The Ableness of God
October 25th, 1970 @ 10:50 AM
THE ABLENESS OF GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-25-70 10:50 a.m.
If you are looking at this service on television or listening to the hour on radio, you are with us in heart and spirit in the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Ableness of God. It is an exposition of one of the most beautifully meaningful prayers in Holy Scripture. In the third chapter of the Book of Ephesians, beginning at verse 14:
For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
Of whom, by whom, the whole family in heaven and earth is named,
That He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man;
That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love,
May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and height, and depth;
And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that you might be filled with all the fullness of God.
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 by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.
There are two prayers in this epistle that Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus. The first prayer is in the first chapter, beginning at verse 16 and continuing to the end of the chapter [Ephesians 1:16-23]. And the second prayer is in the third chapter, the one I have just read, beginning at the fourteenth verse and continuing to the end [Ephesians 3:14-21]. The first prayer is for spiritual enlightenment:
Making mention of you in our prayers;
That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him:
The eyes of your understanding being enlightened, illuminated;
the prayer for spiritual enlightenment.
There are things invisible and eternal in the gospel of Christ that are beyond the frontiers of our common knowledge and understanding. There are depths and there are treasures. There are riches in Christ and in the gospel message beyond what ordinary understanding and comprehension could ever know or grasp. So the first prayer of the apostle is for spiritual enlightenment, that we might understand and we might grow into that knowledge that in itself is the fullness of the presence of God [Ephesians 1:16-23].
Then the second prayer is for spiritual strength [Ephesians 3:14-21]. As we cannot enter into the glories of the divine gospel of Christ without spiritual enlightenment, without God touching and opening the eyes of the soul [Ephesians 1:16-23], so we cannot grasp, we cannot hold, we cannot implement the great assignments of God for us unless God helps us; gives us strength for the task [Ephesians 3:14-21]. So the second prayer is for divine enablement for heavenly strength. The apostle therefore begins, “For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus, by whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named” [Ephesians 3:14-15].
There could be hardly a more magnificently impressive picture than the apostle down on his knees in that Roman prison [Ephesians 3:14], next to the picture of our Lord. And it is in that stained-glass window, that big oval window there at the front of the church, next to the picture of our Lord down on His knees in Gethsemane [Mark 14:35; Luke 22:44-45], is this picture of the apostle Paul down on his knees in this Roman prison [Ephesians 3:14]. There, in supplication and prayer, the stocks, and the chains, and the manacles, and the bonds fall off of him, and he is free. “Stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage” [“To Althea, from Prison”; Richard Lovelace] and how less so when this apostle kneels down to pray [Ephesians 3:14]. He is free. His spirit soars as he writes in the Mamertine jail in Rome before he was executed. In his second letter to his son in the ministry, Timothy, he speaks of his own imprisonment. Then he says, “But the word of God is not bound” [2 Timothy 2:9]; could never be encased or imprisoned in stone, or steel, or iron jails. The word of God is free [2 Timothy 2:9]. So the spirit of the apostle, incarcerated, in manacles and chains, in stocks, but when he kneels to pray, he is free [Ephesians 3:14].
And in this prayer he soars in spirit, including all of the hosts of heaven, and the little company of saints in Ephesus, and all the Lord’s children, the family of God of all time. As he kneels here, he bows before the great hosts of the Lord God in heaven. He speaks of them, “Of whom the whole family, the whole radiant host in heaven is named” [Ephesians 3:14-15]. He had just spoken in the verse above that: “Unto the archē and exousia,” orders of the Lord in heaven, great companies of the angelic host. What the archēare and the exousia are, translated here “principalities and powers” [Ephesians 3:10], we will not fully know till we see them when we meet them in heaven––but before them Paul bows and names them the great hosts in heaven [Ephesians 3:14-15].
In the fourth chapter of the first Corinthian letter and the ninth verse, the apostle said that we are a spectacle to the angels in heaven [1 Corinthians 4:9]. The imagery is of a Greco-Roman amphitheater. The arena is the earth, the great tiers and galleries are the angels, and the spectacle is the church, the saints of God. And Paul bows and looks up to that great host of angels in glory [Ephesians 3:14]. Oh, oh, their glorious ministries, day and night, in the presence of God, and their high and holy orders: the archangels with their mighty dominions, the cherubim in their dazzling glory and light, and the seraphim in their burning love. And as Paul looks up to them from his knees [Ephesians 3:14], so they look down upon the apostle from their balustrades, and battlements, and palaces, and glories of light and splendor and iridescent beauty.
Wonder what they are like, actually? In what image were you [angels] made? What substance are you? When were you created and how, that great angelic host in glory? What did Gabriel say to you about us when he returned to heaven? [Luke 1:26-38]. What did the angels at the resurrection tomb say to you when they came back [Luke 24:1-7], and what did the angels of the ascension report? What do they say about us in heaven? [Acts 1:9-10]. What does Jesus tell you about us? In what language are you addressed? Do you know anything about sin or death? If one of you is gloriously gifted, are there others of you ever filled with envy? Do you ever tire? Do you ever grow weary? What did you think when Lucifer fell and one-third of your number fell with him? [Revelation 12:4, 7-9]. Oh, just a fragment, a piece of the garment that we just barely touch of the invisible, eternal glories of heaven!
So as the apostle prayed in the presence of the angels for divine illumination, understanding [Ephesians 1:16-23], so he prays here for divine enablement for strength [Ephesians 3:14-21]. There are four petitions in the prayer. Briefly: “That”—each one begins with a “that”—“I bow my knees before the Father . . . that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man” [Ephesians 3:14-16]. Externalities are nothing as such to the church. They are nothing. All of the embellishments and accouterments, these stained-glass windows, the height of that steeple, the carpet on the floor, the cushioned pews, the pile of masonry; all externalities are nothing to the church. Its strength is never defined, delineated, in brick, or mortar, or stained-glass window, or steeple.
We can have church just as well in a warehouse on a sawdust floor, sitting on a split log or a bench. What makes the church great is the moving of the Spirit in the inner man [Ephesians 3:16]. When our souls are empty and our lives are sterile and barren, and our ministries are unfruitful, the church, however it may pile up before our eyes, is itself weak and anemic. The strength and the power of the people of God is never in externalities. It’s in the inner man. It’s in the soul. It’s in the spirit.
I have been in churches that froze my heart cold! If there was any Spirit of God there, I could not see it, understand it, feel it. God had forsaken it, yet it’s a magnificent pile there before Him. The church is not these externalities, not these physical mundane descriptions; the church is the power and Spirit of God moving in the hearts of God’s people [1 Corinthians 12:11]. That’s the church. So Paul prays that “According to the riches of God in glory we might be strengthened by the Spirit in the inner man” [Ephesians 3:16], inside of us, to be a vibrant, glorious, triumphant witness for God, a Christian.
The second petition: “That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith.” [Ephesians 3:17]; Not a day or an hour, but that He may dwell there, live there all the days of our life, as long as we have breath: “that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith.” The third petition: “That ye be rooted and grounded in love” [Ephesians 3:17]. He mixes his metaphors there, doesn’t he? “Rooted,” like a taproot of a big pecan tree goes down and down and down into the earth, “rooted.” “Grounded,” that’s an architectural figure; the foundation. One is agricultural, “rooted in the earth, rooted”; “grounded,” architecturally on a great firm deep foundation; “Being rooted and grounded in the love of Christ, that we may be able to comprehend with all the saints the breadth, and length, and depth, and height, thus knowing the love of God which passeth knowledge” [Ephesians 3:17-19], so marvelous the outpouring of God’s love toward us. And the last: “That, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God” [Ephesians 3:19], whatever that means. And it would take all eternity to realize its meaning: “filled with all the fullness of God.”
What is God full of? Filled with grace, and mercy, and power, and glory, and understanding, and compassion, and love, and redemptive purpose; oh, the fullness of God, and that we might be filled with that same fullness [Ephesians 3:19]. Dear, dear, like the prayer of the Lord Jesus for us: “Be ye therefore perfect, teleios, mature, full, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” [Matthew 5:48]. Oh, how much! No wonder Paul says we need the divine revelation [Ephesians 1:17]. We just touch the hem of the garment.
“Now unto Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think” [Ephesians 3:20]—and this gave title to the message, The Ableness of God—“to Him who is able to do huperekperissou”; there’s no particular word like that, Paul just concocted it. It’s made out of three Greek words: huper, ek, perissos, “aboundingly abundant”; ek, “out of”; huper, “over and beyond.” So he just puts that word together, huperekperissuo, “the abounding, over and above and beyond abundance of the ableness of God” [Ephesians 3:20]. Just how able is the Lord, just how able? How would you describe it when it’s beyond description? How would you imagine it when it’s beyond imagination? How would you say it when there’s no language to contain it? Thus Paul puts that word together: huperekperissos, over and beyond an aboundingness [Ephesians 3:20]. Just how able is God?
I went across the Pacific twice in an airplane. The first time was a long time ago, and we went across in a propeller driven plane. It took us three days. One day from Tokyo to Wake Island, one day from Wake Island to Honolulu, and another day from Honolulu to California. We didn’t go at night, always in the daytime. And as that hum of the motor droned over that vast Pacific, three days, looking down on that illimitable expanse of water, and one might ask, “Is it able to bear up a ship, could it? That vast ocean, lift up a ship, bear on its bosom a ship? Just how able is God?
That sun, ninety-two million miles away; so vast into its flaming orb, all of these planets could fall and be as nothing, furiously burning! We could ask, “Could it lighten up a room? Could it? Is there enough fire and fury to lighten a room?” Just how able is God? A thirsting man––I flew across the Mississippi twice last week––looked down at that great stream. Is there enough water there to slake the thirst of a thirsting man? Is there that much water there? Just how able is God?
That’s why Paul uses that huperekperissosu; it is so mighty in His ableness. It’s beyond what word could describe or mind could imagine, the exceeding ableness of the Lord Almighty [Ephesians 3:20]. Therefore, when we face our tasks and our assignments, we are not to do it in our own strength, but we are to do it in the strength of God. Oh, how weak, and anemic, and puny, and infinitesimal in elocution we are! But oh, how mighty the great Champion of our cause: God in heaven. And when we face mountains that we can’t move, He can touch them, and they go up in smoke as incense before His face. And when we are coming up the hill to the big stone that’s not rolled away, and not only is it heavy and great, but it’s sealed with a seal, and not only is it sealed, but there are watchers there [Matthew 27:62-66], we’re not to fall into despair or frustration or live as though we were defeated. There is power from God to break the seal of the greatest empire that ever existed [Matthew 27:62-66], and to strike the watchers down as dead, and to roll the stone away [Matthew 28:1-7]: the ableness of Almighty God [Ephesians 3:20].
And that is the spirit of victory and triumph in which we are to face our present world. We live in a world of increasing paganism and secularism, anti-Christianity and anti-Christ. I’m not talking about Russia. I’m not talking about Red China. I’m talking about the United States of America. The institutions of our nation are becoming increasingly pagan and increasingly secular. They are avowedly and statedly so. Reaping the whirlwind is what we see on our daily newspapers, and we confront these pagan institutions.
I take just one illustration, just one out of a thousand that could be documented. All of us have been reading these reports and accusations and counter-accusations about the violence at Kent State University in Ohio when those students were killed by the National Guard. Well, let’s just take that one instance out of thousands of others that are daily happening in American life. Let’s take just one. In an interview with a pastor, evangelist, from Akron, Ohio, in the parliament buildings of Canada in Ottawa, this pastor was interviewed by twenty-six members of the Canadian government. One of the questions they asked him was, “What do you think about the recent violence at Kent State University?” And now I read his answer:
I live close to Kent State. In fact, I live between Kent State University and Akron University. Recently I took Reverend Bob Harrington, the chaplain of Bourbon Street, a man who can really communicate with the youth, on a tour around the Akron area. He spoke in high schools, civic clubs, junior highs, and even in Akron University. When he was through speaking in each place, he received a standing ovation. But, they would not allow him to speak at Kent State. A religious speaker is not allowed on that campus. For many years, however, they have encouraged the radical political element to come speak. Just a week ago, before the recent shootings, Jerry Rubin, one of the most notorious activists of our day, came on the Kent State campus and advocated revolution. He spread the philosophy of revolution that says kill your parents, burn down your churches, and do away with the establishment! He can do that. He can take the flag, throw it on the ground, and trample it underfoot. But I cannot go there and speak to those young people, twenty-three thousand of them, about basic faith, or principles, or sex, or anything else. This is one of the tragedies of our day. These young people ought to have a balanced program. Let them hear both sides. That is what college is for. Then the student can make up his mind more intelligently because then he has a choice he can make. But when the student doesn’t get a chance to hear both sides, then we’re in trouble; and the only side they are hearing is the side of these radical leftists, burning draft cards, spitting on the flag, scoffing at the church, denying God, making fun of the Bible! That’s the pagan institutions that are molding the thought of the young people of America today.
Shall we quail and cower before it? No; just another mountain to be removed, just another heavy millstone around the neck of our nation to be rolled away! Not because we are able in ourselves but because “He is huperekperissos, exceedingly able, abundantly above what we could ask or think, exceedingly abundantly above all that we could ask” [Ephesians 3:20].
Sometimes, do you ever get down on your knees and you rise and say, “Oh, oh, I have been presumptuous! I have entered into petitions that I ought not to lay before God. I’ve been presumptuous. I have asked of God more than He has power and ableness to give. Oh, oh!” Think. Think: “above all that we ask or think” [Ephesians 3:20]. Could we ask too much of God? Who would have dared to ask in redemption for the atonement of Jesus Christ, for God to come down in human flesh and die on the cross for our sins? [Philippians 2:6-8]. Who would have dared to ask God to do that? Who would have dared in sanctification to have asked for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the presence we feel in our souls? [Acts 2:16-18]. Who would have dared to ask in adoption that we be made sons of God? [Galatians 4:5-6].
When the prodigal came back, he said, “Make me one of your hired hands, just a hired servant” [Luke 15:18-19]. Who would have dared to have asked that we be sons and fellow heirs with Jesus Christ? [Romans 8:17]. Who would have dared to ask it? In the hour of our death, who would dare to ask for a resurrection? [Matthew 28:1-7]. Think of the dissolution of these bodies, and they’re mingled with the dust of the ground and blown by the wind, and roots go down and take its substance and strength. Yet God says He marks the spot. He marks the dust. He marks the very atoms and particles and molecules of our bodies, and someday God shall raise them up [Romans 8:11]. Who would ever dared to have asked for a resurrection from the dead? In the renovation who would have dared ask for a new heaven and a new earth? [Revelation 21:1-5]. Oh, how we circumscribe and crimp our praying and our asking. “Ask, and ye shall receive; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” [Matthew 7:7].
We cannot do as the pastor of the church at Jerusalem,James the Lord’s brother, said; we cannot ask, that it might be consumed on our own desires [James 4:3]. We cannot ask for carnal self. We cannot petition for selfish purposes. We can’t plead us. But there is no boundary and no limit for our pleading God! That’s what we mean, “In the name of Jesus, Lord, we’re standing in His stead; and we’re representing Him and His work in the earth.”
Oh, how we need that encouragement, and that enablement, and that strengthening from God. Our church has been staggering around these days. I don’t need to tell you that, all of you are deeply sensitive to it. Our church is staggering around. We’ve got so big, what God has called us to do, until we’re just almost staggered by it. Got so many teenagers, don’t know what to do with them. Got so many people wanting to come down here to study the Word of God, we don’t have any place to put them. Got a sanctuary here that so many times––how many did you have down there in Coleman Hall this morning?––got hundreds of people down there in Coleman Hall at the eight-fifteen service that can’t even get in this place. We’ve got all of this work ahead of us. This coming January we’re starting our Bible Institute. And once a week in the year we’re starting our School of the Prophets. Oh, dear! This last week, talking to a man, he said to me, “We don’t have any problems like that. We don’t have any problems housing our teenagers; we don’t have any teenagers. We don’t have any problems with our Sunday school; our Sunday school is dying. And we don’t have any problems with our sanctuary; our congregation is dwindling away.”
That’s the testimony of practically all of the churches in the earth. And the man said to me, “Thank God you have a problem like that. I wish I had a problem like that.” Well, we do thank God for the problem. But O Lord, our problem involves such a staggering outlay. It takes millions of dollars to do anything down here, for you can’t do it a chicken coop; you can’t do it little and bitty. You’ve got to do it for the people we’re trying to reach: families, and homes, and children, and young people.
And, Lord, we’ve been kind of staggering around. We need the divine enablement. Lord, if this is Thy work, and Thy cause, and if God has called us to do it, then, Lord, we ask Thee to strengthen our hands. Stand by us, Master, and give us divine wisdom and help from heaven. And doesn’t He do it? “Able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think” [Ephesians 3:20].
“Eye has not seen,” the apostle wrote, “and ear has not heard,” the apostle wrote, “nor have entered into the heart of man,” even his imagination, the apostle wrote, “what God has prepared for those who love Him” [1 Corinthians 2:9]. Now we think that means over yonder, what God has prepared for us over there, and I’m sure that’s true; what God has prepared for us over there. But it’s also down here. He never said just over there. It’s beyond what mind could imagine, what God will do for those who love Him down here.
Who would have thought of water pouring out of the dry rock in the desert? [Exodus 17:6]. Who would have thought for that? Who would have thought for the manna, the angels’ food, given to those who were famishing in the wilderness? [Exodus 16:14-16]. Who would have thought for that? Who would have thought for the mouths of lions being closed [Daniel 6:20-22], or for the three delivered out of the fiery furnace [Daniel 3:20-28], or for the iron doors opening for their own accord? [Acts 12:10]. Who would have thought for that? Who would have thought for the little shepherd boy [1 Samuel 16:1-13], being the great king on whose throne a Son shall sit forever? [2 Samuel 7:12-16]. Who would have thought about Amos, the gatherer of sycamore fruit, being the great first writing prophet? [Amos 7:14-15]. Who would have thought about the fisherman being Peter at Pentecost [Acts 2:14-40], or Saul of Tarsus wasting the church being the apostle who kneels here in intercession? [Ephesians 3:14]. Dear brethren, above all that we ask or think, God is able [Ephesians 3:20].
O Lord, that we might lay ourselves in Thy hands, at Thy feet. Use us, Master, feeble as we are and unable as we are. God strengthen us and bless us, because it’s Your cause, it’s Your work blessed Jesus, and we’re Thy servants, and glad to be, choose to be.
And if that’s your thought this morning, would you come and stand by me? In the balcony round, you; on this lower floor, you, “I am going to give my life and my heart and my soul to God, and here I come. I too believe that there’s a divine will and purpose and enablement in my life, and I am coming to give myself to that holy calling and purpose.” God has a plan for each one of us [Ephesians 2:9], “And I want to give my soul and life to the work God has chosen for me, and I’m coming.” “I’m accepting the Lord as my Savior, I’m coming.” “I want to be baptized like God says in His Book [Matthew 28:19-20], and belong to this church, I am coming.” “We’ve already been saved, pastor, and we’ve been baptized, and we’re all coming by letter, my wife, these are our children, all of us today.”
As the Spirit of God shall press the appeal to your heart, make it now. In a moment when we stand to sing, stand up coming, in that aisle and down to the front: “Here I am, pastor. I’m making it now.” Do it, do it. While we stand and while we sing.
ABLENESS OF GOD
I. Two great prayers in the epistle
A. For spiritual
B. For spiritual
1. Paul on his
knees(Ephesians 3:14, 2 Timothy 2:9)
2. Paul before the
great hosts in heaven(Ephesians 3:10, 14)
a. We are a spectacle
to the angels in heaven(1 Corinthians 4:9)
II. The four petitions in the prayer
A. That they be
strengthened in the inner man(Ephesians 3:16)
1. Strength and
power of the people of God is never in externalities
B. That Christ may
dwell in their hearts(Ephesians 3:17)
1. Not just an
hour, or a day, but dwell all the time
C. That they be rooted
and grounded(Ephesians 3:17)
1. Mixed metaphor
– one agricultural, one architectural
D. That they be filled
with the fullness of God(Ephesians 3:19)
1. Would take
eternity to realize what God is full of (Matthew
III. Our able God (Ephesians 3:20)
– Word coined by Paul meaning “the abounding over and above and beyond
abundance of the ableness of God”
we face our tasks and assignments, we are to do it in His strength
Facing our present world
a. Kent State tragedy
IV. No limit to prayer
A. He is able to do
above all that we ask or think(Ephesians 3:20,
1. Who would have
dared ask for the things He has done for us
cannot petition for selfish purposes; but there is no boundary for our pleading
church is staggering around – we need enablement from God
God has prepared for us down here and over there(1