Study Guide: God of Etcetera

Sunday September 7, 2003 | Greg Boyd

Focus Scripture:

Brief Summary:

This weekend Greg examined Ephesians 3:16-19 and found that this passage contains the ultimate goal of all discipleship. Not only is the goal stated here, but also the means by which we can achieve it.

Extended Summary:

This weekend Greg examined Ephesians 3:16-19 and found that in this passage is contained the ultimate goal of all discipleship. Not only is the goal stated here, but also the means by which we can achieve this goal. By staying very close to the text itself Greg helped us slow down to really hear what was being said and take some time to see ourselves in this passage. It was broken down into three main points:

1. What goal does this text express for us as believers? For this point Greg focused on verse 19. Looking first to the conclusion to see where it is we are going. Paul indicates the goal by the words, “so that” and he goes on to say… “you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” This is an amazing claim! We as human beings are designed by God to receive our fullness, our rest, our “all in all” by actually having the living God, the Creator of all things, dwell with in us. It may not make sense to us, but this is what God tells us is the design for being a human being. The problem arises when we do not allow God to fill us in this way. This is probably true for all of us most of the time. We prevent the relationship God desires to have with us by putting other things or people in the place where God alone belongs. While we attempt this strategy to fulfill ourselves, we are never successful at it; we remain empty. There is no replacement for God because God is infinite. Emptiness is inevitable for us in this life since our sin leaves us with a “God shaped vacuum,” the character of this vacuum is such that only God can fill it, any finite replacement will fail and the vacuum will remain. Even though the hole (vacuum) is there in us, often we are not fully aware of why we feel empty or what the real problem is. We may not even realize that we have a problem! Part of the Christian message is to tell the world that human beings have been created for relationship with God! With a little reflection and examination of our own lives, people will come to see that we do indeed have this need, this evasive emptiness. This emptiness is difficult to describe and we are easily distracted from dealing with it. Greg’s encouragement to us was that we actually need to FEEL this emptiness so that we can begin to sense the very real need for God to overcome it.

2. What can we understand about this goal in terms of “being rooted and grounded”? Here the focus was on verses 16-17. Greg spoke at length about how we can understand the agricultural phrase “rooted and grounded” to mean: strengthen, be the source of life, offer stability, nourishment. These are all true of what God’s love does for us. When we are “filled with the fullness of God”, we are given a profound gift that we cannot understand. Even though we cannot understand it, this love–God’s fullness–still serves to “root” and “ground” us in our source of life. Notice! Even when Paul is trying to communicate this truth to us, he does it in the form of looking and pointing to God! He says, “I pray…” and he is clear that it is God who “may grant that you be strengthened” and again it is “through” God’s “Spirit” and it is “Christ” that “may dwell in your hearts through faith.” All of this language is very “God” oriented. It is also “process” or “through time” type language, not once and for all. Our role is to yield to this by actively clearing things away that we illegitimately put in God’s place.

3. What about this goal is beyond our understanding and how are we to deal with that incomprehensibility? Verses 18-19 require us to wrestle with both the task we have to “understand” God as well as the inevitable limits that are placed on us by our finitude (limitedness) and our sin. Greg made it clear that we face an intellectual dilemma about Paul’s meaning when Paul prays that we may “have the power to comprehend” and “and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge”. This is important to wrestle with since what hangs on it is the very phrase we started with, the “so that” clause! Work through the questions to see where this leads…

Reflection Questions:

  1. What are some things that distract you from feeling the need we all have for God? Brainstorm and come up with a list. Can ministry or other things that God has called you to become distractions from remaining completely dependent upon God? One way to become aware of these things is to ask yourself this: what is the first thing you think about in the morning and the last thing you think about before you fall asleep (even if you start and finish your day with prayers, chances are there are thoughts you have before and after prayer, be honest!)? Be as specific as you can.
  2. What roots and grounds you in everyday life? Even though you know the “right” answer, reflect for a few moments silently on some of the things that you identified in the previous question. Do any of those things serve to root and ground your life? In other words, do they offer you stability, strength, nourishment, etc. in this life that may not last for the next? Discuss these false sources of stability as a group.
  3. The third point in the summary above left us hanging without resolving the question of what Paul means. Discuss with your group what it seems Paul was getting at, and refer to Greg’s message as you process this.