We continue in our two week series through Ephesians 1–3, with guest writer Dr. David Starling.
That he may strengthen you with power | Eph. 3:14–19
Yesterday our focus was on the reason Paul gives for why he prays. Today our focus is on what he says to the Ephesians about the content of his prayers.
Two themes in particular stand out within this second prayer-report that Paul includes within the first half of Ephesians (the first is in 1:15–23). Both of them focus not on his readers’ outward circumstances (though of course it’s not wrong to pray about those things) but on their inward, spiritual strength and understanding. They are not prayers that his readers will be prosperous and comfortable, that things will go smoothly for them, that they will get everything that they want; both of them are prayers that they will be strong and secure in their relationship with God—ever stronger and ever deeper.
Spiritual strength (vv. 16-17)
Firstly, in verses 16-17, Paul prays that his readers will be strengthened by the Spirit: “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.”
Paul isn’t praying that they will come to faith in Christ for the first time. He isn’t praying that Christ will come into their hearts to dwell there. Those things are already true for them (e.g. 1:13; 2:22). But Paul thinks of them in all their human weakness, with all the things that buffet them and test them and tempt them away from staying faithful to Christ; he thinks of all the disappointments and all the distractions and all the pressures of life; and as he thinks of all those things, he prays that God would strengthen them by his Spirit to keep on believing, so that Christ may continue to live in the very centre of their hearts, as they keep on trusting and believing in him.
There’s a lot of things that can keep a person coming to church and going to Bible study and outwardly living the Christian life. You can do it because of a kind of peer pressure from your Christian friends; you can do it because you’re afraid to disappoint your parents; you can do it because you’ve never really known any other way of living and it’s kind of safer to stay with what you know. There’s a whole lot of outward things that can keep you outwardly Christian.
But that’s not what really counts in the end. Paul prays for the Ephesians in their inner being; he prays for their relationship with God on the inside, in their hearts, and he prays that God would give them the inner strength by his Spirit to keep on believing in Christ, to keep on living with him in their very hearts.
A deepening knowledge of God’s love (vv. 17-19)
The second prayer is in verses 17-19: “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”
That is the heart of Christian maturity: to know deep in your heart that God loves you in Christ. To grasp and understand and fathom more of that love. That’s where our love for him comes from: “We love him because he first loved us.” That’s where our obedience and our passion to obey him comes from: “Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, therefore all died; and he died for all, so that those who live may no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”
We tend to measure Christian maturity a little differently, sometimes. We measure it by how busy you are in ministry, or how much of the Bible you know, or how consistently you measure up to some standard of outward behaviour. And they’re all good things, and important things. But the root of all those things—the root of everything else in the Christian life—is the secure, strong, growing knowledge of how wide and long and high and deep Christ’s love is. Everything else in the Christian life—prayer, obedience, perseverance, ministry—everthing else is just surface and superficial and unsustainable, if it isn’t grounded in that.
That’s why Paul begins this prayer at the end of verse 17 by praying that the Ephesians will be “rooted and established in love.” It’s like the roots of a tree; it’s like the foundation of a building. You can have a beautiful building balanced precariously on the ground; you can have a beautiful tree chopped off at ground level and held up by ropes; but if the building hasn’t got a foundation; if the tree hasn’t got a root system, then there’s no way that they’ll be there for the long haul.
The root and the foundation of the Christian life is Christ’s love for us; it’s the conviction in our hearts that Christ loves us, that he has shown us his love on the cross, that he loves us today, and that it’s not some abstract, theoretical love—that it’s a real, personal love that he has for each of us. And the more deeply you know that, the more secure you will be in your life as a Christian.
To think (and pray) about
Spend some time in prayer for one or two fellow-believers, and for yourself, praying for the things that Paul prays for here, and spelling out before God what some of the specific requests and needs that a prayer of that sort might imply, given the circumstances that you and your friends find yourselves in.