My turn to preach the Student Sermon in the Ridley College Chapel in Melbourne, Australia! What will I preach on? That was the question! Preaching in front of world-renowned Biblical scholars and fellow students at a theological college was never going to be easy! Best to preach on a passage that fascinated me personally! Ephesians 3:14-19 would be the passage!
It’s hard to recall some 51 years later what I said or what members of the teaching staff said in their “carving up” [aka ‘constructive criticism’ of the sermon] later that night. But I did survive! The fascination also survived! What a magnificent passage it is! It’s a prayer I have prayed countless times since that Monday afternoon Chapel service. It is a prayer for spiritual strength that ends with the petition that we might be filled to the measure of all the fulness of God! What a great prayer to pray for oneself and for family, friends and especially for one’s “foes!” [Jesus did command, “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Mat 5:44!] Someone remarked many years ago that the best way to get rid of an enemy is to turn them into a friend! Sincerely praying this prayer for them might indeed eventually turn that enemy into a friend.
THE NIV TEXT OF EPHESIANS 3:14-19
Eph 3:14 “For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God”.
A SUGGESTED PRAYER BASED ON EPHESIANS 3:14-19
No suggested prayer this time! My suggestion, rather, is that you pray the prayer using the verses in the text above. Paul described in these verses how he prayed for his readers. I couldn’t improve on the prayer especially as it part of the inspired word of God. You could pray it though, using the words of many of the numerous translations that are available to us these days. What I will do, is to bring out some of the meanings in the verses above, to help in understanding the depth of meaning in what we are praying.
A]. HOW PAUL PRAYED. [Verses 14-15]
1]. He Prayed Earnestly. Eph 3:14 “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father.” The word for “bow” [kamptō, κάμπτω] is only used 4 times in the New Testament. It is used to represent total submission and is used in Romans 14:11 and Philippians 2:10 to indicate the total submission of people to God when Christ returns. In the other verse [Romans 11:4] God told Elijah that He still had seven thousand men who had not “bowed” the knee to Baal. They had remained loyal to the God of Israel. In our Australian lingo Paul was “Fair Dinkum’ [that is, really, really sincere] in his prayers for the saints in Ephesus.
2]. He Prayed To The Heavenly Father. 15 “from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.” Paul had spoken of God as Father in verse 14 where the word is “patēr”. In verse 14 he uses a cognate of the word in using “patria” for “family.” Paul is inferring that all fatherhood derives its origin from God as Father. Fatherhood, indeed parenthood, was His idea, not a human construct!
B.} WHAT PAUL PRAYED. [Verses 16-19]
1]. That they might know inwardly the Spirit’s power. 3:16 “that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being.”
We note that the phrase is “according to the riches…”. Not “out of” so that there is a diminishing supply of riches. Rather according to the measure of His riches, which we saw in Ephesians 3:8, are “unsearchable.” His riches are inexhaustible. Enough for everyone! All the time!
“Strengthened with power..” . Paul often combines different words for power in the same verse. He uses here, “krataioō” from “kratos” dominion, for ‘strengthen.” Here it is coupled with “dunamis” which was often used of the mighty works or miracles of Jesus. He has in mind the power of God being imparted to the inner being of his readers by the Holy Spirit. Power indeed! God’s power! In us! By His grace!
2]. That Christ might be “at home” in their hearts. 3:17 “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith– that you, being rooted and grounded in love.”
“May dwell”. If believers are already indwelt by Christ why does Paul pray for Christ to indwell them? The answer is in the word he uses for “dwell”. The usual word for “dwell” is “oikeō”. Here the word is an intensified form of that word. It is “katoikeō” which means to abide, settle down, make one’s permanent home in. He prays that Christ might take up full residence in human hearts as they are opened wide to Him. [One prays that Christ might not only dwell in human hearts but also “feel at home” in the hearts which are opened wide to Him.]
3]. That they might have power to comprehend the fulness of the love of Christ. 3:17-19
Verse 17 was a reminder to his readers that their Christian pilgrimage was based on love, “that you, being rooted and grounded in love.” “Rooted” is [rhizoō] which is only found twice in the New Testament. [The other occurrence is in Colossians 2:7]. But verse 17 could be translated “that you having been rooted and having been grounded in love” because both verbs are in the Perfect tense indicating a past action with a present abiding result. They were rooted and grounded in love in the past by a past action of God [both verbs are also in the passive, meaning something was done to them] and that state continues for the believer.
Verse 18 builds on that concept that having been based on love they might go on to experience a greater measure of all the dimensions of that love. Paul prays that they “may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth [of Christ’s love].” The phrase “with all the saints” is significant. No one can grasp the immensity of the love of God. But in fellowship with other saints we can be enriched by hearing of their grasp and experience of God’s love in the experiences they have been through in life.
Christ’s love is beyond measure, “what is the breadth and length and height and depth [of Christ’s love].” So is the knowledge of that love. Paul goes on to pray that they might have a greater knowledge of that love.
4]. That they might be able to know [the ultimately unknowable] Christ’s love. 3:19 “and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.” Knowing the unknowable. Paul wants his readers to know more and more about the love of God whilst realising that they cannot fully comprehend or appropriate such love. It is surpassing knowledge where “surpassing” is a present participle of the verb [huperbállō]. His love is a surpassing knowledge sort of love. The English word “hyperbole” comes from the Greek word [huperbolḗ; ὑπερβολή] derived from the verb [huperbállō meaning to throw beyond, surpass.] In English a hyperbole is an extravagant exaggeration but there is no extravagant exaggeration to Christ’s love. It is far beyond any measure. It is far beyond any knowledge. It is far beyond any person’s capability to understand it. It is far beyond any person’s ability to experience it in full. There is always more to be experienced of His immeasurable love!
C). THE ULTIMATE PURPOSE OF PAUL’S PRAYER FOR THE EPHESIANS. Verse 3:19.
That they might be filled with God’s presence. 3:19 “…. that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” What does “filled with all the fulness of God” mean? King Solomon said in 1Kings 8:27 “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built!” If it is true that the heavens cannot contain God, how can believers be filled with the fulness of God?
Some indication is given in Colossians 2:9-10 where Paul writes, “For in him the whole fulness ( noun “plērōma”) of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have been filled (verb “plēroō”) in him, who is the head of all rule and authority”. We need to see that the fulness of God is associated with Christ and that our being filled with the fulness of God is dependent on our relationship with Christ. The more He is allowed to occupy His home in our hearts, the more access He has to every part of our lives and our personalities, the more of the fulness of God we will receive. Paul expressed it well when he wrote of his Christian experience in Galatians 2:19-20, “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me”.
Living in the fulness of the fulness of God means nothing less than allowing Christ to live His life unhindered in and through us as His people.
What a great prayer to pray for ourselves and our loved ones! But it takes someone filled with the fulness of God, with the love of God, to pray it for their enemies. We cannot remain filled with the fulness of God until we repent of our unwillingness to love others, especially those whom we see as our enemies! After all, God’s love can only be poured out by His Spirit into and through loving hearts, Rom 5:5 “And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”
Blog No.314 posted on http://www.jimholbeck.blog on Thursday 14th February 2019.
( A love message to the beloved saints on St Valentine’s Day 2019)