October 30, 2022
The Big Ask – Part 5
Pastor Philip De Courcy
Ephesians 3: 14 - 21

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This powerful series will challenge you to understand your role in the body of Christ. Through the book of Ephesians, Pastor Philip will remind us of the joy and blessings God intends for believers to experience in the church as they live as a united family in Christ.

More From This Series


So let’s take our Bibles and turn to Ephesians Chapter 3. I’m looking at the last two verses of Ephesians 3. We’ve been five weeks in this Prayer of Paul. This is the fifth sermon, the final sermon in a message I called The Big Ask. We’re at verses 20 to 21. “Now unto him who is able to do exceedingly, abundantly above all that we ask or think according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”
A couple of weeks ago at our men’s conference, I got to interview my friend Dr. Jack Graham from Prestonwood Baptist Church. His is quite a story. He’s a young man from Antoine in Arkansas, but God has taken him and saved him and kept him and gifted him and called him. He told us with some emotion how he dedicated his life to ministry in the chapel of the hospital in which his father was dying because a man hit him with a hammer trying to rob his hardware store.
And when he dedicated himself to the Lord, he couldn’t have imagined what God was going to do. Jack Graham has been the president of the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in America, if not the world. He’s the pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas with an average weekend attendance of over 7,000 people. A membership of like 15,000. During the Presidency of Donald Trump, he was on the President’s Advisory Council along with Dr. Robert Jeffries and Greg Laurie from SoCal. That’s just some of the highlights of a life well lived, a life taken up and used marvelously by God. And when I was interviewing him in our Q&A session, I kind of went over those and I said to Jack, “How do you process that? What do you say about that?” And the men that were there will remember, he just looked at us all and said, “Unto Him, who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we can ask or think according to the power that works in us to Him be glory.”
You see the story of Jack Graham is the story of many, myself included, you included. It’s the story of God’s goodness. It’s the story of God’s greatness. It’s the story of a God who fulfills to His people the great and exceeding promises of His word. It’s the story of a God who exceeds expectations, who takes a boy from a nowhere town in Arkansas and uses him at a national level. A God who answers the prayers of His people beyond what they pray. A God who answers prayers we don’t even pray because we don’t have the imagination to pray them. So with that in mind, let’s go to Ephesians 3:20-21, the very verses that Jack Graham led over his whole life. There’s things to learn here, things to be encouraged by here. Here, the apostle Paul introduces us to a God who towers above our best prayers and our worst problems because of his ability to answer those prayers and match those problems.
Let’s get the context of our text. This text serves as a transition from the first half of the book to the second half of the book. We’re right here at the end of chapter three and we’re about to pivot into a series of commands and imperatives as Paul calls the church in Ephesus to action. The first half of the book, we have indicatives, statements of reality of who God is and what God has done in the gospel through Christ. Now we’re going to see in the weeks to come imperatives. What you and I need to do in the light of who Jesus is and what Jesus has done. After all Paul has said about God and the gospel, the Apostle Paul feels compelled to sing about it. So here we have one of the Bible’s doxologies. The doxology at its bare minimum is an outburst of praise.
It’s an extolling and exalting of God in all His glory and all His grace and all His greatness. So it shouldn’t surprise us. After three chapters of theology, we have a doxology. J.I. Packer said, “The purpose of theology is doxology. We must study in order to praise.” I remember hearing Warren Wiersbe at a Moody Pastors conference in Chicago, “Don’t trust the theologian who doesn’t sing.” Well, Paul’s a theologian who sings because he understands that theology leads to doxology. One of the interesting aspects of the Protestant Reformation was not only a turn to biblical theology, our recovery of the gospel, of faith alone and Christ alone because of the grace of God alone, for the glory of God alone. It wasn’t just a return to biblical theology, it was a return to congregational singing. Theology led to doxology. A couple of years ago, I read a wonderful book on Martin Luther by Steve Nichols and then he reminds us that Luther wasn’t just a preacher, not just a theological professor, not just a writer and an author.
He was a hymn writer. He wrote hymns for the church. We sing one of them today. A Mighty Fortress is our God. In fact, Luther said this, “After theology, I accord music the highest place and the greatest honor.” The enemies of the gospel in the Catholic Church said of Luther that he did more damage with his songs than he did with his sermons because through his hymnody, the people learned and memorized the word of God. Theology leads to doxology. So here we are, our fifth and final look at this text. We looked at the prompt, the posture, the passion, the patriarchy, the petition. Now we’re looking at the praise. So for the minutes that we’ve got left, there’s three or four things I want to say. First of all, let’s look at the subject of the doxology, the subject of the doxology. Who is the subject of Paul’s singing or what is the subject of Paul’s singing?
Well, it’s God and His omnipotence. Look at verse 20. “Now to Him, who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we can ask or think.” The subject of the doxology is God’s absolute and awesome power, His ability to do the impossible. Having talked about God’s fullness in verse 19, having brought us to the very age of infinity, Paul now revels in God’s ability to answer prayer. And as he talks about God’s ability to answer prayer, it kind of grows almost like a piece of music that starts out quiet and slowly and then begins to build to a crescendo, a bit like Bolero. That’s what this is like. “Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we can ask or think.” Did you notice that? Let’s just break that down. Keep it simple. Just keep your eye on that text and listen to my words.
Here’s what Paul says about God’s ability. God is able to do, God is able to do all that we ask. God is able to do more and above and beyond what we ask, God is able to do exceedingly, abundantly, above and beyond all that we ask. God is able to do exceedingly, abundantly and beyond all that we ask and even imagine. That’s all there. Just in that one verse and we need to grasp that. Listen to John’s start. Let him speak because he says it better than I can. Just listen to this and be encouraged. “He is able to do or to work for He is neither idle nor inactive, nor dead. He’s able to do what we ask for He hears and answers prayer. He’s able to do what we ask or think for He reads our thoughts and sometimes our imagination and the things we dare not ask.”
“He’s able to do all that we ask or think for He knows it all and could perform it all. He’s able to do more than all we ask or think for His expectations are higher than ours. He’s able to do much more abundantly than all we can or think for He does not give His grace By calculated measure. He’s able to do very much more, far more abundantly than all that we or think for as a God of superabundance.” Isn’t that wonderful? That’s the God we worship. That’s the God we know. That’s the God who invites us to bring all of our problems and all of our burdens and all of our questions and all of our day-to-day struggles and sins and temptations to Him. A God of superabundance and you and I need to bear that in mind. You and I serve a God who is able to exceed our expectations.
The trouble is we’re often guilty of limiting God, aren’t we? The first lady of American theater, Helen Hayes once told a story of her attempt to cook her first Thanksgiving turkey. She really wasn’t one for going into the kitchen and even when she was there, she wasn’t much at cooking. And after several years of marriage, but she decided on this particular Thanksgiving, she was gone to cook her own Turkey for the festive holiday. That came as a shock to her husband, caused her children to fear, but she sat them down and she said this, “This may not come out exactly the way you want it to. If it’s not a good Turkey, don’t say a thing. Without any comment, just stand up from the table and we’ll go to the nearest restaurant and eat.” So after some time laboring in the kitchen, she carries the turkey out to the dining room where she finds her husband and her sons are already standing with their coats and hats on.
The boys weren’t taking a chance. Their expectations were pretty low with mom and her cooking. Same with us and God sadly. We have a God who exceeds our expectations. Abraham could not have imagined could he being many years without a son, old in age that he would become the progenitor of the nation of Israel. That would be a blessing to all the nations of the world. The nation of Israel from whom will come, the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, God’s son, born of a virgin. Moses could not have imagined, could he? After 40 years in the backside of the desert taking care of Jethro’s flock that God would use him in the giving of the 10 Commandments performing miracles, announcing plagues, and leading the people of God to freedom across the Red Sea. David as a shepherd boy could not have imagined how far God would take him and bless his house.
The 2 Samuel 7 verse 18. Here’s what David says, “Who am I and what is my house that God has brought us this far?” On this 15th anniversary, I could say that, but David could say it much more that God was going to make him the king of Israel. God was going to establish the Davidic throne forever and someday the son of David, David’s greater son, Jesus Christ will sit on that throne in a millennial kingdom. You think David imagined that sitting on the hills of Judea looking after his father’s flock? No. Nehemiah. Could Nehemiah have imagined the favor God would show him with the king and his desire to rebuild Jerusalem? And yet the king not only gave him permission to go back and rebuild what the Babylonians and the Assyrians had destroyed, He gave him letters of authority. He gave them a complement of soldiers to protect them and He told them to go and cut down all the trees he needed from the forests of the king.
Amazing. Mary and Martha. Could they have imagined the resurrection of Lazarus when they sent to tell Jesus that he was sick? No. It’s all a reminder that we’re often guilty of limiting God. We often think at a human level. We often limit our expectations to the confines of our logic. We make God beholden to conventional wisdom. We confine Him to what our eyes can see, what our hands can hold and what our emotions can sense. And Paul would rebuke us and remind us, “Now to Him who’s able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that you can ask or think.” We’re so like Gideon, right? The angel comes to Gideon, “Hey, mighty man of valor.” And Gideon looks over his shoulder like me. In fact, you’ll read these words in Judges 6, “How can I save Israel? In fact, I’m from the least tribe in Israel? Me?”
The angel comes to Mary, that little girl, teenager, “You’re going to bear the son of God.” Wow. What does Mary say? “How can this be? I’m a virgin.” Remember the feeding of the 5,000? They find a boy with some loaves and some fish and Andrew says, “What is this among so many?” That’s all conventional wisdom, by the way, their responses. It’s logical, reasonable. Their responses are confined to what their eyes can see, their hands can hold, their emotions can sense, but they had limited God. They lacked faith. Remember in Matthew 13:58 about Nazareth, it said that Jesus could do no wonders because of their unbelief. We must be challenged to think bigger and live bolder and believe broader. Ian Hamilton in a wonderful comment in Ephesians says this, “Because God is such a God, we need never lose heart.”
Take that to heart this morning. You need never lose heart. There is no one beyond His power to save. There is no enemy He cannot vanquish. There is no temptation He cannot help us to overcome. No indwelling sin we cannot put to death with His enabling help. Look for the sake of time, I can’t develop this, but you need to take some time this afternoon and write this down. Go to Psalm 81 verse 10 and I’ll read it for you. Make a quick comment and move on. Psalm 81 verse 10. Here’s what God says, “For I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt. Open your mouth wide and I will fill it.” There’s a wonderful little book on prayer developing a healthy prayer life by Joel Beeke and his son James, I think. And then at they talk about this, he says this, “Our prayer life is an indicator of our spiritual appetite.”
We must examine ourselves to see what size of servings of spiritual food satisfy us. Are some of us who are true children of the living God surviving on portions so scanty that we can barely stay alive? How lean our personal prayers and devotions can be for those of us living in this way, there seems to be so little for which we need God. There appears to be so little to confess to Him, so little for which to thank Him is in any wonder then if we have little or no spiritual strength, but easily faint on the way. God’s grace is full and free. He says, “Open thy mouth wide and I will fill it. He does not say maybe, but I will. Let God be true in every other voice, especially the inner voice of unbelief, a liar, God’s grace as wide as the ocean.”
“He is the supply for the widow’s never-emptying jug of oil. Every vessel that her sons brought, she fell to overflowing God’s commands us to exercise our faith, open our mouth wide. The amount of jars collected represented the amount of faith exercised. God was willing to fill all that were collected for the oil stopped flowing only when there were no more vessels to fill.” Remember that story in 1 Kings 4, 1-7. This is a chapter in His book He calls pray with appetite. “Open your mouth wide,” says God and “I will fill it.” That’s not just true physically. It’s true spiritually. Let’s open our mouths wide and ask God to do exceedingly, abundantly above all that we can ask or think. Let’s be like William Carey. I don’t have time to develop his story, but for those of you that might be familiar with it, cobbler, shoemaker, working class, blue collar.
He had little by way of financial wealth. He had little by way of education, but in that little cobbler’s shop, in his workshop, he started pinning together from the scraps of the leather shoes, a map of the world almost like a football, and began to pray over it. And then God called him to do something about it and he challenged the Baptist churches of England who were caught in the prison of hyper-Calvinism to go into the world and preach the gospel. He shared that in a meeting one day with all the passion of his heart and an old minister told him to sit down. He said, “You’re a miserable little boy. Sit down. If God wants to save the lost, He’ll save them without your help.” But he kept going forward and he decided to go to India against the council of his family, against the misgivings of his wife. The British government stood in his way.
He was not supported by the wealthy churches of London, but by the little small Baptist churches of the English countryside. You know what drove him? One thing, a statement he preached in his first sermon on this issue, “Attempt great things for God and expect great things from God.” Read about it. May God give us that spirit, the spirit of William Carey to expect great things from God and attempt great things for him. Now the next two points I’m going to do very quickly and get to a fourth and final point that I want to spend a little bit of time on. Look at the next thought. The sphere of the doxology. We’ve looked at the subject now to him who is evil. Look at the sphere to Him, verse 21, be glory in the church. That’s the sphere of God’s glory. That’s where God’s glory is to be found and that’s where God’s glory is to abound.
We have studied the book of Ephesians. There’s a lot of the doctrine of the church in here. This book would remind us the church is unique in this age, in this dispensation. It’s distinct from Israel. It did not replace Israel. It’s distinct from Israel. It’s made up of Jew and Gentile who now have equal access and equal standing to God, something not known up until this moment. They’re now united in Christ and the church together that has become a habitation of the spirit of God is now the vehicle through which God is most glorified in the world. So the church is the sphere of the doxology. The place that God has praised most is in the church. If you go back to chapter one, verse six, “To the churches is to the praise of the glory of His grace.” Verse 12, “The church is to the praise of the glory of His grace.”
Verse 14, “The church is to the praise of His glory.” We’re His purchase possession. We’re His unique people in this moment within history. And you and I need to put God’s grace and love and transforming power on display to a watching wicked world. You know what that means? That means we need to be committed to the church. That means we need to attend her meetings when they’re called. That’s why we need to finance her costs. We need to love her ministers. We need to love each other so that the world, looking at the glory of God and displaying the church will say, “See how they love one another.” Which will point them to Calvary in the amazing grace of God. We need to advance her mission in the world through evangelism and soul winning. Timothy Dwight was the grandson of Jonathan Edwards, one of the presidents of Yale college, which would ultimately become Yale University.
What a travesty to see where that place has gone today. But he wrote a hymn. I think you know it. If you don’t, learn it. In fact, I want you to go home and download it and pray over it today. Listen to these words. “I love thy church. Oh, God. Her walls before thee stand dear as the of thine eye and graven on thy hand. For her, that is the church. For her, my tears shall fall. For her, my prayers ascend. For her, my cares and toils be given till toils and cares shall end. Beyond my highest joy, I prize her heavenly ways, her sweet communion solemn vows, her hymns of love and praise.” You heard from my father today. I’m thankful for him. He’ll be here in a couple of weeks. We can’t wait to see him. 89. Some 50 years of Baptist Deacon. I’ll tell you, one of the things I love most about him is his love for the church.
And he taught us to love the church, to love her meetings and her pastors and her people, which were often peculiar. But he gave us a love for the church. Why not? Because Jesus, according to Ephesians 5:25 loved the church and give Himself for her. How much are you giving to her in time and talent and treasure? Do we see you on a Sunday? And that’s it. You’re here, but are you a member? If you’re a member, are you active? Are you giving? Are you praying? Are you coming? This is where the glory of God is. It’s in the church. Thirdly, the scope of the doxology. This deserves more treatment than I’m going to give it. But look at verse 21, “To Him, be glory.” In the church, there’s the sphere by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. There’s the scope. The implication and inspiration and instruction of this prayer, and this text should indeed have an effect on us across the breadth of our whole life.
The scope of the doxology is from here on in, to all generations, forever and ever. As long as the human race lasts on this earth and then reappears on a new earth, the glory of God is to be found in the church and glory is to be ascribed to the church on her head, Jesus Christ. To Him, be glory. To Him, be the kingdom and the power and the glory. Our world is filled with human glory. You’ll see that glory is [inaudible 00:25:44] the awards in Hollywood. You’ll hear that glory and see that glory at a spectacular sporting event. You’ll see that human glory in scientific and medical advancement, in the great cities and bridges and buildings of this world. But listen, someday, all of that glory will fade. The scientific and medical advancement, the technological prowess, human endeavor, the glory of the sports field and the battlefield, the glory of our major cities, that glory will fade.
But the glory in the church by Jesus Christ will continue to all generations forever and ever. That’s why you’ve got to be committed to the church. Let’s finish with this. The summons. The summons. Now the summons is right there at the end. You might not see it at first, but it’s there in the word, amen. The subject on the him who’s evil. The sphere, in the church. The scope, to all generations. The summons, amen. This is a little word that has a kind of Hebrew background in its etymology and its history. It carries the idea of so be it. That’s what that word means. And in fact, we don’t do it here as much as we ought to. If you’re in a small group or you’re in a group of people that’s praying, or even after I’ve prayed or someone’s prayed here, we all should say amen. Because we’re verbalizing this idea. I agree with that. I like that thought. Let’s do that. Let’s get that accomplished. So be it. That’s what the word amen means. By the way. It’s got nothing to do with gender.
You’re laughing. But you realize that a while ago in the House of Representatives, a Democrat led the Congress in an opening prayer. And you know what? Given all the talk about gender and its fluidity, this idiot prayed this. Listen to this, and you’ll see why I say this idiot. Here’s what this man prayed. His name was Emmanuel Cleaver. He was a Democrat from Missouri, an ordained minister of all things. And here was his prayer. “May the Lord lift up the light of his countenance upon us and give us peace. Peace in our families, peace across this land. And I dare, I ask, oh Lord, peace even in this chamber. We ask it in the name of the monotheistic God, Brahma, and God known by many names and many different religions, amen and awomen.” I don’t know what school he went into, but he should get his money back because amen has nothing to do with gender.
It just simply means so let it be. And that’s where I finish. See, when Paul says to them, amen, he’s inviting their agreement and their participation. The use of amen is a summons to be the answer to the prayer you’ve just prayed or the prayer you’ve just heard. It’s an agreement that begs for action. It’s an identification that necessitates involvement. When you and I say amen, we’re not just pinning some pietistic tail on the donkey of prayer. We’re actually saying, “I agree.” And by implication we’re saying, “How can I help? What’s my role? What can I do? Where do I fit in? How do I accomplish this along with you?” You know what? Look at the end of verse 20. Did you notice I left part of that verse out? If you didn’t notice that, wake up.
I left the end of verse 20 out. “Now to Him, who is he able to do exceedingly, abundantly, above all that we ask or think…” But notice according to that power, where is it working? In us. So here we are talking about the omnipotence of God, his exceeding ability to exceed our expectations. And Paul wants us to know that that power is working us. Chapter one, “The power that raised Jesus from the dead has raised us from the graveyard of sin and made us alive in Jesus Christ and elevated us to a place of union with Christ where all that He has accomplished is ours to enjoy.” And then in chapter three, it’s the power of the Holy Spirit indwelling the church. So God is able, powerfully capable of answering our prayers, but you’ll notice His power works in us. Where will you see this power unleashed?
Where will you find this glory and power demonstrated in us, through us. So as we close, God often answers our prayers powerfully, through the power that’s working in us. His ability’s got to be matched by our availability. Warren Wiersbe, whose writings I always enjoy, said this on this very prayer, “The greatest blessing in life is not to get an answer to prayer, but to be one.” Just pause. That’s challenging because we tend not to agree with that. Now if he had said the greatest blessing is to get an answer to prayer. No, the greatest blessing is to be an answer to prayer. The greatest thing he says that could happen to you today would not be to get an answer to prayer. The greatest thing that could happen to you today would be for the power of God to work in your life, so that you would go out and be an answer to prayer.
And he gives two examples on that development fully Moses. Backside of the desert, he’s on the run, but no doubt he’s praying for the enslaved people of Israel back in Egypt and they’re on the backside of the desert. God meets him, the bush that burns but never burns out. And God introduces himself to Moses. “I’ve heard the cries of my people.” I think that would include the cries of Moses, wouldn’t it? “I’ve heard the cries of my people by the way, that would include you Moses, and I’ve come to deliver them and I’ve come to deliver them through you, Moses. You’re going to be the answer to your own prayer.” Amazing. And the power of God certainly was demonstrated through the life of Moses. Nehemiah, we’ve touched on. He’s in Shushan, he’s in the court of Persian king.
His brother tells him, “You know what? The state of play back in Jerusalem is not good. The very city where God put his name is an international joke. The walls are down, the doors are hanging off.” Nehemiah’s burden, he begins to pray, right? He prays and fasts for many days and as he begins to pray, he realizes God wants to use him as an answer to his own prayer. And at the end of that prayer, he’ll talk about, “Lord, would you let your servant speak to the king?” And as we saw earlier, God does and does it exceedingly abundantly above all that he can ask or think. He gets letters of authority, gets access to the forest of the king, and he gets soldiers to take care of him. Howard Hendricks at Dallas Theological Assembly now with the Lord tells the story in his book on Elijah about his pastor, a pastor called Dr. Lagters.
He tells us was a great Bible teacher, had an impact a generation ago, and he tells about a time when his pastor told this story. He was a little old boy, but he never forgot it, that he was walking down the street one day, the pastor was, he had $50 at his hand when he was stopped by a missionary who was on furlough and said, “You know what, Dr. Lagters, we’re meeting at the church and we’re going to pray about an emergency and we’d love you to come and join us.” Dr. Lagters said, “Well, I don’t like to pray out of ignorance, so what are we praying for?” And the man said, “We’re praying for a financial need. $50.” So he goes. They sit in a circle. After the first time around, a brother says, “You know what? I don’t think we’ve let hold of all the Lord has for us yet.” They do it a second time and a third time.
Third time around, Dr. Lagters realizes that he’s the answer to that prayer. He’s the answer to their prayer and his own prayer. So he surrenders the $50. He stops the lady halfway through her prayer and says, “Your prayer’s been answered.” He puts the $50 on the table and there’s a round of hallelujahs. So here’s what Howard Hendricks says, “I can still remember him telling that story years after it happened. And when he was telling it, he pointed a long and bony finger at us all and said, ‘ladies and gentlemen, it’s a dangerous thing to pray.'” Isn’t that good? It’s a beautiful thing to pray. It’s a privilege to pray, but it’s dangerous because you and I, as we close, should never pray unless we’re willing to get involved. Because the power of God, we want to see it work. Is it work in us? And the power of God wants to work through us in the accomplishment of God’s will in the answering of the prayers of God’s people.
Lord, we thank you for our study this morning. We thank you for the first three chapters of the book of Ephesians. We thank you for gospel truth. We thank you have learned about election and adoption and redemption, reconciliation. We have reveled in all that you have done, all that you have accomplished. Paul spends so much time just unpacking the plan of God for the church and the redeemed the people of God on earth and that grace that we have experienced in salvation God will show us exceedingly throughout the ages. But thank you for the mystery of the church. But thank you the church is an expression of your wisdom to the heavenly powers, angelic and demonic. And we thank you you have an eternal plan for your church and we’re part of it. And therefore, we thank you for this closing thought. His theology has led him to doxology.
And in this doxology, we’re reminded of the greatness of the God we serve. Father, forgive us for limiting you. Forgive us for stopping to pray for the thing we started to pray for because we don’t see an answer and don’t believe there’s an answer coming. We can’t imagine it at this point. Forgive us for limiting your ability to provide for us and take care of us. Lord, we thank you for the beauty of the church and the joy of being part of it. May we put your glory on display, may do it again and again and again because we’re going to do it to all generations and we say amen. But in saying amen, it comes with the price tag. Help us to be willing to be an answer to this church’s prayers, to our radio ministry’s prayers. Help us to be available for the part of God to work in us and in through us to the advancement of your kingdom. For these things, we pray gladly, joyfully on this good day in Jesus’ name. Amen.