will affect more than the flawed saint who fell short. The love of Christ, who Himself laid down His life for those who intentionally hurt and rejected Him, is the only thing that will enable Christians to grow together toward their common purpose.

When it comes to teaching, Churches must recognize the fact that God’s power is the only thing that will enable them to make the spiritual progress they seek. Only the strength of God, which Paul defines as having “his Spirit in your inner being” (3:16 ESV) will provide saints with the necessary perspective to persevere with patience. This fact applies both to the teaching itself and the implementation of it within the church. As Christians strive to practice what they profess, they will fail and need their brethren to be patient. Additionally, as Christians strive to implement the kind of teaching that will produce the love Christ in the hearts of hearers, they will need the character of Christ that enables them to strive for excellence while doing what makes for peace among members. While it might seem impossible for a group of people with different opinions and preferences to make progress in teaching, we would do well to remember that we serve a God “who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us.” Let us pray that He does.

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