{6}         New Confidence (Eph 3:14-21)

Introduction

PART I. CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE. SECTION B. NEW COMMUNITY.

One of the best ways to discover a Christian’s chief anxieities and ambitions is to study the content of their prayers and the intensity with which they pray them. We all pray about what concerns us and are evidently not concerned about matters we do not include in our prayers. Prayer expresses desire. For example, when Paul prayed for the salvation of his Israelite kinsfolk, he wrote of his “hear’s desire and prayer to God for them.”

As the hymn puts it, “Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire, unuttered or expressed.” This is certainly true of this second prayer of Paul’s in Ephesians. He pours out his heart to God.

 

Question: What have you learned from a Christian whose background is different from yours? (Consider those who are different in terms of age, denomination, ethnicity, gender, social status and so on.)

 

Outline:

3:14-19            Paul’s earnest prayer for the Ephesians

3:20-21            Paul’s concluding praise

 

Explanation

3:14     “For this reason” indicates a continuation from 3:1 where Paul started to pray and then interrupts his prayer with the exposition on his ministry, the gospel. He continues his thought from the message in ch.2 about the new humanity that God created.

The Bible lays down no rule about the posture we should adopt when we pray. In Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the Publican, both men stood to pray (Lk 18:11,13). Paul specifically says he kneels to pray in reverent humility.

3:15     The theme of the previous chapter is that the Jewish and the Gentile believers equally belong to the one and same family—the church. Therefore the better translation is “the whole family” of believers. However, some people believe the term “every family” is used to indicate that God’s fatherhood is the source of all fatherhood on earth.

“In heaven and on earth”: The church militant on earth and the church triumphant in heaven, though separated by death, are nevertheless only two parts of the one great family of God.

3:16     “Riches of His glory” or “glorious riches” is the same as the prayer in 1:18. Paul has no doubt that God has inexhaustible resource to answer his prayer.

The content of Paul’s prayer is like a staircase by which he climbs higher and higher in his aspiration for his readers. He prays for 4 things:

[1]  strength: they may be strengthened by the indwelling of Christ through His Spirit (v.16b-17a);

[2]  love: they may be rooted and grounded in love (v.17b);

[3]  knowledge: they may know Christ’s love in all its dimensions, although it is beyond knowledge (v.18-19a);

[4]  fullness: they may be filled right up to the very fullness of God (v.19b).

[1]   Strength: In v.16b-17a, there are apparently two petitions: “(God) may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being” and “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” (v.17a). But they clearly belong together. Both refer to the Christian’s innermost being: “inner being” and “hearts”. Both refer to the indwelling: by “His Spirit” and by “Christ”. For Paul, to have Christ dwelling in us and to have the Holy Spirit dwelling in us are the same thing.

The question is then: does Christ not already dwell in every Christian? Yes, every Christian is indeed indwelt by Christ and is the temple of the Holy Spirit (Ro 8:9-10; 1Co 6:19). But as Charles Hodge says, “The indwelling of Christ is a thing of degrees.” Paul prays that his readers may “know the strength of the Spirit’s inner reinforcement” (Phillip’s translation) and may hold firmly “by faith” of this divine strength.

There are 2 Greek words for “dwelling” (Gr. paroikeo and katoikeo). One has a weaker meaning used for an alien who is living away from his home (2:19) or a temporary dwelling. The other has a stronger meaning used for a permanent residence. Paul uses here the stronger word (Gr. katoikeo) indicating the dwelling of a master within his own home. Paul here prays to God the Father that Christ by His Spirit will be allowed to settle down in their hearts, and thereby strengthen them.

3:17     [2]        Love: Paul uses 2 metaphors (one botanical, the other architectural) to emphasize the depth of love, as opposed to superficiality. Christians are to be rooted and grounded, to have “deep roots and firm foundations” (New English Bible), to be like a well-rooted tree and a well-built house. Love is to be the soil in which their life is to be rooted; love is to be the foundation on which their life is built.

3:18     [3]        Knowledge: The grasping and knowing of the love of Christ is only possible as a result of building of a life on love in v.17. It is partly by practising love that we learn the meaning of Christ’s love.

The love of Christ is “broad” enough to encompass all mankind (especially Jews and Gentiles, the theme of ch.2-3), “long” enough to last for eternity, “deep” enough to reach the most degraded sinner, and “high” enough to exalt Him to heaven. Ancient commentators relate these dimensions to the dimensions of the cross.

We shall have power to comprehend these dimensions of Christ’s love only “with all the saints”. The isolated Christian can of course know something of the love of Jesus. But it needs all the saints together to understand the extension of God’s love, through their varied backgrounds and experiences.

3:19     While we can understand to some extent God’s love, we cannot fully know the entirety of God’s love. It surpasses knowledge, just like God’s power (1:19) and God’s grace (2:7) surpass knowledge.

[4]   Fullness: Every Christian still has room for spiritual growth. We are exhorted to be filled with the Spirit (5:18). While the church is already the fullness of Christ (1:23), it is still to “grow up into Him” till it reaches the whole measure of fullness (4:13). Paul prays that his readers may be “filled with all the fullness of God”. The Greek grammar (with preposition eis) indicates that we are to be filled not “with” the fullness but “unto” the fullness of God. God’s fullness or perfection becomes the standard or level up to which we pray to be filled. This is similar to the commands to be holy as God is holy (1Pe 1:15-16), and to be perfect as God is perfect (Mt 5:48).

Such a prayer surely look on to our final state of perfection in heaven when we shall be like Christ (1Jn 3:2).

3:20     Paul’s 4 petitions (v.16b-19) are sandwiched between 2 references to God. In v.14-16a, God is the Father of the whole family and possesses infinite riches in glory; in v.20-21, He is the one who works powerfully within us.

God’s ability to answer prayer is forcefully stated in a composite expression:

[1]   God is “at work”, not idle or inactive;

[2]   God knows what we “ask” as He hears our prayers;

[3]   God knows what we “imagine”as He reads our thoughts, even things we dare not ask;

[4]   God can do “all” we ask or imagine;

[5]   God can do “more than all” [beyond all] because His expectations are higher than ours;

[6]   God can do “more abundantly than all”;

[7]   God can do “far more abundantly than all” because he is a God of super-abundance. This word (Gr. hyperekperissou) is one of Paul’s coined “super-superlatives” sometimes translated as “immeasurably more”, meaning that there are no limits to what God can do.

3:21     We can only respond to what God’s has done by praising Him: “To Him be glory”. Note that the praise is to be sung by the church, not just by individuals. The whole first part on the doctrine of the church is concluded by the original Aramaic or Hebrew word “Amen”, meaning to confirm, to give one’s assent.

 

Summary

        Paul’s prayer relates to the fulfilment of his vision for God’s new society of love. He asks that its members may be strengthened to love and to know the love of Christ, though this surpasses knowledge. But then he turns from the love of God past knowing to the power of God past imagining, from limitless love to limitless power. For he is convinced, as we must be, that only divine power can generate divine love in the divine society.

        To add anything more would be inappropriate, except the doxology. “To Him be glory,” Paul exclaims, to this God of resurrection power, who alone can make the dream come true. The power comes from Him; the glory must go to Him. To Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus together, in the body and in the Head, in the bride and in the Bridegroom, in the community of peace and in the Peacemaker, to all generations (in history) for ever and ever (in eternity), Amen.

 

Application

        It takes the whole people of God to understand the whole love of God, all saints together—Jews and Gentiles, men and women, young and old, black and white—with all their vaired backgrounds and experiences.

 

Prayer

        Pray for your church so that it can have strength, love, knowledge, and God’s fullness.