Welcome to our joint service of worship. In our reflections this week we turn to the second part of our brief journey through Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus. This time we focus on the subject of spiritual growth and blessing.
Call to Worship (based upon Isaiah 41:10) Do not fear, for the Lord is with you, We will not be afraid, for He is our God. He will strengthen you, He will help you. He will uphold us with His victorious right hand
HYMN 110 Glory be to God the Father
Prayer with Lord’s Prayer
Let us pray.
God, Our Father,
we honour your name and thank you
for you have greatly blessed our lives.
We praise you for your favour that has no end;
we praise you for the blessings of eternity.
Forgive us, Father, for not always remembering;
for not remembering that you love us;
for not remembering that you know all our ways;
for not remembering that you will fulfil your purpose in us.
Lord, grant us the wisdom we need this day.
Let us hear your voice.
Make us instruments of your peace
and make us a blessing upon your world.
We give thanks that you are with us today.
We give thanks that we may honour you with our works.
May all that we do bring you glory and praise.
Hear us, merciful one,
as we come together in the words of Jesus, saying:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial
and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours
now and for ever.
The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the Israelites: You shall say to them,
The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.
So they shall put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.
Ephesians 3: 14-21
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.
HYMN 484 Great God, your love has called us here (St. Petersburg)
Today, we progress to the second of our three studies in Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus. As we do our thoughts are turned to the subject of spiritual growth. Although it may not be the most popular topic in the Kirk today, the story is different when we consider further afield. Four years ago it was noted that there were around thirty-thousand Christian books in English considering it. Sadly, many of these books are driven by a sense of moralism, with few focussing on worship or adoration. It is as if only behavioural outcomes matter rather than the aims of the heart. Saint Paul, though, shows us that our duties must always be founded on the love of Christ. Note that this passage is not a series of commands but a blessing and prayer. It is a prayer for the church to grown in love in Christ.
Paul begins by declaring that he ‘bows his knee’. In his time the usual stance for prayer was standing, with both hands held out palm upwards. Only rarely would prayer be done from a kneeling position. This happened only when the prayer was especially earnest or important. What Paul is doing is showing that what follows is vitally important. What follows are a series of points that are meant to both encourage the believer and challenge him or her to go further in their faith. As we look at some of these details it is vital to observe where all that he says originates. He is telling us that all that is good and right comes from God. As with our reading from Numbers it is seen that God originates the spiritual life, making it good through blessing.
Genealogy was important in Paul’s time. It was held that true blessing came only through having the right family line. Those who were born outside of this heritage were seen as dirty. The only exception that could be made was if the outsider was to be somehow grafted in. To some extent they would continue to remain impure as family name had come through only by adoption. Although now blessed, they would not therefore receive full blessings from God. The importance of this mattered on a cultural level too. Some roles in the community were open only to those of certain family lines. Yet here Paul challenges this, telling us that every family in heaven and earth derives its name from God. It is no longer about bloodline, not just about a few special ones, but anyone may be in the family of God. In other words, anyone could live a spiritual life, and be able to receive the full blessing of God.
Paul has set out to whom he is praying, the importance of his prayer, and for whom he is praying. He now changes tack, turning back to spiritual growth. Often, we may be tempted to see spiritual growth as based upon how well we behave according to a set of rules. Yet this is not what we see here. Instead, what is present is a focus on blessing originating in God, with our role being to live out this blessing as shown in Christ Jesus. Morality has a place, but the good news of God is not moralism. If you are not sure about this just look at some of the heroes of the Bible, especially from the Old Testament. Thinks of some ill-tempered Patriarchs; think also of the immature, selfish, and spoiled Samson; then there is David, who seems to readily roll into one the image of both saint and sinner. These conflicted kinds of character are there, too, in the New Testament. With all of them before us in Scripture do not be surprised to find them also here in the church. What is clear is their love of God, and earnest desires to worship and honour Him. If it was up to us, they would be failed from the outset. If we are honest, so too would we fail. Paul’s words make it clear that it is not we that are the initiators of spiritual growth; it is God.
Now that we may be starting to accept that it is God who originates faithful life, and blessings, we need to consider where this spiritual growth may best be cultured. The answer provided by Paul is that it needs to take place within the church. Yes, the church; the same place that we have just heard may be full of the imperfect folk we meet in scripture! The overarching theme of the writings of Paul is his profound desire to see us grow in the love of Christ. The context of this growth, in those same writings, is the company of the ‘saints’. That is, for this growth to occur, we must be among the body of the saints, the church. God can speak to us outside of the church, and the Bible can be read outside it too, but it is within the fellowship that real growth comes.
We may be wondering who it is that must do all this work to enable spiritual growth. In some parts of the church eyes naturally turn to the visible leader. It may surprise some, but it is not the role of the minister or priest or pastor to do this. Or, rather, at least not on his or her own. It is our place as the whole church to aid each other grow in the love of God in Christ. We also need to remember that when a need arises for discipling that it, too, must be carried out in the love of Christ. Remember that spiritual growth is initiated through God’s love in Christ, for God’s glory and our good. The natural habitat of that love is the community of the faithful.
Paul begins this passage by proclaiming how limitless is God. Only he can truly strengthen us and enable us to grow. Paul concludes in words of blessing. Here, again, he is proclaiming the goodness and greatness of God, echoing the words of our reading from Numbers. There is the sense in the original words that what God is doing is giving a sense of place, of belonging to the one being blessed. Further, there is also the sense in which the one being blessed is being made secure also. It is in this that we find the true end of spiritual growth, belonging and security. Such can only come from God. It is God, after all, who reaches out to us and blesses doing for us that which we cannot do for ourselves.
HYMN 188 Thou hidden Love of God, whose height (Melita)
Let us pray:
we pray for the world that you created.
We pray for the inner strength to make a difference,
to see this world transformed in your name.
We pray for those who feel sapped of strength;
the sick, the tired, and those with too many burdens
upon their shoulders.
we pray that you would dwell in all hearts.
We pray for your peace to spread
that the world may know rest and healing.
We pray for those whose hearts are empty,
who feel neither love nor meaning.
We pray for those who need joy.
we pray that your love would be known.
we pray that each life would be touched,
being enriched by your presence.
We pray for those searching for purpose,
seeking a means to serve their neighbour.
We pray for those in need of roots.
we pray that your power would flow.
We pray that people of power
would act in the interests of all peoples.
We pray that people of influence
would advocate for justice throughout the world.
We pray that Christ would reign.
HYMN 624 In Christ there is no east or west (Kilmarnock)
Now to him who by the power at work within us
is able to accomplish abundantly far more
than all we can ask or imagine,
to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus
to all generations, for ever and ever.
Bible Quotations taken from: New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
English translations of The Lord’s Prayer, © 1998, English Language Liturgical Consultation (ELLC), and used by permission.www.englishtexts.org
Embedded content from YouTube complies with copyright requirements: