September 8, 2019
Steven Lee (North Campus) | Ephesians 3:14-19
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.—Ephesians 3:14–19
Did you know God has been answering so many of our corporate prayers? Let me remind you that we have our 25 x ’25 vision to reach the unengaged—along with other goals ...
Aslan is on the move. Let me just admit, this feels like a lot. And yet what we need is not smaller dreams, not more bite-sized vision, not easier to attain goals—though I’m a realist—but rather more of God’s power and love at work in us. That’s what we need this morning, is it not? Isn’t that what you need personally more of this morning, this week, or this year? More of God, more of his power, and more of his love at work in you? That’s what I need.
In light of where we are corporately, I believe that what we need is a fresh outpouring of God’s power and love to carry out our mission and calling. So what better place to look than Paul’s prayer in third chapter of Ephesians.
My aim for us this morning is that we would experience and understand God’s power and love, so that we would see the truths of Paul’s prayer and pray like Paul.
This prayer is the second prayer of Paul in Ephesians—the first is a prayer of thanksgiving in chapter one. This prayer (vv. 14–19) is one long sentence in the Greek, which is retained in the ESV translation we’re using (86 words) and lends itself to some complexity in understanding it.
So the passage outline is as follows:
What I plan to do is look at Paul’s first and second petitions, and then go back to look at his address at the end.
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love.
This first petition comes with three parts that build on the others and overlap the others. The request is to be “strengthened with power” …
And all of that is to be granted “according to the riches of [God’s] glory.” We’ll come back to that.
His first petition is for power from the Spirit in their inner being. He wants strengthening with power through God’s Spirit. He wants them to experience God’s power internally.
Where is this to take place? In the “inner man.” This phrase “inner man” shows up in 2 Corinthians 4:16 and reads, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.” In those times, our inner being was thought of as the seat of personal consciousness. This inner man is very simply our heart, mind, and soul.
Paul in Ephesians 1:18–19 had already prayed that they would “know the immeasurable greatness of God’s power toward us” in salvation. But now Paul wants the Ephesians not just to know God’s power but to actually be strengthened and filled with God’s power through the Spirit. It’s one thing to know of something, but another to experience it as powerful.
I remember when we bought our first home a few years ago, it came with two-prong outlets, so I began to systematically change out every outlet. I knew that electricity could be dangerous. But it was a whole different ball game when, out of laziness, I forgot to turn off the circuit breaker and found my hands and body vibrating with electricity coursing through my body. It’s one thing to know the power of God, and it’s another to experience that power internally. Paul’s prayer is for the latter. So often this is what we mean when we say we’re “fighting the fight of faith”: I’m trying to believe and the things I already believe. I want to experience the things I already know.
Paul is praying for the Ephesians to receive power from God’s Spirit in the inner being. This is good news because our outer self—our bodies—are wasting away. Our bones grow brittle, our bodies recover more slowly than they used to, and we find that wrinkles, back pain, cancer, and all sorts of signs of aging, death, and decay come to our bodies. Paul’s prayer is to experience inner renewal day by day. Our outer self is wasting away, but our inner self, moment by moment, is growing increasingly more beautiful. Second Corinthians 4:16 says, “renewed day by day”; or in 3:18, it says that we “are being transformed into the same image [of the Lord] from one degree of glory to another.”
The second part of the petition is, “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” A question that should come to mind is, “What is the difference between part 1 and part 2? What’s different between ‘getting power through the Spirit in the inner being’ and ‘Christ dwelling in your heart through faith’?” They are parallel phrases where they explain one another. To have power by the Spirit in the inner man is to have the person of Christ dwelling in our hearts through faith. This is why we can say we are in union with Christ and we are filled with the Holy Spirit—they have the same aim and effect. But this second phrase helps clarify that believers are not just filled with power, but that power is actually the indwelling of Christ within us.
Now, one might ask, “Isn’t this already true of believers? Aren’t we already at conversion indwelled by Christ?” Throughout Ephesians, Paul has emphasized that believers are in Christ and share in his death, resurrection, and new life, having been sealed by the Holy Spirit. So if believers already have the Spirit and Christ, why does Paul pray for more? What Paul has in view is not just a onetime event but rather ongoing growing in faith. Before Christ, the Ephesians were alienated from God (4:19), but now they are enlightened, and Christ continues to exercise his rule and lordship over every area of their lives, filling them in greater measure.
It’s a little like the first home we bought in Wheaton. It was a nice little fixer-upper. It had five different types of carpet including office carpet in the kitchen over layers and layers of vinyl and linoleum. Underneath some of the carpet, hardwood floors were stained by cat urine. But when we moved in, we tore out the carpet, and then sanded the floors, painted the walls, and brought in our own furniture. Then slowly, over time, it began to look like ours. In that same way, Jesus comes into us and we have office carpet in the kitchen and cat-urine stains. But as Christ moves in, he exerts his rule and reign over our lives through faith, and the house begins to look more and more like Christ.
When God indwells his people, it has a transformative effect. The Christian life is not just knowing things but undergoing a transformation. Perhaps you are a student or an adult who has gone through the motions of the Christian life for a long time (e.g., you’ve come to church, learned the lingo, and gone through the motions). But true biblical Christianity is more than knowing something—it’s experiencing its power coursing through our body to produce love and faith.
This third part is similar to the first two, but in some ways provides a bridge between the first petition and the second. It says, “that you, being rooted and grounded in love.” It’s a break in the grammar that was used in the first two parts, a result of power from the Spirit and the indwelling of Christ, so that the Ephesians would be rooted and grounded in love. Essentially, to be rooted and grounded in God’s love is to experience the strengthening of the inner person by the Spirit and Christ’s indwelling. This uses two metaphors to make its point.
The first metaphor is agricultural and the second architectural. To be rooted and grounded is to have deep roots and a firm foundation, which comes when Christ has greater rule and reign over our lives. The Spirit and Christ don’t just move into our lives and give them a cleaning and a coat of paint. But they rebuild the very foundation of our lives. They remove the dry rot, they tear out the black mold, they get rid of the rusting pipes, they rewire the whole house and, essentially, they gut it down to the studs. God transforms his people by his Spirit.
Paul prays for the Ephesians to experience power from the Spirit and the indwelling Christ that they might be rooted and grounded in love. I want you to experience the love of God at work in you through the indwelling power of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Can you imagine a better experience in the world? I can’t!
So what do we do? Pray with faith for this power to experience God’s love. And how can we pray with faith? Go back with me to the beginning of verse 16, which we skipped. Paul prays that God would grant it “according to the riches of his glory.” God answers prayers according to his riches—infinite, everlasting, never failing, and never depleted riches! So let that motivate us to come boldly and with confidence to the throne of grace and ask for more of God’s Spirit and more of the indwelling power of Jesus Christ.
Consider how amazing it is that God does in fact answer according to the riches of his glory. His glory is infinite, so his answers to his people are lavish, full, abundant, and he gives generously. Philippians 4:19 says, “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” God can and will supply our every need according to his riches. He doesn’t give us all of our wants—lest we lose sight of him, fail to be content, fail to trust him, and love him only for his gifts. But God supplies all that we need according to his riches!
This isn’t prosperity gospel—which doesn’t expect too much of God but rather too little. The prosperity gospel limits God’s blessings to material prosperity while on earth and ties blessing with money. Instead, God gives more fully, more richly, more profoundly, more abundantly, and more lavishly in his Son Jesus—both strength and power, and knowledge, wisdom, hope, comfort, nearness of God himself, and the power of the indwelling Spirit. If you could have eternal peace forever, how much would you pay for it? A million dollars? God gives his peace according to the riches of his glory.
[—that you,] Being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
This second petition also comes with three parts: to have strength …
He wants the Ephesians to have strength to comprehend, to understand, and to grasp some truth. But it lacks an object. Did you notice that? It begs the question, the “breadth, length, height and depth” of what? There are various interpretations such as 1) God’s power, 2) the mystery of salvation, 3) the wisdom of God, 4) the love of Christ, 5) the new temple (end of chapter 2), 6) the heavenly inheritance (Revelation 21:16), and others.
Some interpreters rely on later 3rd and 4th-century Egyptian papyri that used this same formula to speak of power, but most modern Bible translations take it to be the love of Christ. I think that’s most likely. It builds from what was mentioned before: “rooted and grounded in the love of Christ.” And now Paul prays for them to comprehend the bigness and magnitude of this love that surpasses knowledge. And he wants them to grasp it with all the saints—this love is so big, so robust, so complete, so pervasive and powerful that it is beyond comprehension.
Paul wants for them a deeper, fuller, experiential understanding and experience of the love of God in Christ, and yet he readily admits the magnitude, immensity, and bigness of this love that it surpasses understanding. Paul isn’t calling for believers to love God more—as important as that is—but rather to know how much God loves and cares for them.
Perhaps that is the word that some of us need to hear this morning. Perhaps you’re engaged in self-harm because you hate yourself. You doubt God’s love and goodness. You resent his sovereignty. You question his wisdom. What I want you to grasp—to wrap your mind around—is how much God loves you.
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.”—Ephesians 4:4–5
God loves you more than you’ll ever know, but it did not prevent him from going to extreme lengths to show you how much he does in fact love you in the crucifixion of his Son. It’s so great that you can’t understand it, but it’s an amazing experience to try to grasp it. It’s like the Grand Canyon. It’s really big (understatement). I’ve been there once. I saw how big it was from one spot on the edge of the Canyon. In that moment, I could both 1) see how big it is, and 2) see how I can’t really even begin to understand how massive it is. The Grand Canyon is dwarfed by the magnitude of God’s love.
We are going to spend the entirety of our lives grasping more and more how immense, great, and enormous God’s love is for us, and we’ll never fully wrap our minds around it. We’ll never get to the end of God’s love. We’ll never exhaust it. We’ll never fully grasp it, and yet it will be the most profound experience of our lives to grow and grow for eternity to understand how much God loves us. There is limitless love in the storehouse of grace in the person of Jesus Christ. So, if you’re worried about tomorrow, or next week, or next year, don’t fret! God’s love for his children dwarfs any anxieties and worries that we might have. Rest in knowing that you are loved by God.
This is part of the already/not-yet reality of the Kingdom. In Ephesians 1:23, we see that Christ’s body already shares in his fullness. We have died with Christ, been raised to new life, and in his people God dwells bodily, and yet, we do not experience him as fully as we will. We still experience walking in newness of life and attaining to the fullness of God. The aim here is that God’s people would become all that God wants them to be in him, namely, spiritually mature.
So Paul’s first petition is for the Ephesians to experience power through the Spirit and the indwelling Christ to be rooted and grounded in love, and his second petition is for them to comprehend and know the fullness of this love. We need to experience more of God, and we need to know the massiveness of God’s love. And Paul prays like this, and he sets a model for us to pray like this as well. So the question then is this: What is the foundation for us praying like this? That leads us back to verses 14–15 at the beginning in Paul’s opening address.
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.
Paul opens with the words “for this reason,” which begs the question, “For what reason?” If we look back earlier in chapter 3, we realize that Paul had begun to pray in Ephesians 3:1, “For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles …” But caught himself in mid-sentence and clarified his own calling to the mystery of the gospel. So then we have to look further back in Ephesians 2 to understand the reason for Paul’s prayer.
What is the “reason” for Paul’s prayer? Paul has highlighted how both Jews and Gentiles were once dead, but now they have been made alive with Christ so that by grace they have been saved through faith—not works. That’s Ephesians 2:1–10, but then in verses 11–22 Paul wants the Ephesians to know—who were primarily Gentiles (Ephesians 2:11)—that they are reconciled to both God and to Jews, killing the hostility, so that they are fellow citizens and saints of God as part of his holy temple.
Paul’s prayer is a direct result of highlighting for the Ephesians their identity in Christ. They are not estranged, divided, hostile, or separated, but they are part of God’s eternal plan to be united in one new man, namely Jesus Christ. See Ephesians 3:19–22.
You are becoming a holy temple, together with all the apostles, prophets, and Jesus Christ himself, to become a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. You are now the new temple of God. Jesus has broken down all hostilities, reconciled those were estranged, and calls them to be a new and living temple of the most high God. This is precisely why he prays for them to experience God’s power and love, and to know the magnitude of this love that is at work in them now. You’re not just a person, but you’re a building block of the temple of God that has the Spirit and Christ indwelling you to walk in the manner worthy of the gospel.
Paul’s posture clues us into the seriousness of his prayer. Among Jews, it would be usual to stand with lifted hands in prayer. Kneeling—though it has become more normative in Christian circles—was an expression of deep emotion and intensity, reflecting reverence and submission, humbling oneself before God. It would convey the idea of desperation before God (seen in various passages in the Bible, such as 1 Kings 8:54; Luke 22:41; Acts 7:60, 9:40, 20:36, 21:5).
Then in verse 15, Paul gives the curious phrase, “from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.” This description of the Father is to draw out the greatness and sovereign power of God—as the one who exercises dominion over all the peoples of the earth—by naming them. This is the basis for Paul’s request for the Ephesians, especially over the authorities and strongholds of darkness.
So what do we do? Receive God’s power—in the Spirit and in the indwelling Christ—to experience Christ’s love and know that you are deeply loved by Christ. Receive it. This is the gospel; you don’t “do” anything here.
If you don’t know Christ this morning, we want you to receive Jesus by trusting in him, to say, “I want the knowledge of that love and power, and I surrender my life to Jesus to receive it.”
For many of us, our application is to rest in these realities and to pray for more of Jesus. It’s not a “do more and try harder.” It’s not reading your Bible more or praying more (both of which are good), but rather to recognizing and believing and seeing with fresh eyes that this is our reality, and these are the prayers that God gloriously loves to answer for his children. Know—really know—that you are loved by God.
Pray for power to experience and understand God’s love for his people, because it’s a prayer he loves and longs to answer.
On a scale of 1 to 10, where is your prayer life? What are some chief obstacles to a more flourishing prayer life?
Praise God for his power and love at work in us. Confess any sins of prayerlessness or faithlessness that may be present in your life. Thank God for the forgiveness of our sins and that we have received his transforming power. Pray to God by paraphrasing Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3:14–19 for yourself, your family, your small group, for our church, for our global partners, and for Christ to be glorified in all things.