Structure & Setting:
There are 6 chapter in letter to the Ephesians:
Chapters 1 to 3 are Doctrinal
Chapters 4 to 6 are Practical
There appears to be a clear division in the letter to the Ephesians, marked clearly by the closing doxology at the end of chapter 3.
3:14-21 – is a transitional section where we move from Doctrine to Practice, from theory and thence into life
We shall endeavour to expound this prayer within the limitations of our understanding & experience.
All 3 persons of the Godhead are involved individually (3:14, 16, 17) and also collectively (3:19)
We are not speaking about salvation, but rather we are speaking about consecration, that is practical sanctification.
Ever before we can, “walk” (4:1) we must first learn to crawl.
Before the believer can “Walk” (4:1) for God, he must “Bow the knee” to God (3:14). “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up” (James4:10)
Paul is looking for Great Results in the life of the believer:
“to comprehend,” (v18) the Love of Christ
‘to have an experiential knowledge’ (v19) of Love of Christ
“be filled with all the fullness of God,” (20)
Don’t despair, Great Results are expected but Great Resources are available:
The Spirit of God (v16)
“the riches of His Glory” (v16)
A God who “is able” (v20)
A “Power that worketh in us” (v20)
3:14-21: The Deeper Work of Christ:
“For this cause…” (3:14), In view of God’s work collectively in building His Church (chp2; 3:6), Paul prays for a work individually.
The Church collectively will only be as spiritual as believers individually.
Note at the outset:
The Principle of Relationship: “Father” (3:14) – this is a “Family” relationship. Paul’s prayer is for a deeper relationship with Christ & God.
The Atmosphere of Love: This is the character and substance of the family relationship. Draw near to our Father not in fear to God. Cf. vs17 & 19.
Note 7 Key Requests (8 Verbs in Total):
“to be strengthened.” (v16)
God’s Spirit comes & strengthens the believer in the, “inner man.”
Note the purpose, note the conjunction, “that” (v17) – ‘in order that’
The Spirit does a preparatory work in the believer’s heart
Remember how the Spirit performed a preparatory work when you were not saved, convicted you of, “sin and of righteousness and of judgement,” (Jo16:8).
“The opening of the heart’s innermost door to the personal presence of Christ…& so the full appreciation of His salvation.” HCG Moule (p129)
“That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith” (v17)
Paul is praying that God would do individually in the Christian what He has done collectively in the church.
You know that Christ is already “in” the believer, “how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates.” (2Co13:5)
Paul is not praying that Christ would be, “in” them but rather that He would “dwell in,” them.
Even that might not satisfy you, knowing Romans 8:9 goes further that the “Spirit of God” “dwells in” the believer as does the “Spirit of Christ.”
Here is Paul apparently praying for something which has already happened? So what is Paul praying for?
2 words used for “dwell” in those 2 verses: Rom8:9 & Eph3:17.
Not just Christ present in the heart but Christ at home in the heart.
The word for dwell in Ephesians 3:17 is more intensive, not just to be there but to stay there, settled and at home there,
Not just Christ Present in our Heart – That is already our PRIVELAGE
but Christ at Home in our Heart – That is our PROSPECT.
It is possible to be at the point PERSONALLY where Laodicea was COLLECTIVELY (Rev3:20). Doors in our life and activity can at times be effectively closed to Christ. There can be areas of the believers life, in which Christ’s Lordship is denied, where Christ isn’t even at the negotiating table, e.g. choice of partner – unequal yolk, job, house etc.
Notice it’s, “by faith,” (3:17), not pursuing some esoteric/physical experience, that wouldn’t be, “by faith.” A deep work of the Spirit of God in our life.
“being rooted and grounded in love” (v17)
“Rooted” – Biological term
“Grounded,” – Architectural term
In both cases the ‘soil’ is the same – “love”
We’ve been, ‘strengthened,’ & ‘indwelt’ by Christ & with His indwelling comes, “love.”
The characteristic feature of the heart in which Christ dwells – “Love”
Why “Love”? Surely Christ brings with Him a whole host of graces & virtues?
Love as a Divine characteristic is fundamental and can’t be simplified it any further.
There are some graces you can simplify.
Take ‘Grace’ – Reduced back to ‘Love’ eg John3:16.
“Love” is an Irreducible Spiritual Principle. It lies at the root of a whole variety of spiritual graces & virtues: 1Corinthians 13:5ff.
Galatians 5:22 – A single “fruit of the Spirit,” all sharing the same character of that first fruit of “love”
So basic/irreducible is this Spiritual Principle that it can only be traced back to the character of God Himself: “God is love.” (1 John 4:8)
“be able to comprehend” (v18) & “to know” (v19)
Consider these 2 together, joined together by, “and”
“Comprehend,”– to apprehend, to attain
Notice the contrast between the experience mentioned in v18 & v19:
v18 – For a Collective appreciation– “all saints”
v19 – For an Individual appreciation – “ye”
v18 – For our mind – The Love of Christ appreciated
v19 – For our heart – “passeth knowledge” – The Love of Christ experienced
v18 – Objective – dimensions
v19 – Subjective – ‘Better felt than telt’
Recall the contrast with the unregenerate man of Eph4:18:
“understanding,” is in darkness – nothing for his mind
“heart” is blind – nothing for his heart
The believer has an enlightened “mind” & a full “heart”
v18 – Is not this what we have just done in chp 2? Considered the Objective/Demonstrated love of Christ to us all in God’s plan of salvation. Considered the:
“Breadth” – 2:14-16 – Encompassing Jew & Gentile
“Length” – 2:7 – Extending on into Eternity
“Depth” – 2:1-2 – To which His love reached down to us
“Height” – 2:5-6 – To which His love raised us
Here is something for all believers to meditate upon collectively. The love of Christ towards us. The love of Christ demonstrated at Calvary & beyond.
“to know” (v19)
The love of Christ experienced in the life of the individual believer, yet always surpassing the merely intellectual.
Christ is ‘dwelling in the heart’ (v17)
With Him comes the irreducible spiritual principle of, “Love.”
The believer’s character is changed. This ushers in the revolution of Love in Believer’s Heart
The presence of live is evidenced by its outpouring to others: “If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.” (1Jo4:12)
From that love grows all of those graces of 1 Corinthians 13, accompanied by the fruit of Galatians 5:22. See what’s happening, something of the very character of God is being seen in the life of the believer. Christ is being formed in them (Gal4:19), We are approaching “unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Eph4:13).
“be filled with all the fullness of God” (v19)
We are being: “Filled with all the fullness of God.”
“But even though the love of Christ surpasses human knowledge yet you shall know it if you have Christ dwelling in you.” (Theophylact)
I don’t measure up – It’s too difficult – I’m not able
Human Inability is combined with Divine Ability: “He is able.” (3:20)
Notes from a message preached on Ephesians chapter 3 in our systematic series of bible studies in Paul's letter to the Ephesians, audio recordings free to download as mp3 files or listen online to the bible teaching preached in the Bridgend Gospel Hall New Cumnock.
Yours by Grace in Christ
Dr J Stewart Gillespie