And I pray that you would know what is the outstanding greatness of his power towards us believers, according to the activity of his mighty strength. He enacted this in Christ, raising him from the dead and seating him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and lordship, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. (Ephesians 1:19–21)
We feel the need for strength when we feel threatened by powerful people. Bullying happens when powerful people misuse their power to harm those who are less powerful. According to an Australian study, 27% of school students are frequently bullied. As a parent, I know that the best thing I can do to help my kids deal with bullies is to give them strength. How? By giving them a secure and safe home life; by affirming them in who they are, and by praising them for what they do. If they have that strength and security in themselves, then they’re more likely to be able to shrug off attempts at bullying. They might be annoyed at the bully, and they might even be hurt in some way by the bully, but they’re less likely to be seriously threatened and victimised, because they have that strength in themselves to deal with it. The same strategy can help in many areas of life, for people of all ages. When we have strength in ourselves, the powerful people don’t matter so much, and we feel the threat far less.
But so often, I have to admit, I feel weak. There are, in fact, powers that are stronger than I am. For example, there was a time in my life when I needed to rely on government welfare to provide for my family. In that situation, I felt my weakness: spending vast swathes of my day just trying to get through on the phone to the relevant government department—sometimes being cut off and having to start again.
For me, that was a temporary and relatively mild example of weakness in the face of an uncaring bureaucracy. But it can be far worse, can’t it? Sometimes those who have power over us aren’t just uncaring; they’re actively hostile.
What do we do when we feel weak in the face of the powers that be? One response might be just to shut down, close ranks and find a bitter satisfaction in our identity as victims. Another response might be to try to fight as hard as we can to exert our power and dominance over others, seeking to turn the tables so that we become the conquerors instead of the oppressors. But how does God want his people to respond to their weakness in the face of power?
What do we do when we feel weak in the face of the powers that be? Paul’s response involves looking for strength—a strength that comes from God himself.
Prayer and knowledge
Here in Ephesians 1:19–21, the apostle Paul gives us a far better way to respond. Paul’s response involves looking for strength. But it’s not a strength that comes from within ourselves. It’s a strength that comes from God himself. He’s been praying that his readers would have God’s Spirit, know him better, and understand their future hope. Now in verses 19–21, he tells them that he’s praying that they would know “what is the extraordinary greatness of his power towards us believers, according to the activity of his mighty strength”.
The first way that God has shown his strength is by raising Jesus Christ from the dead. Jesus is risen! If you’re a Christian, you probably know that. But have you ever stopped to contemplate what that means? It’s an incredible act: a dead body, with no power in itself whatsoever, raised to live again! And Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is not just the beginning of his new life; it’s the beginning of a whole new creation. He himself is the guarantee that we who believe in him will also be raised from the dead. The strength that God has shown in raising Jesus from the dead is the same strength that he now gives us.
But it’s Jesus’ power too. When God raised Jesus, “seating him at his right hand in the heavenly places” he made him king and ruler of this world. In the Bible, the right-hand seat is the position of honour and privilege next to a ruler and Paul is saying that Jesus shares the throne of his Father in heaven. He’s “far above all rule and authority and power and lordship, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.” He’s greater than everyone and everything in this universe. He’s greater than the powers and authorities; greater than anything that could ever frighten us.
Christ is risen, and Christ reigns. He is strong. And his strength is for us who believe in him, since God has “blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, in Christ” (verse 3). God has given Christ to us (verse 22). And we belong to him: he loves us now, and our future is secure.
That is the key source of our strength.
God’s active, mighty strength
How exactly is God’s strength active in us? Does he promise to give us spiritual superpowers to wipe out our enemies with a death ray? No. But he does give us something far more powerful. He reminds us who we are. This might sound weak, but it is the most powerful thing God can do for us.
At the start of this post, I mentioned that the best thing I can do to help my kids deal with bullies is to give them strength, by giving them security in their relationships at home and by affirming and praising them in who they are. How much more true is that for Christians—for who are we? Just recapping what Paul has said in this chapter (Ephesians 1):
- We are blessed with every spiritual blessing (verse 3).
- We are chosen by God (verse 4).
- We are adopted by God (verse 5).
- We are loved by God (verse 4).
- We are forgiven by God (verse 7).
We have that sure hope of a new creation with God, that nothing can take away. We matter deeply to God; in Christ, who is powerful. It’s this knowledge that gives us strength. As long as we know who we are, the actions of others might hurt us, but they won’t crush us.
All this frees us to face up to the dangers of this world. There are spiritual powers and earthly powers arrayed against us: they’re real, and they can be scary. They can hurt us, and there are times when we don’t have the resources in ourselves to deal with them. But we have a source of infinitely greater power and strength outside of ourselves: in Christ, who loved us and gave himself for us. Sometimes we can be so weak that we forget this truth. That’s when we need to lift our eyes to the ruler of all things. That’s when we need to remind each other. That’s when we need to pray for God’s Spirit to be at work in us; to remind us of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and to give us the strength that comes not from us, but from him.
- What are the areas in life where you feel most weak?
- What is it about who you are in Christ that can give you strength in these areas?
Taken from Lift Your Eyes – a blog and pocast on Paul’s letter to the Ephesians