Having explained what the mystery of God is (3.6) and his role as well as the church’s role with regards to that mystery (3.7-13), Paul offers prayer on behalf of these Christians, closing the first half of this epistle.
The Appreciation of the Mystery (3.14-21)
Paul prays for Christians to be filled with the fullness of God in their inner being.
Ephesians 3:14–21 (ESV)
14For this reason I bow my knees before the Father,
For this reason: Paul resumes his previous train of thought to conclude what he began in 3.1. Since the Gentiles are partakers of grace with the Jews according to the manifold wisdom of God, Paul lifts his voice in prayer. There is a similarity here to 1.15; there he prayed for knowledge, now he prays for love. Love is the supernatural expression of knowledge of the divine.
Paul prays to God that his brethren not only know (1.15ff), but that they live out what they know. Our knowledge is the basis for life. We need to live out what we know. Love is the supernatural expression of knowledge of the divine. When you know God, you will love God’s family, the church.
I bow my knees before the Father: Knelling is a typical posture for prayer (Luke 22.41). Father is a term used often in the NT to describe God. No doubt it derives from Jesus who taught His disciples to pray “Our Father in heaven” (Matt 6.9) and Himself prayed “Abba, Father” (Mark 14.36).
Posture in prayer: Kneeling is typical (Luke 22.41; Acts 20.36; 21.5), but not the only posture for prayer; standing (Mark 11.25), sitting (1 Chronicles 17.16), and prostration (Matthew 26.39) are also found in Scripture. “One may pray in any position, even with only a groan or in silence; but the positions noted have come to mean much in the church and for the individual. Careless, thoughtless attitudes of body are not good. Formalism is no more to be feared than the thoughtlessness of meaningless attitudes.” (Lenski 490)
15from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named,
From whom…is named: There are a couple of ways to understand this phrase. 1) God’s Fatherhood is over saints (on earth) and angels (in heaven); 2) God’s Fatherhood is over everything, everybody in heaven or on earth (cf. Eph 4.6). He is the Creator and Progenitor (Originator) of all things. Hence, He is Father of all, over all, through all, and in all. The former seems to be in view; God is Father of His Fatherhood or Family (esp. the church) which bears His name. Paul has presented the cosmic Christ (1.22-23) & the cosmic role of the church (3.10-11); now he presents God as the cosmic Father.
Deism is merely a theology of atheism. It is atheism with a god. The notion that a god set in motion the universe, got it off the ground, then stepped away to focus on…whatever it is a deity like that focuses on is simply another brand of atheism. Further, that kind of god is not worthy of reverence or respect (i.e. worship). Why would I want to know a god who does not seek to know me? In fact, the God of the Bible is closely involved in His creation. It is true that God is with us, Christians; Matthew’s gospel makes this clear (1.23; 28.20). It is equally true that all humans live, move, and have their being because of God’s involvement in the world (see Acts 17.26-28). So in a general sense, God is the Father of all; however, in a specific sense, only His family (i.e. church) derives its name from Him.
16that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being,
That according to the riches of His glory: Paul is not asking that God give from or out of His glory, but according to His glory, which is His essence. Thus, there is no limit to His giving.
He may grant…in your inner being: The verb strengthened is passive voice, i.e. this is something God does. He makes us strong, healthy, vigorous. He does this “through His Spirit.” How this occurs is not addressed nor is it Paul’s point. This is spiritual strength/enrichment for it happens “in the inner being.” We must be willing/attentive souls. Where the Spirit is, there is power, life, vitality. Absent the Spirit, the Body is dead.
Paul prays for these Christians to be empowered, strengthened by the Spirit of God. But if the Spirit does this, why don’t we experience it more? Why does it seem the church is so ineffective today? Two possibilities present themselves:
1) The theology is wrong: Yes, that is what Paul said, but that is not what he meant. This reduces the Christian life to a purely humanistic striving with only our might and power to help. It is too anthropocentric, focused on me and my ability to keep the law of God perfectly. Further, this view means that God is neither able nor willing to work.
2. The theology is right, but we abort the process: Yes, the problem is with us, not with God. He said what He meant when He promised spiritual strength in the inner being, the “moral might” (as Avon Malone calls it) we need to engage in glorious battle with the spiritual forces of darkness, forces that if we attempt to face on our own will slaughter us. “The real problem is that we do not care enough. We do not have the necessary discontent within ourselves that will lead to change. We like the privileges without the bother” (Snodgrass 185). The Spirit seeks out willingness to hear and allow ourselves to be transformed. By the way, transformation is the work of God, not ours. Even as this strengthening is God’s work, so is transformation.
17so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love,
So that Christ…through faith: Paul prays that Christ may dwell in the hearts of these Christians. To sum up the Christian experience, we are to be absolutely soaked, permeated with Christ in our lives – inside, outside, all-around. He takes up residence in and redefines us, shaping and strengthening at the core of our being. Faith is the key to keeping Christ in us.
In the NT, we find the constant struggle to describe the Christian life. In some instances, we are called to “put on’ Christ; in other instances, the Christian is described as being “in Christ” (throughout Ephesians). Then there are those rare occasions (5 total in NT), where Christ is said to live in us. If Christ lives in us, those cherished American ideas of independence, self-determination, and self-fulfillment must be abandoned. As to independence, we are independent of everything but Jesus Christ; indeed, we are wholly dependent upon Him. As to self-determination, self has died and we are totally determined by Him. As to self-fulfillment, we seek only to fulfill Christ’s will which brings true fulfillment to us. Self is dead; Christ lives in me. See Galatians 2.20.
That you…in love: The presence of Christ in the heart of the Christian means love. Rooted is an agricultural term; like a tree, love is the soil by which Christians are nourished. Grounded is an architectural term; like a building, love is to be the foundation upon which the Christian life is built.
18may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth,
May have strength…all the saints: Knowing the love of God is not the exclusive privilege of a few enlightened ones; the whole church (all the saints) needs the strength which comes from God to understand what has previous been hidden, namely, Christ’s love (v.19).
Spiritual comprehension and the ability to spiritually discern especially the love of Christ is only realized in the context of the holy church. Outside the church, one will lack the strength and ability to apprehend Christ’s love. The reason is because it not merely intellectual but also experiential. Absent the church, the body of Christ, one will fail to experience the love of Christ expressed through His body. “God knows nothing of solitary religion” (John Wesley).
What is the…depth: Some have found different shades of meaning in these words. For example, Jerome says Christ’s love reaches up to the angels, down to even the demons and evil spirits, it’s length covers all men and the breadth covers even those who drift and wander. Some see the cross which points up, down, and toward the horizons. Some think it could stand in contrast to the temple of Diana which was one of the wonders of the world. It seems best to understand these as a unit communicating the infinite & intense love of Christ with us in the center of that love.
Picture Paul as he writes of Christ’s love in the center of an enormous sphere or cube which represents Christ’s love. He can see how high and deep and wide and long it is and yet it is unfathomable just how great the structure is. It is breathtakingly grand. And to know Christ is to know His love.
19and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
To know…surpasses knowledge: Such a vast love surpasses knowledge and is therefore unknowable. Yet the apostle calls Christians to know Christ’s unknowable love. It exceeds our capacity for comprehension. Still Christians must be ever in pursuit of knowing Christ’s love.
On knowing the love of Christ: “To know this; to feel this; to have a lively sense of it, is one of the highest privileges of the Christian. Nothing will so excite gratitude in our hearts; nothing will promote us so much to a life of self-denial; nothing will make us so benevolent and so dead to the world” (Albert Barnes).
That you may be…of God: “Among all the great sayings in this prayer, this is the greatest” (Clarke). To be filled with God is a great thing; to be filled with the fullness of God even better; but to be filled with all the fullness of God is incredible. Paul is praying that the church would be filled and flooded by all the fullness of God Himself. Again, this is a passive voice verb, i.e. God fills His people with His fullness. This is “the richest, best gift of God to man” (Barnes).
Though we can never fully know Christ’s exceeding love, how can we come to know Christ’s love? “It must find expression in experience, in sorrows and joys, trials and sufferings, in ways too deep for the human mind to fathom, or for human language to express” (Morris 114). I would add that it is also related to our connection to the community of believers, i.e. the church. As we sing, “Sometimes we laugh together, sometimes we cry,/ sometimes we share together heartaches and sighs” (“God’s Family” chorus). When we “rejoice with those that rejoice and mourn with those who mourn” we are experiencing the surpass love of Christ.
20Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us,
Now to Him…we ask or think: This is not something yet to happen nor is it something no longer happening. He is still able to do “far more abundantly than all that we ask or think.” He is able to do “superabundantly above the greatest abundance” (Clarke). Or He is able to do “to the extent which we cannot express” (Barnes). God is able to do “beyond everything” (Lenski). Trying to describe His ability is like chasing the wind.
According to the power at work within us: These are present tense verbs, i.e. God is still able and is still working. His power is working in us. Connect this with v.16, “power through His Spirit in the inner being” (same word for “power”). To the degree we are willing/yielding to be transformed and allow that power to work is the degree to which we will mature/grow, & be the NT church as God/Christ envision.
The power to grow lies in God’s power, not ours. If the foregoing is so – the Father is over all, through all, and in all as the Father of the whole fatherhood; Christians are powerfully strengthened by the presence of the Holy Spirit, permeated with the perpetual presence of Christ, called to know the unknowable love of Christ, and are filled with fullness of God Himself; and we serve a God who can do more than we could ever ask of imagine – then how could we ever look at the plan and purpose of God for His church and call it anything but possible, achievable, wise, and right? This leads to another question…
Why don’t we experience this in the church today? Two answers can be given: 1) the theology is wrong; it sounds nice, but God is neither able to nor at work. 2) the theology is right, but we abort the process. Which leads to still another question…
Are we willing to allow God to work through and in us to accomplish His purposes?
21to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
To Him be glory…forever and ever: This final exclamation is emphatic – to Him and Him alone the glory! It always was, is, and will be His. In the Body as well as the Head! “The song of praise, begun upon earth, and protracted through all the generations of men, shall be continued in heaven, by all that are redeemed from the earth” (Clarke). God is glorified in Christ and the church for all eternity. Amen means so be it
Paul shows us from both this prayer and the previous prayer (1.15-23) that prayer must be intensely theocentric (centered on God) and Trinitarian (include the whole Godhead). Father (14), Son (17, 19), and Holy Spirit (16) are all mentioned in this brief prayer. This prayer begins and ends with God (14, 19) and God is mentioned throughout. It might be worthwhile to determine what Paul does not pray for (sick, safe travel, freedom from persecution, etc.) contrasted with what he does pray for (spiritual strength by the Spirit, rooted in love, knowledge of Christ’s love for His saints, etc.)