“and that you, being rooted and grounded in love,” (Ephesians 3:17b)
Once again, Paul draws upon another of his prison letters to ask God to instill the spiritually foundational truth of being “rooted and grounded in love” within the Ephesian believers. Unlike Paul’s reference to that principle applying to faith [Colossians 1:23; 2:7], here he applies it to God’s agape love, specifically the love of Christ. In other words, being firmly established, steadfast, and built up in it and by it.
Jeremiah reminds us of the value of being “rooted and grounded” in his example of a tree planted by the water in a desert land: “Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD and whose trust is the LORD. For he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream and will not fear when the heat comes; but its leaves will be green, and it will not be anxious in a year of drought nor cease to yield fruit.” (Jeremiah 17:7-8).
The location and depth of a spiritually healthy believer’s “roots” are no accident. Both are near to the sustaining living water given by Christ that “shall become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.” (John 4:14).
Paul’s love for the Ephesians could have been exceeded only by that of Christ. Christ’s perfect love continues to be the immediate subject of Paul’s remedy for hurting hearts perhaps on the verge of collapsing beneath the weight of mounting discouragement. Paul now expresses that love essentially in the same manner as he had attempted to measure Christ’s riches earlier in the chapter: “unfathomable”!
“may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge,” (Ephesians 3:18-19a)
Here is where the student of Christ enters the spiritual classroom of all things infinite: a place of faith not bound by the limited domain of human understanding. Many educational pursuits have prerequisites, yet what may seem like prerequisites for a believer to grow and mature in the faith, can actually happen simultaneously in the life of a believer. This is perhaps more accurately stated for the first three items of Paul’s prayer leading up to his final request—to be unveiled in Part Five of this series.
Importantly, Paul prays about the maturing of the Ephesian believers’ faith. Following this prayer’s “Amen,” Paul delves into the unity of the Spirit, the church and their faith walk. For example, Paul writes in the very next chapter, “As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine… but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ…” (Ephesians 4:14-15).
So how can one understand, even in some fractional finite way, the incomprehensible? Paul indicates that it’s indeed possible, for the believer indwelt by the very One whose love is to be measured. But such a calculation is not one of breadth, length or height in inches, miles or even lightyears. Nor is it one of depth stated in human expressions of vastness, immensity or magnitude in other words, not of distance, size, or scale. Instead, Christ’s love can only be measured by God Himself. A maturing believer begins climbing out of the geometric box of finite thinking into the faith-filled universe of the Creator.
Thumbing back through the pages of Scripture until we reach Paul’s letter to the Roman believers, provides us with a glimpse of Paul’s convictions about the love of Christ. It’s something that Paul wanted so much for the Ephesians to comprehend along with all the saints—every believer—to grasp and hold dearly, something too, that answered Paul’s question: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” (Romans 8:35). He writes:
“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39).
“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!” (Romans 11:33).
Paul now introduces another aspect of the love of Christ: “to know” it. He’s not talking about knowing it as a cold measurement of time, space or matter, nor just of understanding our place in Christ doctrinally. But instead we have the warmth of personal experience in knowing the unconditional love of Christ… the One whose love is never dependent upon, nor reciprocal to, the changing winds and whims of human emotion.
An infinite dimension of Christ’s love is found in knowing it first-hand through such practices as studying, and applying His word, praying beyond the temporal, fellowshipping in a Christ-like manner and extending a helping hand to those in need, on His behalf. Essentially, we are to be more than just weekend acquaintances. Instead, we are solidifying a relationship with the closest friend of any believer… keeping an everyday and eternal perspective on what really matters to Christ.
The love of Christ surpasses knowledge despite humanity’s vain attempts to match anything God has done. Again, Paul didn’t have a 21st century prayer app. Instead, he relied on the familiar voice of the Lord, the One who spoke the world into existence! Paul was writing his letter to those whom Jesus called His “other sheep” the Gentile believers, who with the Jews, would become one in Christ saying, “…and they shall hear My voice; and they shall become one flock with one shepherd.” (John 10:16).
Jesus Himself defined “eternal life” with these words: “And this is eternal life, that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.” (John 17:3).
Part Five of this series reveals the “capstone” of Paul’s prayer. How can one be filled and emptied at the same time?
All Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible (NASB).
Alan Summers, GBC Elder