Ephesians 3:13-21, Don’t Lose Heart
Paul wrote his letter to the Ephesians from prison in Rome to the church in Ephesus, a major city in Asia Minor where he had planted and helped grow a large thriving church. Paul had received reports on everything going on in Ephesus, and they knew about his precarious position in jail awaiting trial for his life. Paul seemed to be unconcerned about his own situation, but very concerned about their spiritual growth, unity, and relationships. Paul’s first prayer for them is in Ephesians 1:18, “that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened” that they might know the hope, the riches, and the great power that they have in Christ. In Eph.3:13-21, Paul prays again that they would “not lose heart at my tribulations”, and in v.17 he prays that “Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith”. A better translation of “dwell” would be “that Christ may make His home in your hearts”. Obviously these are figures of speech, and your physical heart does not have eyes, you can’t lose it, and no one can literally live in it. Our actual physical heart is an amazing organ, an amazing muscle, and an awesome pump. The human heart weighs less than one pound, but beats about 80 beats per minute or over 100,000 times a day, and circulates about 2,000 gallons of blood all the way around the body every day. If you could stretch out all your blood vessels, they would reach about 60,000 miles, so just try to imagine how much work the human heart does, and how truly awesome it is! The average human heart will pump 2 billion times w/o failure or more than 10 times the performance of the cylinders of a high priced car. Perhaps this is why the Bible uses the heart as an image of the soul/spirit of a person.
The heart that is mentioned so many times in the Bible is usually a figurative heart referring to something spiritual in the inner man. It is that soul/spirit within us which sets us apart in the creation. In 1 Samuel 16, when Samuel went to Jesse’s house to pick out the next king, he needed God’s guidance because the Lord said, “Do not look upon his outer appearance or the height of his stature…because God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” It was David’s “heart” that impressed God, and we read that David had a heart for God, and David was a man after God’s own heart. He was talking about the inner person that has fellowship with God, and is eternal. It is our spiritual “heart” that God is most interested in. In 2 Corinthians 4:16, we read “our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day”. To see with the heart in Eph.1:18, means to know spiritual truth and through it to have great hope. To lose heart in Eph.3:13 would be to give up our spiritual hope, to have doubts, to believe lies, and to feel like you can’t go on. Paul wanted to make sure his trials and tribulations did not discourage the church. Paul knew it was a real possibility so he prays that God would strengthen them with power through God’s Spirit in the inner person. His first prayer for them was they would have within them the knowledge of God and God’s promises, and his prayer here in Eph. 3:16 is that they would be strengthened by God’s power and God’s love so that they would persevere.
Notice that in Paul’s prayer that God is the provider, but also He is the initiator and the motivator. We need God’s love to fill our lives so that God’s love will also be revealed and transferred through us. In mankind’s natural state apart from God the Scriptures tell us that our heart is selfish and without understanding as Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick” without God’s help. Jesus said to the Pharisees in Matthew 15:18-19, “the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the natural man, for out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries…” The good news is that after Jesus came and initiated the New Covenant (Testament), His Spirit filled the hearts of believers just as Ezekiel 36:26 and Jeremiah 31 predicted, “I will give you a new heart”. Hebrews 10:16 tells us that if we have God’s Spirit we can follow our heart since “God has put His laws into our hearts and minds”. I think it is quite a mystery that God’s omnipotence dwells within our impotence, but in 1 Corinthians 6:19 we read, “ do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God”. Paul’s prayer is the greatest thing that could happen to us, and yet it goes unrealized and inexperienced by the vast majority of Christians. I say this because the Ephesians must not have had it or else Paul wouldn’t have been praying so fervently that they experience this filling of the Holy Spirit.
Ephesians 3:17, That Christ May Dwell in Your Hearts
The original Greek word our English text translates as “dwell” has the connotation of not just being there but that Christ would be at home there, comfortable and compatible. We don’t want Jesus to be some tolerated visitor kept in a guest room, and moved out as soon as possible. That would be like the minister invited over for dinner, and while waiting with their child, he asked what they were having for dinner. The child said goat. He asked how the child knew, and he said, well last night they said “I guess we should have the old goat over for dinner”. The issue is not the presence of God’s Spirit—He indwells all believers, but the quality of His presence. Most Christians want Christ to come out on Sunday, but go back in the guest room when they are at work or play. Paul is praying that Christ would be in control of their lives at all times and in all situations.
We are Like a Living House
An important question to ask yourself is—Does Christ feel at home in your heart? Jesus is your Savior, and you go to church, but Paul is praying for something richer, fuller, better—that Christ might progressively be more and more at home in your heart. The image here is that the Christian life is like a house with many rooms. As Jesus goes from room to room, is He comfortable? Are some of the rooms messy and dirty? Jesus can’t live in comfort and satisfaction until that room is clean. He continues to love the house, but He can’t be comfortable until He is allowed to “dwell” in all the rooms of our heart, which need to be cleaned. We must allow Him by faith to exercise His authority over our lives. Using the house metaphor, Christ goes into the dining room where our appetites are, like greed, materialism, and gluttony. He replaces all that with humility and a sense of purpose in His will. Then He goes into the Living Room where He finds our damaged relationships, our bad influences, and our self-interests. He repairs relationships and removes bad influences. Then He goes into our workshop where our toys and recreation may exclude Him. After He cleans that room, we ask Him not to go into the walk in closet, because in there are the hidden sins that no one knows about. It is a dark room, and we keep the door shut and locked. When Christ comes into our house, He slowly clears the drains and plugs the leaks in the roof, but later He starts to knock whole walls down and change the house. You thought you had a nice house, but Christ desires a perfect Palace where He can be comfortable. Naturally, this process requires MORE OF GOD AND LESS OF ME.
The result of Christ making His home in our hearts is in Eph.3:17-19, “that you being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints…the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, and that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God”. Keep in mind that worldly love is based on the object’s attractiveness, which of course fades away. Godly love is based on the unconditional love of God, which is unfading and eternal. Worldly love loves for what it can get, but Christ’s love loves for what it can give. Therefore, Paul was praying that as they were experiencing the love of God, their lives would also be typified as giving that love to others, and then they would comprehend the fulfilling life that God wants for them. I read an illustration of this that a rebellious teenager ran away and became a street person. Years later he was begging for money, and a man recognized him as his son. His wealthy father approached him and said, “You want a quarter, but I’ll give you a fortune!” The boy was a tramp for years begging, and his father was looking for him to give him all he had. In Eph.3:18, God wants us to know the dimensions of His love. The breadth is God’s acceptance of all, the length is that He loved us before creation and into eternity, the height is that we will be raised to heaven, and the depth is God’s love reaches down from heaven to our lowly predicament. The love of Christ that “surpasses knowledge” in v.19 is not a worldly fickle love that people in this world give, but a love that is unconditional, forgiving, and changes hearts and lives.
Know that there is something more that God wants to give us after we are saved. Give up the “key” to your heart/home to Christ, and let Him clean up every room, every area of your life, so that Christ will be comfortable there. To be full of Him, you must be empty of self. Let go of your bad habits, your evil ambitions and desires, and take on His agenda. Have the spiritual perspective that your body is decaying, but your spirit can be growing. Feed the spirit, and starve the flesh, and let’s live like it’s no longer about us, it is all about Him.