First Mennonite Church
April 25, 2021
Called to Flourish in God’s Love
At the beginning of this series I said that defining who we are as God’s people is broad in scope and deeply involving for us. Who we are as God’s people involves God working in us and through us, here and now. But how do we begin to achieve such lofty purpose? That will be the subject matter of the next couple sermons in this series.
First, we must lay the foundation of who we are and that begins by going back to the very beginning in Genesis. There we find God’s purpose for creating humanity. Genesis 1, verses 26 to 28 read:
26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
27 So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
We can summarize this by saying that God’s purpose for creating humanity was that it would thrive and flourish. God wanted Adam and Eve and the entire human race to reach thier full potential, in procreating and taking care of God’s beautiful creation. It is through bearing the image and likeness of God that Adam and Eve were to achieve their call. That is what God said. “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule. . . .” Adam and Eve could only have flourished to their full potential, as co-creators with God and as mirrors of God’s character, if they obeyed the commandment of God.
However, we know what happened. Adam and Eve preferred to do things their own way, and consequently, they not only lost the edenic harmony they had with their Creator, but also amongst themselves and the rest of creation. Adam blamed God for giving him Eve and Eve blamed the serpent for what happened. Later, Cain killed his brother. And the order of creation also suffered. From then on, humanity drifted away from God.
But God was not deterred by Adam and Eve’s failure to achieve their divine purpose. God’s attempt to pursue his eternal purposes for humanity came through his call to Abraham. Shortly before God made real his promise to give a son to Abraham, God appeared to Abraham.
17 Then the Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do? 18 Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him. 19 For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.”
God’s purpose for calling Abraham was made clear. God chose Abraham and his descendants “to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just and by doing so, God would bless them, fulfilling all the promises he made to Abraham. God called Abraham and his children to reflect the righteousness and justice of God in order for them to flourish. The Promised Land was given to the Israelites as the place where they were to flourish. God intended that his chosen people, the children of Israel, would become a light to the nations, a blessing to all the families on the earth.
In Isaiah, this is what God says about Israel:
8 “For I, the Lord, love justice;
I hate robbery and wrongdoing.
In my faithfulness I will reward my people
and make an everlasting covenant with them.
9 Their descendants will be known among the nations
and their offspring among the peoples.
All who see them will acknowledge
that they are a people the Lord has blessed.”
But again, the Old Testament tells us how Israel responded to its calling. Despite the many ways in which Yahweh showed his preference towards his chosen people, rescuing them time and time again, Israel chose its own way. They were sent into exile and lost the land. But God promised a restoration, through the coming of the Messiah.
Then came Jesus Christ, who from his childhood showed signs of flourishing. We read, The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him (Luke 2:40). And as we saw two Sundays ago, God’s full nature dwelt in Jesus. Jesus also offered his followers, life and life abundant in God. That is the heart of the gospel. Paul says that God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us (Romans 5:5). Paul elaborates more about God’s riches and love when he wrote to the Ephesians:
7 Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God’s grace that was given me by the working of his power. 8 Although I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given to me to bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ, 9 and to make everyone see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; 10 so that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him. 13 I pray therefore that you may not lose heart over my sufferings for you; they are your glory.
14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. 16 I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, 17 and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. 18 I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:7-19).
God’s calling is a gift of God’s grace, (v. 7).
The purpose of this calling is to shine the boundless riches of Christ, (v. 8).
God wants the boundless riches of his wisdom to be displayed by the church (v. 10).
In verses 16- 19, Paul prays specifically for three things:
That according to the riches of God’s glory,
- We would be given the inner strength—the internal power to radically change us.
- For Christ to dwell in us, and
- To be given the ability to know the all-encompassing and the all-embracing love of Christ, so that we may be filled with the fullness of God.
First we need to realize that God is not limited nor limiting. Everything Paul prays for comes from the God’s overflowing glorious riches. In the indivisible unity and love of the Triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, you and I draw the essence of what we need to be filled with the fullness of God.
I was wondering why Paul did not say, “I am praying the Christ may dwell in you, as the first item of his prayer. Instead he said, “I pray that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit.” If we see again what Paul says in Romans five, verse five, we will understand it. There Paul says, “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” It means that when God calls us, he pours, not only drips in us, but pours in us his love when he seals us with his Spirit. Then our lives begin to be shaped in the likeness of Jesus. God radical transformation begins to take place in the life of the new believer. The essence of God is already there, but in the language of Paul, Christ is still being born, Christ is still being formed in us (Galatians 4:19).
And as we begins to be shaped in the image of Jesus, (and this happens in the context of the faith community), Paul’s prayer is that we would also get to comprehend the length, the width, the height and the depth of the love of Christ.
The word translated “comprehend” is the katalambano. Comprehend simply means the intellectual ability to grasp something. Like when we say, the student comprehends the math problem. Katalambano, however, means “to make something our own,” “to take possession of,” to embody something. We are called to possess, to embody the all-encompassing love of Christ. And by doing this, Paul says, we will be filled with all the fullness of God.
The church, you and I, is called to display before the watching world the fullness of God, which is by demonstrating the surpassing love of Jesus Christ.
My dear brothers and sisters, God has called us to display, to be living examples of what God intended when he created Adam and Eve, before the fall. God wants us to be a blessing to all the families of the earth, as he charged Abraham. God wants us to “become mature and to attain the whole measure of the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:13). And all of this is through the working of God’s Holy Spirit in us.
People ask many question about how their lives relate to the world. People want to know what their purpose is here on earth. They wonder, what religion might have to offer them. But often times, when they see the church, besides having gatherings and saying prayers, the people who go there live just the same as they do. They worry for the same things they worry, fight the same fights they fight, quarrel for the same reasons they quarrel about. In other words, live the same life as they live, except they go to church.
Are we here just to wait for the day of our deaths to enter the glories of God? Are we here just to take care of those like ourselves?
Often times the church believes that if it only brings new programs, new technology to attract people, and other gimmicks, people will come to their doors.
But as we see today, the church is called to demonstrate the all-encompassing love of Jesus to a world that is ravaged by hate, hate towards others and even self-hate. The church is called to be a living example of the love of Christ, who reached out to those society thought were underserving of care and a place around the table of God.
We are called to demonstrate “the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” and “the fullness of God.” But that begins when we comprehend, make our own, the length, width, height, and depth of the love of Christ.
Let us allow the Holy Spirit to strengthen our inner being. Let us allow Jesus to mold our lives. Let us continue to encourage one another.
As we leave today, make every encounter with friends or strangers an opportunity to show the love of Christ. Amen!
 Word analysis, Bible Works, Ephesians 3:18. (Software)