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Ephesians 3:14-21

Some scholars believe the prayer Paul prays in verses 14-21 is continuing the prayer he began in chapter one (Ephesians 1:15-23). It follows a similar pattern and begins with the phrase, “for this reason.” In chapter one, Paul prays that the people of God would receive from the Spirit wisdom and revelation so they can know God more fully. He prays that the eyes of their hearts would be opened to know: the hope that God has called them to, the inheritance that is theirs, and the power that is at work within them. Paul is completing his prayer from chapter one and going even deeper. The prayer is not lengthy, but there is so much here to unpack for our congregations. If we look more closely at this prayer, we see it is not only prayer but also instruction. This is not only what Paul desires for the church in Ephesus, this is what they should desire for themselves too!

In verse 14, Paul begins his prayer in a posture of worship as he kneels before God in prayer. Paul is crying out on behalf of his brothers and sisters in the church. This prayer exposes Paul’s deepest desire for the Church in Ephesus – that they would be filled with the love of God. There is a deep connection here for me between pastor and congregation. As a pastor, I resonate with Paul’s passionate prayer. This is what I desire for those I minister to in my congregation and this is what I desire for the Church, as a whole. Do not be afraid to let your congregation hear your heart and desire for your people, in the way Paul pours his heart to the Ephesians.

Paul moves into his specific requests for the people in verse 16 and Paul begins by asking God to strengthen them. Paul prays that God would give them a fresh anointing of strength and power so they can keep moving forward. Paul knows the journey of faith is not easy, the burdens can begin to weigh us down; it can be hard to keep taking the next step, so he asks God to fill them anew with strength and power so they can live out the calling God has for them.

In verse 17 Paul prays that Christ would dwell in their hearts. The Greek word used there is katoikeō. Our English language translated that to dwell or inhabit, but it literally means to set up a permanent residence. Paul’s deepest desire for the people of God is that Christ would have a permanent place in their lives, not a part-time, only if it’s a convenient place, but a permanent place in their hearts. In New Testament times, the ‘heart’ was the center of intelligence, thought, knowledge, not emotions, as our modern understanding would assume. Paul’s prayer here is that Christ would fill them so completely that their heart would be filled and controlled by a love that is far greater than any intellectual knowledge they can gain. Paul wanted his readers to understand that you cannot reason your way to understanding God’s infinite love, it has to come from the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God.

Paul takes this idea of “permanent residence” a step further when he says, in verse 17 that he wants them to be “rooted and established in love.” This idea of rooted is a visual picture of the strong foundation roots provide trees. Paul is praying that the roots that keep the people of God stable would be planted down deep in the love of Christ. This phrase is used one other time in Scripture and it’s found in Paul’s letter to the Colossians: “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness” (Colossians 2:6-7).

Paul prays they would be able to grasp “how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ” (Ephesians 3:18). It is as Christ dwells “in our hearts through faith,” that God’s Spirit works to mold us, shape us, root us, and ground us in this unfathomable love. It is only then that we can begin to comprehend that even when we think we’ve reached the understanding of how wide, deep, long, and high Christ’s love is we’ve only begun to scratch the surface. The love of Christ is wider, deeper, longer, and higher than we will ever be able to fathom. “The oxymoron contained in knowing something that is inherently beyond knowledge points further to the surpassing love of Christ” (Bartlett, 2015). The beautiful thing about God’s love is that God continues to pour of God’s love upon those who cannot even fully understand it, receive it, or even ask for it.

He goes on and prays that they would “know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fulness of God” (Ephesians 3:19). Paul is using a contradictory phrase when he says he wants them to “know this love beyond knowledge.” The word used in Greek for “know” is the word ginōskō. Paul uses this word intentionally to make the distinction between head knowledge and heart knowledge. This “knowing” is an intimate understanding; it is experiential, not just something we think about, but something we have experienced for ourselves and understand intimately. He wants them to know this love so deeply, so intimately that they are “filled” (plēroō), filled so that nothing is wanting; filled by this love so much there is no room for anything else; filled by this love so much it is flowing out of them. He compares this “in-filling” of love to the “fullness” of God. What do we see about God and God’s love in Scripture? God doesn’t just give us a little bit of Godself or a little bit of God’s love, God wants to fill us fully and completely with Godself and fills us fully and completely with God’s love. The fullness of God is being filled to overflowing, saturated, soaked. There is an understanding of completeness in the “fullness” (plērōma) of God. This is God’s desire for ALL people, that all people would experience the fullness, wholeness, completeness – SHALOM.

This prayer is a model for us in how we ought to be praying for the church today. You can hear the love Paul has for the Church in this prayer and his deep desire for the Church to be who God has called the Church to be – a people completely filled with the Spirit of God and overflowing with God’s love so that all generations will come to know Christ. Isn’t this the prayer the Church STILL needs? We can sit around and talk about all the ways the Church is falling short and all the things the Church should be doing differently. But maybe, just maybe, we need to humble ourselves before the Lord, as Paul did, and cry out to God for the Church to be who God created her to be!

This is a prayer that still needs to be prayed over the Church, not because of all the ways the Church is falling short, but because we believe in the One who hears and answers prayers and we believe the Church is still the Bride of Christ and the Church can still be the beacon that points to Jesus. This is a prayer that still needs to be prayed over the Church because we believe in a God that still has the power to do exceedingly and abundantly more than we could ask or imagine and can do a transforming work IN the Church and THROUGH the Church.

I don’t think there is a better prayer to be prayed for the Church today than the prayer Paul prays. I join Paul, on my knees, before the Father God, praying for the Church today:

I pray that out of God’s glorious riches the Church would be strengthened with power through the Holy Spirit deep within its soul. Oh, that the church would be filled to overflowing and completely saturated with Christ so that the Church would be rooted – firmly and securely planted – in the love of Christ. I pray the Church will have power, together with ALL believers to experience just how wide (and even wider), long (and even longer), high (and even higher), deep (and even deeper), is this love of Christ. I pray the Church would know, truly and deeply know this love that is beyond all human understanding. Oh, that the Church would be filled, saturated, soaked, and overflowing with all the fullness of God!

We pray this prayer to the ONE who is able to do so much more than we could ever begin to imagine or even think to ask for, according to the power of God that is at work in the Church and through the Church. To the Almighty, Creator God be all the glory IN the Church and THROUGH the Church and in Jesus Christ, throughout ALL generations, forever and ever!

May it be so, we pray, may it be so!

Bartlett, D. L. (2015). Feasting on the word. Year B, volume 3, Year B, volume 3,.