This is the third day of looking at Paul’s prayer for the Ephesian believers…
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.
As I continue in this study, it is going to become more and more necessary that you read the preceding posts to follow what I am saying, but since I have no way of knowing whether you will actually do that, let me try to summarize what I have said thus far.
1) The end result of the progression that the prayer walks through is our being “filled with all the fullness of God” (v. 19) God is in a process of forming in us his very image. Someday, when his work is complete, we will bear his moral likeness.
2) The first step necessary to take us to that destination is an experience of the manifest presence of Jesus in our lives through the indwelling Holy Spirit. Through the Holy Spirit we can be with Jesus!
Now, let’s pick up at the end of verse 17. Here we have another participial clause that serves as a link between Paul’s petition in vs. 16-17a and the next petition in v. 18. When we experience Jesus’ presence in our lives through the indwelling Holy Spirit, the result is that we are “rooted and grounded in love” Once we have been rooted and grounded, we can then begin a process of going deeper and deeper in our experience of the love of God until we are “filled up to all the fullness of God.”
What does it mean to be “rooted and grounded in love”?
Paul brings in the concept of Christ’s love almost as an aside, but it quickly becomes the centerpiece of his prayer. Notice how he moves from the idea of “Christ dwelling in our hearts” to the state of “being rooted and grounded in love.” Is there a connection here?
It is almost as if Paul assumes that it is obvious that the experience we have of Christ through the indwelling Holy Spirit is an experience of his love.
Going back to my illustration yesterday of the child being adopted, you can see this more clearly. When I, in Los Angeles, adopt the child in New York, that child knows he is loved. Why else would I adopt him and promise him that we will live together and that I will provide for his every need? He can know, to a certain extent, that I love him. But when I actually arrive in New York and see him for the first time and take him in my arms and give him a great big Daddy bear-hug and tell him that I will always be with him, that is an experience of my love for him that he will never forget–the beginning of many happy years together, even though we most certainly will face difficult times in our relationship.
It is one thing to hear that Jesus loves you. It is quite another thing to experience that love first-hand! This is what Paul desires for his brothers and sisters in Ephesus–an experience of God’s love through the indwelling Holy Spirit.
I’m convinced that this is the need of many believers as well. They have never been rooted and grounded in the Father’s love for them. They know it intellectually, but their experience of that love is limited to just seeing his love displayed in circumstances or in the “common grace” ways that all mankind is loved by God. The love that Paul is asking for here is of a different sort. To say that we know God loves us because he feeds us and clothes us would be like the adopting father in my illustration above sending checks to the adopted son in New York. Sure, it is a way of showing love, but it is not a relationship.
In Romans 5:5 Paul says,
“…and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
Through the Holy Spirit we experience firsthand the love of God in our hearts. I find it hard to put this into words because it is like trying to express the love that we experience in any relationship. When I tell you that I love my wife, I certainly mean that I feel love for her, but it is so much more than that. In the same way, through the Holy Spirit we know not just in our heads but with our hearts that God is with us and that he loves us. This is what it means to be “rooted and grounded in love.”
I’ll never forget something I heard Pastor John Piper say about Romans 5:5. He said (this is not a direct quote) if you wonder if you have really experienced the love of God being poured out within your heart by the Holy Spirit, then ask God to do it to you! Say, “Lord, do Romans 5:5 to me!” You need to know by experience that God loves you. You need to be convinced of it. When you know by experience that God loves you you are rooted and grounded in his love.
“Rooted and grounded in love” is a mixed metaphor. Paul mixes an agricultural metaphor with a construction metaphor. When you are certain of God’s love for you then you are “rooted” like a plant. You can begin to grow and flourish and bear fruit. When you are certain of God’s love for you, it is like the foundation of a building. The word translated “grounded” is used for the foundation of a house. You are “established” on the foundation of God’s love and the building can then be constructed.
But how do we avoid a frantic, subjective search of our own hearts to see if we really are “rooted and grounded” in God’s love for us? We all know how fickle our hearts are. No matter what experience of Christ’s love we have experienced in the past, the moments will come when we doubt everything and are tempted to despair that he has ever really loved us or that he will continue to love us, especially when we’ve really blown it! Perhaps even as you are reading this, you are thinking… “Have I really experienced this? Can I be sure that Jesus loves me?
This is why Paul is praying! He knows that the knowledge and experience of God’s love for us is the only way we will ever reach the goal of being “filled up with all the fullness of God.” So we need the constant strengthening of the Holy Spirit, who reveals the presence and love of Jesus to us. Without this “root”–this “foundation” of God’s love, we will never be filled with the fullness of God.
I’m not sure exegetically how closely we can tie the “strengthening with power through his Spirit” of v. 16 with the “through faith” of v. 17, but we desparately need to be strengthened in our faith by the Holy Spirit if we are going to be assured of Christ’s love for us when doubts assail us. We can’t forget that it is “by faith” that Christ dwells in our hearts. When our faith is weak, we must cry out for the strengthening of the Spirit to believe the message of the gospel that “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)