God’s Love, God’s Power
Scripture - Ephesians 3:14-21
Hear the words of Paul: I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth & length & height & depth, & to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Amen.
Some scholars believe the prayer Paul prays in verses 14-21 is a continuation of the prayer he began in chapter one (1:15-23). It follows a similar pattern & begins with the phrase, this is why. In chapter one, Paul prays that the people of God would receive from the Spirit wisdom & revelation so they can know God more fully. He prays that the eyes of their hearts would be opened to know: 1) the hope that God has called them to; 2) the inheritance that is theirs; & 3) the power that is at work within them. Paul is completing his prayer from chapter one & going even deeper. The prayer is not lengthy, but there is so much here to unpack. If we look more closely at this prayer, we see it is not only prayer but also instruction. This is not only what Paul desires for the church in Ephesus, but also what they should desire for themselves.
In verse 14, Paul begins his prayer in a posture of worship as he kneels before God in prayer. I think this is rather remarkable, considering Paul is already in chains in a prison in Rome. He kneels. Kneeling intrigues me, as I grew up Episcopalian & we frequently kneeled during the worship service. You are rather defenseless when you are down there, you know. And if your eyes are closed & your hands are folded, you are physically vulnerable. But that is the idea about prayer, is it not? Making oneself defenseless against God, entirely exposed to whatever God brings.
In this prayer, Paul is crying out on behalf of his brothers & sisters in the church. This prayer exposes Paul’s deepest desire for the Church in Ephesus – that they would be filled with the love of God. There is a deep connection here for me between pastor & congregation. As a pastor, I resonate with Paul’s passionate prayer. This is what I desire for you to whom I minister & this is what I desire for the Church, as a whole. I especially pray that you would realize the power that is at work within you & that can change our community & the world when we tap into that power together.
Paul moves into his specific requests for the people in verse 16 & begins by asking God to strengthen them. Paul prays that God would give them a fresh anointing of strength & power so they can keep moving forward.
Paul knows the journey of faith is not easy, the burdens can begin to weigh us down; it can be hard to keep taking the next step, so he asks God to fill them anew with strength & power so they can live out the calling God has for them.
In verse 17 Paul prays that Christ would dwell in their hearts. The Greek word used there is katoikeō. Our English language translated that to ‘dwell’ or live, but it literally means to set up a permanent residence. Paul’s deepest desire for the people of God is that Christ would have a permanent place in their lives, not a part-time, only if it is convenient place, but a permanent place in their hearts. In New Testament times, the ‘heart’ was the center of intelligence, thought, & knowledge, not emotions, as our modern understanding would assume. Paul’s prayer here is that Christ would fill them so completely that their heart would be filled & controlled by a love that is far greater than any intellectual knowledge they can gain. Paul wanted his readers to understand that you cannot reason your way to understanding God’s infinite love, it has to come from the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God.
Paul takes this idea of “permanent residence” a step further when he says, in verse 17 that he wants them to have strong roots in love. This idea of rooted is a visual picture of the strong foundation roots provide trees. Paul is praying that the roots that keep the people of God stable would be planted down deep in the love of Christ. This phrase is used one other time in Scripture, and it is found in Paul’s letter to the Colossians: So, live in Christ Jesus the Lord in the same way as you received him. Be rooted & built up in him, be established in faith, & overflow with thanksgiving just as you were taught (2:6-7).
Paul prays they would be able to grasp love’s width & length, height & depth. It is as Christ lives in our hearts through faith, that God’s Spirit works to mold us, shape us, root us, & ground us in this unfathomable love. It is only then that we can begin to comprehend that even when we think we have reached the understanding of how wide, deep, long, & high Christ’s love is we have only begun to scratch the surface. The love of Christ is wider, deeper, longer, & higher than we will ever be able to fathom. The beautiful thing about God’s love is that God continues to pour out God’s love upon those who cannot even fully understand it, receive it, or even ask for it.
He goes on & prays that they would know the love of Christ that is beyond knowledge so that you will be filled entirely with the fullness of God. Paul is using a contradictory phrase when he says he wants them to know this love beyond knowledge. The word used in Greek for know is the word ginōskō. Paul uses this word intentionally to make the distinction between head knowledge & heart knowledge. This ‘knowing’ is an intimate understanding; it is experiential, not just something we think about, but something we have experienced for ourselves & understand intimately.
He wants them to know this love so deeply, so intimately that they are filled, filled so that nothing is wanting; filled by this love so much there is no room for anything else; filled by this love so much it is flowing out of them. He compares this ‘in-filling’ of love to the fullness of God.
What do we see about God & God’s love in Scripture? God doesn’t just give us a little bit of Godself or a little bit of God’s love, God wants to fill us fully & completely with Godself & fills us fully & completely with God’s love. The fullness of God is being filled to overflowing, saturated, & soaked. There is an understanding of completeness in the fullness of God. This is God’s desire for all people, that all people would experience fullness, wholeness, & completeness – in other words, shalom.
This prayer is a model for us in how we ought to be praying for the church today. You can hear the love Paul has for the Church in this prayer & his deep desire for the Church to be who God has called the Church to be – a people completely filled with the Spirit of God & overflowing with God’s love so that all generations will come to know Christ. Is not this the prayer the Church still needs? We can sit around & talk about all the ways the Church is falling short & all the things the Church should be doing differently. But maybe, just maybe, we need to humble ourselves before the Lord, as Paul did, & cry out to God for the Church to be who God created her to be.
This is a prayer that still needs to be prayed over the Church, not because of all the ways the Church is falling short, but because we believe in the One who hears & answers our prayers & we believe the Church is still the Bride of Christ & the Church can still be the beacon that points to Jesus. This is a prayer that still needs to be prayed over the Church because we believe in a God who is able to do far beyond all that we could ask or imagine & can do a transforming work in the Church & through the Church.
I do not think there is a better prayer to be prayed for the Church today than the prayer Paul prays. So right now, I join Paul, before God, praying for the Church today:
I pray that out of God’s glorious riches the Church would be strengthened with power through the Holy Spirit deep within its soul. Oh, that the church would be filled to overflowing & completely saturated with Christ so that the Church would be rooted – firmly & securely planted – in the love of Christ. I pray the Church will have power, together with all believers to experience just how wide (& even wider), long (& even longer), high (& even higher), deep (& even deeper), is this love of Christ.
I pray the Church would know, truly & deeply know this love that is beyond all human understanding. Oh, that the Church would be filled, saturated, soaked, & overflowing with all the fullness of God!
We pray this prayer to the One who is able to do so much more than we could ever begin to imagine or even think to ask for, according to the power of God that is at work in the Church & through the Church.
To the Almighty, Creator God be all the glory in the Church & through the Church & in Christ Jesus, for all generations, forever & always!
May it be so, we pray, may it be so! Amen.