“Who are you to evaluate the church? You don’t even come!”
That’s how I feel, an outsider looking in. But my church comments come only because that’s what Paul is writing–praying–about. So here’s his impossible church-prayer.
“For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name” (Ephesians 3:14,15).
After the Spirit prompted Paul to “sidetrack” into his Gentile ministry (3:2-13), he picks up his prayer-report begun in 3:1. “For this reason” he prays. That is, because his readers (believing-in-Christ-Jesus Gentiles and Jews) have become part of the new temple where God’s Spirit lives (2:11-22), he prays for their spiritual empowerment.
Since Jews typically prayed standing, when Paul writes, “I kneel before the Father”, he’s probably describing an intensified prayer. Intercession is a struggle, war in the spiritual realms; thus Paul fights to pray for the church.
Commentators differ on “the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name.” The most reasonable interpretation seems to be this: God as Creator is “Father” (progenitor) of everyone. That God “names” everyone signifies his creation of them and dominion over them. Paul, then, intercedes to the all-authoritative One.
“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge– that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:16-19).
Paul tells them he prays that they may be strengthened with power (dunamis). The Greek is literally “according to the riches of his glory”. Paul prays that God may give power in a way that corresponds to his glorious riches–in particular, that they may be made strong by means of the Spirit “in your inner being”. Paul isn’t praying here for more visible manifestations of the Spirit’s presence, but for an “inner being” empowering.
“ . . . so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” Christ (by the Spirit) already indwells their hearts. Paul tells them he’s praying they might more deeply experience Christ’s presence in their lives. We generally think the Spirit does one work (regeneration) or two (regeneration and baptism in the Spirit). But Paul implies the Spirit’s work is not only ongoing, but may (should?) include several significant experiences. Sam Storms (pastor, Bridgeway Church, Oklahoma City) comments: “It would seem that he is praying for the emotional increase or experiential expansion of what is already a theological fact. His desire is that the Lord Jesus, through the Spirit, might exert an ever-increasing and progressively more powerful influence on our lives and in our hearts. It is what I like to call, the incessant spiritual reinforcement in the human heart of the strength of Jesus and his love.”
D.A. Carson says, “this cannot be merely an intellectual exercise. Paul is not asking that his readers might become more able to articulate the greatness of God’s love in Christ Jesus or to grasp with the intellect alone how significant God’s love is in the plan of redemption. He is asking God that they might have the power to grasp the dimensions of that love in their experience. Doubtless that includes intellectual reflection, but it cannot be reduced to that alone” (A Call to Spiritual Reformation, 191).
This indwelling presence happens “through faith”—an ongoing trust that Christ alone is our salvation.
By virtue of faith in Christ, Paul’s readers are already “rooted and grounded in love”. Now Paul tells them he prays that they may have power to “grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge– that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God”. This is the “inner being” power for which Paul prays—that they may grasp the huge dimensions of Christ’s love and experience it. This God must do; believers’ intentions or actions can’t.
Paul prays his readers “may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God”. Is it possible that believers in this life may be filled with all God’s moral excellencies? Probably not. But this is the direction toward which we should aim.
Such experiential knowledge of God’s love, such filling with God’s fullness, is a “together with all the saints” experience—personal, but not private. Which raises the question: what would a church look like that’s experientially knowing the unknowable love of God?
Paul finishes his prayer-report with a doxology . . .
“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen” (Ephesians 3:20,21).
Any thinking person, with any church experience, knows how impossible Paul’s request is. However genuinely loving a church may appear, tensions inevitably exist beneath the surface. But Paul prays for God to do what we cannot. And he “nails it” with this doxology.
God can do huperekperissou—“far beyond, so much more than”—“than all we ask or imagine”. Has Paul’s supplication been colored by his God-enthusiasm? Can God really fill us together with such unknowable love? Is it possible for God to take our ordinary church and fill us to the fullness of himself?
His power is already “at work within us”. And corresponding to the power God can do far more “than all we ask or imagine”. Therefore the doxology: “Now . . . to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Yes!” Undoubtedly this “glory” reaches its height and extends on into eternity. But Paul praises God who will receive glory in his love-fullness church now and to the next generation and the next and to all.
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Well, we’ve talked about prayer. Let’s pray . . .
“Father, in my heart I kneel before you. You are Father of us all and want us to be family. Out of the super-abundance of your glory, through your Spirit, make us strong in our inner selves. In that power, may Christ be more and more at home in our hearts as we trust our lives to him. Root us deep in the soil of your great love. Empower us to know, together with all your people, the extravagant dimensions of your love—how wide and long and high and deep it really is. May we experientially know the too-great-to-know love of Christ. Fill us together with the fullness of life and power that comes from you.
“Now, all glory be to you, God! By your breathtaking power you can do far more than all we dare ask or even imagine. Glory be to you in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations for ever and ever! Amen.”