Experiencing God’s Blessings
Sunday School Lesson for April 14, 2002
Paul’s Prayer to God the Father (3:14-15)
The prayer that Paul initiated in 3:1 is now set forth with the words “For this reason.” As he prays, Paul assumes the unusual position of bending the knee “before the Father.” Typically the Jews remained standing when they prayed. Paul’s posture probably indicates an increased fervency and an “exceptional degree of earnestness” with regard to those things on his heart (Stott, 132). His petition is directed to “the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name.” That is, Paul prays to the one true and living God who has revealed Himself in Scripture as Creator and Sustainer of the universe. Since the redeemed are members of His royal family, they may address Him in prayer not as some dispassionate potentate, but as a loving “Father” who deeply cares for His children. In fact, this passage makes the claim that the very concept of fatherhood itself derives from God’s self-revelation as the original archetypal Father—the “fountain of fatherhood and all fatherliness” (Vaughn, 77). Stott observes that the reference to God’s family “in heaven and on earth” indicates that “the church militant on earth and the church triumphant in heaven, though separated by death, are nevertheless only two parts of the one great family of God” (133).
Paul’s Specific Requests for His Readers (3:16-19)
The specific things for which the apostle prays may be categorized under four major headings, each profoundly significant for every believer:
First, Paul Prays that His Brothers and Sisters will be Strengthened with God’s Power (3:16-17a)
The apostle is concerned that his brethren will be fully supplied with supernatural strength as they serve the Lord. His request is that God the Father would “strengthen” each of them in their “inner being” through the powerful ministry of the Holy Spirit. The reference to “inner being” relates to the spiritual aspect of human nature, sometimes known as the “heart” (see v.17). It is here, in the depths of the “immortal personality” (Bruce, 326), that the Spirit of God is operative supplying the believer with all the power he/she needs for faithful Christian service, witness, and ministry. The supply of power is never ending, for it comes from God’s “glorious riches.” That is, as God’s glory is fully inexhaustible and unfathomable, the measure of His generosity in granting gifts to His beloved children is equally unlimited (Bruce, 326).
With the ministry of the Spirit so dramatically apparent in their lives, their understanding of Christ’s indwelling presence in their hearts “through faith” is made deeper (v.17a). Note the connection between the presence of the Spirit and that of Christ. For Paul they are synonymous, for it is “precisely by the Spirit that Christ dwells in our hearts, and it is strength that he gives us when he dwells there” (Stott, 135).
Second, Paul Prays that They will be Firmly Established in Authentic Love (3:17b)
Paul is also deeply concerned that the Ephesian believers will be firmly anchored to the profound love of God in Christ. F. F. Bruce notes that “rooted” and “established” are biological and architectural terms respectively (327). Thus, the love of Christ, which they have come to personally experience in redemption, is to be the love they are to continually manifest in daily living. As Stott puts it, such Spirit-empowered love is to “be the soil in which their life is rooted” as well as “the foundation upon which their life is built” (136).
Third, Paul Prays that They will Comprehend the Incomprehensible Love of Christ (3:18-19a)
In a similar vein, Paul acknowledges that the believer needs the “power” of God in order to “grasp” the full dimensions of Christ’s love. Paradoxically, such an understanding “surpasses knowledge,” and this very fact necessitates divine assistance in coming to an appreciation of the infinite spectrum of God’s eternal love for His children. Some have observed that the mention of width, length, height, and depth naturally leads the reader to envision the cross of Christ where this love is preeminently displayed and defined. Stott concludes that it is legitimate to claim, therefore, that
the love of Christ is “broad” enough to encompass all mankind (especially Jews and Gentiles, the theme of these chapters), “long” enough to last for eternity, “deep” enough to reach the most degraded sinner, and “high” enough to exalt him to heaven (137).
Note carefully Paul’s implication that understanding the love of Christ for His bride involves participation in the wider community of the church—“with all the saints.” That is, Christ’s love is designed to be understood in the context of the covenant family and not in isolation. The reason is readily apparent. The “deep things of God” (Bruce, 328) are more easily apprehended within the confines of the fellowship of God’s children where accountability and mutual encouragement exist.
Finally, Paul Prays that They will be Filled with the Fulness of God (3:19b)
In this simple line—“that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God”—Paul expresses his concern that the Ephesian believers reach their divinely ordained end, conformity to Christ’s image. This is not to imply that believers will become divine, but that during the course of their earthly lives they will be conformed to the character of Christ Himself. This process is known in the New Testament as sanctification, the final end of which is glorification. In practical terms, this indicates Paul’s desire that his brothers and sisters in Christ should be “growing daily towards that final fullness, as [they] are being transformed by the Holy Spirit into Christ’s image from one degree of glory to another” (Stott, 139).
Paul’s Confidence in God (3:20-21)
Chapter three concludes with an announcement of the confidence that Paul has in the power of God to both hear and answer prayer. Because His “power” is without measure or rival, He is able to “do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.” That is, it is totally “impossible to ask God for too much. His capacity for giving far exceeds his people’s capacity for asking—or even imagining” (Bruce, 330). John Stott provides a helpful analysis of this verse in noting that God’s ability to hear and answer the prayers of His children is expressed in seven stages (139-40):
Simply stated, there are no limits to what God can do in response to the faithful prayers of His children. The “power” at work in their lives individually and corporately is the very resurrection power that raised Christ from the dead (1:19-21; cf. Rom. 8:11).
The ultimate aim of all that God intends to accomplish is that “throughout all generations,” even “for ever and ever,” He should be fully glorified “in the church and in Christ Jesus.” The church, then, is the “sphere within which the glory of God is exhibited” and the “end for which the church exists” (Vaughn, 81).
One: Prayer and the Fatherhood of God—How does the knowledge that God is our Father impact our prayer lives? What does this concept imply?
Two: Prayer and Concern for Others—What may we learn concerning the way Paul prayed specifically for the needs of others? How does his method and example challenge us?
Three: Prayer and the Love of Christ—Why is it important for believers to be continually reminded of the love of Christ? What are some of the practical ways this knowledge changes us? What is the connection between grasping more of His love and our sanctification?
Four: Prayer and the Power of God—Why would Paul emphasize that God is able to do more for us than we could ever imagine? Should we take this literally? If so, what effect should this have on us as we pray?
Five: Prayer and the Glory of God—How much does God’s glory concern us or matter to us in the course of our lives? If God’s glory is the final end and purpose for all things, how should we view life?