This morning, we’re continuing our series on Stonebrook’s “pillars” the primary areas of focus in our ministry. Today we’re talking about our pillar of strengthening families. This series has somehow turned into a walk-through Ephesians, which is great, and as it should be, probably. Ephesians is a wonderful summary of the Christian life.
We were discussing as pastors that the series might therefor be getting a little repetitive, each week re-treading the same ground in Ephesians 1-3 to show the specific application to the points in 4-6, but I think that reminder is probably right and good.
Premise for today:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.Ephesians 1:3—4 (ESV)
And my question for you: how many of you feel that you are experiencing every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places when it comes to your marriage, your parenting, your being-a-kid, your household? My guess is very few of us.
But we have it. We have every spiritual blessing, everything we need for life and godliness, all the power, all the help we could want is available to us.
The Gospel is the power for a strong family.
The “So that’s” in Paul’s Prayer
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength 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, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.Ephesians 3:14–19 (ESV)
Notice that there is a progression here. Paul is not rattling off a prayer list of four disconnected things he wants for us. He is ultimately praying that we will be filled with all the fullness of God. And in order for us to be filled, three other things must happen, in sequence.
- God must grant that we be strengthened with power by the Holy Spirit in our “inner being”:, that is, in our hearts, in our souls, spiritually empowered. SO THAT
- Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith. Paul understands and teaches clearly here that In order for Christ to dwell in our heart, God must grant that the Spirit gives us a spiritual strength. That strengthening allows us to believe and have Christ dwell in our hearts. SO THAT
- We may comprehend and know the love of Christ. We cannot comprehend and know Christ’s love deeply and thoroughly until he dwells in us and starts to work on us. And we need to comprehend, to understand, and to experientially know Christ’s love SO THAT
- We might be filled with all the fullness of God. That is, fully experience and treasure delight in everything God is and has for us. And doesn’t that sound wonderful?
How many of us here feel that we are filled the brim with everything that God is, all the time? None of us. There’s a reason for that. Paul describes a progression here that is also described elsewhere in the scriptures and has been summed up in the past by faithful teachers of the word in this way.
The first two “so that’s” – Being strengthened with power by the Spirit, and Christ dwelling in our hearts through faith, is describing something that has happened to every believer. The new birth. Regeneration and salvation.
The third “so that” – comprehending and knowing Christ’s love, is describing something that grows over time. Throughout our life we come to comprehend and know and respond to Christ’s love in deeper ways. This is the fuel for our sanctification, a big theology word that means “becoming more like Jesus.”
The fourth “so that” – describes something that hasn’t happened yet: perfect knowledge and union with God. “Glorification” is the big theology word. And that’s coming.
I’m going into all this detail to help us set some expectations.
Paul is describing the immense gift we have from our Lord and King. The immeasurable blessing: mercy, love, forgiveness, adoption. We are now God’s sons and daughters, we’ve been given a clean slate, and he loves us!
And this sets the stage for all our relationships. Paul exhorts us to “walk in a manner worthy” of this calling. He says the only rational response here is, as Jesus taught us, to love as we’ve been loved. And forgive as we’ve been forgiven.
Easy, right? Sermon over. Have a nice day!
It’s not easy. In fact most times its hard, because it often feels like the other person doesn’t deserve love and mercy, because they sin against you!
Here’s where it’s helpful to remember the reality of the situation. You have sinned against God to a greater degree than any human has ever sinned against you. In your unbelief and your rejection of God as creator. Whether explicitly and boldly saying it out loud or writing it down somewhere, or more subtlety by chasing other things as Gods, ignoring his commands in sinning, you have treated him as if he were less than he his: the creator and ruler of all things, and your Lord and King. That offense is worse than anything a human could do to you. And I’ve had enough counseling situations with individuals and read enough horrific reports to mean that.
The reality of your rebellion against God in fact is where your relationship with him started. And it was into that rebelliousness that he stepped in with mercy and strengthened you with his spirit. This enabled you to respond to him in faith and repentance, a key ingredient: rejecting and turning from your sin. Taking action to cease the things that keep you apart from him. Repentance is an ongoing thing as you know Christ more deeply and find out areas you still are not obeying him, or dealing with new sin as it crops up, you fight it in order to kill it.
It is important to remember the reality too that you are not merely an innocent offended party when it comes to living with your family members as well. The reality is you also sin against them.
And they have their own relationship with God, just as you do, first as a rebel against him, which helps frame things, and then if they are also a believer, and repentant, receiving the same love, mercy, forgiveness, and adoption.
This sets the stage for a mutual understanding of the need to forgive one another, to repent of the wrongs we’ve done against God and against our family members.
And now my chart is vastly over complicated.
If I had a dozen more hours I might have been able to simplify it.
And I know this is a message about strengthening families, but I wanted to spend this time here because The Gospel is the power for a strong family.
I wanted to briefly mention two errors in thinking here, for clarity, because both are important. These two I think we have communicated, perhaps intentionally, in the past, and I wanted to warn us about them here.
Not a means to the end, but a response
The first is that Jesus is not a means to an end. He is the end. We get other benefits along the way as a result. “Seek first the kingdom and righteousness, and all these other things will be added to you.” But if you seek the other things first, you will miss the kingdom.
In this case it is tempting and easy to give a pitch like “you want a better life? Get Jesus and you can have it!” Do you want a strong family? Get Jesus and you can have it. There are two problems with this:
- It makes a false promise. Jesus is not some “easy button” to a better family
- It makes Jesus a magic genie, or vending machine.
It’s seeking the gift over the giver. You’ll have neither if you do this. Or its oversimplifying the solution to your family’s problem or societies problem.
The right way to think about it is that you should desire to be a strong husband, wife, father, mother, good kid, or good roommate to those in your household because this is how children of God act. It is a way of honoring and giving glory to your heavenly father.
Virtue is possible without Christ
The second area is related. It is possible to be a virtuous, ethical, even morally upright (in a cultural sense) person, even if you don’t have Christ. There have been cultures and eras where virtue, honor, charity, peace, strong families, were looked on as culturally normative. This doesn’t mean they were a godly or christian society.
It can be confusing to teach that Jesus is required for a virtuous society, because then when you see one, you will assume they are christian, and their eternal destiny is safe.
It also leads to a weird kind of pride “we’re more virtuous than you because we have Jesus.”
Yet, the gospel is the power for a strong family in the sense of strength that we are after. I don’t want to guide you to look at your virtuousness or lack thereof in your family as a measure of success or failure. A measure of pride or shame. I want you to look to Christ alone for that.
Remember the father’s mercy, love, forgiveness toward you when you were his enemy. Remember that he has adopted you as a beloved child and granted you an inheritance in the heavenly places. Rest secure in God’s love toward you.
As a result, turn to him in faith and repentance. Extending that same mercy and forgiveness to others, even when they don’t deserve it. Confess and repent when you have wronged them.
Listen to how Paul puts it.
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.Ephesians 4:1–3 (ESV)
Each of you now, secure in your identity as a loved child of God, here is how that love, forgiveness, mercy, and repentance plays out in specific language. Humility. Gentleness. Patience. Bearing with one another in love. Eager to maintain the unity and peace of the Spirit.
Now that is getting pretty specific.
The application to Family
Matt, I thought this was supposed to be a sermon about strengthening families. You’re nearing the end of the time and all you’ve talked about so far is the gospel.
I know. And I’m (probably) not mismanaging the clock.
Because here’s the thing. The application to family is pretty straightforward from here. And every problem in the family is traced back here.
Let’s read the scripture on family here:
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.Ephesians 5:22–6:4 (ESV)
- Wives submit
- Husbands give yourself up for her
- Children obey your parents
- Father’s do not provoke your children to anger but train them
These words can seem harsh, can’t they? But in a context where the family is walking together in the a manner worthy of the gospel, they become almost obvious.
And any time I’ve run into a problem in a family situation with things being out of order, and I point them back to the mercy and forgiveness of God and how we ought to love as we’ve been loved, and forgive as we’ve been forgiven, to repent in light of God’s mercy toward us, and the problem remains, it is nearly always because one party, or more often both parties, are having a hard time in their relationship with the Lord.
Ah, and there is it. This is why I spent so much time here. The solution is rarely new communication tactics, or new parenting technique, or things along that line, the solution most often, is some deep reflection on God’s goodness, righteousness, holiness, and our sinfulness, rebelliousness, and need for mercy. Reflection on that mercy and grace and forgiveness having been provided for us through Jesus.
So I have just one application point this morning for all your marriages, all your parenting, all you kids, and anyone who any sort of interaction with any other human being.
Reflect on the Gospel. It is the power source for a strong family, and strong relationships of any source.
If I were to have just one practical for you this morning it is this. SLOW DOWN.
[Bird watching analogy. – I would never have noticed all this beauty if I had not slowed down to pay attention. If I do not sometimes interrupt the things I’m doing to notice what’s going on.]
We need to slow down. Build time in our lives for deep reflection. Solitude and meditation on the scriptures. We need to build time in our lives to be together with fellow believers who are close to us and can help guide us toward reflection on the scriptures. That ought to be the case in your life group! If it is not, I suggest you quit yours and find one where this can be the case. (Don’t just quit, quit and join a new one.) We have to be together with others who can remind us of these truths.
I think the power in things like renew prayer ministry, edge venture, and retreats is that you are taking time to get away, to unplug, to get rid of the screens and devices for an extended period of time and do the hard and scary work of searching your soul, and you’re doing this together with people that can give you hope and courage to face the sin and rebellion and unbelief that you’ll inevitably find inside. They’ll remind you of the Gospel message of God’s mercy and forgiveness toward us.
That’s my job here on Sunday AM. To remind you of these things. That’s the job of all our ministries here. To remind you of these things.