We are all experiencing a common fate this morning. It is something from which we cannot run fast enough, and something that no matter how much money we have, or how much intellect we gain, we can never overcome. What we need to recognize this morning is that we are all finite creatures. We are all finite creatures surrounded by finite things. Name one thing that you have right now that will last. One thing. Think of the time, money, and thought we put into our clothes, and no sooner do we buy them, and they tear, or we outgrow them, or they are out of style. What about your cars? Will any of them last? Many will not last a decade, and even fewer will last two. What about all of the books you’ve read and knowledge you’ve gained, will you remember in twenty years? Forty?
All of these things are passing away! All of the stuff in our lives will not last! What good are these things when you are laying on your deathbed, knowing that in the next moment, all of these things, including your own body, are going to fade into shadow, and you are going to, for the first time, experience what C. S. Lewis called the “real world,” for these shadowlands will pass away.
As finite creatures, we are constantly consuming finite things, but never being satisfied. We long for food, but we are constantly having to go back and eat more. We are constantly in need for relational experiences, but we still experience loneliness. The finite will never satisfy us. It will never fill us. If we are going to be satisfied, we must be filled with something that is not finite, but infinite. That filling is exactly what Paul prays that we would experience in our text this morning in Eph. 3:14-21.
If you remember from our last look in Ephesians, Paul begins Ch. 3 by starting a prayer grounded in the deep theology of Chs. 1-2. But no sooner did he begin his prayer and he was overcome with the greatness of the work that God had chosen to use him to do in the lives of the church. The gospel of which Paul was made a minister was going forth, and the Spirit was creating believers, and His creating believers was for the express purpose of being an exhibition of God’s grace on the stage of history so that the angels in the heavenly places would see God’s manifold wisdom and ascribe to Him glory because of His work, the Church. Even Paul’s suffering was seen to be truly the glory of these believers who heard the gospel because of God’s use of Paul, and it is truly our glory as well, since we too have heard the gospel through Paul’s letters to the churches, which were written as he was suffering for the sake of the gospel of Christ.
So, as we resume Paul’s prayer keep in mind what has gone before...
We will look at our text this week by asking three questions that arise as we see how Paul prayed: How do you approach God? Why do you approach God? and, Who is God?
We see right off that Paul begins vs. 14 the same way he began vs. 1 of this chapter. “For this reason...” He is looking back to the great work that we see God has done in Chs 1-2, specifically the bringing together of Jew and Gentile into one new man, a new race, a new kind of humanity that is being built together as living stones “into a holy temple in the Lord...a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (2:21-22). And if you continue to trace back Paul’s argument, you will see that it really begins in Ch. 1, specifically from 1:10, where he says that the the mystery of God’s will which was set forth in Christ was a plan for the fullness of time, to sum up all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. This magnificent work that God has done in Christ is the basis on which Paul is going to now pray.
Before we get into the actual prayer, though, think about how you pray. Do you ever consider how you should approach God when you pray? Are you flippant? Do you simply presume to walk into God’s presence and ask whatever it is you want at the moment, and just as impertinently go on about your day? Now, I am not trying to argue for a specific prayer ritual or that we must meet prerequisite stipulations before praying to God, but at the same time we must recognize who it is to whom we are speaking. We must have a respect for Him as our Creator, and esteem Him rightly. And Paul helps us in this passage to see how it is that he approached God when praying for the Church.
First, notice that Paul says he bends his knee to the Father. In our culture, we may pass over this as chivalry or maybe as a common way to pray. But in Paul’s day, one would not bow to pray, they would stand. Only in cases of extreme need would one take to bowing a knee. Bending your knee was a sign of great reverence and submission, recognizing that you were in total dependence on the one to whom you were bowing. And this is the position that Paul takes when interceding for the church.
This is the position that we all will take. Every person on earth will bend the knee to Christ as Lord. All will recognize not only that He indeed is God, but also that they owe their allegiance to Him as Lord. Just as Paul said in Phil. 2:9-10, “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.” Paul is simply recognizing that the homage that all will one day give to Jesus, should presently be the stance of those who follow after Him, not presuming on His kindness, but pleading with a proper reverence and fear.
But this proper fear should not keep us from experiencing the relationship that we have to God through Jesus. Paul says he bends his knee to the Father. In Christ, the Son of God, we now have a familial relationship with God as our Father. And just as we should have a proper fear of our earthly fathers, yet knowing that they love us and our loving them, we too should recognize the same relationship is present between us and God, only perfected. Our relationships with our fathers are sometimes strained, either because of their sin our ours, but we all have a need and a desire for that perfected, intimate relationship that fathers and children should have. Just as freely as we should be able to go to our earthly fathers and expect their attention and love, we do have our heavenly Father’s ear.
Paul has already told us in 2:18 that, “through Him we both [i.e. Jews and Gentiles] have access in one Spirit to the Father.” And here, we see Paul availing himself of that privilege. We, too, have this privilege, and should often come to our Father expecting His attention and love, not because we are lovable, but because His Son, to whom we have been united, is lovable. That is why we are told in 5:20 to “give thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” It is only through Christ that we experience any relationship with the Father.
Paul further tells us that we are not only to come to God on bended knee as our Father, but we are also to acknowledge Him as the originator of all life. He is the “Father from whom every family in the heavens on the earth is named.”
A question that you likely have as you read this is, “What families?” The Greek word used here for family simply denotes a family group, a people that all descend from a single ancestor. Is Paul really saying, though, that God is the Father of every family? In answer, yes, that is what he is saying. We all as humans trace back our ancestry to God, as Luke recognized in Ch.3 of his gospel, where he traces back the genealogy of Jesus, as well as that of all mankind, to Adam, “the son of God.”
But God is not only the Father from whom we on earth are named, but also those in the heavens. Paul has already in this letter referred to the classes and families of angels in the heavenlies, and he will do so again. We also know that the angels are referred to as “sons of God” on many occasions. The point that Paul is trying to make is that all created beings derive their name, which in Hebrew culture was a revelation into the inner being or true nature of a person, from God. This signifies that God brought us into existence, and now exercises dominion over us, giving each of us our appropriate roles. So, as we come to pray to God, we too should fall to our knees before our loving Father, recognizing that He is the one from whom all creation comes.
So, we’ve seen that it is important to come to the Father in an appropriate manner, but what do we do once we are in His presence? We pray. That is the purpose that Paul mentions as why he bows his knee to the Father. Ok, for what do we pray? In this prayer that Paul prays in vs. 16-19, he lists three petitions, each of which build off the others, resulting in his main concern, that these believers be “filled with all the fullness of God.”
Paul begins his prayer by asking that God “might give/grant to you.” That is the main request of any prayer of supplication, isn’t it. We, who are finite, asking our infinite God to do something for us. And Paul asks that God might give to you “according to the riches of His glory.” This is not simply that God would reach into the endless treasures of grace and pour them out on His children, though that is true. What Paul is asking here is that the giving not simply be from the source of the riches of God’s glory, but that it would be corresponding in nature to the inexhaustible riches of His glory. That they would be just as never-ending and as glorious and as powerful years from now as they are today!
Paul asks that God would give abundantly to us, and not just a one time gift, but a forever gift - a gift corresponding to the riches of His glory. This glory is the radiance or splendor that surrounds our Creator, often seen as a visible manifestation, which conveys the ideas of the perfection of His character and activity.
So, this petition for God to “give according to the riches of His glory” is the main verbal phrase that is going to be the stem of the three petitions that Paul has.
Paul’s first petition is for the strengthening of these believers, to which he also refers as being in-dwelt by Christ. Have any of you ever been in need? Physically, spiritually, emotionally, relationally? We all have at some point, and we will again. These believers to which Paul was writing were experiencing these same needs. And Paul wanted them to be assured that God was perfectly able and willing to meet their needs.
We see this assurance in the constant references to the power and strength of God. We’ve already seen the governing verbal phrase of this prayer being that God would “give according to the riches of His power.” You cannot give, unless you have. And past that, we see in this first petition in vs. 16 that Paul prays that God would give “with power to be strengthened through His Spirit in the inner man.” God was able with power to strengthen them, as He is able with power to strengthen us. And He does this through His Holy Spirit, affecting the “inner man.” Gordon Fee defines the “inner man” as, “the interior of our being...the seat of personal consciousness...[and] of our moral being” [Fee, God’s Empowering Presence, 695-96]. It is the focal point of a person’s life where the HS does His strengthening and renewing work. Paul has said elsewhere in 2 Cor. 4:16, that “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer man is wasting away, our inner man is being renewed day by day.” That, friends, is the work of God, the HS.
But, do not think that Paul was un-Trinitarian in his theology. He has spoken of the Father’s role, and of the Spirit’s role, and the Son’s role is not unrelated to them both. Vs. 17 is what grammarians call an apposition - a restatement of what was said previously using a different word or phrase to communicate a different aspect of meaning.
“To be strengthened through His Spirit in the inner man” in vs. 16 is an exact parallel of “Christ dwelling through faith in your heart” in vs. 17. Paul is not asking God that the Spirit might strengthen you, and then subsequently that Christ might dwell in your heart through faith. This is one in the same action, according to the riches of God’s glory! “Christ dwelling you your heart through faith” is an explanation of how it is that God will strengthen you in the inner man!
But, a question that you may be asking, is this: Why would Paul pray that God would strengthen these believers by having Christ dwell in their hearts through faith? If they are believers, which if these are the same people to whom the rest of the letter was written, we can safely assume that they were, then why does Paul pray this way? Don’t they already have Christ dwelling in their hearts? Yes, but we need Christ’s continual in-dwelling for us to live. Just as we need our hearts to continually be pumping blood through our body for our bodies to live, so we need Christ’s continual presence in us so that we can truly live through Him. The verb “to dwell” here literally means “to settle down,” as opposed to “to sojourn.” Paul uses it in Col. 1:19 to describe the union of Christ’s deity and humanity: “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” And in Col. 2:9: “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.” Can Jesus cease to be God? Can the human nature of Jesus and the divine nature decide to go their separate ways? No! That is heresy!
Here we see Paul encouraging Christians by praying that God, using the full abundance of the riches of His glorious perfections, would strengthen believers inwardly through Christ forever dwelling through faith in our hearts. As we are trusting in Him, which is what “through faith” means, He is dwelling in us. And as the HS empowers believers, the greater is our transformation into the likeness of Christ, which is what Paul will speak to in Chs. 4-6.
In light of this first petition, Paul mentions two hopeful results of the Spirit’s strengthening us by Christ dwelling through faith in our hearts by using both a botanical and an architectural metaphor in the last part of vs. 17: “in love having been rooted, and having been grounded.” Peter O’Brien describes the importance of love in Paul’s thought here by saying, “Love is the soil in which believers are rooted and will grow, and the foundation upon which they are built” [Ephesians, 260]. In fact, the original word order has “in love” first, stressing the importance of love in Paul’s thinking.
As we will see in the second half of Ephesians, love is so important to the Christian life. Paul says here that it is the result of Christ dwelling in your heart. You cannot be a believer and not have love. As Paul says in Rom. 5:5: “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” It is because God loved us, that we are able to love. Love is a fruit of the Spirit. Dr. Donald Grey Barnhouse said speaking of the fruits of the Spirit: “Love is the key. Joy is love singing. Peace is love resting. Long-suffering is love enduring. Kindness is love’s touch. Goodness is love’s character. Faithfulness is love’s habit. Gentleness is love’s self-forgetfulness. Self-control is love holding the reins.”
To what degree do you evoke love in your life? Does love “hold the reins” in your life? Do you do your work with love in mind? Do you talk to your children with love on your tongue? Do you consider how you will spend your money today with love in your calculator? Do you consider how you will spend your free time with love in your heart? To what degree is love rooted and grounded in you?
The importance of love in the believer’s life is seen further in that Paul uses this statement about love in 17b as the condition for the second petition that Paul speaks beginning in vs. 18: “So that you might be able to grasp with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.” This second petition presupposes the first. You cannot know the love of Christ or grasp the listed four dimensions without having first been strengthened by the HS in the inner man and having Christ dwell in your heart through faith, in love having been rooted and grounded. And this second prayer concern is that God would give to them two things according to the riches of His glory (still the governing verbal phrase), 1. a comprehension of the four dimensions of the love of Christ, and 2. a knowledge of the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.
Comprehending the Four Dimensions. This is one of the most well known verses in all of Scripture, but what does it mean? Paul asks that they may know the breadth and length and height and depth. Of what? Paul is referring here to none other than the dimensions of Christ’s love! The main sentence in vs. 18-19 is actually, “So that you might be able to grasp and to know the love of Christ.” The dimensions are simply the object of what you are to grasp together with all the saints.
These four dimensions are held together in unity by one definite article, “the breadth and length and height and depth,” showing the immensity of this particular object. And to be able to “grasp” or “comprehend” this knowledge is not something that is humanly achievable. Note that this grasping is still based on God’s giving to us. This is not something we can accomplish apart from God’s divine strength.
Knowing the Love of Christ. So we see that Christ’s love is immense, but now we will see that it is incomprehensible. Paul is not afraid of using paradox in his writings. A paradox is a statement that has sound reasoning and true premises, but the conclusion of which seems self-contradictory. Here, Paul asks God to give to believers the ability to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge. How can you know what cannot be known? Be careful, because that is not what Paul says. He asks that we may know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge. It is not unknowable, but it surpasses that which is knowable. Looking back at the previous description of Christ’s love, how can you plumb the depths of the Christ’s infinite love? Can you go far enough to exhaust the length of His love for us? Can you fly high enough to come to the end of the love of Christ? No! Remember, you are finite! You cannot search the infinite and come to a full knowledge!
But Paul still prays that we would have knowledge of it. How? Is Paul asking that we would have some intellectual musing of Christ’s love for us? No! Paul wants believers to be given power by the HS to grasp the dimensions of this love in their own experience. That is why he lists dimensions. We have to experience dimensions! Why experience this love? Because it is the best thing we can do! Searching through the limitless love that Christ has shown and continues to show and will forever show us is the best use of our mind and hearts that we can have.
It humbles us, reminding us that Christ did for us what we cannot do for ourselves, nor would we have done, and what we would not do for others. It draws us to Him, because we see that He is the only person who will ever truly love us, even more than we love ourselves. This love woos us from our sin, because we see that there is a greater, more desirable thing in our universe and experience that would cause us to be happier than anything else that we could find. May God give us the ability to grasp and know this love! May He draw you today to Himself because of the love that He shows us, and may He encourage you today knowing that His love is infinite and everlasting! No matter how much we experience of the love of Christ, there will always be more to experience.
Well, in order to even further equip the saints whom Paul would have grasp and comprehend the love of Christ, he prays that they would “be filled with all the fullness of God.” If you thought knowing the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge was out of your ability, what about this! As Armitage Robinson spoke concerning this verse, “No prayer that has ever been framed has uttered a bolder request.” How can Paul pray this prayer? Has Paul gone over the top with this petition? Well, do note that this is a divine passive; Paul asks that we would “be filled.” We cannot fill ourselves with the fullness of God - it can come from Him alone.
But the questions remains: How can you be filled with God? What is God? God is Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth. So how can that be in us? In much the same way that we are to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge. We continue to experience God and His attributes throughout our lives. Think back to 1:23, where the church is described as “the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” This is an example of what theologians call inaugurated eschatology. We were saved, we are being saved, we will be saved. In this context, we were filled, we are being filled, and we will be filled. At every point in your life, you are experiencing more of God than you were before.
So, then, how can God actually do this great work? In considering this question, Paul transitions from prayer into doxology in vs. 20-21. A doxology is a formal praise to God. And the doxology that Paul pens here extends from his consideration of what he prays for believers. So how could God fill us with the fullness of Himself? We must first understand who God is. Paul tells us here in vs. 20 that God is the “One who is able to do far beyond all that which we can ask or understand.” We cannot get how God does what He does. Nor do we need to. That is the whole faith part of the Christian life. As finite creatures, we must trust our infinite Creator who provides for us moment by moment.
This doxology is made up of three sections. First, it mentions the one to whom glory is given - “the One who is able to do far beyond all that which we can ask or understand, according to the power that works in us.” This “One who is able” is of course, God. And by saying He is the One “who is able,” Paul again ascribes power. To be able, one must have power (which is what the verb actually means - to have power to do). And Paul emphasizes this fact by saying literally, “who is able to do far beyond beyond all that which we can ask or understand.” This should encourage us. If we take anything from this passage, we at least should see that God is powerful! This is the seventh of eight instances of God’s power in this passage. And this was how Paul prayed, looking to the all powerful God to give and fill.
The second part of this doxology is an ascription of glory. We see this in vs. 21a, “To Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus.” Now, to ascribe glory to God is not adding something to Him; rather, it is our active acknowledgment of who He is and what He has done. An odd part of this doxology is that Paul says, “to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus.” Nowhere else in the NT does any doxology ascribe glory to God in the church or even in Christ Jesus. But if you think about the context, it makes complete sense. Given the role that Christ has in having all things summed up in Him, and the public display that the church is to the world of the manifold wisdom of God, it is suiting to say that glory be to God in the church and in Christ Jesus, because it is through them that creation will see God and will glorify Him.
The third part of this doxology is a temporal expression, which we see in vs. 21b: “in all generations for ever and ever.” Again, Paul is not somehow wishing the eternal glory of God to be so, but he recognizes that it is true. And it is true during the life of every person who ever has lived, and who is living, and who ever will live, forever and ever. Again, we see the immensity of the glory of God.
Paul ends this prayer and doxology by saying, “amen.” In both the OT and NT, amen is used to confirm a curse, to accept a blessing, or to associate oneself with a doxology, as we see in Rom. 1:25 and Gal. 1:5. Here, we all are invited to ascribe glory to God by saying along with Paul, “Amen!” We associate ourselves with what Paul says, and agreeing whole heartedly, we say, “Amen, it is true!”
Do you say amen to this doxology? Do you with Paul and with the church ascribe glory to God, the One who is able to do far beyond all that which we ask or understand? Do remember, He is the one from whom every family is named. You do owe Him allegiance, and He will hold you accountable. But do you really want to approach God in disobedience? Do look again at Paul’s prayer here, and recognize the great love of Christ that is immeasurable. I ask you to search the dimensions of His love, and see if you can find the ends of it! You are filling yourself with things that will not fill you. You are consuming, but never completed. Why is that? Why are you never satisfied with what you have? Because you are filling yourself with that which can never satisfy. Come after Christ and experience His immense love through faith. You cannot use it up, and He never tires of supplying it to you. Come to Christ.
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