“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.”
Would you consider yourself a strong person? I don’t mean strong like the guys who can curl 135 pounds. I don’t mean strong like the insane (in a good way!) people who can do Iron Man or Tough Mudder competitions. Are you spiritually strong? When temptations arise, do you find yourself able to withstand? When trials come your way, do you meet them with confidence that you’re able to overcome them? Many times, I feel weak. This can be a good thing, if it leads me to humility. However, we’re called to be strong—though probably not in the way we would expect.
A Gospel Foundation
After laying out the rich doctrinal truths found in Ephesians 1-3 about God’s gracious and saving work in the gospel, Paul called the Ephesian church to respond in faithful obedience. He lists 41 imperatives for them to heed and obey by faith. These imperatives range from “speak truth to your neighbor” (4:25) to “be imitators of God” and “walk in love” (5:2) to “children obey your parents” (6:1) and parents“bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (6:4).
Finally, Paul says to the whole church “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might” (6:10). With all of the gospel he had already preached and the vast array of imperatives on how to be the church, Paul’s final section of gospel application begins with be strong in the Lord. I
If you’ve heard the gospel message: “for by grace you have been saved through faith” (2:8-9), then you know you’ll need the Lord’s help to obey His commands. If God had demanded that we obey His words in our strength, Paul would have never prayed that you and I “be strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner being” (3:16). We wouldn’t have a shot. Thankfully, God is strengthening us for the fight of the faith. Paul’s reminder to be strong in the Lord makes perfect sense.
What does it mean to be strong in the Lord?
First, it means that we are reliant on the Lord. This is God’s work upon us, not a command to strengthen ourselves. Paul is not saying, “look deep inside and find strength for this fight”. He’s about to shed light on our fiercest enemy—the devil (6:11). If you and I are going to have a fighting chance to remain in the faith and engage in spiritual warfare, we better look away from ourselves! The “ancient serpent” (Rev. 2:20) who deceived Eve in the Garden of Eden is more crafty, more ferocious, and far more powerful than any human being could ever be (except Jesus, of course). Left to ourselves, we would be better off defending ourselves against a mother bear robbed of her cubs. We know that usually doesn’t end well.
God didn’t leave us to fend for ourselves. Paul is pointing us to a power greater than our enemy to strengthen us. He is pointing us to the Lord. He uses a passive form of the verb “be strong” because the strengthening is not from ourselves. We aren’t going to the spiritual gym benching 300 pounds, chugging protein shakes, and strengthening ourselves. If we are going to be strong at all, we will have to be strong in the Lord. That’s encouraging for the children of Adam because we know how often we follow in his footsteps and eat of the forbidden fruit. We know how easily we buy into the allure of satan’s temptations. We know how weak we are. Without the Lord, we’re hopeless.
Second, it means that we have to actually be in the Lord. Being strengthened by the Lord comes from being “in the Lord”. 22 times in Ephesians, Paul speaks of the saints being “in Christ” or “in him” because he deeply valued the reality of union with Christ. In Redemption Accomplished and Applied, John Murray states that union with Christ is “the central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation”. He’s not overstating the case. This union with Christ connects believers with the Triune God in such a way that we have access to the “Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead” because He dwells in us (Romans 8:11). It is through this union that we have continual communion with God. We draw our strength from that communion.
The key here is that we are only “in the Lord” if we have turned from our sin and believed the gospel message Paul spent the early chapters of Ephesians proclaiming. This union with God is unquestionably rooted in God’s election, but the Ephesian saints (and believers since the beginning of time) believed when they “heard the word of truth, the gospel” of their salvation (Eph. 1:3-14, Hebrews 11). By grace, through faith, we are saved. These are gifts from God, and through those gracious gifts, we are able to respond to the message of the gospel by professing that Jesus is the risen Lord and Savior. By grace, we can live a life of repentance in the power of the Holy Spirit. In Christ, we can turn to God for the strength and trust that He will provide.
Cultivate a Dependent Heart
Being “strong in the Lord” reveals our neediness. Unlike God is who is completely self-sufficient, we have to rely on Someone outside of us to sustain and uphold us. Is there anything we have that has not been given to us? Put simply: we are called to be dependent, prayerful people. This is a continual battle to see ourselves as we really are—as God see us.
How do we cultivate dependent hearts? Here are a few suggestions:
Are you strong in the Lord?
"Being strong in the Lord reveals our neediness. Unlike God is who is completely self-sufficient, we have to rely on Someone outside of us to sustain and uphold us. Is there anything we have that has not been given to us?"
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