In Ephesians 3:14-19, the apostle Paul says this:
“14 For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, that ye may be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inward man; 17 that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; to the end that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be strong to apprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge, that ye may be filled unto all the fulness of God.”
In this passage, Paul explains his prayer for power for the Ephesian church. It can be divided like this:
- The Pleading with the Father
- The People of the Father
- The Prayer for Power
- The Presence of Christ
- The Planting of Love
- The Appreciation of Christ’s Love
- The Passing of Knowledge
- The Perfection of the Ephesians
Paul begins this prayer with him pleading with the Father: “For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father . . .”
What is the cause for Paul’s bowing his knees before the Father? The spiritual condition of the Ephesians that Paul explains before, in verses 2-13:
“. . . if [it] so be that ye have heard of the dispensation of that grace of God which was given me to you-ward; how that by revelation was made known unto me the mystery, as I wrote before in few words, whereby, when ye read, ye can perceive my understanding in the mystery of Christ; which in other generations was not made known unto the sons of men, as it hath now been revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; to wit, that the Gentiles are fellow-heirs, and fellow-members of the body, and fellow-partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel, whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of that grace of God which was given me according to the working of his power. Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, was this grace given, to preach unto the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; and to make all men see what is the dispensation of the mystery which for ages hath been hid in God who created all things; to the intent that now unto the principalities and the powers in the heavenly places might be made known through the church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which he [carried out] in Christ Jesus our Lord: in whom we have boldness and access in confidence through our faith in him. Wherefore I ask that ye may not faint at my tribulations for you, which are your glory.”
What does it mean that Paul “bows his knees before the Father”? Well, Paul was a Jew, and the normal posture of prayer for the Jews was standing, so the fact that Paul is saying that he is bowing on his knees before the Father to pray tells us that Paul is desperate for what he’s praying for — as well as the fact that he has great reverence for the Father.
Why does Paul pray to the Father, rather than the Lord Jesus Christ, or the Holy Spirit? Well, whenever we pray, no matter who we’re addressing the prayer to, we are coming before all Three of Them. However, for Paul’s purposes in this prayer, he prefers to come before his and the Ephesians’ Father, who has blessed them with every spiritual blessing, made them alive, and seated them with Christ in the heavenly places.
Next, Paul describes the people of the Father: “. . . from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named . . .”
This verse should be translated, “. . . from whom the whole family in heaven and on earth is named . . .” because that is what the Greek word can mean, and the preceding context of the beginning of chapter 3 shows us that Paul is describing one family of God — a family that has been united in Christ from what were once 2 families — Jews and Gentiles.
What does it mean that this family is named from the Father? It means that its character and nature, or who it is, comes from Him. He determines what it’s like, and no one else. Furthermore, the fact that its name comes from Him suggests that it shares in His likeness. That is, the members of this family share moral qualities of the Father — righteousness and holiness. In other words, because this family consists of His children, they bear His resemblance.
Then, Paul gets to his actual prayer for power: “. . . that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, that ye may be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inward man . . .”
Notice the word, “grant”, here. This is a word of divine grace. This isn’t something that is earned, but what the Father is willing to freely bestow on His children. However, they won’t get this unless they ask for it. Otherwise, Paul wouldn’t pray for it.
So, what is it? Well, first, it is in accordance with the riches of the Father’s glory. What does the word, “riches”, mean? It means an overabundance, and an overabundance of the best things that could possibly be imagined. There is no end to these riches. But what is the Father’s glory? Well, it is the sum of who He is. It is the glorious nature of who He is — it includes His holiness, His infinity, His perfection, His omnipotence, His omnipresence, His omniscience, and every other one of His attributes. However, it is not the things that we cannot know, but those things that we can know. That is why they are His glory, or things that are manifested, so we can know them. Thus, we can experience His glory, and this glory has riches from which Paul is asking the Father to grant the Ephesians something.
Second, this gift is the strengthening of the Ephesians’ inner man with power through the Father’s Spirit. Notice first the source of this power: the Father’s Spirit — God the Holy Spirit, one of the Persons of the Trinity. Paul asks the Father to strengthen these Ephesians through His Spirit’s work in them. Why? Because the Holy Spirit is the Person who directly gives power to Christians. He is the Empowerer, the Lord Jesus Christ is the Giver of the power, and the Father is the Administrator of the power.
Notice, second, the effect of this power: that the Ephesians would be strengthened in the inner man. What is the inner man? It is the mind, the heart, the soul, or the spirit. It is the very core of who we are. Thus, Paul is asking the Father to strengthen the Ephesians’ minds, hearts, souls, and spirits.
In verse 17, Paul describes the purpose of this prayer — the presence of Christ: “. . . that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith . . .”
This is the reason that the Ephesians must be strengthened with power through the Spirit in their inner men — so that the Lord Jesus Christ may dwell in their hearts through faith. But what does it mean that Christ may dwell in their hearts? This word has the idea, not just of living — since Christ lives in every single believer through the Spirit — but of making oneself at home, or being at home. In other words, Paul is praying that Christ may make Himself at home in the Ephesians’ hearts, and that He may live a life there — that He may do household activities there, and enjoy Himself there. What is a home, but a place where one is the most comfortable? Thus, Paul is praying that Christ would be as comfortable as is possible in the hearts of the Ephesians. And Him dwelling in someone’s heart must have an effect on them, since anyone dwelling in their home has an effect on the home. Don’t they use the home for their purposes? So it is when Christ dwells in someone’s heart — He uses that heart to accomplish His purposes, and uses it as one of His bases of operation in the world. Furthermore, doesn’t someone’s home tend to express the character of the one who dwells there? So it is when Christ dwells in a human heart — that heart expresses His holy and righteous character.
But why does Paul add the words, “through faith”, when he says “. . . that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith . . .”?
Because it is the Ephesians’ faith in Christ that will be the means of Him dwelling in their hearts. The less faith they have in Him, the less He will dwell in their hearts, and the more faith they have in Him, the more He will dwell in their hearts. Though this blessing of Christ dwelling in hearts is wholly of divine grace, is not earned, nor can it be, yet Christ works through means. And the means through which He has determined to dwell in people’s hearts is faith in Him. However, He also cannot dwell in believers’ hearts unless the Spirit strengthens them with power, and they cannot have the right faith in Christ unless they have this power. Thus, we see that the way in which Paul is praying that the Spirit will strengthen the Ephesians is by strengthening their faith in Christ.
After telling the Ephesians about the presence of Christ, Paul then tells them about the planting of love: “. . . to the end that ye, being rooted and grounded in love . . .”
This follows from the goal of Christ dwelling in the Ephesians’ hearts. In other words, one of the purposes for Christ dwelling in their hearts is so they will be rooted and grounded in love. What does this mean? The word, “rooted”, literally refers to roots, and suggests being planted in soil with roots. On the other hand, the word, “grounded,” refers to a base providing a solid foundation for a building. But what is this love? This is the love translated from the Greek word, agape, which refers to a love of the will, of action, and of decision. This is love that isn’t determined by its object — at least as the primary consideration — but is based in the mind, will, desire, and determination of the lover. It is love that gives, and doesn’t take. Therefore, Paul is expressing his desire that the Ephesians have their roots planted in love, so that they will be stable in it, and that they will have their base grounded in love, so that they will be able to hold up against the elements that seek to topple them over — the flesh, the world, and demons.
Why do they need to be rooted and grounded in love? So that they “. . . may be strong to apprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ . . .” This is the appreciation of love that is one of the purposes of Paul’s prayer.
The word, “strong”, should be translated “able”, and “apprehend” should be translated “comprehend”, as the New American Standard Bible translates them.
So what does Paul desire for the Ephesians in this instance? First, that they’ll be able to comprehend with all the saints. What does this mean? Paul is here implying that he not only desires this comprehension for the Ephesians, but for all the saints. Second, Paul desires that the Ephesians will be able to comprehend what is the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of Christ.
In order to consider what this means, we first have to know what Paul means by the love of Christ. Well, the supreme demonstration of Christ’s love was His emptying Himself, and making Himself of no reputation, and taking the form of a slave, and then being obedient to the Father to the point of death on the cross for sinners, on which He was forsaken, crushed, punished, and treated with wrath and hatred by the Father in the place of sinners for 3 agonizing hours of unimaginable torment and anguish, making Him cry out “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?!” And He endured that awful suffering out of love for His people, the saints. He took the punishment that they deserved, and bore their sins in His body on the tree, becoming sin for them, that they would become the righteousness of God in Him. Furthermore, He gave to them a share in His inheritance, allowing them to partake of all that is His as the Prophet, High Priest, and King of the universe, to whom all authority in heaven and on earth has been given, and as the Son of God. Also, He now intercedes for them, and has given to them His Spirit, and is their Advocate before the Father, taking care of them in every way, and working all things together for their good. Additionally, Christ not only loves all of them as a whole, but also loves each one of them as individuals. He is their Elder Brother, being part of their family by virtue of His humanity and their adoption into God’s family, and He loves all of them. This is a glimpse of the love of Christ.
Paul desires that all the saints will comprehend the width, the length, the height, and the depth of Christ’s love. That is, he desires that they will understand its vastness, its limitlessness, its measurements, and its greatness. This speaks of its whole as well as of its parts, as the fact that Paul mentions 4 planes of reference (width, length, height, and depth) tells us.
Further, Paul desires that all the saints will know the love of Christ. He doesn’t say that he wants them to know about His love, but that they’ll experience it for themselves, that they’ll comprehend something of it, and grasp something of it.
However, it is impossible to fully know Christ’s love, since Paul next mentions the passing of this knowledge: “. . . which passeth knowledge . . .” Christ’s love is so infinite that it goes passed knowledge. It is too great to completely know. Christ loves His saints so much and in so many ways that it is impossible to fully know how much He loves them and in what ways He loves them.
And what is the final goal of all these purposes for the prayer that Paul says he prays for the Ephesians? The perfection of the Ephesians: “. . . that ye may be filled unto all the fulness of God”.
What does this mean? Notice the progression in this passage:
First, Paul prays that the Spirit will strengthen the Ephesians with power.
Second, the reason he prays this is so that Christ will dwell in their hearts through faith.
Now, Paul tells us that the end goal of all of this, including the love and the comprehension of Christ’s love, is that God the Father Himself — the One from whom Paul asks for these things — may fill the Ephesians up to all of His fullness.
So what exactly does this mean? Jesus says in the gospel of John that those who love Him will be loved by His Father, and that He and His Father will come and make Their abode within them. He is implying the splendid reality that both the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ live within each believer through the Spirit of God. However, Paul is not referring to this indwelling presence of the Father, since he is speaking to believers. What he is referring to is the manifestation of the Father’s glory within the Ephesians — that He will fill them with all of His attributes and characteristics; that they will know and experience these attributes; and that they will be so affected by knowing who the Father is, that they will increasingly become more like Him in their affections, desires, wills, thoughts, emotions, and actions. This can only be done through Christ dwelling within believers, and through them comprehending the dimensions of His love, and knowing His love itself. When this happens, God the Father will fill the believer up to all of His fullness, so that the believer will become like Him, and be able to continue to do so. He will manifest His presence in that believer, and make Himself known to him or her in a special way.
If you know God as your Father because you are trusting in Christ as your Savior and Lord, are you rooted and grounded in self-sacrificing love? Is love the root and base of your life? Do you love the Lord Jesus Christ because He is making Himself at home within your heart? Do you comprehend the dimensions, measurements, manifestations, greatness, vastness, and infinity of Christ’s love for you? Do you know His love? Do you know that He loves you? Have you experienced His love in a real way? Do you so comprehend and know His love that you clearly see that His love surpasses your knowledge — that you can’t possibly know it in its fullness, nor ever fully know it? Are you being filled with God the Father Himself with all that He is as your Creator and Father?
If you can’t honestly answer “yes” to any of these questions, then pray for yourself what Paul prayed for the Ephesians. Desperately and urgently plead with your Father to grant you strengthening with power through His Spirit in your inner person, that Christ may dwell in your heart through your faith, and that you, being thus rooted and grounded in love for Him, may be able to comprehend the dimensions and measurements of Christ’s love, and to know His love, so that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.
If you can honestly answer “yes” to all of those questions, then, first, realize that you have not yet achieved that which Paul prays for in this prayer. Your Father has more riches of His glory that He is able to use for you, and Christ can still make Himself more at home in your heart, and you can grow deeper roots and be more firmly grounded in love, and you can still comprehend more of the measurements and dimensions of Christ’s love, and you can still know Christ’s love in more and greater ways, and you can still be more filled with all of your Father’s fullness. So, you may also pray this prayer that Paul prayed.
Either way, if you are a believer in Christ, then you ought to so desire that God will give these things to your brethren in Christ, that you will pray that He will. Furthermore, we shouldn’t just pray for these things, but make sure we are in a position in which God will be willing to give more of these things to us.
First, we should have no sin in our life that we haven’t repented of and acknowledged to God.
Second, we must be striving to pray at all times in the Spirit with all praise and petition, and to pray without ceasing. We need to acknowledge God in all our ways, and depend on Him to give us the things we need to keep His commands.
Third, we need to realize that God’s family derives its name from Him. That is, that its character and purpose in this world comes from Him, as He has defined it in His Word. Therefore, we must view the church of the Lord Jesus Christ as His church, and as the family of God.
Fourth, we need to be controlled by the Spirit by letting His Word dwell abundantly within us, and by being doers of His Word, and not hearers only. We need to strive to meditate on His Word day and night, thinking on things that are right, true, honorable, worthy of praise, excellent, lovely, and of good repute, and setting our minds on spiritual things, not on earthly things. We need to avoid depending on ourselves for the power and strength we need to do God’s will, and instead depend on the Spirit, and the power that He gives us through our faith in His Word.
Fifth, we should dwell much on the Lord Jesus Christ, and strive to grow in our faith in Him, and in our love for Him. We should strive to imitate Him in all things, and to live to glorify and magnify Him in all that we do, and all that we are. We should seek to know Him more than any human being on this earth, and any human being that isn’t on this earth anymore. We are to seek to have Him live through us, as we imitate Him, and seek to show who He is to others.
Sixth, in order to comprehend and know Christ’s love, we need to know what His Word tells us about His love. Therefore, we need to look for expressions and manifestations of His love for us in His Word, as well as these things in our daily lives. We need to seek to recognize His expressions and manifestations of love for us when He shows them to us. This isn’t something that we can think we have experienced, but really haven’t. When we comprehend and know His love, we actually know that it is His love — that it is from Him as He is described in His Word, and that it is His love as it is described and defined in His Word.
Finally, we need to seek to be like our Father. We need to seek to know Him in His Son, and to become more like Him by becoming more like His Son. We also need to have a longing to know Him in His Son, and to have Him fill us to all of His fullness.
In conclusion, I would ask you these questions: Do you know God as your Father, and do you love Him like a father? Are you righteous and holy as God is righteous and holy, at least in a miniscule way? Have you been given supernatural power to become a basically different person? Are you like Christ, and are you depending only on Him for God’s forgiveness of your sins, and on no one and nothing else? Do you love God by obeying Him, and by selflessly and sacrificially serving others for their spiritual well-being? Do you know that Christ loves you?
If you can’t honestly answer any of these questions, then God isn’t your Father, you aren’t a child of God, the Spirit doesn’t live inside of you, you aren’t trusting in Christ, you haven’t been born again, and Christ hasn’t saved you yet. The Father sent His Son to become a man, Christ, to die because of our sins against Him, and to rise from the dead 2 days later. He now commands all people everywhere to change their minds about Christ, themselves, and their sins, and to trust in Christ, His death, and His resurrection as the only basis for His forgiveness of their sins. He promises that if you will trust in Christ, His death for your sins, and His resurrection from the dead as that basis for His forgiveness, then He will forgive all of the sins of your entire life and adopt you into His family. If you haven’t yet, I beg you to repent and trust in Christ.