Click here to download study notes: Ephesians 3 14-21 Study Notes, pt1

Ephesians 3:14-21, Prayer for Spiritual Strength:

  • This is the second prayer recorded in this letter. We see Paul’s first prayer report in 1:15-19. Now in both passages, Paul’s prayer is directed to God the Father (1:17; 3:14). He asks God to give the readers knowledge and power. And the Spirit is featured (1:17; 3:16) in both occasions.
  • In 3:14-19, there are three major requests of Paul: 1) that God would give them power both through his Spirit, and through the indwelling of Christ; 2) that God would strengthen them to grasp the greatness of Christ’s love; and 3) that they would be filled to the measure of God’s own fullness.
  • This structure cannot be seen in English translations but is obvious in the Greek original; “I kneel before the Father (to pray):
  • 1) that he might give you to be strengthened (3:16);
  • 2) that you may have power to grasp (3:18);
  • 3) that you may be filled” (3:19).

 

  • At the end of Paul’s prayer, he closes with a doxology, which gives glory to God “in the church and in Christ Jesus” (3:21). This doxology enlarges our vision of what God can do through us and supplements our understanding of the significance of the church.

 

  1. The Request for Power & Indwelling: (v14-17a)
  • So Paul’s first prayer request is for believers to be strengthened through the power of the Holy Spirit and through the indwelling of the Lord Jesus in their hearts.
  • For this reason I bow my knees before the Father;  Through this phrase Paul indicates that he is praying. The use of “I bow my knees,” may indicate a sense of worshipful urgency, or perhaps it highlights the sovereignty of God. So this is Paul’s posture, notice his approach:

 

  • From whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, (3:15). English readers would not catch the parallel between “Father” in verse 14 and “family” in verse 15, in the Greek the words are patēr and patria. The word patria can mean “family,” though it also signifies clan, relationship, people, or nation.
  • Why does Paul make this connection between God the patēr and every patria of heaven and earth? In the ancient world, the one who named something claimed authority over it. So if every grouping of created beings acquires its name from God the Father, then he is sovereign over all beings.
  • And so this is such a beautiful selection of words as it ties in with the theme Paul introduced in chapter one – The one who created all things seeks to unite all things in Christ. But it is only in verse 16 when we get to Paul’s first request.

 

  • I pray that … he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being (3:16). Literally, he asks that God might “give” the church “to be strengthened with power through his Spirit.”
  • God’s power appeared in the prayer in chapter 1, where Paul asked that we might know God’s “incomparably great power for us who believe” (1:19). Ephesians 2 states that the Spirit of God helps us have access to God (2:18) and is the means by which God dwells in his people (2:22).
  • In Rom 15:13, 19; 1 Cor 2:4; & 1 Thess 1:5, Paul frequently associates the Holy Spirit with power. Thus through the Spirit, God acts in and among us, strengthening us to live for his glory.
  • But there is more to this request. Paul prays that believers will be strengthened “in your inner being” (3:16). This does not mean that the Spirit’s work is only internal or that the Spirit works only in the hearts of individuals and nowhere else.
  • In Ephesians 4:3, the Spirit is said to forge unity among believers. In 5:18–19 the Spirit inspires songs of worship that are shared in community. In 6:17 the Spirit supplies a sword with which the Christian community engages in spiritual warfare. So the power of the Spirit is also expressed externally. But we also need to understand that the Spirit empowers us inwardly for external actions.

 

  • And finally, this request includes “that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” (3:17). The Greek infinitive “to dwell in” is parallel to “to be strengthened” in 3:16. Therefore, Christ dwelling in our hearts in verse 17 represents the same experience as the Spirit present in our inner being in verse 16.
  • This is not to say that Christ and the Spirit are the same person. Rather, in their work in us and in our experience of them, Christ and the Spirit are inseparable. John Calvin says, “It is a mistake to imagine that the Spirit can be obtained without obtaining Christ; and it is equally foolish and absurd to dream that we can receive Christ without the Spirit.” This just once again affirms our personal relationship with the Triune God.

 

  1. The Request to Grasp Christ’s Love: (v17b-19a)
  • Paul’s second request comes as believers are “being rooted and established in love (3:17). The main problem with this phrase is its peculiar grammar, especially with the ESV, which makes it unclear where and how the phrase connects to the rest of the sentence.
  • But since grammar will not determine the best meaning, we should consider how this phrase fits the story of Ephesians. So back in chapter 1, Paul writes that God chose us “in love” before the creation of the world (1:4). In chapter 2, we were made alive in Christ “because of [God’s] great love for us” (2:4).
  • And so the recipients of Ephesians had already been rooted and established in love before Paul prayed for them in this way. And so on the basis of the fact that his readers have already been rooted and established in love, Paul prays in 3:18–19 that their knowledge of God’s love may increase.

 

  • May have power … to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ (3:18). This is the second major request in Paul’s prayer. It is a rather interesting prayer, to have the strength to grasp the measure of God’s love…
  • This love is so vast that it cannot be fully comprehended: wider than wide, longer than long, higher than high, and deeper than deep. It might even be overwhelming for someone to think through God’s measure of love, this is why Paul prays for the power to grasp it.

 

  • But this prayer ties-in with church unity. Paul prays for believers will grasp this with ‘all the saints.’ God makes himself known to us and helps us grow in our understanding of Him in the community of His people. Paul’s prayer is not meant for individual Christians, but rather for God’s people together.
  • And lastly, this request is that believers “know this love that surpasses knowledge” (3:19). This tells us that the love of Christ can be known, but never completely. There is always more of his love to be discovered. The verb “to know” suggests both intellectual understanding and personal experience. Paul does not want his readers simply to know more about God’s love. He wants them to be intimately familiar with it, to be embraced by it, and to embrace it in return.