The promise of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers is a promise of glorious personal interior blessing with manifold external implications.
The first text of many that we’ll look at in this ongoing series to develop a holistic understanding of the ministry of the Holy Spirit is Ephesians 3:14-19 where Paul prays this:
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.
This passage is so precious for a number of reasons. First because it emphatically declares that God’s desire (as displayed through Paul’s intercessory cry) for His people is that they would be mature in love for Him; and secondly, because it explains how we grow into this maturity. These two subjects (i.e. God’s desire for us to be mature in love and the way in which we grow into it) are two of the most important subjects we could ever set our minds upon.
Before we move into the text, here’s an outline of the prayer. The progression of Paul’s prayerful propositions looks like this:
1. He prays that:
- We would be granted divine strength through the Holy Spirit
- In our inner-being/man
- According to the riches of God’s glory
2. So that:
- Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith
3. So that:
- Being rooted and grounded in love
- We would have strength
- To comprehend
- The boundless dimensions of the love of Christ
- That surpasses knowledge
4. So that:
- We would be filled with the fullness of God
The four times the word “that” is mention points to four main points: (1) prayer for our strength, (2) prayer for the indwelling Christ, (3) prayer for comprehension of God’s love and (4) prayer for our being filled with the fullness of God. So the prayer is a passionate cry for us to be strengthened by the Holy Spirit to receive the indwelling Christ so that we’d be able to experience God’s love so that we’d be able to receive the fullness of God in our beings.
The END objective in God’s mind for His people is that we would be filled with His fullness having experienced the infinitely boundless dimensions of the love of God towards us; that we would be strong in the power of the Spirit to feel and know God’s deep affections for us (note the two times Paul prays for “strength”). The MEANS by which this objective is met is the dispensing of the Spirit upon weak believers who lack the ability within themselves to experience this boundless love.
God’s highest vision for our lives is that we would be fervent in love (Matt. 22:37; Jn. 17:26; 1 Cor. 13:1-13; Rev. 2:2-5). And fervency in love is impossible outside of a personal experience of God’s fervent love for us. This was John’s point in 1 John 4:19 when he was explaining how “love is perfected.” He said “We love [God] because [we experience that] He first loved us.”
The baptism of the Holy Spirit that John the Baptist prophesied in Luke 3:16, that power that Jesus promised in Luke 24:49 and the outpouring that the disciples experienced in Acts 2 all were centered primarily around God’s esteem for the First Commandment and secondarily for the Great Commission. The completing of the Great Commission is primarily an issue of quality and secondarily an issue of quantity. And thus the completing of the Great Commission is rooted in the obeying of the First Commandment.
And this is why Paul is praying the way he is in Ephesians 3. He knows that none of us have the ability to conjure up love for God in and of ourselves. We need the power of the Spirit to love God and obey Him to walk in the First Commandment.
Look at how Paul prays: “God strengthen them!” The way we are strengthened is revealed in the next request: “Strengthen them in their inner-man by the Holy Spirit!” The impact of the ministry of the Holy Spirit on our inner-man is revealed in the next statement: “Root them and ground them in love!” The love that Paul is speaking about is the love of God for us. The impact of being rooted and grounded in God’s love for us is revealed in the next statement: “…so that they’d have the ability to comprehend that which they have no ability to comprehend – your boundless affections for them!”
To speak about being “endued with power from on high” or about being “baptized in the Holy Spirit and fire” is to speak about the God-given power that is injected into the human heart that enables it to experience God’s emotions towards us. To limit the baptism of the Holy Spirit to just powerful and effective ministry is to undermine so many breathtaking passages like Ephesians 3:14-19 where the purpose of power is the receiving and reciprocating of love.
God strengthens His people to experience His love and to reciprocate that love by gently breathing upon their hearts with the Holy Spirit (like He breathed upon the disciples in John 20:22) and by powerfully overwhelming their hearts in the life-altering baptism of the Spirit (like when He came like wind and fire in Acts 2). Both are precious and both are to be pursued and contended for. We need to cherish the gentle breath of the Spirit and the strength of the baptism of the Spirit in our pursuit of obedience. Because remember: The height of our obedience is displayed through our fleshing out of the First Commandment; and we can only flesh that out when we possess the divine provision of power upon our hearts to do so.
And here’s how this plays into the completing of the Great Commission and the reason why Jesus yoked ‘the promise of the power of the Spirit’ to ‘the sending of witnesses into the nations.’ Those who have received the ability to experience and reciprocate God’s love are those who will possess the inner inclination, motivation and desire to bear witness to the Gospel in the nations. And therefore I want to make this very clear: our lack of impact in the nations is a product of our lack of intimacy with God.
When we gain intimacy in our hearts through the power of the Spirit we gain impact in the nations through the power of the Spirit. Let’s contend for it and receive it.