Exceeding Abundantly Above, Part 1

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Most Christians have heard this verse quoted many, many times. We hear it often in prayers or sometimes in sermons. It’s a favorite verse for those of us who, from time time, may have found ourselves in need – physical, spiritual, emotional, or especially financial. You probably know the words, though not where it’s found in the Bible. Here it is, Ephesians 3:20 –

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… (KJV)

We know the words, but do we really understand what they mean? The three words that catch my attention, and maybe yours too, are these: “exceeding abundantly above.” Those are powerful words when you string them together, and they’re describing something phenomenal.

To help us grasp the magnitude of “exceeding abundantly above,” let’s turn to nature and observe the noble cod. The cod is one of nature’s most amazing fish due in large part to it’s astounding fecundity. Scientists who have studied the noble cod have calculated that a single cod will deposit nine million eggs. That the number nine, followed by six zeroes. That is a mind-boggling number of eggs, and it’s even more bewildering when you realize how many cod there are in the world’s oceans, all depositing their nine million eggs.

That’s a homey illustration of “exceeding abundantly above.” What is true of the mighty cod is true of our God, in the sense that He provides whatever we need in absolute abundance, all the time.

So, with the image of nine million cod fish eggs swirling around your mind, let’s consider just what it is that the Lord provides. He provides so much, but let’s go back to the beginning and think about God’s provision of grace.

Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound… (Romans 5:20. KJV)

That verse seems to be talking about two things in abundance: sin and grace. But it occurs in a chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans dealing with peace, as indicated by the very first verse –

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ… (Romans 5:1. TNIV)

Peace, when there is no peace

You might have noticed that peace is in short supply these days. Actually, it’s been in short supply since Cain murdered his brother Abel. The world was at peace until that sad event and it’s been downhill ever since. It’s not that mankind hasn’t been looking for peace or desiring peace, it’s that we can’t seem to find it. But that’s because man has been looking in the wrong places for it.

Take that towering example of virtue and intellect, Malcolm X. He once said this:

Be peaceful, be courteous, obey the laws, respect everyone; but if someone puts his hand on you, send him to the cemetery. That’s a good religion.

That’s right. Live at peace with everybody, until they get too close to you, then let’em have it.

Think about all the peace treaties that have been hammered out and signed by various states in the Middle East. How’s that working out?

And what about that League of Nations? The world was so shocked by World War I, it became known as “the war to end all wars,” and the League of Nations was formed as a way to stop any world war from ever happening again. During the 1930’s the League did virtually nothing to halt Hitler’s aggressions and his repudiation of Versailles Treaty that ended the “war to end all wars.” And following World War II, since the League of Nations was so successful, the world’s nations kicked that can again and formed the United Nations, which, as we know, has been wildly successful at confiscating the wealth of the western world but as far as keeping the peace in the world. Right, not so much.

Gerry Adams, president of Ireland’s Sinn Fein party, famously and rightly observed –

Making peace, I have found, is much harder than making war.

He’s right about that. It’s a lot easier to fight than it is to be at peace. That’s because strife is the common lot of man, not peace. Since the Fall, man has been at odds with his fellow man, with the world around him, with himself, but most of all, sin has caused a rift between God and man; a rift that no treaty can repair. There’s not a single thing a sinner can do to make peace between himself and his God. Nothing. That’s why Paul’s opening statement in Romans 5 is so spectacular: we have peace with God. And when you have peace with God, you will be at peace with the world around you.

How is it possible that we as Christians have peace with God? Nobody else on earth does, by the way, only Christians. Here’s what Paul had to say about this –

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of human beings who suppress the truth by their wickedness… (Romans 1:18. TNIV)

So all people on earth are under the wrath of God. That’s the human race’s default position, by the way. People don’t start out in God’s good graces. We’re all born sinners and born under the wrath of God. Nobody begins life untainted by sin. Only the Christian escapes this wrath because only the Christian has experienced God’s grace.

God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:25, 26. TNIV)

So peace with God can only be achieved when a sinner enters the Kingdom God, where peace is the norm, by faith in Jesus Christ and in the work He accomplished on the Cross. God’s wrath, as far as the Christian is concerned, has been completely and forever deflected. The justice of God which demands sins be paid for has been satisfied in the work and Person of Jesus Christ. And that’s why only the Christian can know what real peace feels like. Peace in the midst of utter chaos is possible when you are in a healthy relationship with Jesus Christ. He, not drugs or vacations or people, is our peace.

He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.  (Romans 4:25. TNIV)

All Paul means with that verse is that because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we are “justified” which is a fancy way of saying thanks to Jesus, we are viewed by God “just as though we never sinned.” That’s why we have peace with God – there’s no fear that we’ll ever by punished because we know Jesus was punished for us.

God’s definition of peace

You might wonder how it’s possible to be at peace with the world around you just because you’re at peace with God. Let’s look at how Paul dealt with this peace when he wrote to another congregation –

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7. TNIV)

God’s peace “transcends all understanding” is just another way of saying that it’s all but impossible to understand God’s peace. But you don’t have to understand it to experience it! You may not understand electricity, but that doesn’t stop you from turning your lights on when you walk into a dark room. You don’t understand how your skinny HD TV works, but that didn’t stop you from buying one, hanging it on your wall, and starting a Netflix account so you can watch old TV shows back to back to back. There are all kinds of things in life we don’t understand but we still enjoy them. God’s peace is like that. And the key to enjoying God’s peace that “transcends all understanding,” is this –

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. (Philippians 4:6. TNIV)

Like most things, this peace that comes from God – that is unimaginable – is ours in Christ Jesus (that is, as long as we are in a relationship with God through Jesus Christ) if we do a couple of things. In other words, while we have peace with God simply by virtue of our relationship with Christ, if we want to experience it on a day-to-day basis in the here-and-now, we have to do a couple of things. First, we have to stop being anxious about anything. Yes, anything. There is never, ever a time for the believer to be anxious. That’s hard because we live in a culture that sees anxiety as a virtue. We are trained almost from birth to worry – and be all dramatic – about everything in our lives. It’s crazy, the things we worry about. America used to be the home of the brave, but now we’ve become a home for the paranoid – for people always worried about this or that, often about things we have absolutely no control over. If you find God’s promised peace elusive, maybe you need to change your habitual way of thinking. Instead of automatically defaulting to the negative all the time, make a conscious effort to see the situation from another perspective: God’s perspective. Paul made that clear to the Romans when he encouraged them to, “…be transformed by renewing your minds…” (Romans 12:2). That means to change the direction of your thinking. If you can do that, you’ll be one step closer to experiencing that “peace that transcends all understanding.”

However, simply changing your thought-life isn’t enough. You have to replace the bad habit (worrying) with good ones: Prayers, petitions, and thanksgiving. So instead of worrying about a situation, pray and ask God to intervene and do something. Pray in faith believing this –

And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. (John 14:13, 14. TNIV)

So ask, and then thank God for He’s going to do. Thank God for bringing His will to pass in the situation you’re tempted to worry about but won’t because you prayed about it!

When you let it go and give it over to God, you will finally experience the “peace that transcends all understanding.” It was provided for you on the Cross of Christ. Peace – abundant peace – the result of you and God being reconciled and brought together isn’t just a spiritual peace between you and God, but it’s a practical peace between you and anything or anybody around you.

That’s what makes Romans 5:20 such a deeply moving and profound verse. In case you forgot it, here it is in a modern translation –

The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more… (Romans 5:20. TNIV)

That’s an admittedly confusing verse, especially the first sentence. Let’s make it really simple so we can all understand what Paul is getting at in a very general sense. There are two ways a sinful man may take to deal with the sin in his life. He can take the legalistic route. A lot of religions are legalistic. They provide you with an endless list of do’s and don’ts. If you can stick to their do’s and don’ts, you’ll be OK. The problem is, as Paul noted, the “law,” the Jewish list of do’s and don’ts, only served to make those trying to keep it sin more! That’s the downfall of every religion based on rules and regulations: they aggravate the sin problem and even make it worse. But, and this is the second sentence, the increase of sin due to man’s meddling cannot defeat God’s grace because, “Where sin increased, grace increased even more.” In other words, in the battle between sin and grace, grace will always win because grace abounds – it is endless.

In the context of Romans 5, no matter what is happening in your life, you will always experience God’s peace through His grace because that peace never ends. Your life may be in turmoil but that doesn’t limit God’s peace through His grace. The devil may try to convince you that God is mad at you because of stray bad thought. That’s a lie. God’s grace and the peace that exists between you and Him is stronger than that stray bad thought.

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