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EPHESIANS 3:20-21 HAVING CONSIDERED the particular occasion or cause of this prayer, the character in which God is addressed, the rule or measure by which He is entreated to confer His favors, and the several petitions of it, we turn now to contemplate the doxology that concludes it. “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” ( Ephesians 3:20-21).
This doxology may be considered from two viewpoints. First, as an adoring outburst of the apostle’s own heart; and second — from the fact of its having been placed on record — as containing needful and valuable instruction for us. Anyone with spiritual discernment will at once perceive that, from either of these viewpoints, the doxology forms a most fitting climax and sequel to the prayer itself, constituting as it does a natural termination of it — a reverberation of praise to the One supplicated. A “doxology” is an expression of adoration which rises above the level of ordinary speech, being more the language of ecstasy. It is a fervent utterance of praise: yet it is not so much the act of praise as it is the realization of the praise which is due to God and the consciousness that He is due infinitely more than we are capable of rendering to Him. We are lost in Him, overwhelmed with a sense of His ineffable glory.
There are three things in this doxology which especially claim our attention:
First , the particular character in which God is here contemplated — “He is able”; Second , the standard to which faith should appeal in prayer — “the power that worketh in us”; Third , the ascription of glory, concerning which we have: its medium — “the church”; its Agent — “Christ Jesus”; its perpetuity — “world without end.” Let us consider how blessedly appropriate it is to view God thus in this particular connection.
As experienced Christians well know, the certain effect of growing in spiritual knowledge of God and of the love of Christ is a deepening sense of our own weakness and unworthiness. Thus we are here reminded that we have to do with One who is infinitely sufficient to supply our every need and satisfy our every longing. How can such as we expect to obtain such wonderful privileges and enter into the enjoyment of such transcendent blessings as those expressed in the preceding verses? “He is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think.” Perhaps some reader has lost heart and hope in the efficacy of prayer and has become almost stoically content with a state of comparative emptiness. Ephesians 3:20 reveals the remedy.
To be strengthened with might by the Spirit in the inner man, to know Christ’s constant presence in our hearts by faith so that we are rooted and founded in love, to be able to comprehend the dimensions and to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge, and to be filled with all the fullness of God — such experiences may seem visionary and impossible. They should not, they will not, if faith really views God as the apostle here did.
Such experiences may indeed exceed anything we have yet attained, they may transcend what we have even seriously thought of and prayed for, yet they are possible and realizable even in this life, “according to the power that worketh in us.” It is the express design of the Spirit in recording this doxology to encourage us, to afford confidence in our approaches to God, to enlarge our petitions. The Spirit’s purpose here is the same as was Christ’s in the closing section of that prayer which He gave to His disciples. The children are to ask of their Father in heaven, remembering “for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever.” This is a confirmation of faith taken from the excellency of God — His ability, His sufficiency, His glory. However great our need, His resources are illimitable; however powerful our foes, His power to deliver is infinite; however high our desires, He can fully satisfy them.
GOD IS ABLE It will be a great tonic for faith if we take to heart how frequently God is set before us in this most blessed character. “God is able to make all grace abound toward you” ( 2 Corinthians 9:8). “He is able to succour them that are tempted” ( Hebrews 2:18). “He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him” ( Hebrews 7:25). “He is able even to subdue all things unto himself” ( Philippians 3:21). “He is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day” ( 2 Timothy 1:12).
He “is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy” (Jude 24). Yes, He is able to save, to succor, to subdue, to sanctify, to supply, to secure, to satisfy; and therefore “he is able to do [for us] exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think.” In this character God is viewed not only as the omnipotent One but also as the munificent One, as being not only all-powerful but abundantly generous. God not only gives, but He “giveth to all liberally” ( James 1:5). Very often His liberality exceeds not only our deserts but even our desires, bestowing upon us more than we have either wisdom or confidence to ask. Many illustrations of that fact are recorded in the Scriptures, and many are met with in the experience of God’s children today.
Every Christian already has abundant proof that God can give him and do more for him than he can ask or think, for He has already done so! It was not in answer to my prayers that God elected me and inscribed my name in the book of life, for He chose me in Christ before the foundation of the world. It was not in response to any petition of mine that an all-sufficient Redeemer was provided for my hell-deserving soul, for God sent forth His Son into this world to save His people from their sins nearly two thousand years before I had any historical existence. It was not in return for any eloquent request of mine that the Holy Spirit quickened me into newness of life when I was dead in trespasses and sins, for to pray for life is not a faculty of the unregenerate. Rather the new birth itself capacitates us for living desire and spiritual longing. The new birth imparts life which causes the soul to long for more life. No, God’s people are spiritually dead and far from Him when He regenerates them and thereby fulfills to all of them that word “I am found of them that sought me not” ( Isaiah 65:1). God’s gracious dealings with us are above even our faith and requests!
In connection with the apostle’s doxology, let the Christian reader honestly face the Lord’s own question “Believe ye that I am able to do this?” ( Matthew 9:28). Perhaps you believe He is able to do so, but you fear He may not be willing to. If you really think God is able to bring you into a closer walk and a more constant fellowship with Himself, that He is able to make all grace abound toward you and fill you with Himself, but doubt His willingness to do so, then your heart is deceiving you and causing you to think more highly of yourself than you have any right to do. The fact is, dear friend, you do not believe He is able. If you did, you would not doubt His willingness.
THE HEART IS DECEITFUL Your heart is more deceitful than you realize; your case is far worse than you will admit. You have too good an opinion of yourself. You are trying to hide your unbelief under the fair cover of humility. You persuade yourself that it would be presumptuous to entertain the assurance that God is willing to work miracles on your behalf, and congratulate yourself for your humble-mindedness. How you delude yourself! You may indeed believe intellectually in the ability and all-sufficiency of God, but your heart has not laid hold of the same: if it had, you would not call into question His willingness. The fact is that you entertain a horribly distorted view of God.
In reality, you fondly imagine that you are more anxious to receive spiritual blessings than He is desirous of bestowing them; that you are more willing, more concerned about your spiritual prosperity, than He is. Call things by their proper names. Confess to God your excuseless unbelief and cease posing as a very humble person. God does not mock His people by declaring to them that He is able while at the same time He is unwilling.
Does not that include His willingness? Of course it does. “He is able to succor them that are tempted” ( Hebrews 2:18). Yes, and willing too, or such a word would have no comfort in it. “He is able to keep that which I have committed unto him” ( 2 Timothy 1:12). What assurance could that give me if He were unwilling to keep? When the Lord rebuked the skeptical laughter of Sarah, was it because she questioned His willingness or because she doubted His power? The latter, as is clear from His challenge: “Is any thing too hard for the LORD?” ( Genesis 18:13-14).
When He rebuked Moses for his unbelief, was it because he distrusted God’s willingness or because he doubted His might? Clearly the latter: “Is the LORD’s hand waxed short?” ( Numbers 11:22-23). And if you really believed in God’s omnipotence you would promptly avail yourself of it!
GOD BOTH ABLE AND WILLING “He is able” briefly but comprehensively affirms God’s goodness, willingness, sufficiency, and munificence. Because God is good, He withholds no good thing from them that walk uprightly, and makes all things work together for good to them that love Him. Because God is good, He is willing and ready to supply all our need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus. Because He is God, He is self-sufficient: no creature can thwart Him, no situation dismay Him, no emergency arise which is beyond His resources. Because God is munificent, He is the Rewarder of them that diligently seek Him. Because God is the almighty and all-sufficient One, “he is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think.” What a God is ours! How different from the creature!
Have we not in some hour of need appealed to one of our fellows who had the wherewithal to succor, but refused? And have we not witnessed a fond mother anxious to relieve her suffering child, but unable to do so! But the One with whom the Christian has to do, his Father in heaven, has both the willingness and the power.
How different many of our prayers would be if we always viewed God thus when approaching His mercy seat! If faith regarded Him in this character, our petitions would be framed accordingly, and our confidence would be greater and more honoring to Him. Each word in that wonderful doxology should be duly weighed and its cumulative and climacteric force grasped by us. God is able to do not only what we “ask” but also what we “think.”
Some of our thoughts are beyond expression. He is able to do all that we ask or think, not merely some or even most, but even our loftiest conceptions. Furthermore, He is able to do above all that we ask or think, exceeding our highest aspirations and largest requests. Better still, He is able to do abundantly above all that we ask or think. Oh, that the Holy Spirit would enable us to understand that and strengthen our faith to obtain a better grip upon it. Best of all, He is able to do “exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think.” Human language is utterly incapable of expressing the infinite sufficiency and illimitable bounty of the One to whom prayer is addressed. He has declared. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” ( Isaiah 55:9).
For the further encouraging of our hearts and strengthening of our faith, let us consider some recorded examples of God’s answers far exceeding the requests of His people. “Abram said, Lord GOD, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless?” What was the response of the bountiful Giver? “He brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be” ( Genesis 15:2-5)!
Jacob’s thought rose no higher than “bread to eat, and raiment to put on” ( Genesis 28:20), but the divine munificence bestowed upon him “oxen, and asses, flocks, and menservants, and womenservants” ( Genesis 32:5).
The Hebrews would have been quite content to remain in Egypt if deliverance from bondage had been granted them ( Exodus 2:23), but God brought them into a land flowing with milk and honey! David asked life of God, and He not only gave him “the request of his lips” but bestowed upon him a throne as well ( Psalm 21:1-4). Solomon sought “an understanding heart” and God not only supplied it but said, “I have also given thee that which thou hast not asked, both riches, and honor” ( 1 Kings 3:13).
And has it not been thus with each of us? Has not the bountiful One given above our expectations? Go back, my brother, my sister, to the dawn of your Christian life. Recall the season when you were under conviction of sin and a weighty sense of the wrath of God oppressed you. Did your desires at that time ascend any higher than to be delivered from the everlasting burnings and be granted an assurance of pardon? Bring your mind back to that time when you were painfully aware of being in the far country, where you sought in vain to find satisfaction in the husks that the swine feed on, and when you cried, “I perish with hunger!” At that time did your aspirations go beyond that of the prodigal? Would you not have been quite content if the Father had made you one of His “hired servants”? Ah, how truly did He then do exceeding abundantly above all that you asked or thought! He gave you a welcome such as you never dreamed of. He greeted you with manifestations of love that completely melted your heart.
CHRIST THE ALL-SUFFICIENT ONE Because He has not changed, He presents Himself before you here in Ephesians 3:20 as the all-sufficient One. When you approach the throne of grace, He would have you view Him as the One whose resources are illimitable, whose ability to use them is infinite, and whose willingness so to do is demonstrated once for all in giving His only begotten Son for you and to you. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego showed such confidence and assurance when Nebuchadnezzar appointed that they should suffer a horrible death if they refused to worship the golden image which he had set up. Hear their intrepid reply: “We are not careful to answer thee in this matter. If it be so [that you really mean to carry out your threat], our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king” ( Daniel 3:17).
With faith steadfastly fixed on God’s power, they had no doubt whatever about His willingness! And that, together with the glorious sequel, is recorded for our instruction as well as our encouragement. God has not changed. He is still the omnipotent One.
Ponder carefully the following passage concerning Abraham. “Who against hope believed in hope, that he might be the father of many nations; according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be. And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah’s womb: He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; and being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform” ( Romans 4:18-21).
To carnal reason it seemed an impossibility that the aged Sarah should bear the patriarch a son in his old age; but Abraham refused to be dismayed by the insuperable obstacles presented to sight. From the standpoint of experience also the situation appeared hopeless. But even that did not daunt him. Why was he strong in faith? Because he had a tight grip on God’s promise. How did he remain “fully persuaded”? His heart relied upon the infinite sufficiency and almighty power of the Promiser. That was what sustained, yes, rejoiced, him while awaiting the fulfillment of God’s promise. God did not disappoint him! This too is recorded for our learning.
God has not changed. He is still El Shaddai, the all-sufficient One. “Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to” what? According to His sovereign pleasure?
According to His eternal decree? According to His secret will? “According to the power that worketh in us.” Say what we may, plead as plausibly as we please of our uncertainty about God’s willingness to show Himself strong on our behalf, at the bottom it is our wicked unbelief, our doubting of His power, our secret questioning of His ability to extricate us from such and such a predicament or furnish a table for us in the wilderness. At that point the faith of Zechariah failed — doubting the power of God to make good the word He had given through the angel ( Luke 1:18-20). Peter’s questioning of Christ’s power caused Him to chide Peter with “O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?” ( Matthew 14:31). Because the apostles lacked confidence in Christ’s omnipotence, none of them expected Him to rise again on the third day. It was not His willingness but His power which they doubted. So it is with us.
As we approach the mercy seat, we should view God as the One “able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think.” “According to the power that worketh in us” is the standard to which faith should ever appeal in prayer. It is that wonderful power of which we already have personal experience. It is a mighty power, for it brought us from death to life and called us out of darkness into His marvelous light. “For God, who [in the beginning] commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts” ( 2 Corinthians 4:6).
It is an invincible power, for it subdued our inveterate enmity to God, overcame our stubborn obstinacy, and made us willing to receive Christ as our Lord and King, to take His yoke upon us and submit to His scepter.
It is a holy power, for it caused us to repudiate all our righteousnesses as filthy rags and made us nothing in our own sight. It is a gracious power, for it wrought within us not only when we had no merits of our own but when we had no desire to be subjects of God. It is a “glorious power” ( Colossians 1:11), for by it all our godly affections are sustained and all our acceptable works wrought.
It is an infinite power: “whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself” ( Philippians 3:21). Sinful corruptions cannot thwart that power, Satan and his hosts cannot hinder it, death and the grave cannot defy it. That power can make a clean thing out of an unclean, can cause the blind to see and the dumb to sing. That power can restore the years that the locusts have eaten ( Joel 2:25), and give “beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness” ( Isaiah 61:3).
However urgent our situation may be, that power can relieve it; however great our need, that power can supply it; however potent our temptations, that power can deliver us; however sore may be our trials, that power can support us in them; however distressing our circumstances, that power can keep our hearts in perfect peace. It is an eternal power. It is not exhausted by expenditure. It never wearies or diminishes; therefore, since it has begun a good work within us, it will most certainly complete the same. That power will yet make us perfect in every good work to do God’s will, working in us that which is well pleasing in His sight.
OUR RESPONSE TO THIS DOXOLOGY 1. The language of this doxology ought to deeply humble us. Its lofty terms rebuke our groveling petitions and expectations. Look at it again — we cannot ponder it too frequently: “Unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us.” Should not that make us thoroughly ashamed of our petty requests, our feeble anticipations, our low spiritual attainments? We need to realize that there is such a thing as a modesty in our asking which dishonors God, that we come far short of seeking from Him that which accords with His benevolence and bounty. We are coming to a King and should therefore “large petitions with us bring.” “Is there any thing too hard for me?” ( Jeremiah 32:27) is His own challenge. No matter how sore our strait or how staggering our difficulty, it will be as nothing to Him. Alas, we are like Joash who, when bidden by the prophet to strike the ground, struck it three times and “stayed,” when he should have struck “five or six times” and thereby obtained a far greater victory ( 2 Kings 13:18-19). 2. This doxology should greatly encourage us. Was not one of the patent purposes of the Spirit in recording this doxology to raise the expectations of God’s people? Another purpose was to show them how faith should view God. It is most important that the saints should at all times contemplate God as the infinitely sufficient One, but it is peculiarly necessary that they do so as they are about to approach Him in prayer.
Nothing is more calculated to enlarge our desires, warm our hearts, deepen our confidence, than to regard Him as here set forth. We ought not to be straitened either in our thoughts of Him or in our expectations from Him. “Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it” ( Psalm 81:10) is His own gracious invitation and assurance. Men may talk of receiving “sips” of His goodness and “bites” of His bounties, but that is something to be ashamed of rather than to proclaim with satisfaction. “Eat, O friends; drink, yea, drink abundantly, O beloved” ( Song of Solomon 5:1) opens His heart concern for us. As the Puritan Thomas Manton well expressed it, “God’s bounty is not only ever flowing, but overflowing.”
The fault is wholly ours if we have only “sips” from it. 3. This doxology should serve as a challenge to us. In its language God is saying to us in another way, “Prove Me now. Bring your hard problems to Me. Spread your deep needs before Me. Make known your largest spiritual desires to Me, and count on My sufficiency and bounty.” As Carey counseled, “Ask great things of God; expect great things from God.” Do not question His willingness, for that is reflecting on His goodness and doubting His benevolence. Do not allow Satan to deceive you any longer with a feigned humility, under the pretense of deterring you from spiritual arrogance and forwardness. Recall the case of those who brought to Christ the one sick of the palsy and, when they could not reach Him because of the press, broke through the roof and let down the bed on which the sufferer lay! Was the Lord displeased at their impudence? No indeed, He honored the faith of those who so counted upon His compassion and grace.
When the centurion besought Him on behalf of his sick servant, did Christ rebuke him for his presumption? No, He “marvelled at his faith.” He delights to be trusted. 4. This doxology should instruct us. Having presented the petitions recorded in Ephesians 3:16-19, the apostle closed with this adoring doxology: “Now unto him that is able.... , unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.”
We often beg the Lord to teach us to pray. He has already furnished us with the necessary instructions, both in His own prayers and in those given us through His apostles. In them He has plainly revealed that we should be deeply concerned with the glory of God, that it should actuate and regulate us in all our supplications. In that prayer which He taught His disciples — and after which ours should always be patterned — He bade us conclude our addresses to the Father with “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.” Not only should those words be on our lips but the substance and sentiment of them should ever affect our hearts. We should make the glory of God our one supreme and constant aim, we should ask only for those things which will promote His honor, and we should make that our prevailing plea in making all our requests. “Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of thy name: and deliver us, and purge away our sins, for thy name’s sake” ( Psalm 79:9).
At this very point we may clearly perceive one of the great differences which exist between the spiritual believer and the carnal professor. The formalist and the hypocrite never seek God (except when, Pharisee-like, they would parade themselves before men) except under the pressure of their own needs, and not from any concern for God’s honor. But the upright seek God because they delight in Him and desire communion with Him, and their love to Him makes them deeply concerned for His glory.
The regenerate prefer God’s interests to their own and set His glory high above their comforts and concerns. In that they follow the example which Christ has left them: “Father, save me from this hour.” That was the innocent inclination of His humanity. “But for this cause came I unto this hour. Father, glorify thy name” ( John 12:27-28).
He subordinated everything to that.
It is fitting then that we should conclude our prayers thus. As Matthew Henry said, “When we come to ask grace from God, we ought to give glory to God.” To give glory to God is to ascribe all excellency to Him. “Unto him be glory”: that was the adoring language of one whose heart was filled with love to God. It was an expression of fervent praise to Him because He is the all-sufficient and bounteous One. If God is spiritually viewed as the Fountain of all blessings, whose fullness is inexhaustible, whose resources are illimitable, whose benignity is infinite, then the soul cannot help but burst forth in the acclamation “Unto him be glory.” It was also an avowal of expectation. The apostle was assured that the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ would grant the petitions which he had just presented, and he gave thanks for the same. This is the ground of the saint’s confidence: that God has joined together His glory and our good.
His honor is bound up in promoting the interests of His people, “that we should be to the praise of his glory” ( Ephesians 1:12). The possession which Christ purchased is “unto the praise of his glory” ( Ephesians 1:14). He is “glorified in his saints” ( 2 Thessalonians 1:10).
UNTO HIM BE GLORY “Unto him be glory” was the homage of the apostle’s own heart. Then it was as though he felt his own personal worship was altogether inadequate, and added, “in the church,” as though he were saying, “Let all the redeemed unite with me in exalting Him.” The Church is indeed the grand seat of His glory: “the branch of my planting, the work of my hands, that I may be glorified” ( Isaiah 60:21).
He calls her “Israel my glory” ( Isaiah 46:13). None do, none can, truly honor and acknowledge Him except the Church. But the apostle knew that even the Church, ordained though she is as the subject and instrument of the divine glory, is yet not equal to the task, and so he added, “By Christ Jesus.” As Spurgeon so beautifully put it, “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.” But even then the apostle was not satisfied. He continued: “Throughout all ages, world without end,” that a revenue of praise should be paid Him during all generations and that eternity itself should never cease to resound with the glory of God! And what more suitable response can we make to such sentiments than by adding our “Amen ”!