Ephesians Chapter 3: That Christ might dwell in our hearts by faith
And now we come to one of the greatest problems Paul’s irresistible progress forces upon us. His grammar has been difficult before, and we have already worked through a sentence twelve verses long. But in the third chapter we come across a remarkable example of the prolixity of his thought. In the first verse he says, “for this cause” (3:1), and we know what this means. Because of what he has already said, about the eternal purpose of God, His undeserved love towards us, and our reception into His family through the Cross of Christ, then - what? For this cause something must be said, or something must be done. But, whatever it is, we have to wait for thirteen verses before we find it. For as soon as he has said, “for this cause,” Paul, in order to give personal point to what he will now add, mentions his own name, “I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles” (3:1) and is so struck with the immensity of what that title and office implies, that he spends the next twelve verses telling us about that.
We must therefore postpone for a little finding out what Paul does “for this cause”, and contemplate what his thoughts lead him to as concerning his own ministry. He brings out the following points:
- that a dispensation of the grace of God was given to him on behalf of the believers (3:2)
- that what he knew about the gospel he knew by revelation, not by reasoning or at second hand (3:3) (and he has just told them about this in the preceding few words, that is, the last two chapters)
- that what he knows was not formerly known to the sons of men, but has now been made known to the apostles and prophets by the spirit (3:5); and that the supreme content of this is the participation of the Gentiles in the hope of the gospel on equal terms (3:6)
- that he is utterly unworthy of the grace and high office of preaching which he has had committed to him (3:8) - accompanied by yet another summary of what the content of that preaching is, including its gift of free access to God on the part of all who obey him (3:12)
- and that the advantages of his position so far outweigh the trifling disability of being imprisoned, and in danger of death on the gospel’s behalf, that the Ephesians must be pleaded with not to be troubled by his sufferings, which the Gospel has brought upon him, and which therefore were entered upon with a view to securing their glory. (3:13).
Even a summary of the verses is subject to the same difficulty. The thoughts run so much into one another that it is next to impossible to separate them. And yet, from the rich confusion in which we are involved, it is impossible to miss the generous and overflowing happiness of a man who knows himself to be a prisoner, but knows that the Lord is glorified by his captivity. He knows that he is an ambassador for the Gospel, and gasps with wonder that the Lord should have chosen for the purpose one who is “less than the least of all saints”, on account of his former persecuting activities (2 Timothy 1:15-16). He knows that an apprehension of the gospel has been given him far exceeding that previously offered to men (for had not the Lord said that “many prophets and righteous men had desired to see the things that they saw, but had not seen them”), yet is aware that it comes by revelation, and not as the fruit of his own cleverness. And all those thoughts crowd upon him and demand expression before he can go on to explain what it is he has to say “for this cause”.
But at last he arrives at this point, and repeats his introduction, and what emerges, again, is another prayer. It is similar in spirit to the one we have reached already (1:16-23), in that he realises how far in advance of their own attainment he has travelled, and asks God to help them to go forward to his level. What he asks for is breathtaking:
- that the Father of whom every family in heaven and in earth is named (3:15)
- would strengthen them with power through His Spirit in their inward man (3:16)
- that Christ might dwell in their hearts by faith (3:17)
- that they, being rooted and grounded in love, might be able to apprehend with all saints the dimensions of the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge (3:18)
- and be filled with all the fulness of God (3:19).
He could scarcely ask for more, and, humanly speaking, he is asking for the impossible. For he wants the saints to know the unknowable (3:19), and it this is not quite the paradox it seems, it is at least enough to awake our attention. Knowing the love that passeth knowledge must mean either knowing something you cannot find out for yourself, but must have revealed to you; or knowing inside something which cannot be expressed in logical terms. Or it may mean both, and probably does. For once again the Apostle is not thinking of what we can do for ourselves, but of what God can do for us, if we will let Him. He desires Christ to find His home within our hearts, so that love may be the foundation of our lives. He wants us to hear the knock of him that stands at the door and open unto Him (Revelation 3:20), and from experience of His company learn the limitless scope of the divine affection.
“Rooted and grounded in love” is something, which we may aspire to, but many of us would be unwilling to claim. Yet it is, ultimately, the only absolutely sure basis for a continuing Christian life. There are many of us who serve God (in measure) from a sense of duty, coupled with a sense of indebtedness, but would be unable to say that we truly love Him. “O, for grace to love thee more!” would be heartily echoed by us, Now we can be persuaded that God will not despise the dutiful service of those who want to please Him, but we must also recognise that “rooted and grounded in love” is the better way. The tremendous peril attaching to mere dutifulness is, that if the dutiful person should really fall in love - the wrong way - that might be the end of all his service. There is no more tragic case than that of Solomon, who served the Lord with wisdom, if not with devotion: until he fell in love, with many strange women, who turned away his heart. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength” is the only real safeguard against such apostacy. If we are vouchsafed thus, then we are “rooted and grounded”, established and settled: and he whose basis is of this kind shall never be moved.
It comes, writes the Apostle, through Christ dwelling in our hearts by faith. But this it comes, according to John 14:23, by a man loving Him. It would seem, therefore - and surely this answers to experience - that we have here an ascending spiral. God first loved us, and so we love Him, with a feeble, flickering affection not entirely divorce from self-interest. It has the flavour of what we call in Britain “cupboard love”: affection bestowed in return for favours expected or received. But as the knowledge that the love of God was deep and unselfish: “Hereby know we love, that He laid down his life for us” (1 John 3:16) matures, so does the heart become opened to receive the Lord as he is. And, so the argument runs, the companionship, which then develops, ripens into a truer love, and ultimately leads to that foundation-love, rooted and grounded, which is invincible.
And at this point Paul gives thanks, for the third time, now “to him that is able to do exceedingly abundantly, above all that we ask or think” (3:20). This, I feel, is a consolation. “Above all that we ask or think” recognises that we may not know exactly what we ought to ask for, and puts the matter into the hands of God. We ask for - we know not what (Romans 8:26-27) - save that we want and need a heightened affinity with the love of God. And the promise is that what we get, if we ask in faith and humility, will surprise and delight us. It will go beyond all that we could have imagined. Glory and praise are what Paul offers to the God who he knows will not fail him in the church in all its ages, both among the disciples of the first century who knew the apostles face to face, and among those of the twentieth, who receive their counsel from the written Word (3:21).