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The Church Strengthened, Loved, And Filled


Bible Study of Ephesians
The Reconciliation and Consummation of All Things through Christ

Week Six: The Church Strengthened, Loved, and Filled (Ephesians 3:14-21)

In this week’s section, Paul will pick up from where he left off in 3:1 before the sanctified interruption of 3:2-13. Even without the text of 3:2-13, the link between 3:1 and 3:14 would flow seamlessly: “For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles bow my knees to the Father…

And so, Paul falls to his knees because of the awesome mystery now revealed and made known to all believers, both Jew and Gentile. The overwhelming spiritual blessings given to body of Christ (Eph. 1:3) that the apostle explained and developed in the first three chapters has resulted in a humble posture of intercessory prayer and high praise to the Father of all fathers.

In Paul’s second prayer of this letter, we find thematic links to his first prayer in 1:15-23 and the temple imagery of 2:19-22. He had first mentioned the Father’s glorious “riches” (1:18), “power” (1:19), “strength” (1:19), the agency of the Spirit (1:17), and the filling of Christ (1:23), and we also see these repeated in 3:14-21. Additionally, there are architectural word associations that form a link between 2:19-22 and 3:14-21: the word pairs “dwelling/dwell” (2:22/3:17) and “foundation/found” (2:20/3:17).*

*In the Greek, the noun katoiketerion, "dwelling" (2:22) is linked with the verb katoikeo, "to dwell" (3:17); and the noun themelios, "foundation" (2:20) is linked with the verb themelioo, "to found/ground" (3:17).

Therefore, Paul’s prayer in behalf of his beloved readers can be compared to God’s own temple construction (2:11-22). The apostle begins with the foundation—a specific request—and then he adds on layers to the initial request and caps it all off with a doxology, or word of praise (to God). Here is a sample blueprint for 3:14-21:

1. The foundation: Paul asks the Father to strengthen the hearts of believers by means of the indwelling Holy Spirit (3:14-16)
2. The middle layers: The purpose of the Spirit’s inner strengthening is to deepen the believers’ relationship with Christ, better comprehend His love, and thus be filled by the Father’s fullness (3:17-19)
3. The capstone: Paul praises the Father for His infinite blessings, power, and glory to Christ/His body throughout all the ages to come (3:20-21)

3:14-16:

For this reason I bow my knees to the Father, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man…”

This first section covers Paul’s primary request to the Father; it is the foundation and essence of his petition. In short, he asks the Father to strengthen the “inner man”* by means of the Holy Spirit who dwells within every believer (cf. Eph. 1:13-14; 2:22). Though they were once “dead” but now made “alive” (2:1, 5), all believers still have weaknesses that require the ongoing provision of God’s power (cf. 2 Cor. 12:9-10).

*Or, "innermost being." This phrase refers to the unseen part of mankind—the heart, soul, or core of a person. Note: the "inner man" of 3:16 is synonymous with "your hearts" of 3:17.

Paul’s note about bowing his knees in the presence of the Father is a model for every believer who approaches God with a prayer request. Whether one physically stands, bows, or lifts up their head doesn’t matter as much as the posture of the heart. We can come to the Father freely and boldly (Eph. 2:18; 3:12); however, we must also consider His authority, holiness, and “fearsomeness” (see Eccl. 5:1-7; 1 Pet. 5:5-7).

The phrase “from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named” is worthy of further attention. Paul accentuates God’s ultimate authority as Creator with a play on words, “the Father,” and “from whom every father, or all fatherhood...is named.”* And not only is God (the Father) the ultimate father and creator of every human family on earth, but He is also the Father of the “sons of God” who dwell in heaven.**

*The Greek words are pater, "father," and patria, "fatherhood (or, family)."

**The phrase "sons of God" refers specifically to the direct and immediate creation of God (i.e. angels) as opposed to the offspring of Adam (i.e. humankind). However, once a child of Adam is "born again" (Jn. 1:12-13; 3:3, 5-7), then he or she becomes a child of God, and all together, the redeemed in Christ become like the angels, the "sons of God" (see Rom. 8:14, 19, 21; Gal. 3:26; 4:6-7; cf. Matt. 22:30).

For clarification, Paul isn’t saying that God is the Father of every person, because that would mean that all humanity is, or will be, saved. Furthermore, Paul is not contradicting Jesus, who replied to his opponents, the religious leaders of Jerusalem, “I speak what I have seen in the presence of the Father, and therefore you do what you have heard from your father…you are of your father the Devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires” (Jn. 8:38, 44, HCSB).

Hoehner summarizes and clarifies the proper understanding of Paul’s language concerning God the Father in 3:14-15:

“Paul was not saying that God is the Father of all but rather that He is the Prototype of all fatherhood. “Father” is derived from God, not man. He is the first Father, the only One with “underived” fatherhood. Thus every human family derives its name, that is, exists as a family with a father, because of Him. It is to this Father that Paul prayed” (in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, vol. 2, 631).



3:17-19:

...that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height—to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

Now that Paul has laid the foundation—his primary request from the Father to strengthen the inner man—he will build upon this foundation with three purpose statements. In other words, Paul asks the Father to strengthen the hearts of believers with His power through the Spirit in order that:

1. Christ may dwell in them (3:17)*
2. They may experience/know the love of Christ (3:18-19a)
3. They may be filled with the fullness of God (3:19b)

*If Christ already dwells in the believer at the moment of salvation, then what does it mean for Him to dwell even more? To clarify: "What Paul is praying for is a deeper experience between Christ and His people. He yearns for Christ to settle down and feel at home in their hearts—not a surface relationship, but an ever-deepening fellowship" (Wiersbe, Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 2, 32).

Wiersbe summarizes the construction of Paul’s intercessory prayer for the Ephesians in this way:

“One request leads into the next one, and so on. He prays that the inner man might have spiritual strength, which will, in turn, lead to a deeper experience with Christ. This deeper experience will enable them to ‘apprehend’ (get hold of) God’s great love, which will result in their being ‘filled unto all the fullness of God.’ So, then, Paul is praying for strength, depth, apprehension, and fullness” (31).

The essence of Paul’s request stems from God’s ultimate goal for every person who is predestined to be adopted as His child; namely, to be conformed into the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29; cf. Eph. 1:5). Since every believer is given the indwelling presence of God the moment they believe the gospel (Eph. 1:13), Paul isn’t saying that Christ comes and goes out of the heart at will. Rather, the apostle asks that each believer would look more and more like Christ as they continue to trust Him, “that Christ may dwell...through faith” (3:17).*

*Kuruvilla adds, "It is by the ongoing work of the Spirit that Christ may "be at home in," that is, at the very center of or deeply rooted in believers' lives. Christ must become the controlling factor in believers' attitudes and actions" (105).

The believer’s gradual growth and conformity into the image of Christ does not occur in isolation, because comprehending God’s love in greater measure requires ongoing involvement with the rest of the body, “being rooted and grounded in love, [you] may be able to comprehend [God’s love] with all the saints” (3:17b-18). Paul will show the Ephesians what conformity into Christ’s image looks like in his practical instructions throughout the rest of the letter (chapters 4–6).

Paul’s poetic and illustrative phrase in 3:18—“to comprehend…what is the width and length and depth and height [of Christ’s love]”—may actually be derived from the dimensions of the sacrificial altar depicted in texts such as Ezekiel 43:13-17.* If so, this would be a powerful image of the love of Christ, hinting at His sacrificial death on the cross for our sins.

*All four of the dimensions in Eph. 3:18—platos, "width"; mekos, "length"; bathos, "depth"; and upsos, "height"—are also found in the Greek translation of Ezek. 43:13-17 (LXX). Kuruvilla summarizes, "...this love of Christ in all its grand dimensions [is] a love that, paradoxically, surpasses knowledge (3:19)! This is probably why this knowledge has to be a divine gift, and why it is being prayed for by the apostle (106). 

In addition to the temple imagery carried over from 2:19-22 (e.g. “foundation” and “dwelling”), Ephesians 3:19 is further evidence that Paul has the Church as “the temple of the Spirit” in mind during his prayer, “...that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” Interestingly, there is an OT pattern that goes back to the construction of the tabernacle and Solomon’s temple that relates to God now building and “filling” the Church. The pattern goes something like this:

Chart adapted and modified from Robert Foster, "A Temple in the Lord," 89-90 (Kuruvilla, 109)

As you can see from the pattern above, in order for God’s glory to fill a particular sanctuary, man had to build and abide by the specific instructions given to him. The same OT pattern now applies to the Church which is built on the foundation of Jesus Christ, the cornerstone, and the teaching of His apostles and prophets (Eph. 2:20; 3:5; 4:11).

Paul will now conclude with word of praise to the Father for all that He has done and will do for the body of Christ, empowering and filling the Church throughout the coming ages and beyond.



3:20-21:

Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Jesus Christ to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

We’ve now arrived at the peak, or capstone, of Paul’s intercessory prayer. As we can see from Eph. 3:20, God’s work in and through the body of Christ goes beyond all that we could ever ask for or imagine. In an effort to describe the Father’s amazing activity in the lives of believers, Paul will again stretch the bounds of human language, “...to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all…”

God’s work of transformation and Christ-conformation in each member of the body is accomplished by “the power that works in us,” something that Paul had mentioned in his first prayer (Eph. 1:19). The Father is glorified “to Him be glory” in “the Church” and in “Jesus Christ,” because Christ is the Head of the body (Eph. 1:22-23) and the two will always be one throughout all the coming “generations” and “forever and ever.”*

*In Jesus' own intercessory prayer for all those who would believe in Him through the apostolic message, He prays, "I have given them [the Church] the glory You have given Me" (Jn. 17:22). Moreover, the glory given to the Church is the glory of Christ, which is also the glory of the Father (Jn. 17:4-5). Needless to say, the body of Christ won't have to worry about feeling empty throughout eternity—there is plenty of glory to go around!




Application to the Body of Christ:

“Believers, increasingly conformed to Christ in faith by the Spirit, and comprehending, in community, the immensity of Christ’s love, glorify God who dwells in them” (Kuruvilla, 111).

The Father and Creator of everything that is seen and unseen cannot be contained inside any man-made structure (1 Kgs. 8:27; 2 Chron. 2:6; Acts 17:24). Nevertheless, by His will and good pleasure (Eph. 1:9), He is building for Himself a new dwelling in the Spirit: the body of Christ (Eph. 2:11-22). This holy sanctuary consisting of Spirit-filled human beings brings glory to the Father as each person grows and conforms into the image of Christ.

The apostle Paul, overwhelmed by the grand and glorious plan to unite Jews and Gentiles into one body, is moved to his knees in order to ask the Father to strengthen the hearts of his beloved brothers and sisters in the Lord. Paul’s prayer builds like the construction of God’s own spiritual temple and concludes with a humble word of praise to the One who will do above and beyond anything that we could ask for or think of.

There are many applications from this week’s section (3:14-21), but the one thing that stands out the most is the content and manner of Paul’s intercessory prayer. We can learn so much from the emphasis of his prayer, which is not about physical/material strength, but spiritual/inner strength.

Wiersbe writes, “Paul knew that if the inner man is what he ought to be, the outer man will be taken care of in due time. Too many of our prayers focus only on the physical and material needs and fail to lay hold of the deeper inner needs of the heart. It would do us good to use these prison prayers as our own (e.g. Eph. 1:15-23; 3:14-21; cf. Php. 1:3-11; Col. 1:9-14), and ask God to help us in our inner person. That is where the greatest needs are” (31).

A spiritually weak and insecure believer will have great difficulty growing and maturing in the faith. Therefore, we should, like Paul, rightly emphasize our inner needs such as the need for unconditional love, security (strength), and purpose (significance). Jesus himself instructed his disciples to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matt. 6:33), and in John 14:23, He said that those who love Him will keep His word and the Triune God would come and dwell with them (cf. Eph. 3:17).

May we all continue to grow in Christ, firmly established in His love, and may Christ settle in and feel more and more at home in our hearts as we love and trust Him together!


Post A Comment

11 comments :

  1. I noticed the verse, "...seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness." Where is that Kingdom, to seek it? KJ has it from Jesus.. "The Kingdom can't be seen with eyes, for it is within you." Most other Bibles changed that to "in your midst." But the NKJ did not change, still saying it is "within" you. We know there is to be a physical KOG, when in the millennium, Israel becomes that Kingdom at last. But that is a physical Kingdom, visible to our eyes. Whereas Jesus said the Kingdom is "within"you. So there must be two Kingdoms. One, physical, the other Spiritual, our soul.
    It has been noted that our being saved is similar to the Israelites leaving Egypt, (the world) and making a trek across a wilderness, fighting enemies on the way. Going through the waters, (Baptized) and entering the Promised Land. Our soul. And fighting against and slaying spirits therein, to make our souls into His Kingdom.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good thoughts and perhaps some of both. True Israel is spiritual and we Gentiles have been grafted in. We get to share in the blessings and promises, including the everlasting promise to Abraham.

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    2. In one sense, yes, the kingdom of God is on earth within the Church. For where the King is, there is His kingdom and His reign over certain individuals. However, instead of there being two kingdoms, I believe the point of Paul's statement in Eph. 1:9-10, the theme verse of the letter, is to inform us about God's plan and ongoing process to merge the divisions between heaven and earth and unite "all things" in Christ. Therefore, in the end, there will only be one kingdom (cf. Rev. 11:15).

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    3. Yes, we cannot look beyond the millennium, so we can only see the present destinies of the two groups. And they do have different destinies for now. Christians to be taken up, but Jews to be left behind to go through the Tribulation, with survivors to go into the millennium. We don't know if when Heaven comes down to earth, whether it will be like earthy mass, or invisible to humans alive on earth. The 1,500 mile cube or pyramid attached to Jerusalem must not be of earthly matter, as it would throw the earth out of balance and orbit. So I suspect invisible, for that reason.

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  2. Thanks for your hard work, Jeff. I look forward to reading these every week.

    ReplyDelete
  3. This really resonated with me this week in particular. Thank you Jeff.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, brother.

      Father in heaven, please continue to strengthen our hearts by the Spirit that we may be able to comprehend even more how loved we are by Jesus, and that by being filled up inside we may glorify You in all that you have prepared for us to accomplish before the trumpet call!

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  4. beautiful teaching, thanks be to God! awesome Jeff! true riches *

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  5. Hey there, Ozark. I appreciate the encouragement. We've got riches, indeed, because we are sons of the wealthiest and most powerful Father there is (Eph. 1:18; 3:16)! Take hold of what's yours in Christ (Eph. 1:3).

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  6. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qga1wBBajcA

    Chris Tomlin - Waterfall

    ReplyDelete


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