William Barclay's Daily Study Bible

Paul's Earnest Prayer (Ephesians 3:14-21)

3:14-21 It is for this cause that I bow my knees in prayer before the Father, of whose fatherhood all heavenly and earthly fatherhood is a copy, that, according to the wealth of his glory. he may grant to you to be strengthened in the inner man, so that Christ through faith may take up his permanent residence in your hearts. I pray that you may have your root and your foundation in love, so that, with all God's consecrated people, you may have the strength fully to grasp the meaning of the breadth and length and depth and height of Christ's love, and to know the love of Christ which is beyond all knowledge, that you may be filled until you reach the fullness of God himself.

To him that is able to do exceeding abundantly, above all that we ask or think, according to the power which works in us, to him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus to all generations for ever and ever. Amen.

The God Who Is Father ( Ephesians 3:14-17 )

3:14-17 It is for this cause that I bow my knees in prayer before the Father, of whose fatherhood all heavenly and earthly fatherhood is a copy, that, according to the wealth of his glory, he may grant to you to be strengthened in the inner man. so that Christ through faith may take up his permanent residence in your hearts.

It is here that Paul begins again the sentence which he began in Ephesians 3:1 and from which he was deflected. It is for this cause begins Paul. What is the cause which makes him pray? We are back again at the basic idea of the letter. Paul has painted his great picture of the Church. This world is a disintegrated chaos; there is division everywhere, between nation and nation, between man and man, within a man's inner life. It is God's design that all the discordant elements should be brought into one in Jesus Christ. But that cannot be done unless the Church carries the message of Christ and of the love of God to every man. It is for that cause that Paul prays. He is praying that the people within the Church may be such that the whole Church will be the body of Christ.

We must note the word used for Paul's attitude in prayer. "I bow my knees," he says, "in prayer to God." That means even more than that he kneels; it means that he prostrates himself. The ordinary Jewish attitude of prayer was standing, with the hands stretched out and the palms upwards. Paul's prayer for the Church is so intense that he prostrates himself before God in an agony of entreaty.

His prayer is to God the Father. It is interesting to note the different things which Paul says in this letter about God as Father, for from them we get a clearer idea of what was in his mind when he spoke of the fatherhood of God.

(i) God is the Father of Jesus ( Ephesians 1:2-3 ; Ephesians 1:17 ; Ephesians 6:23 ). It is not true to say that Jesus was the first person to call God Father. The Greeks called Zeus the father of gods and men; the Romans called their chief god Jupiter, which means Deus Pater, God the Father. But there are two closely interrelated words which have a certain similarity and yet a wide difference in their meaning.

There is paternity. Paternity means fatherhood in the purely physical sense of the term. It can be used of a fatherhood in which the father never even sees the child.

On the other hand there is fatherhood. Fatherhood describes the most intimate relationship of love and of fellowship and of care.

When men used the word father of God before Jesus came, they used it much more in the sense of paternity. They meant that the gods were responsible for the creation of men. There was in the word none of the love and intimacy which Jesus put into it. The centre of the Christian conception of God is that he is like Jesus, that he is as kind, as loving, as merciful as Jesus was. It was always in terms of Jesus that Paul thought of God.

(ii) God is the Father to whom we have access ( Ephesians 2:18 ; Ephesians 3:12 ).

The essence of the Old Testament is that God was the person to whom access was forbidden. When Manoah, who was to be the father of Samson, realized who his visitor had been, he said: "We shall surely die, for we have seen God" ( 13:22 ). In the Jewish worship of the Temple the Holy of Holies was held to be the dwelling-place of God and into it only the High Priest might enter, and that only on one day of the year. the Day of Atonement.

The centre of Christian belief is the approachability of God. H. L. Gee tells a story. There was a little boy whose father was promoted to the exalted rank of brigadier. When the little lad heard the news, he was silent for a moment, and then said, "Do you think he will mind if I still call him daddy?" The essence of the Christian faith is unrestricted access to the presence of God.

(iii) God is the Father of glory, the glorious Father ( Ephesians 1:17 ). Here is the necessary other side of the matter. If we simply spoke about the accessibility of God, it would be easy to sentimentalize the love of God, and that is exactly what some people do. But the Christian faith rejoices in the wonder of the accessibility of God without ever forgetting his holiness and his glory. God welcomes the sinner, but not if he wishes to trade on God's love in order to remain a sinner. God is holy and those who seek his friendship must be holy too.

(iv) God is the Father of all ( Ephesians 4:6 ). No man, no Church, no nation has exclusive possession of God; that is the mistake which the Jews made. The fatherhood of God extends to all men, and that means that we must love and respect one another.

(v) God is the Father to whom thanks must be given ( Ephesians 5:20 ). The fatherhood of God implies the debt of man. It is wrong to think of God as helping us only in the great moments of life. Because God's gifts come to us so regularly we tend to forget that they are gifts. The Christian should never forget that he owes, not only the salvation of his soul, but also life and breath and all things to God.

(vi) God is the pattern of all true fatherhood. That lays a tremendous responsibility on all human fathers. G. K. Chesterton remembered his father only vaguely but his memories were precious. He tells us that in his childhood he possessed a toy theatre in which all the characters were cut-outs in cardboard. One of them was a man with a golden key. He never could remember what the man with the golden key stood for but in his own mind he always connected his father with him, a man with a golden key opening up all kinds of wonderful things.

We teach our children to call God father, and the only conception of fatherhood they can have is that which we give them. Human fatherhood should be moulded on the fatherhood of God.

The Strengthening Of Christ ( Ephesians 3:14-17 Continued)

Paul prays that his people may be strengthened in the inner man. What did he mean? The inner man was a phrase by which the Greeks understood three things.

(a) There was a man's reason. It was Paul's prayer that Jesus Christ should strengthen the reason of his friends. He wanted them to be better able to discern between what was right and what was wrong. He wanted Christ to give them the wisdom which would keep life pure and safe.

(b) There was the conscience. It was Paul's prayer that the conscience of his people should ever become more sensitive. It is possible to disregard conscience so long that in the end it becomes dulled. Paul prayed that Jesus should keep our consciences tender and on the alert.

(c) There was the will. So often we know what is right, and mean to do it, but our will is not strong enough to back our knowledge and to carry out our intentions. As John Drinkwater wrote:

"Grant us the will to fashion as we feel,

Grant us the strength to labour as we know,

Grant us the purpose, ribbed and edged with steel,

To strike the blow.

Knowledge we ask not, knowledge Thou hast lent,

But, Lord, the will--there lies our deepest need,

Grant us the power to build, above the high intent,

The deed. the deed!"

The inner man is the reason, the conscience, the will.

The strengthening of the inner man comes when Christ takes up his permanent residence in the man. The word Paul uses for Christ dwelling in our hearts is the Greek katoikein ( Greek #2730 ) which is the word used for permanent, as opposed to temporary, residence. Henry Lyte wrote as one of the verses of Abide with me:

"Not a brief glance I beg, a passing word,

But as Thou dwell'st with Thy disciples. Lord,

Familiar, condescending, patient, free,

Come, not to sojourn, but abide with me."

The secret of strength is the presence of Christ within our lives. Christ will gladly come into a man's life--but he will never force his way in. He must await our invitation to bring us his strength.

The Infinite Love Of Christ ( Ephesians 3:18-21 )

Paul prays that the Christian may be able to grasp the meaning of the breadth, depth, length and height of the love of Christ. It is as if Paul invited us to look at the universe to the limitless sky above, to the limitless horizons on every side, to the depth of the earth and of the seas beneath us, and said, "The love of Christ is as vast as that."

It is not likely that Paul had any more definite thought in his mind than the sheer vastness of the love of Christ. But many people have taken this picture and have read meanings, some of them very beautiful, into it. One ancient commentator sees the Cross as the symbol of this love. The upper arm of the Cross points up; the lower arm points down; and the crossing arms point out to the widest horizons. Jerome said that the love of Christ reaches up to include the holy angels; that it reaches down to include even the evil spirits in hell; that in its length it covers the men who are striving on the upward way; and in its breadth it covers the men who are wandering away from Christ.

If we wish to work this out we might say that in the breadth of its sweep, the love of Christ includes every man of every kind in every age in every world; in the length to which it would go, the love of Christ accepted even the Cross; in its depth it descended to experience even death; in its height, he still loves us in heaven, where he ever lives to make intercession for us ( Hebrews 7:25 ). No man is outside the love of Christ; no place is out with its reach.

Then Paul comes back again to the thought which dominates this epistle. Where is that love to be experienced? We experience it with all God's consecrated people. That is to say, we find it in the fellowship of the Church. John Wesley's saying was true, "God knows nothing of solitary religion." "No man," he said, "ever went to heaven alone." The Church may have its faults; church members may be very far from what they ought to be; but in the fellowship of the Church we find the love of God.

Paul ends with a doxology and an ascription of praise. God can do for us more than we can dream of, and he does it for us in the Church and in Christ.

Once again, before we leave this chapter, let us think of Paul's glorious picture of the Church. This world is not what it was meant to be; it is torn in sunder by opposing forces and by hatred and strife. Nation is against nation, man is against man, class is against class. Within a man's own self the fight rages between the evil and the good. It is God's design that all men and all nations should become one in Christ. To achieve this end Christ needs the Church to go out and tell men of his love and of his mercy. And the Church cannot do that, until its members, joined together in fellowship, experience the limitless love of Christ.

-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)

- William Barclay's Daily Study Bible