Sunday, December 8, 2019

NAMED BY THE FATHER

A Reason to Worship
 
“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family 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” (Ephesians 3:14-16 ESV).

Like most of Paul’s phrases, this one brings out more than one topic. It is for this reason that it is sometimes a little difficult to stay with the main topic in some of Paul’s writings. His mentioning these incidental comments at times also prompts him to remark on a peripheral topic.

So it is that this particular sentence of Paul’s also contains a phrase that puts me, like the apostle himself, off on a bit of rabbit trail, chasing down what he may have meant by what he said.

With that in mind, I would first like to look at what is actually a side comment and not even the main point of what Paul is saying. It is almost a parenthesis within the sentence. In that parenthesis, he makes the statement that every family in heaven and on earth has received its name from the Father.


 

Named by the Father

The word that is translated as family is the Greek word patria. Today we use that same word to refer to one’s native land or homeland, but it is not used in this way in the New Testament. The word is actually used only three times in the entire text of the New Testament, and in each instance it is a specific family lineage that is in mind—not a country.

The first time that we find this word is in the book of Luke, where he tells of the events leading up to the birth of the Jesus. Because of the census that was being taken in those days, Joseph was required to travel to Bethlehem, because he was of the “house and lineage” of David (Luke 2:4). The word lineage in this sentence is the Greek word patria, speaking of a direct family connection and heritage descending from King David.

The second instance of the word patria is again used by the author Luke, as he was quoting the Apostle Peter. Peter himself was quoting some words of the Old Testament when he spoke the words of God to Abraham.

God had said to this ancient patriarch, “In your seed all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Acts 3:25, from Genesis 22:18).

Throughout history, we have been divided and have distinguished ourselves from one another in various categories. We are known by nation, by race, by religion, and even by political persuasion. But beginning at the time immediately following the flood of Noah, we see God making a specific effort to make families the basis for his society.

Even before that time, people were associated with family groups. Humans were never merely part of a herd or a pack, or whatever other distinction one would make. It is true that we have also been associated by language, homeland, and nations (Genesis 10:5), but the family has always been foundational in any of these. 
 

All the Families of the Earth

When God promised great blessing to Abraham, he made clear that the full purpose of this was not simply for Abraham’s benefit only. Indeed, Abraham himself saw very little of these blessings fulfilled in his lifetime. The overlying purpose of God’s blessings was so that “all the families of the earth [would] be blessed” (Genesis 12:2).

If we are merely part of a nation, or if we are known only by our race or language, we are simply one of many. Who we are as an individual can be lost in grouping. But in being part of a family, there is no loss of individuality. In a family, we as people remain individuals in every sense. Blessing may also come to us as individuals, but to realize the full blessing, God has always placed us within families.

Of course, this is often not evident in the families we see in our day. That is because from the very beginning, there have been forces at work to destroy the family structure. Even in the very first family, that of Adam and Eve, there was strife and even murder.

Corruption within the family structure has continued throughout the generations. Families have been torn apart by infidelity, envy, alcoholism, drug addiction, diminishing moral standards, and almost any other weapon that Satan can use against the family. The very fact that the family structure has always been under such heavy bombardment by Satan is in itself testimony to the importance of the family in the plan of God.

Nevertheless, even with all of these negative aspects that war against our families, and even with the failure of so many families, the connection that most people have for their families runs very deep. I believe that there is no one who does not have a profound and inward desire to have a healthy and supportive family structure. Sometimes the strongest families emerge out of a husband or a wife who did not have a positive experience in their childhood, but who have in their adult years, established a solid and supportive family in his or her own marriage.


Named by the Father

Like the family itself, names also have always been important to us as individuals. To have a name is to have an identity. In today’s society, one’s name is often less important than a number on some organizational or rating system, be it a social security number, a credit card number, or even in these days, a credit score number.

But despite its diminishing importance in the world, there is something about having a name that is inherently meaningful to us. In this way it is like the family structure itself. It is part of our personhood. A name tells us who we are as a person, not how we rate in society.

Our names are most typically given to us or handed down to us by our parents, but it is interesting to me that Paul says in these verses that it is God “from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.”

Surnames – family names, are handed down from the parents, but the other more intimate first names are given to the child by the parents. It is they who give the names because it is they who are the ones who have authority over the child and who are responsible to care and nurture the one who has been born to them. Any parent who has had a child or who is soon expecting a child takes very seriously the task of giving their baby a name. It is a responsibility that is not done haphazardly.

Through the ages, the criteria for giving a name to a baby have changed. In the past, names may have been chosen to reflect a family profession or a royal line. A baby may be named after a significant relative or other person, or as it seems in most cases today—simply a name that sounds cool. But whatever the reason or reasons, names are chosen by the parents with great care.

In the Hebrew notion, a name is a verbal representation of a one’s character and is inseparable from the person. An individual’s name is intended to distinguish the person from all others, and it speaks of the very essence of who he or she is.

God also knows us by our names. In the end of days, when God will look in the book of life, it is not our social security number that he will be finding. It is the presence of our name that will state that we have been given eternal life (Luke 10:20; Revelation 13:8).

It is reminiscent of the story Jesus told of the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out to find pasture (John 10:13).

There is also a rather vague but thought-provoking comment found in the book of Revelation. In the letters to the churches, John writes the words of Christ when he says this: 

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone inscribed with a new name, known only to the one who receives it. (Revelation 2:17) 

The fact that God is active in giving us a name is an indicator of his sovereignty. Only the one who is in authority over some one or even some thing is able to give it a name. When the Father gives us a name, it demonstrates that he is in authority over us. 
 

The Family of God

But being under the authority of God is not the same as being part of the household of God. Paul spoke of this distinction in the second chapter of Ephesians, where he told the believing people of the church in that city, “you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens of the saints and members of God’s household” (Ephesians 2:19).

Most people never manage to make this change from strangers and aliens to becoming part of the household of God, although it does not involve a lengthy immigration or adoption process. The Apostle John makes this very clear when he tells us, “To all who receive him and to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. These are children born not of blood, nor of the desire or will of man, but born of God” (John 1:12).
 

Strength in the Father

After Paul speaks of being named by the Father, he continues to the main part of his sentence when he writes, “that according to the riches of God’s glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being”

Paul speaks of strength. Once we are part of the family of the Father, we begin to see that it is in this position that we have strength.

From the world’s perspective, strength and supremacy are dependent upon some type of physical demonstration or evidence of power. Thus we see powerful families of the world who control great wealth, and powerful nations that have great weaponry at their disposal.

In the family of the Father, we also have riches, but these riches are not mere numbers on an account ledger or large financial reserves. Paul calls the riches of the family of God “riches of his glory.”

In the family of the Father, we also have strength and power. But it is not strength based on an outward and ostentatious display of bravado. It is not a meagre power based on the latest weaponry.

Rather, it is “strength and power through His Holy Spirit.” This strength and this power are things that sometimes are not seen externally. Indeed, Paul tells us that they manifest themselves in our “inner being.”

To some, this may seem like self-delusion or denial. They may consider this as something that we just are telling ourselves while ignoring reality. We know that those of the world look for outward signs of strength. That is all that they know. If they cannot see outward strength, they assume only weakness.
 

The Weakness of the Father

It is on this subject of weakness that Paul has much to say. As far as the estimation of the world toward us in the family of the Father, he quickly dismisses their opinion as something that we should simply consider inconsequential and meaningless.

In another statement of Paul’s, he tells us that “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4 NAS). Thus, we should avoid completely trying to gauge our self-worth by what those of the world think of us.

Rather, the Apostle John gives us the perspective from where we should base our self-worth. It is the perspective of our Father:
 

Behold what manner of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God. And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know Him. Beloved, we are now children of God, and what we will be has not yet been revealed. We know that when Christ appears, we will be like Him, for we will see Him as He is. (1 John 3:1-2 BSB)
 

Indeed, Paul also tells us that “the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men,” and that “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong” (1 Corinthians 1:25, 27 NAS).
 

When We Feel Weak

You may be thinking that this is all well and good in eternity, but what about now? What about when we are going through times when we feel our own weakness? Sickness and disease can drain our inner strength, and even if we all do not experience a specific physical ailments or debilitating weaknesses, we all certainly do experience times of powerlessness. And, as the body of Christ, we know that when one member suffers, we all suffer (1 Corinthians 12:26).

Paul would tell us that these times of weakness are so that we learn not to trust in our own strength. The apostle gives us a very good lesson in this from his own experience.

I have spoken before of an ailment that Paul experienced in his own physical body. We do not know what the nature of this ailment was, although some have speculated as to what it could have been. However, the best that we can know is what the apostle himself told us. He metaphorically describes his infirmity as “a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me.”

Paul tells us that he was given this “thorn” so that he would not become proud of certain revelations that had been given to him by God. Without doubt, this would have been possible, since he in fact had received great revelations.

One of the aspects of power as the world understands it is “insider knowledge.” People who know something that is hidden from the population at large often feel a certain superiority over others—an inside knowledge that gives them the advantage.

Perhaps surprising to us, there is little difference with spiritual knowledge. Paul had received some revelations that would not be given to other men. Because of this, he could have become spiritually proud. Rather than taking pride in this however, here is how he viewed these revelations:
 

Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me—to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I entreated the Lord three times that it might depart from me. (2 Corinthians 12:7-8 NAS)
 

Many of us can relate to Paul in this desire to rid himself of this physical ailment. Many have had a physical disease or crippling infirmity, and they just want it to go away! We are weary of pain and seek the strength in our bodies. God deals with us all in different manners and even each situation is unique, but the lesson that Paul learned may be what we all must learn in one sense or another.

Referring to Paul’s request to have God remove the thorn from his flesh, God responded, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.”

To this, Paul responded, “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10 NAS). 
 

Weakness that Gives Birth to Strength

This unexpected relationship between the weakness of the world being translated into the power of God is one that is fundamental in knowing how to live for God. Paul is a good example to all of us, but the greatest example of all is that of Jesus Christ:
 

For indeed He was crucified because of weakness, yet He lives because of the power of God. For we also are weak in Him, yet we shall live with Him because of the power of God directed toward you. (2 Corinthians 13:4 NAS)

So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. (1 Corinthians 15:42-44 NAS) 

Weakness? Here is how Paul views the weakness that he felt in this world: “If I have to boast, I will boast of what pertains to my weakness” (2 Corinthians 11:30 NAS).
 

Inner Spiritual Strength

The power that is seen in the world derives its strength from external influences and exhibits this power in an outward fashion. Nations hold grand parades displaying their latest rockets and tanks.

But the power that is from the Spirit is not manifested in this same pretentious way. Rather, the power of the Spirit is revealed in the inner beings of the believers. There are two aspects to this Spiritual power that Paul mentions in this passage of Scripture.
 

Two Aspects of Spiritual Power

The first reality concerning Spiritual power is that Christ dwells in our hearts through faith. Indeed, it is only by faith that Christ comes to dwell within us. Normally, there is no great outward manifestation of Christ entering into our lives, except, as we remember, there was on that day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit entered the lives of the disciples. There also was a similar situation with the believers when Paul first came to Ephesus.

However, these types of outward manifestations are the exception. When these demonstrations are seen in the Scriptures, they are always associated with the first introduction of the Holy Spirit to a group of people.

Normally, the coming of Christ to dwell in our lives is one of quiet faith. Not only is his coming in this unpretentious fashion, but the dwelling of Christ in our lives is also in a peaceful and abiding faith. Others may not see continual outward demonstrations of some kind of power, yet we ourselves know the presence of Christ in our lives.

The second aspect of the indwelling of the Spirit in our lives is that we become rooted and grounded in love. I mentioned a couple posts ago of the great power of love. To be rooted in love means that we draw our strength from love as the roots of the tree draws its strength from the soil.

Also, the soil into which those roots have sunk their depths is the very ground which gives the tree stability and the force to resist the strong winds that would otherwise blow it down.

This is what love does for the believer. If we draw our strength from the love of Christ, our strength cannot diminish. In fact, Paul told the Roman church that “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39 NAS).

This is in sharp contrast with that which the world considers strength. The strength of this present age is one that is continually in decline. This is true in the aforementioned strengths of which great nations boast, and it is true in our own bodies. Weapons of war rust and deteriorate or become obsolete. Our own bodies that began with much strength and vigor, eventually begin to diminish and decline.

No matter what form it takes, any power of this world eventually withers and finally disappears. If the history of mankind has taught us anything, it certainly should have taught us this.

But this is not the case with the love of God. With God: “Hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5:5 NAS).
 

The Dimensions of God’s Love

I quoted above the verse from Romans which speaks of nothing separating us from the love of God. Now, in this letter to the Ephesians, Paul talks about the dimensions of this love.

Being rooted and grounded in love, we will then 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” (Ephesians 3:18-19 ESV).

We live in a three-dimensional world. In our normal experience, we have a sense of width, height and depth. However, if you were counting the dimensions of the love of God in the above verse, you will see that Paul lists four: breadth, length, height and depth.

It all leads us to wonder just what this could mean. Of course we cannot say for certain that Paul was here talking about a four dimensional concept that is beyond our knowledge, but we can be certain that, when he talks about the love of God, the scope of this love is indeed beyond our knowledge by worldly means only.

In fact, Paul clearly states that the love of God surpasses knowledge. So beyond our common knowledge is it, that to comprehend it at all, it takes “strength” (exischuo).

Not only does it require strength to comprehend the love of God, but also to be “filled with the fullness of God.”  Earlier, Paul spoke of the church as the body of Christ and which is “the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 2:23). From the words of John the Baptist, “from the fullness of Christ we have received grace upon grace” (John 1:16).
 

I Propose a Toast…

Paul concludes this section with some phrases of worship to God. We might call it one of the most eloquent toasts that have ever been written: 
 

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. (Ephesians 3:20-21 ESV) 

After a section of Scripture where, in order to tell of the riches in Christ, Paul was required to call up almost every superlative available in the human tongue, he concludes with even more superlatives. Certainly, when we speak of the love of God, it is beyond all that we can ask for or even think.

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