“Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus unto all generations for ever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21)
Arthur E. Gove
HOWEVER discouraged or disheartened a Christian may feel, this passage brings a forceful reminder that God is waiting to do new things for him. The whole prayer is full of spiritual inspiration but we limit ourselves to this last part, which is a doxology.
The Epistle to the Ephesians contains two striking prayers. The first is found in 1:15-23 and the second in 3:14-21. There is a marvellous interdependence between them. It may be helpful to compare them. We see that whereas in the first the prayer is: “that ye may know …”, the central theme of the second is: “that ye might be …” (v.19). The first is directed to spiritual apprehension, or revelation, while the second is concerned with spiritual appropriation and is a prayer for realisation. While the first points us to God and His riches in glory, the second stresses that power that works in the believer. In both cases, however, the emphasis is upon the character of our exceeding abundantly able God.
God does not promise us something that He is incapable of doing. He is not suggesting that He should provide us with that which is beyond His resources. On the contrary the words mount up to assure us of His absolute sufficiency. God is able. God is abundantly able. God is exceeding abundantly able. Wonder succeeds wonder. He can still go on working after all our ideas are exhausted and our prayers finished. When unbelief has stopped further asking and stifled our thanksgiving, then God still delights to go on working far beyond what we deserve or demand.
WE are the ones who limit God. Our little faith is rebuked by the story of the dying Elisha. We are told in 2 Kings 13:14 how the young king, Joash, burst into the sickroom where the prophet lay dying and appealed for help in the light of the Syrian attack on the nation. “What shall we do?”, Joash asked, and the dying prophet immediately became alert and began to give his orders, “Take bow and arrows,” he commanded. “Now open the window eastward. Now let me put my hands on yours as you hold the bow. Now shoot.” The young king twanged the arrow through the opened window and away it went. There was no mistaking the meaning of the speeding arrow. It was a signal of the victory which the Lord would give to Israel. Then Elisha’s last effort was to stir up the sluggish young king who lacked enthusiasm, passion and courage, so after his shout of triumph, the prophet told the king to take up the rest of the arrows and smite them on the ground. Whether he was to bang them on the ground or loose them into the ground, does not matter. The point is that he should have made use of every arrow in the quiver, five or six of them. Instead of doing this the king only had faith to expect a thrice repeated victory. He smote three times and then stopped. Elisha was disgusted at this half-hearted response. The king clearly could not believe in a God who gives complete victory. Elisha reproached him for limiting a limitless God. Unbelief does just that. It hinders God from revealing His true character as exceeding abundantly able. He has to say to us, as Elisha said to Joash: “According to your faith be it unto you”. You could have known complete victory, but your feeble faith has deprived you of it.
God is the exceeding abundantly above God. If He is limited, it will be because we have limited Him. Both personally and corporately, God is urging us to get our eyes on Him, to believe for His power for the full realisation of His purposes. In this section of chapter 3 we are reminded four times of these purposes by the use of “that”. The last of these is: “that ye may be filled unto all the fulness of God”. This points to the climax of the Holy Spirit’s work in the believer; this is God’s ultimate purpose for all His children, that they may be filled with His fulness. You cannot have more than that. Indeed it will only be fully realised when we are all glorified and have come “to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ”. But God [41/42] is able to do it. Even NOW He is able to do so much more than we could think possible, and that is why the whole prayer is covered by a doxology.
A DOXOLOGY is an expression of adoration which rises above the level of ordinary speech. It is a fervent utterance of praise from those who are lost in wonder and love because of the ineffable glory of God. Well may we glory when we have such an abundantly able God. He is able to make all grace abound to us (2 Corinthians 9:8); able to succour those that are tempted (Hebrews 2:18); able to save to the uttermost (Hebrews 7:25); and able to keep us from falling (Jude 24). What a list this is! Scripture abounds with descriptions of what God is able to do. Is there anything which God is not able to do? He can save, succour, subdue, sanctify, secure, supply and satisfy. He is not only omnipotent but munificent; He is not only abundantly powerful but abundantly generous.
I know that He must be all this because of what He has already done for me. Was it because of my merit that I was elected and had my name written in the Lamb’s book of life? Was it by some effort of mine that I now stand justified before a holy God? Did I have any part in the wonderful scheme of salvation? Was it not all of God, whose Spirit showed me my need and revealed to me the Saviour whom He had provided? Why already I have proof enough of the wonder-working power of my exceeding abundantly able God. So much so that I pause to ask myself what effect all this has upon my soul. What does this doxology do to me?
1. It makes me ashamed of my unbelief
How humbled I am that I could ever doubt Him. This unbelief of mine ties the hands of the Saviour. Every possible evil seems to be included in this one great sin of unbelief. Is it possible that with me, as in the gospel days, the Lord cannot do many mighty works because of my unbelief? Are we not ashamed of our grovelling petitions? Is it not sad that we make such petty requests to the almighty King of heaven? How we should deplore our low spiritual attainments. Is it not true that we have so often behaved like king Joash, contenting ourselves with three feeble taps when we could have claimed and received a great victory? The fact is that we have not yet learned to trust God to be to us what He says He is.
2. It comes as a great challenge
It is God Himself who challenges us: “Prove me now herewith, if I will not open the windows of heaven to you, and pour you out a blessing that there shall not be room enough to receive it” (Malachi 3:10). In Carey’s words, we are not only to ask great things of God but also to expect great things from God. Was there not abundance at Cana of Galilee when Mary responded to the challenge of Jesus; “Leave it to me” (John 2:4 Weymouth). Was the Lord Jesus displeased with the four friends who let down their companion through the roof? Did He rebuke the centurion who sought help for his sick servant? Did He ignore that desperate cry at the eleventh hour when the crucified thief asked for His mercy? Does He chide us if we ask for wisdom from above? No, He ever delights to give, and to give abundantly, when we take up the challenge of the impossible. He gives liberally, and He takes great pleasure in being trusted to do so.
3. It teaches me ever to seek the glory of God
This is the most important lesson of all, that everything is intended that He shall have the glory. We sometimes ask the Lord to teach us to pray, forgetting that He has already done just this: “Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (John 14:13). Our foolishness consists in that we insert a full stop where there is none, and simply finish at the words: “that will I do”. But there is no such period, since the purpose that the Father should be glorified is meant to actuate and regulate all our praying. In the Lord’s prayer the objective is that His should be the kingdom, the power and the glory. So it was that the psalmist prayed: “Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of thy name” (Psalm 79:9). As Matthew Henry says: ‘When we come to ask grace from God, we ought to give glory to God’.
God has joined together His glory and our good. “Unto him be the glory” was certainly the governing motive in the life of the apostle himself. He seems, however, to have felt that this was inadequate, so he enlarged the concept to include all believers: “in the church”. But even glory in the church was not enough. She is the subject and the instrument of God’s glory, but even she is not sufficient to express the superlative glory of God. Let the whole church seek the glory of God, but even then this is not enough, so the doxology continues: “and in Christ Jesus”. In Him glory finds its fullness. [42/43] “Thou Lord Jesus, Thou art He alone among men eloquent enough to express the glory of God. Grace is poured into Thy lips and Thou canst declare our praises” (Spurgeon). We feel that there the apostle will end, but no, this is not enough. God must go on getting glory; it must be: “Throughout all ages, world without end”. There must be praise and glory to God during all time and through all eternity. Only so can we say our Amen. May this ever be our aim and objective.
4. It gives me great encouragement
I find great comfort in realising that the God in whom I put my trust really is and will always be the exceeding abundantly able God. I think of what He did for His people Israel. When they came to the impassable Red Sea, He made a way for them. When they were confronted by the mighty obstacle of Jericho, He made the walls fall flat. Note that He did not just take out a stone or two for them to crawl through, but brought the whole mighty wall down to ground level so that they could go straight up before them. He was exceeding abundantly able then. And later, when Elijah stood on Mount Carmel and prayed, “Please send the fire”, the Lord’s reply was so wonderful that His fire not only burned up the inflammable elements but even burned the things that would not burn. We must not confine our petitions for the burning of what is capable of being burnt, but expect Him to burn what cannot be burned. Then the next prophet, Elisha, proved in the case of the widow who had nothing in her house, that God is still the same. It was not only that in her hitherto empty house the oil flowed, but that in fact it overflowed. He has always been the exceeding abundantly able God.
And what shall we say of New Testament days? Nobody but God could have fed the five thousand, but as if that were not enough, He provided twelve baskets over from the fragments left behind. When the disciples could catch nothing He did not intervene just to give them a fish or two, but gave them such a catch that the nets began to break, and the boat to sink, so that they needed to call in their partners in order to cope with the abundance. My encouragement is reinforced by the reminder that the Lord works in this way: “according to the power that worketh in us”. God has given us His Holy Spirit to make Christ real and regnant in our lives and to be to us the pledge of His limitless power. How can we be so discouraged or disheartened with such an exceeding abundantly able God?