I Bow My Knees — Part One
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I Bow My Knees — Part One

Ephesians 3:14–19  (ID: 3197)

Prayer is a natural impulse for God’s people, and the concerns we bring before our heavenly Father reflect what we value most in life. In this message, Alistair Begg uses Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3 to emphasize the need to pray selflessly, focusing more on spiritual matters and less on material comforts. As we call out to God for kingdom priorities—the preaching of the Word and the conversion of the lost—our prayers align with scriptural models, and we grow in our understanding that in Christ we truly have all things.

Series Containing This Sermon

A Study in Ephesians, Volume 4

The Mystery of the Gospel Ephesians 3:1–21 Series ID: 14904

Sermon Transcript: Print

I invite you to turn with me to Ephesians and to chapter 3, and we’ll read from verse 14 to the end of the chapter. Ephesians 3:14:

“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family,” or “the whole family,”[1] “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.

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

Now, Father, as we turn to the Bible again, we acknowledge our entire dependence upon the work of the Holy Spirit to illumine the page to us, to clarify our thinking, to instill within us a genuine hunger for your Word, the ability to understand and believe and obey it. And we pray humbly in Christ’s name. Amen.

Well, we pick up our studies here at the fourteenth verse and turn to the second of Paul’s prayers that is contained here in this letter to the Ephesians.

If it’s true to say—and I think it is—that our conversation with others in public declares what is on our minds, then I think it’s also true to say that our conversation with God in private almost inevitably reveals what is on our hearts. So, we listen to ourselves talk, or we listen to others talk, and we get an inkling of at least the kind of thinking that is going on. When we hear ourselves pray or when we are in the company of others who lead us in prayer, then not only do we understand what is taking place in their minds intellectually but also something of what is going on in the very center of their being. Because remember, when the Bible speaks about our hearts, it’s not talking simply in emotional terms but rather our hearts as the seat of our mind and of our emotions and of our will.

And I begin that way because in the way that our money and our time and its use reveals something of our priorities, so, too, do our prayers. And that is certainly true when we read the prayers that are contained for us in the Bible, and not least of all the prayers of Paul. Back in chapter 1, he had already prayed, beginning in verse 16 and 17, concerning those who were under his care, that they would have a Spirit of wisdom and revelation, that their eyes would be enlightened, and so on.

And once again, we’re taken, as it were, behind the scenes. The context of Paul writing this letter is confinement in Rome. He may well have been chained to a soldier—he was in a form of house arrest—but nevertheless, he wasn’t free to come and go. And it’s almost as if we have been able to look in on him not as he is up on his feet, as it were, going about the activities of the day but rather as he now bows his knees before the Father.

When the Bible speaks about our hearts, it’s not talking simply in emotional terms but rather our hearts as the seat of our mind and of our emotions and of our will.

Now, the phrase with which verse 14 begins you will perhaps recall. And you can see, if you look, that it is the same phrase with which the chapter begins: “For this reason…” Chapter 3 began, “For this reason…” And if you have remembered our study then, you will recall the fact that we said it is as though Paul, about to go on and finish his thought, diverts himself, caught up with the wonder of the subject matter and caught up with the wonder of not only God’s amazing work of reconciliation in making one man out of two[2] but also the wonder of God’s revelation both to him and through him. So, for example, in 3:7, you remember, he says: “Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace.” He goes on in verse 8: “Though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given [to me].” And we said on that occasion that this diversion or this parenthesis—this section in the brackets, as it were—is the overflow of his heart as he begins. And now he comes back, as it were, to what he had started but never finished at the beginning of the chapter: “For this reason…”

Now, the reason lies in all that he has said in chapters 1 and 2, and particularly the way in which chapter 2 had concluded. So, if your Bible is open, you can just look at the end of chapter 2, where Paul is providing this wonderful picture of the family of God. He is writing here to those who have heard the gospel of their salvation; they have believed it;[3] they have been placed into Christ; they are members now of the family of God. And at the end of chapter 2, you will recall, he describes the believer as a citizen in God’s kingdom, as a member of God’s family, and as a stone in the construction of God’s building.[4] And we said then, and it’s worth rehearsing it now, that the privilege of our citizenship within any earthly kingdom takes a second place to our citizenship in the heavenly kingdom and that God’s great concern is that our concern should be for his kingdom—“Your kingdom come, [and] your will be done, [in] earth”[5]—that the issues of our physical family life, our relationships as siblings and so on, are, remarkably and yet truly, subservient to the fact that we are made members of the family of God and that we have brothers and sisters throughout the whole world from different places and backgrounds and colors and shades and political persuasions and so on, and that matter is a matter of great wonder. And instead of becoming preoccupied with buildings—whether they’re in Cleveland or whether they’re in Jerusalem—with temples that are made with hands, he says, “You actually are the stones that are being built into the very temple of God.”[6]

And having affirmed these things, he then says, “For this reason I…” Then he breaks off with the wonder of it all and comes back to it, and here we are on verse 14: “For this reason I bow my knees.” If you like, having taught them what is true of them, he now prays that it may be experienced by them, okay? In his first prayer: that “the eyes of your heart would be enlightened, that you might know the power of God, that you might understand the mystery of God’s purposes.”[7] And now, as he comes to the second prayer, he says, “Now the things that I’ve prayed that you might understand, if you like, come to grasp, that you might be grasped by them, that you might live in the reality of the truth which we’ve already considered.”

A Selfless Prayer

So it is that he prays. In fact, I gave us a heading for our study this morning—simply that phrase, four words: “I bow my knees.” “I bow my knees.” And I’d like to consider it along three lines. The first is to notice that the prayer is selfless. Is selfless. That almost goes without saying, doesn’t it? Because prayer is essentially selfless. A self-assured person is not going to pray. There’s no need to; got it covered. A self-righteous person is not going to pray, particularly prayers of confession. But the person who knows their heart before God, who knows the depth of their need before God, when they bow their knees before God, it is an expression of selflessness.

And what Paul is doing here is he is tying his instruction with intercession. So he provides this information, and then he prays it home. He provides more information, and then he prays it home. Why? Because he recognizes the direct link between preaching and praying. He is aware of the fact that, as the psalmist put it, “Unless the Lord [build] the house, the builders labor in vain.”[8] In the words of the hymn writer:

All [that] we … do is nothing worth
Unless God blesses the deed;
Vainly we hope for the harvest[-time]
[Unless the Lord] gives life to the seed.[9]

And this undergirds all of Paul’s thinking. “One plants and another waters; only God can make it grow,”[10] he says to the Corinthians.

And in this respect, he follows the pattern of the Lord Jesus. When we read the Gospels, we realize that Jesus is praying to the Father all the time—far more than is ever recorded for us, surely. And after giving to his disciples what we refer to as the Upper Room Discourse, which in John’s Gospel runs through chapter 13, 14… He’s telling them, “Do[n’t] let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God.”[11] He then tells them, “I am the true vine.”[12] He tells them, “The world will hate you.”[13] He explains to them the work of the Holy Spirit and so on—all of those, 13, 14, 15, 16, instruction by Jesus. You come to the first verse of chapter 17: “When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, ‘Father…’”[14] “Father, I want now”—and this is his great High Priestly Prayer in 17—“Father, I’m praying now that the things that I have instructed these fellows about, that they have come to understand as a result of my teaching, may actually be their experience as they go out into the world.”[15]

There’s tremendous challenge in this, isn’t there? It’s a two-sided challenge; I have found it so. As I’ve studied this week, I’ve found this a rather uncomfortable passage, in this regard: because the things that I’ve already said to you I’ve said to myself—that my use of time and money and my prayers reveal my priorities; whether I pray, how much I pray, about what I pray. And I can only assume that you must face the same challenge yourself. If Jesus Christ, the greatest teacher in the world, followed up his instruction by prayer, what of us? If Paul, enabled by the Spirit of God to do as he does, bows down in the custody of Roman imprisonment and prays to God, what of us?

It’s the standard apostolic pattern. Remember in Acts chapter 6, when the fledgling church, with all of its necessities and opportunities for the material needs of people, was in full flow, it becomes necessary to delegate roles, but the apostles said, “We will not actually engage in that, not because it is unimportant but because we have something far more important to do.” And you remember what it was: “We will give ourselves to two things: to prayer and to the ministry of the Word. We will preach, and we will pray. There are other people who can do these things and will do them gladly and very effectively. But our role is to preach, and it is to pray.”[16] And Paul follows that pattern.

Charles Simeon, who was a minister in Holy Trinity for a long time—fifty-four years—in Cambridge, had in his congregation for a while Henry Martyn—Henry Martyn, who was an early missionary in India. Martyn on one occasion, having listened to Simeon preach, wrote in his diary, “Mr Simeon, in his excellent sermon tonight, observed that it was [easier] for a minister to preach and study five hours than to pray for his people [for] one half-hour.”[17] It’s true. It’s true. Haven’t you found that it is far easier to talk to others than to talk to God? Haven’t you found it far easier to be engaged in busy activity, to get the study done, to get the material prepared, to be the wrong side of the duo in the Martha–Mary encounter? Let’s be honest.

So, for effective teaching and preaching of the Bible, two things are absolutely crucial: you have to have pastors that pray in private before they preach in public, and you have to have a congregation that prays in private before the preaching. The way in which we come to the study of the Bible, both in terms of the preparation for the Lord’s Day, the final moments before we engage in the praise of God and in the prayers and in the preaching of the Bible, it actually matters. And it actually matters how you finish. You teach your children, don’t you, “Don’t just walk away from the table; ask to be excused. Say thank you before you get down.” That’s fair.

Loved ones, that is the basis for my strange predilection about sitting down after the benediction. You see, it’s an acknowledgement of the fact that you don’t just finish the meal and run for your car; you finish the meal, and you ask to get down. You say, “Thank you, Father, for the food. It may not have been served the way I like it. It may not have ministered to me in the entirety of my expectation. But I believe the pastor, whoever he was, prayerfully prepared, delivered as best as he could, and I thank you for providing for me. And I want to thank you before I head out.” That’s the purpose, you see.

When you read Calvin’s prayers, Calvin’s prayers both before he preaches and after he preaches—in fact, his prayer after he preaches is more significant than the one before he preaches. And if ever you’ve been involved in the Anglican Communion, you will know that the vestry prayers not only precede the preaching, but they follow the preaching, so that the vicar will process out; he will pronounce the benediction out in the vestibule. You won’t then see him. Why? Because he returns to the vestry. To do what? To have a coffee? No, to pray: “Lord, I did my best. Please bless your Word.”

For effective teaching and preaching of the Bible, two things are absolutely crucial: you have to have pastors that pray in private before they preach in public, and you have to have a congregation that prays in private before the preaching.

Paul writes this immense letter, speaks of the glories and the wonders of God, and we look in on his bedroom, and where do we find him? On his knees. Selfless. Selfless. Because he is actually declaring his own helplessness. When you and I pray, that’s really what we’re saying. It’s selfless not only in terms of that obvious expression of dependence, but the selflessness is seen in his posture. I think that’s why he mentions it: “For this reason I bow my knees.” Jewish men prayed standing up, by and large. You remember in the temple precincts, they stood to pray, “I thank you that I’m not as other men are,”[18] and the other man stood to pray.[19] And Paul bows his knees.

“Well,” you say, “but he told us in verse 12 that we were able to come in Jesus with ‘boldness and access [and] with confidence.’”[20] Yes, of course. Spurgeon says, “We may speak boldly with God, but [he is still] in heaven and we are [on] earth, and we [must] avoid presumption.”[21] That’s helpful, isn’t it? He approaches God on his knees. He lowers himself physically, not as an expression of formal routine but in an awareness of the fact that it is entirely appropriate. Isaiah the prophet anticipates the day when “every knee”—this is Isaiah 45:23—when one day “every knee will bow.”[22] Paul picks that up in Philippians 2, remember, and he says, “[And one day] at the name of Jesus every knee [will] bow.”[23] And we look in upon him in Rome, and he’s getting a head start on things as he bows his knees. His posture is an expression of the wonder and the awe that he feels before God and his earnestness in seeking God.

“Well,” you say, “now, is this something you’re going to introduce now? Now we have to rearrange the seats again and get kneelers in here? How are we going to do this?” No, no, no, no, don’t let’s get carried away. The posture of our hearts is the issue. I find it helpful. We kneel as elders as we pray in the prayer room before the services. We kneel together. We can sit. We can stand. We can do whatever we want. But we kneel as an expression of our dependence upon God. It’s good to do.

It gives me the opportunity, as well, to read my favorite little poem on posture in prayer. And those of you who know it, you’re excited now, because you were saying to yourself, “I hope he’ll read that again.” And since I have no self-control at all, I am going to read it again:

“The proper way for … man to pray,”
 Said Deacon Lemuel Keyes,
“And the only proper attitude,
 Is down upon his knees.”

“No, I should say the way to pray,”
 Said Reverend Doctor Wise,
“Is standing straight, with outstretched arms,
 [With] rapt and upturned eyes.”

“Oh no; no, no,” said Elder [Snow],
 “Such posture is too proud:
A man should pray with eyes fast closed
 And head contritely bowed.”

“It seems to me one’s hands should be
 Austerely clasped in front,
With both thumbs pointed toward the ground,”
 Said Reverend Doctor Blunt.

“Las’ year I fell in [Higgins]’s well
 Head first,” said [Pastor] Brown,
“With both my heels a-stickin’ up,
 [And] my head a-p’inting down;

“An’ I [done prayed] right [there] an’ [then]—
 Best prayer I ever said,
The prayingest prayer I ever prayed,
 A-standing on my head.”[24]

So, just to make sure that none of you start to write notes about posture in prayer.

But that that is not to take from anything that we’ve said: it is selfless in its expression of dependence, it is selfless as displayed in posture, and it is selfless also in its focus. Its focus. He’s not praying about himself. You’ll notice that as you follow through in the prayer. He’s praying that “you” may “be strengthened” (verse 16); “that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith”; in verse 19, “that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

We live in the age of the selfie, don’t we, and the preoccupation with ourselves. To the extent that my prayers reveal my priorities and my preoccupations, if someone can listen in on my prayers, then they’ll find out where the focus is. And we listen in on Paul, and we realize that his focus is on those who have become the objects of his concern and of his affection. He says elsewhere that he is burdened, he is overwhelmed to the point of longing that Christ may be formed in them,[25] that all that God has for them may be granted to them, and that they might live in the benefit of it. We see that here.

And fourthly, it’s selfless in recognizing what he doesn’t pray for. What he doesn’t pray for. He doesn’t pray to be released. He doesn’t pray for an improvement in his circumstances. He prays for them what he prays for himself, presumably. There’s no suggesting that he is unable to do anything now because he’s confined. No, he’s making the most of every opportunity. He writes Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Galatians, and Philemon while he’s in this imprisonment. And he prays—constantly prays. His prayers surround the churches to whom he writes. And it’s a good reminder to us—those of us who are no longer able to do what we once did, perhaps no longer in the main thoroughfare of life as we once were, and the Evil One comes to us and says, “You know, all your best days are behind you. You’ve got nothing really to contribute anymore.” Don’t listen to him for a moment. You can do more than pray after you’ve prayed but not until you’ve prayed.[26] Prayer is the work. Preaching is gathering up the results. Whenever a person actually professes faith in Jesus Christ, when every advance is made in the cause of the gospel, you will find that it is directly tied to the prayers of the people of God. And what is seen, what is observed by God in secret will actually ultimately be rewarded openly.[27]

That’s why Spurgeon, recognizing that as the pastor, says to his congregation on one Sunday, “May God help me, if you cease to pray for me! Let me know the day, and I must cease to preach. Let me know when you intend to cease your prayers, and I [will] cry, ‘O my God, give me this day my tomb, and let me slumber in the dust.’”[28] That’s how crucial it is. That’s why it’s important to pray as the person preaches, before they preach, after they preach, praying that the ground will be softened up so that the seed of the Word of God will find a resting place in hearts that have been softened and eyes that have been opened, not as a result of the ability or the giftedness of the speaker but as a result of the work of the Spirit of God in response to the prayers of God’s people that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, that you might know the power of God in Christ, you see. This is what it means, and this is why Paul prays.

Prayer is the work. Preaching is gathering up the results.

And you will notice, as the text says, “I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family,” or “[from] whom the whole family…”[29] I like the translation “the whole family.” It’s a justifiable translation. In other words, what he’s saying here is: the whole family in heaven and on earth—the church triumphant, those who are already in heaven; the church militant, those who are still on the earth—this whole family is under the fatherhood of God. You say, “Well, it doesn’t say that in the ESV. It says ‘from whom every family.’” Well, alternatively, he may be saying that the very notion of fatherhood is derived from the fatherhood of God—that the only way that we know about fatherhood is because God is our Father. Freud said it was a projection, remember. He said that man, because he doesn’t know what he’s doing, projects the notion of father onto God, because he needs some help. The Bible says, “No, that is not true at all. The only reason we know about fatherhood and the significance of fatherhood is because fatherhood resides in God the Creator.” He is Father of all by creation and Father of those who are included in the company of grace. It’s interesting, isn’t it, that he speaks so clearly?

A Spiritual Prayer

Second thing—and I’ll only go here now, because we won’t have time for the third—it’s not only selfless, but it is also spiritual. His prayer is spiritual.

The more I read this during the week, the more I was struck by the fact that there is an absence in this prayer of many of the matters that tend to be the focus of my prayers. If you look in there, you might find yourself concluding the same. What is striking in this prayer is the absence of material issues. Material issues. I’ve already noted that he doesn’t pray about his predicament in Rome. He doesn’t ask that he might be released. That would be legitimate, but he doesn’t do it. He’s not concerned with material issues, not because they weren’t present or because they are by nature invalid. He’s the one who wrote in Philippians 4, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything; tell God your needs, and don’t forget to thank him for his answers.” That’s the Living Bible paraphrase of Philippians 4:6. Okay?

So, he wrote that, and he believes that, and so do we. But here we acknowledge the fact that these concerns are not the ultimate concerns—that all matters may be brought before God, but that is not the issue. The believers in Ephesus were in one sense just like us. They had concerns for food and for clothes and for shelter, the paying of taxes; marriage, singleness; being parents, or wishing you were parents, or wishing you weren’t parents; employment, health, welfare. But there’s no mention of these matters at all in his prayer. Right?

In fact, praying about health—health, which is probably the number one if you have a prayer time—praying about health is rare, almost nonexistent, in the Bible. Why are we so much praying about health? ’Cause we don’t want to die. Why don’t we want to die? Well, ’cause we want to live. We’ve got a sneaking suspicion that what we’ve got now is actually better than what he has for us then—so whatever we do, we better hold on to what we’ve got. When the eyes of our hearts are opened to see the reality of all that is ours in Christ, the things that he’s already written about—that we have now been raised with him into the heavenly places, that we are seated in the heavenly places,[30] that we look down, that we’re members of a kingdom that transcends the world, that we have been made part of a family, and the relationships in that family will never come to an end, but we will live in a new heaven and in a new earth in which dwells righteousness,[31] and so on—suddenly, the orientation of our thinking begins to shift. But we are so inevitably time-bound creatures. It’s understandable, but it doesn’t make it right.

Take, for example, two words that would shut most of our prayers down. Here they are: “Be with…” “Be with…” Listen to my prayers. Listen to the average person pray: “Dear Lord, we pray you will be with Tom. And be with Mary also, who’s having her wisdom teeth removed on Tuesday, and be with… And be with… And be with… And be with…” What? Jesus says, “Lo, I am with you always, even [to] the end of the age.”[32] So why are you asking him to be with him? He promised to be with him. So that’s a bit of a waste. It’s an unnecessary prayer. See what I mean?

Take, for example… You research this on your own. Just go to the prayers of the Old Testament. Go to Nehemiah, for example—the opening section of Nehemiah. What’s the problem in Nehemiah? The word comes to Nehemiah: “The walls in Jerusalem are broken down, and the gates are burned with fire.”[33] It is a complete fiasco up there. Nehemiah is brokenhearted by this. He decides that he will seek to do something about it, and so he immediately goes to his knees in prayer. And you can read his prayer there in in Nehemiah 1. Starts off wonderfully: “Dear Father, be with all the people in Jerusalem.” No, it doesn’t! It starts off, “O God, you great and awesome, magnificent God who rules over the universe, we your people bow before you and confess our sins and our shortcomings before you.”[34] Someone looks on and says, “Wait a minute! This is about the walls in Jerusalem! What are you doing with this stuff about ‘We confess our sins to you’?” Because the issue of the walls in Jerusalem was a metaphor for the real spiritual condition of the people. The reason that was collapsed and broken down is because of the spiritual needs of their heart. Therefore, Nehemiah prays about what matters: “Lord, we must confess our sins. We must acknowledge our dependence upon you. We must turn our gaze to the things that really matter. Because we have completely lost sight of what’s going on.”

Remember when we studied Daniel, and Daniel prays there in Daniel chapter 9. All of the oppression and the chaos upon the people of God, and his prayer is a magnificent prayer. But he doesn’t pray about any of the stuff! He prays about the grandeur and glory of God and his kingdom, and the fact that he is sovereign, and that we, his people, and so on. It’s immense! No, I say to you again: I studied this week; I’m humbled by this passage. How small, how narrow-minded my prayers! How “Be with…” are my prayers!

The spiritual condition of my children matters more than their financial well-being, matters far more than whether they are on the finest sports team on the east side of Cleveland, whether they have managed to secure the right position and place. My children, your children have a never-dying soul, and the real need is a spiritual need, whatever else happens. Spiritual! That is why Paul prays as he prays.

Now, he does the exact same thing, following the pattern of Jesus. You will always find this. When you hear somebody saying something like this, you should in your mind, a bell should go off and go, “How did that work with Jesus?” Because if somebody tells you something, you can always monitor it in relationship to “How would this have worked in relationship to Jesus?” That’s not the same question as “What would Jesus do?” It’s the question of “How do I find this in the life of Jesus?”

Well, you find it in the life of Jesus. He talks to his followers, who are concerned about their food and their clothes, and they’re anxious about their lives. And what does he say to them? He doesn’t say, “Oh, that’s ridiculous that you feel that way.” He acknowledges that. He said, “Now, let’s think about this. Have you ever seen birds, you know, putting up a factory to store their stuff? Uh-uh. Why? Because our Father feeds them. And no matter what clothes you manage to get for yourself, even if you dressed as finely as Solomon, you’ll never match the amazing natural beauty of God’s creative handiwork.” So he says, “Let me tell you what to do: seek first the kingdom of God”—that’s spiritual—“and his righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.”[35] In other words, to paraphrase it, he says, “If you take care of my things, I’ll take care of your things.”

You see, the hub—the hub—is always spiritual. If you think about a bicycle wheel, the hub there is the key to all the spokes. If that hub is not in place and if the spokes are not attached to that hub, then the spokes can dangle any way they choose from the rim of the wheel, but they will be ineffective and insufficient in propelling you in any direction at all. The hub is crucial. And the reason that Paul bows his knees before the Father who’s in heaven and prays in this way is because he says, “Listen, Ephesians, this is what really matters. This is what matters.” And as we’ll see when we come back, the reason that it matters is because the things that we are preoccupied with are not really the things. Two Corinthians 4—with this I’ll stop: “We do[n’t] lose heart,” he says. “Though [outwardly] our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.”[36]

A Specific Prayer

Now, the third point that I have is that his prayer is not only selfless, spiritual, but it is also specific. And when we come back, we’ll deal with the specificity of it, and particularly this notion of the inner being. He’s talking about your inner man; the real you; the part of you that, when your tongue lies silent in the grave, is still you; your essential being; that which is the reality of the risen, hidden life of Christ in you; the thing that makes you you in Jesus. You’re not an empty suit. You may not look fantastic. You may not have great status. You may not feel yourself to be significant. But the real issue is what’s happening in the inner man. And Paul says, “Outwardly, we are wasting away. Everything is finally decaying. But,” he says, “our inner man, our inner self is being renewed day by day.” “For this light momentary affliction”—which in his case was more than a “light momentary affliction”—“is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”[37] Makes sense, doesn’t it?

I remember one of my colleagues telling me he did a funeral for somebody—nobody related to our church—and as the funeral took place in a home somewhere out here, he said that he followed the business partner of the man. The man was still in an open casket, and the man stood up and said, “You know, I remember Mr. So-and-So, and we started out when we had nothing, and we built it up, and we did it, and we’ve done a fantastic job. And I remember when he got his first Porsche, and man, what a boat he had down in the Keys, and it was a beautiful thing. And he really did a great job, and what a fantastic thing.” And my colleague said, “But he’s dead. He’s dead.” True! There isn’t going to be a U-Haul coming behind my hearse with a few bits and pieces that were significant to me. I mean, hopefully someone will look after my pens. They’re important. But beyond that, I’m not going to take them all with me.

Well, we’ll stop now, don’t you think?

See, here’s the issue: when you have Christ, you have everything; when you don’t have Christ, even though you have everything, you’ve got nothing. ’Cause there’s no inner being. That’s why when Jesus says, “I am come that you might have life and that you might have it in all of its fullness,”[38] he’s not talking about that you might have physical life. He’s speaking to people with physical life. He’s saying, “I am come that you might have the life that is the real life that never ends.” It’s a great story.

Father, we bow before you. Write what is of yourself in our hearts, we pray. Grant that anything that is untrue or unhelpful may be banished from our recollection. Shut us up, Lord, to the wonder of your pursuing love, so that if any of us are standing outside looking in, that this morning we may step inside, into the sphere of your warm embrace in Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.

[1] Ephesians 3:15 (KJV).

[2] See Ephesians 2:14–16.

[3] See Ephesians 1:13.

[4] See Ephesians 2:19–22.

[5] Matthew 6:10 (ESV).

[6] Ephesians 2:20–21 (paraphrased).

[7] Ephesians 1:9, 18–19 (paraphrased).

[8] Psalm 127:1 (NIV).

[9] Arthur C. Ainger, “God Is Working His Purpose Out” (1894).

[10] 1 Corinthians 3:7 (paraphrased).

[11] John 14:1 (NIV).

[12] John 15:1 (ESV).

[13] John 15:18–19 (paraphrased).

[14] John 17:1 (ESV).

[15] John 17:1–26 (paraphrased).

[16] Acts 6:2–4 (paraphrased).

[17] Henry Martyn, quoted in Hugh Evan Hopkins, Charles Simeon of Cambridge (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1977), 147.

[18] Luke 18:11 (paraphrased).

[19] See Luke 18:13.

[20] Ephesians 3:12 (ESV).

[21] C. H. Spurgeon, “Our Public Prayer,” in Lectures to My Students (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2008), 57.

[22] Isaiah 45:23 (NIV).

[23] Philippians 2:10 (ESV).

[24] Sam Walter Foss, “The Prayer of Cyrus Brown.”

[25] See Galatians 4:19.

[26] S. D. Gordon, Quiet Talks on Prayer (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1904), 16.

[27] See Matthew 6:4, 6, 18.

[28] C. H. Spurgeon, “Prayer—The Forerunner of Mercy,” The New Park Street Pulpit 3, no. 138, 255–56.

[29] Ephesians 3:15 (KJV).

[30] See Ephesians 1:3, 20; 2:6.

[31] See 2 Peter 3:13.

[32] Matthew 28:20 (KJV). Emphasis added.

[33] Nehemiah 1:3 (paraphrased).

[34] Nehemiah 1:5–6 (paraphrased).

[35] Matthew 6:26, 28–29, 33 (paraphrased).

[36] 2 Corinthians 4:16 (ESV).

[37] 2 Corinthians 4:17–18 (ESV).

[38] John 10:10 (paraphrased).

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.