“that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:19b)
Being filled up to all the fullness of God represents the final “capstone” needed to complete Paul’s prayer for the spiritual health and growth of the wearied Ephesian believers. It’s a prayer project that Paul has methodically been building from his knees. Now the final component—the fullness of God—is within reach by His grace, and it is the culmination of Paul’s three previous “cause and effect” statements:
- that the Father would grant the Ephesians to be strengthened with power through His Spirit,
- so that Christ may dwell in their hearts through faith, and
- that they, being rooted and grounded in His love, would be able to comprehend and know it.
The distinctive roles of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all on display here. Paul wrote about the fullness of God in another prison letter, referring to Christ:
“For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority” (Colossians 2:9-10).
God’s fullness, as expressed here by Paul, hearkens back to the mystery of Christ that led up to this prayer (see Part Two). The Apostle John also weighed in on the subject of God’s fullness with these words about Christ:
“For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:16-17).
Jesus is the fulfillment of Old Testament promises that made it possible for the Gentile Ephesians to be grafted into the family of God, bringing reconciliation both with God and among believers indwelt by His Spirit. Paul has already asked for three things necessary for their spiritual growth and maturity. But why stop there? Paul naturally went for it… all of it, praying for something even beyond all measure—filling to the very brim of their God-given capacity—with all the fullness of God. Not just some… but all of it!
Take note of Paul’s earlier prayer for these same Ephesians who are now discouraged over Paul’s latest predicament (a.k.a. opportunity to share the Gospel). Picking it up in verse 20 of Chapter One, we read: “which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fulness of Him who fills all in all.” (Ephesians 1:20-23).
Imagine for a moment that while Christ has all the power and authority afforded Him by the Father, He is also the ultimate example of humility. Paul points this out about the One whose fullness fills all in all, who:
“…emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:7-8).
“Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us,” (Ephesians 3:20)
Verse 20 begins Paul’s concluding doxology or words praising and glorifying God. It’s an epilogue that concludes his prayer with the same humbleness before the Father that marked its beginning. This is Paul’s way of acknowledging the infinite dimension and potential of God!
“Beyond all” that we ask God for in prayer, or hope for in our thoughts—this phrasing helps drive home Paul’s point that God can’t be measured. Everything about God is off-the-human-charts—His love, grace, mercy—you name it! The beauty of it all is that we don’t have to understand everything about God to believe and trust Him by faith.
Notice too, the subtle change in Verse 20 where Paul included himself as a participant in this reminder. Here, Paul used “we” and “us” for the first time in this prayer. Just as Paul had said “with all the saints” earlier in Verse 18, now he applies this reminder of God’s capability to his own life, as a fellow believer among the saints. Paul’s over-the-top phrase “exceeding abundantly beyond all” tells us that Paul’s passion and zealous fire-in-the-belly exuberance had not been squelched since God first opened his blinded eyes unto a renewed mindset and vision for all things Jesus. The power that works within “us” as believers is that of the Holy Spirit (Verse 16).
God has already taken the initiative to provide the only way to eternal life. He has begun a good work in you as a believer that He will finish, and He has offered you the empowering strength of His Spirit for the whole process. Whether personally or corporately as a body of believers, the equation is the same for accomplishing His will.
Knowing God’s Will is often a diligent faith-filled process of studying His word and prayerfully listening to Him. But even if we know what to do, how should we go about it? That question often becomes a stumbling block. However, God is not the One who is stumped. Instead, it can only be us if we fail to pray and think outside of the “box” of human limitations. Regarding salvation, Jesus said, “The things impossible with men are possible with God” (Luke 18:27). Paul reminds us of God’s unlimited capacity, yet it’s critically important for us to keep God’s will and purpose as a plumb line instead of just eyeballing what we might like to see happen, as we pray beyond all measure.
Part Six of this series concludes the prayer’s doxology. What is to result from this prayer?
All Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible (NASB).
Alan Summers, GBC Elder