Ephesians XI: Filled with All the Fullness of God - Ephesians 3:14-21

What happens after God’s house is established? We see the answer at the tabernacle in Exodus 40, and the temple in 1 Kings 8: after the house is built, then God comes and fills it with His glory. What Paul is praying about as Ephesians 3 comes to an end is exactly this: God has built a new house out of Jew and Gentile, with Jesus as the cornerstone, and now it’s time for the glory of God to fill the Church.

As he contemplates this new stage of God’s eternal plan to reconcile all things to Himself through the Church, Paul prays that she will be strengthened, so that when the fullness of God is poured into the Church, she will be able to know the unknowable love of Christ and will be able to bear the weight of this glory.

Structurally, there are three related requests in this prayer. The first is in v.16 – Paul prays to the Father “that you may be strengthened by the Spirit so that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith.” The second request comes in 18: “that you may have strength to comprehend and know the full measure of Christ’s love”. Summing up, Paul’s third request is “that you be filled up with all the fullness of God.” Paul’s prayer priorities are Christ dwelling in us, and knowing Christ. More than anything else, this is what the Church needs, and so this is what we should pray for.

The prayer takes on a Trinity shape as Paul prays to the Father for Holy Spirit power so that Christ may dwell in our hearts. Because Christ has ascended to God’s right hand, the way He indwells us in through His Spirit, but because God is three in one, the unity of Father, Son, and Spirit means that we don’t say that the Spirit dwells in us instead of Christ, but that Christ dwells in us by the Spirit. We can and must distinguish between the persons, as Paul does, but we may never separate them.

V.17 expresses a prayer for Christ to dwell in our hearts in a way that expresses an intimate relationship with God – Christ in you, the hope of glory, as the parallel passage from Colossians put it. Our union with Jesus is primarily corporate, not private, but it must be personal: you can attend church and do good things all day long, but unless Christ dwells in your heart, you are not part of God’s family.

And how does Christ come to dwell in your heart? By faith! When you believe in Jesus and entrust yourself to Him as Lord and Savior, He indwells you by His Holy Spirit in your inner being. But if that happens when you believe, then why does Paul pray for this for the Ephesians? Doesn’t Christ already indwell them? Indeed He does, but God’s indwelling presence is something that grows – as you are continually strengthened by the Spirit, Christ dwells in you more and more fully.

His first and most fundamental work of course, is to reset the very foundation of your life, so that you are rooted and grounded in love. Paul combines both agricultural and architecture ideas here, so that we get the notion of an unshakeable foundation, but also life and growth, or “living stones” as Peter puts it. So when God strengthens us by the Spirit, Christ indwells us and replants our hearts in the soil of love, so that we will keeping growing in our ability to comprehend and know the breadth and length and height and depth of God’s love.

The result of Christ’s indwelling and our growth in knowing Christ’s love is that we are filled with all the fullness of God. Not that the Church contains God, but as the Puritan writer Stephen Charnock put it, the Church is like a sponge being plunged into a bucket of water. Even though there is more water than the sponge can hold, the water fully permeates the sponge until it’s as full as it can be.

And since God is our Father, the one who made us and built this new temple for the purpose of filling us with His glory, Paul concludes by bursting into praise, knowing that God will answer his requests more abundantly than he can even imagine. His beautiful doxology in vv. 20-21 expresses the great hope and desire of all who trust in Jesus: that God the Father would be glorified in His Church, through our union with Christ and the power of the Spirit. May this new dwelling place for God be filled with all the splendor and majesty of the wonderful love of God, throughout all of history and into eternity. Amen! Let it be so!

Posted on Wednesday, July 24, 2019 by CJ Bowen