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.
Here is a brief recap of my study thus far of this prayer for the Ephesian believers:
Like some people who like to read the last chapter to see if the book is going to be good, I started near the end of the request-portion of Paul’s prayer to see where he was heading. The end result of Paul’s prayer, should God in his grace grant it (and he will because he inspired it!) is that we are “filled with all the fullness of God.” This phrase points to the completion of God’s work in us as he forms in us his very image and we become like him in all his moral perfection and beauty. Wow!
But how will he get us there? Paul prays first that we will experience the love of Jesus for us as the Holy Spirit reveals to us in our inner being that we are loved by him. This experience of Jesus’ love has a rooting and grounding effect in our lives. But here is where things start to really rev up!
There is more to a plant than the root and there is more to a building than the foundation. Having experienced Christ’s love through the indwelling Holy Spirit, there is still infinitely more yet to be experienced. The root is going to blossom into a full-grown plant someday and the building will one day be complete.
Here is where some of the teaching on the fullness of the Holy Spirit often leads people astray. Some believers put so much emphasis on the initial experience of being filled with the Spirit and the experience of Christ’s love for them in that moment, that they forget that it is only the beginning! It is only the root! Paul goes on to pray…
“…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…”
Paul knows that to reach our goal of being filled with all the fullness of God, we need to have a constantly renewed experience of the love of God. In the words of C.S. Lewis in his final book of the Chronicles of Narnia…. “Further up and further in!”
Commentators do not all agree on what the four dimensions mentioned in v. 18 refer to, but I think the best interpretation takes them as referring to the love of Christ mentioned in v. 19. After all, what is the “breadth” of God’s love? What is its length? What is its height and its depth? Can it be measured at all? How does one measure the love of the Father in sending his Son to take the penalty of death that we as a rebellious race deserved for our sins? None of us has grasped the dimensions of God’s love that was displayed toward us at Calvary. As v. 19 says, it “surpasses knowledge”
We can’t fully grasp God’s love because we have never seen the depths of our sin. We may believe that Jesus died for bad people, or even for really bad people or even really, really wicked people, but we have no idea what is in our hearts apart from the grace of God. This has been a long-term search for me personally. I want God to show me the depths of my sin so that I can more fully appreciate what Jesus did for me.
We can’t fully grasp God’s love because we can’t fully see the infinite glory of God. We have no idea whom we have scorned in turning away from God to follow our own ways. If we knew, truly knew, the God we reject every time we sin, we would fall on our faces and call for the mountains to fall on us. And we would see so much more clearly the condescension of his love in saving us through the sacrifice of his Son.
Let me backtrack a bit and talk about two important words in the text that support my premise that what Paul is asking God for in this prayer is that we might experience God’s love for us in Christ. In v. 18, he prays that we may be able to “comprehend” the love of God. And in v. 19, he prays that we may “know” the love of Christ. The word translated “comprehend” is a strengthened form of the verb “to grasp” and means to “fully understand” The word translated “know” can mean simply “to understand” but it often is used to denote a knowledge by experience–a knowledge of things as they really are.
Paul certainly is not just praying that we will have an intellectual and theological understanding of the love of God. Word studies aside, the context cries for an understanding of these verbs as relating to an experiential knowledge of the love of God. Besides, how else (other than experience) can one know something that “surpasses knowledge”? Paul desires that we will have an ongoing, deepening, broadening, lengthening experience of a reality that we will never exhaust–the love of Christ.
I have a theory regarding the words “with all the saints” that I would like to throw out for your consideration, and if anyone is still reading by this point, perhaps you could leave me a comment with your take on this interpretation (I haven’t found it in any commentary).
Could it be that Paul prays that the Ephesians will be able to comprehend “with all the saints” because he knows that it is only in heaven that all the saints will have this experience that he writes about in verses 18-19? In other words, only in heaven will this prayer be answered fully, and it will be answered for “all the saints.” We will all be filled up to all the fullness of God as we experience the love of Christ flowing to us with the same intensity with which it flows among the members of the Trinity, and that for all eternity.
It is a glorious thought, and I could write a lot more about this glorious prayer, but I have other responsibilities beyond writing for a blog!
So let me conclude this four-part study of this wonderful prayer with this comment: Pray this prayer for yourself and for the believers you fellowship with and for all of us as God’s children. Pray that God would grant us all the faith to believe that by His Spirt indwelling us we can have fellowship with Jesus that is even more intimate than the apostles experienced when they were walking with Jesus in the flesh. Believe that God wants to bless you with this kind of closeness and intimacy with Jesus, and no matter what your experience or lack of experience has been in the past… he is “able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us…”
9 replies on “Ephesians 3:14-21 Knowing a love that surpasses knowledge”
“With all the saints” – could it refer to the truth that we do not live in isolation, but that to truly experience God’s love in its fullness, we must share it with others? Or is that too simple.
This is the first of your blogs that I have read and I really enjoyed it. Regarding “all the saints,” I know that whenever I come up with what is somewhat of a “novel” interpretation that alone is a bit of a “red flag” for me. One of the elements of understanding an authors use of words is to see how that same author uses those same words in the same settings. This is a phrase that Paul uses at least 5 times in Ephesians and on the other occasions it seems to have a certain “earth-bound” connotation to it. That does not confirm or negate you suggestion–it is simply what came to my mind. Keep writing and I’ll keep reading
I would say that the interpretation you suggested is the way I have usually interpreted this phrase. It may very well be that it is the correct interpretation, although it may not exclude the interpretation I offered in the review.
The interpretive principles you mentioned are so very, very important, and I hope many people read your comment so they can be reminded of them. I went through a phase where i felt that in order for my understanding of Scripture to be genuinely “Spirit-taught”, I felt that I had to figure out what God was saying without relying on anyone else. I see now how ridiculous that is, and even if an entire generation interprets the scripture a certain way, we should look back to see how the previous 19 or 20 generations understood it and humbly let ourselves be taught by our forefathers, who let themselves be taught by their predecessors, etc. It is definitely a biblical concept that God teaches us through others.
The reminder to look at the author’s use of a word is also very important, but in the end it is the immediate context that is the strongest controlling factor on one’s interpretation. How is Paul using this phrase here?
Does the fact that Paul usually uses “all the saints” to refer to the earth-bound church necessarily exclude a reference to the final and perfect fullness that we will all experience together in heaven? The thinking that brought me to this interpretation was an honest wondering why so many believers don’t seem to experience what Paul is praying for. Does God really hear and answer this prayer of Paul’s? If Paul prays that the Ephesians will experience the full dimensions of God’s love with the whole “earth-bound” Church, then it would appear that he is using the earth-bound church’s experience as the measure of what he wants them to achieve.
So after thinking about it more, I’m thinking that the phrase probably has elements of what beejay mentions in her comment and doesn’t exclude the eschatological fulfillment that I proposed.
That was a wonderful piece of exegesis. However, regarding your comment on “…with all the saints”, I think the context and Paul’s usage suggests he was actually referring to the believers here on earth. He was not praying a prayer he believes would be answered in heaven, though the applicability may not be excluded.
Paul’s desire and prayer was for his audience to experience what he had experienced, and comprehend what he had comprehended. Though such a staggering thought and revelation which Paul acknowledges that it surpasses all knowledge, yet something attainable only by grace through faith in Christ Jesus. Being filled with the fullness of Christ is a desire of a saint here not one in heaven, because for sure, we will all be filled with His fullness in heaven, without the prayer. But desiring His will to be done here on earth as in heaven is only a desire and prayer for saints here on earth.
I will be preaching on this text this Sunday. I have gained a lot insight from your work. Well done and keep up the good work.
I like this… Indeed I agree that this prayer is for the here and now and just in case we would think it an impossible task for God…Paul informs us that our God has the ability to do much more than what we are asking….
Our comprehension of this fact comes not from the workings of the intellect but through relationship,through meditation and through revelation…As we fellowship with the one who dwells in our hearts by faith, he will reveal truths about his love while the Spirit will strengthen us with the spiritual capacity to grasp it….
This was such an incredibly helpful commentary on these verses. I am in a prayer group and look forward to sharing this.
“Deep calleth unto the deep.” God is calling all His children to run into the glory which is His presence. I love this commentary. The more we draw nigh a greater death takes place in our flesh, a supernational love takes over. This is one of the prayers that should be prayed daily for preparation for purpose and destiny. The Compassion of Christ will be formed in us day by day first for communion and fellowship with our Lord and Savior. As Jesus loves us through our sins, a fiery vehement love will begin to grow us for others. Ministry of Reconciliation to set the captive free. Our Heavenly Fathers presence is making us usable in our hearts and spirits all to the Glory of God. This is an honor for all His Saints, Praise ye the Lord.”‘
Comprehend with all the saints:
This reminds me of Hebrews 11 which tells us that God intended the saints of old to receive the promise together with us.
In the next chapter we are told that we are surrounded by a cloud of witness.
To God be Glory in the church..his body… As a body we are interconnected and as God reveals his love to one member his intention is for us to edify the other…iron sharpens iron…
I believe that it is a challenge to all God’s family of saints right here, right now, to endeavor to comprehend, experience, to live in and out from the totality of this “beyond knowledge”agape love according to the measure that Father in His wisdom and grace will orchestrate to cross our paths. The circumstances of life that we will encounter, that will provide us with the opportunity to literally see and experience the manifestation of the love on our behalf, coming through for us in ways we never even imagined, and to accept that it’s because “He loves me and not because of anything I had done to deserve or earn it. He just loves me, because He is LOVE!!!