Last week we looked at the parenthetical in which Paul began with the words “For this reason…”. This parenthetical described in more detail what the mystery of Christ was-the church body-and why this mystery had been revealed to Paul. The church as the body of believers was a new concept in Paul’s day as was the gathering of both Jews and Gentiles together in one Spirit and having direct access to God.
Now Paul switches back to his initial thought, which is a prayer to the believers united in Christ. This prayer involves requests that all believers:
Are strengthened through the Spirit.
Are rooted and grounded in love.
Are filled to all the fullness of God.
14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father,
15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name,
Here in verse 14 Paul begins with that familiar phrase from verse 3:1, “For this reason…” This indicates that the preceding parenthetical is finished and he is going back to his initial thought. Paul’s initial thought is actually a prayer designed to strengthen and fill believers with God’s Spirit. The main part of this prayer is in verses 16-19 and then verses 20-21 end this prayer by summing up what the “power that is within us” can accomplish to the glory of God and His church.
16 that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man,
17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love,
18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth,
19 and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.
Verses 16-19 contain the requests that Paul is making on the behalf of the church of Ephesus and, more universally, to all churches.
Verse 16 begins the series of requests by asking that strength be given to believers. But this isn’t just some humanistic strength of character or integrity, it is much much more. Notice that Paul prays for believers to be “strengthened with power”. What “power” are we to be strengthened by? Paul answers this in the following phrase, “through His Spirit”. That is, through (or “by means of”) God’s Spirit. This answers where this “power” comes from. It comes from the Spirit, not ourselves. There’s an old adage, “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps”, which means to strengthen yourself or pull yourself out of the problem/persecution you are enduring. This old adage goes against Biblical teaching according to this verse. While we can use our own strength within us to keep us afloat for a time, true power comes only from the Spirit of God.
Additionally, notice how Paul makes this request, “according to the riches of His glory”. We know that God’s glory is immeasurable; it is infinite. If God answers this prayer-and we know He can as it is prayed in agreement with God’s own will-we know that the power that we will be strengthened by is truly larger than any problem or persecution that we may face. God gives according to His riches which are infinite. Therefore, His gifts are superabundant, not lacking in anything.
Finally, this power is used to strengthen the “inner man”. That is the new self that we inherited when we became believers. Our “outer man” will continue to grow weaker following the 2nd law of thermodynamics (increasing entropy-a law intrinsically bound to God’s creation) but the “inner man” will continue to grow stronger in the power of God’s Spirit.
Verse 17 tells us the result of God’s Spirit strengthening believers with power. This result is twofold. First, Christ will dwell in our hearts. This isn’t to say that, for believers, Christ won’t dwell in some of our heart or that Christ will leave us. Rather this tells us of a richer deeper dwelling in us. But this deeper richer dwelling in us occurs because of our faith and through our faith. That is, as we are strengthened by the Spirit’s power, as we persevere through and overcome persecutions, and put to death sin in our bodies our faith will grow. This growing faith is tied to a deeper richer dwelling of Christ in our hearts.
The second part is that since we are rooted and grounded in love we may comprehend the love of Christ more fully. Truly the increasing power of the Spirit in us will give us a deeper understanding of the rich love of Christ towards us. Now these verbs “being rooted” and “grounded” indicate a work already done by the Spirit at the time of the believer’s salvation. But it also points to the future work of comprehending Christ’s love for us as well (this is a little more evident in the Greek). Essentially it says, “You have already been firmly established (rooted) in love and you also have a firm foundation (grounded) in love, because of this you now can begin to understand the infinite size and dimensions of God’s love.” Our rooting and grounding in love enables us to better understand God’s love. Without this rooting and grounding an unbeliever cannot hope to fathom even a small bit of God’s love.
This knowledge is unknowable to its fullest extent (i.e., it surpasses all knowledge). But even comprehending a small portion of the size and dimensions of this love can bring us so much closer to God, filling us up with His love that we may be able to share that love with others. Note also that in verses 18-19 there are two ways to grasp this love of Christ, “… may be able to comprehend…and to know the love of Christ…”. One is to comprehend as in having an intellectual knowledge of Christ’s love, and the second is to know as in experiencing Christ’s love. It is far too easy just to have a head knowledge of Christ’s love, to fully be filled with the Spirit we must also experience Christ’s love. Sometimes the experiencing part is the hardest, especially in pain and suffering. But this is necessary to truly understand the full measure of Christ’s love.
Knowing this we should go back and read Ephesians 2:1–7 to get a better sense of how we too could not grasp the love of Christ when we were unbelievers. But as believers God has made us alive and now we can know and experience the powerful love of Christ in ways we cannot imagine:
1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins,
2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.
3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.
4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us,
5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),
6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,
7 so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
20 Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us,
21 to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.
This is Paul’s closing to his prayer. There are two important points here. First is that God is able to do far more than we can even imagine. The power of His Spirit in us works in wonderful ways, far too wonderful for us to even grasp. This should be especially evident after the prayer Paul just prayed for us to be able to get a deeper sense of Christ’s infinite love towards us.
Second, as Paul has also previously taught, all glory will be turned to God. The glory of His church, when it is functioning as God designed it to function, will be given to God. And along with the church, the glory of Christ is given freely to the Father. To Him be the glory!
In light of this prayer, we too should thoughtfully consider praying this same way toward our own church as it is the glory of God Himself and contains His Spirit. We should take care to continue to keep our church unstained by this world and to build up the body of believers, praying diligently for them, so that we all may be empowered by the Spirit and have both a deeper comprehension and a deeper knowledge of the love of Christ.