Exceeding Expectations

Ephesians 3:14-21

The Reverend Bryn MacPhail / May 1, 2005


            This world of ours is a mess.


            This world of ours is a mess, but God has a plan.


            The Christian Church is part and parcel of God’s grand, cosmic, eternal plan.


As the body of Christ, the Church is the means whereby the Spirit of Christ functions in a physical environment.


I recently read an article describing a surgical procedure that took place in France. What made this surgical procedure so interesting was that the surgeon in charge was in New York City during the operation.


Through the use of ATM (asynchronous transfer mode) telecommunication technology the surgeon in New York communicated with a specially designed robot in France. The result was a successful surgical procedure.


The necessary components for this surgery may prove to be a helpful analogy for our study this morning. The source of wisdom for the surgical procedure was the doctor in New York. The conduit through which the doctor would apply his wisdom was the specially designed robot in France. The means of transmitting the information was the ATM technology. And the beneficiary of this transmission of information was the patient being operated on.


This world of ours is sick, and is in desperate need of an operation. The solution lies with the Great Surgeon, Jesus Christ. The challenge is that Jesus, in His resurrection body, is no longer present in this world.


The good news, however, is that before the foundation of the world was made, God designed a people through which Christ would be present, and through which His healing power would be exercised. And the means through which this power would be transmitted to the Church, for the benefit of the world, is the Holy Spirit.


Imagine, for a minute, that there is a surgeon in New York and a robot in France, but there is no patient on the operating table. The robot moves strategically in accordance with the instructions of the surgeon, transmitted through the ATM technology. Initially, we would find this to be highly impressive—this power on display. But, eventually, we would wonder why this power and wisdom was not being applied for the benefit of a sick person.


Friends, I submit to you that this hypothetical scenario is largely what we find within the Christian Church today. We visit a congregation and we witness God’s power on display; we witness God’s goodness manifest in the people there, but what we often fail to see is the Church making a meaningful impact on the surrounding community.


Local representations of the body of Christ have often failed to recognize the purpose for their existence. The Church does not exist simply for the benefit of her members. Paul explains that, as the body of Christ, connected to the Head, we are the means whereby Christ functions in this world.


If we believe that Christ can make a difference in this world, then we are compelled to believe that we can make a difference in this world. If we believe that Christ can make a difference in central Etobicoke, it is because we understand that through the Holy Spirit we can make a difference in central Etobicoke. All of the power that exists in the Head is available to the rest of the body.


Paul tells us this, explaining in verse 10 that “the manifold wisdom of God” is to be “made known through the church”.


How does this sick and troubled world of ours come to know the power and wisdom of God Almighty? Paul says that Christ is made known to the world through us, His body.


Notice, also, the additional recipients who are named in verse 10: “the manifold wisdom of God (is to) be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places” (3:10).


‘Paul, what are you saying?’

‘I’m saying that this plan of God is truly a cosmic plan. This plan extends beyond time and space.’


Paul is saying that God’s “eternal purpose, which He carried out in Christ,” (3:11) is not only for the benefit of this present world, but is also for the education of the heavenly host.


The angels of heaven, who are familiar with God’s glory revealed in creation, are to be enlightened by the Church concerning the work of salvation. The apostle Peter, describing the same, says that these are “things into which angels long to look” (1Pet. 1:12).


Do you see our unique position within God’s plan? Jesus Christ, present in this world by His Spirit is absent in His resurrection body. The angels of heaven are also present in this world, but they too are physically absent and thus their representation of Christ is not apprehended by this world.


The Church, however, is visible. And as a visible, physical, presence the Church is the primary means by which the glory of Christ is to be manifest in this world.


How is this going to work? What hope do we have for succeeding as we represent Christ in this world?


Paul says that our success depends on Christ. Paul prays that we would “be strengthened with power through (Christ’s) Spirit in the inner man” (3:16). Paul also reminds us that the Church is “rooted and grounded in (Christ’s) love” (3:17).


Taken in context, this promise is for the Church. The Christian Church, grounded in the love of Christ, is to be animated by the power of Christ.


Paul’s burden is for us to be the Church. And Paul understands that for us to be all that we have been designed to be, we must corporately turn to Christ. Paul understands what we must understand: Church is not someplace you go; Church is something you are.


Paul then concludes this section by breaking into a doxology:


Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think” (3:20).


This is a remarkable statement. If Paul had simply said that God is able to do anything that we ask or think, we would want to highlight this verse. But he does not say this—he says that God “is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think”! That is to say that if we contrive a vision for being the Church in this world, our vision will, inevitably, be too small.


I sometimes pride myself on being a ‘realist’. I make observations based on what I see, and I make calculations and plans based on the empirical data available to me. Paul rebukes this way of thinking. Paul declares that God is not handicapped by our puny imagination; He is not limited by our modest expectations.


The God of the Bible is in the business of exceeding human expectations. I have come to know this from experience. I remember when I was at the University of Western Ontario as a first year student. I was rededicating my life to God and was often praying that the Lord would find a use for me. I imagined myself leading a Bible study for University students. I imagined working alongside the Christian groups on campus to encourage students in their faith. Church ministry was not on my mind. Pastoring a church was not even on my radar screen.


And here I am before you today. How did I get here? Did I get here by following through on a carefully thought out plan? Not at all! My only answer for why I am standing here before you today is this: We worship a God who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think.


One of the great challenges in Church ministry, as you are likely aware, is filling vacancies. Congregations are always in need of volunteers. And what I have found is that people tend to gravitate towards those things that they are certain that they can do.


I have also found that there are certain ministry vacancies that scare people. ‘Church School Superintendent—are you kidding me?’ ‘Director of the Friendship Club?’ ‘Participate in an outreach table?’ ‘Teach children?’


‘I can’t do that!’ No, perhaps you can’t. But what about God? Is God capable? What about the One who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power—that works where?—within us (3:20).


Because of the power made available to us, being the Church sometimes means engaging in ministry we feel incapable of doing.


Allie and I have moved 4 times in our 11 years of marriage. On one of those occasions I had the advantage of having Allie’s brother assist me. Allie’s brother is 6’2 250 lbs—he has muscles growing out of his muscles. I remember that there were a few daunting pieces of furniture to move. On my own, I could scarcely make these items move an inch . . . but with the help of Allie’s brother, what would otherwise have been impossible was made easy.


This is not altogether different than how it is for us when we choose to serve God. Connected to Christ, empowered by His Spirit, tasks that would normally be impossible for us become manageable. As Paul has said elsewhere: “(We) can do all things through (Christ) who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13).


The final statement of Paul’s doxology provides, arguably, the best purpose statement of all time: “To God be the glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever” (3:21).


God intends on being glorified through the Church. And God intends on being glorified through Christ. These two things go together. God is glorified through the Church so long as the Spirit of Christ is at work within the Church.


Without Christ, without the power of His Spirit, we can do nothing (Jn. 15:5). But connected to Christ, empowered by His Spirit, the Church can make a difference in this world of ours.


And whatever difference we imagine that we can make, remember: We belong to the One who is able to make a difference that abundantly exceeds all that we ask or think. To Him be the glory, forever and ever. Amen.