Hello, TYM! We’ve got a great passage to look at today. One of the most encouraging set of verses penned and given to us. Let’s jump in.
Teaching Text: Ephesians 3:14-22
14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 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, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
20 Now 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, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Eph 3:14–21). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
In the first half of Ephesians (chapter 1-3), Paul lays out foundational theology. In our study of the letter so far, we’ve talked about larger concepts such as spiritual blessings, sin, grace, unity of believers and the mystery of the gospel. As we wrapped up the last lesson, we see Paul talk about his mission in Christ to make the mystery known. It’s a missional focus that we should share as well as we have been created to walk in good works (v 2:10).
In chapter 4, Paul will again use the word “walk” and will begin describing what it looks like to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling” and give instructions for what righteous action looks like. But as we discussed in lesson 7, righteous action stems from grace-fueled transformation. Otherwise, it’s just a list of rules and humans aren’t great at just following rules.
So here as chapter 3 is concluding and before transitioning into his description of the Christian “walk,” Paul interjects this great prayer that is calling on God, in all his parts, to infuse the followers at Ephesus with riches of glory, strength, in-dwelling, comprehension and power. The prayer is a recipe for total spiritual transformation.
What is the perfect picture of complete spiritual transformation? In Mark 12, Jesus is asked what is the greatest commandment and he answers the following way:
28 And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mk 12:28–31). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
Our entire being and essence (heart, soul, mind and strength) is directed toward and for loving God when this commandment is followed. Only Jesus was able to execute that commandment perfectly and our transformation to be more like him means we will move closer to being able to as well. One pair of writers sums it up this way:
This is the goal of spiritual formation: learning to think, to love, to act, and to will toward God in love. Not the suppression and removal of desire, but the reorientation of the cries and longings of our heart toward God.
Tyson, J. & Silk, S. (2019). Kingdom Vision. New York City: Church of the City New York.
While we don’t see a completely direct parallel to the Mark 12 passage, when we look back at Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3, we see him similarly parse out elements of our being and ask for God to strengthen these components.
- “strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being” (v16)
- “Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” (v17)
- “strength to comprehend” (v18)
- “know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” (v19)
Our transformation is not something we do alone, rather we have divine help from God as a whole and God in his three parts. Paul prays to the Father (v14) and asks that he grant the followers at Ephesus to be strengthened with power through his Spirit (v16) so that Christ (v17) may dwell in their hearts. Then later prays that they would be filled with all the fullness of God (v19).
Look back at lesson 5 when we discussed the prayer at the end of chapter 1 and see some similar ideas, especially this idea of experiential and revealing knowledge. Here again, Paul is drawing the focus back to comprehension and knowledge. He asks that they can comprehend and know something that he also states is beyond their ability to comprehend and know. There is never enough. We are able to explore the fullness of God and Christ’s love and never exhaust all there is to explore.
Again, it is not enough to have knowledge, but we also must love. We talked about 1 Corinthians 13 before, but Paul says in verse 2:
2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Co 13:2). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
Speaking about 1 Corinthians 13, Francis Chan says this:
This passage is powerful because Paul redirects the focus from supernatural gifts (discussed in chapter 12 of 1 Corinthians -CT) to love. He specifically says that without love, speaking “in the tongues of men and angels” and “prophetic powers” and understanding “all mysteries and all knowledge” mean nothing.
The Holy Spirit is the one who fills believers with God’s love and the one who enables us to love one another. Paul describes this beautifully in his prayer to the Ephesians.”
Chan, F. (2009). Forgotten God. Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook.
Again, this prayer from Paul is a recipe for spiritual transformation changing us into people who perfectly love God as Jesus mentioned in Mark 12. However, Jesus mentioned another commandment: “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
While Paul’s prayer can certainly apply to the individual, it is not an individual in a vacuum. Notice what he says at the end of verse 17 and in the first part of verse 18: “you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints…”. And then in verse 21 he says, “to him be glory in the church…”. As we move into the next phase of Ephesians, it will be important to keep this in mind. Our exploration of the knowledge and love of God is not a sole journey, but one we take together. Chapters 4-6 are a great exploration for what love for each other looks like.
And one more thing that I love about this passage…Paul’s prayer is not just for the Ephesians and not just for the believers in the world at the time. Paul prayed this for you and me, too, when he said “throughout all generations, forever and ever.” I find it encouraging that this phrase was included. Similarly, Jesus prays for future believers in John 17: 20-21.
20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Jn 17:20–21). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
How great it is to be a part of the church now and that the church now is the same as the church then and will be. All in the church are united in Christ with those who came before us and those who have yet to come.
As I mentioned at the end of lesson 5, this prayer, along with the one in Ephesians 1 and Colossians 1 are great prayers to continually examine and pray for yourself and others. Take time this week to sit with this passage for a few minutes and pray this specific prayer of asking for Spirit-powered strength and comprehension. Here is the passage again (New Living Translation this time just to shake things up) without verse numbers to help you:
When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.
Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.