Read the Passage: Ephesians 3:14-21
If we include his short blessings and benedictions, Paul records more than forty prayers in his thirteen epistles. Among these prayers, the ones recorded in Eph. 1:15–23; 3:14–21 are two of Paul’s longest prayers. Earlier, at Eph. 1:15–23, as he was teaching the Ephesian believers about their identity in Christ, Paul was caught up in a prayer for them. In this first prayer, Paul prayed that the Ephesian Christians would have knowledge, understanding, wisdom, and hope with an increasing realization of what it means to be in Christ. Here at Eph. 3:14–21, in this second prayer Paul similarly prays for the church to have strength, faith, love, and understanding. It seems that in both of these prayers, while writing to the church about the glories of being in Christ, Paul was swept up in praise to God. Clearly, Paul’s theology was not a cold orthodoxy, but it flowed out of a vibrant orthopraxy.
Paul begins this second prayer with the statement, “For this reason . . . .” (Eph. 3:14). Observe that this is the same phrase Paul wrote at Eph. 3:1. It seems, then, that as he began this chapter, Paul started to record a prayer, from which he was distracted in Eph. 3:2–13 as he digressed into a brief teaching about the mystery of the church. This “reason” Paul references at Eph. 3:1, 14 is the truth that the Gentiles have been saved by faith in Jesus Christ, which he had taught about in Eph. 2:1–22. Moved by the fact that the believers in Ephesus were now in Christ, Paul writes, “I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Note that kneeling is just one of many postures of prayer in the Bible. Next, in Eph. 3:15 Paul refers to “the whole family in heaven and earth.” Of course, Paul is not teaching universal salvation here, but is referring to all those who have and will believe in Jesus.
As is the case with almost all of his recorded prayers, so here the content of Paul’s second prayer in the book of Ephesians centers upon the spiritual welfare of believers. In Eph. 3:16–19 Paul lists four specific requests for the church. First, Paul prays that the church might be “strengthened with might through [the Holy] Spirit in the inner man” (Eph. 3:16). As Paul had written to the Corinthians, the “outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4:16). Indeed, while we can sometimes delay physical decline, we cannot stop it. Spiritual growth, however, ought to increase with age, as we engage in spiritual disciplines. Second, Paul prays that “Christ would dwell in [the Ephesians’] hearts through faith” (Eph. 3:17a). Of course, Jesus dwells in the hearts of all believers (cf. Rom. 8:9), thus Paul’s prayer here is that Jesus would be welcomed.
A third specific request that Paul mentions in this prayer is that the Ephesian believers might know the extent of Jesus’ love for them (cf. Eph. 3:17b–19a). In a sense, all believers are “rooted and grounded in love” (Eph. 3:17b), as those who have placed their faith in Jesus have accepted God’s love for them that was manifest on the cross (cf. Rom. 5:8). Yet, here Paul’s prayer is that the Ephesian believers would not just be aware of Christ’s love, but that they would comprehend it with the saints. The idea here is that the church would be growing in their love for God and for each other. Indeed, “because the love of God has been poured in our hearts by the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 5:5), we now have the capacity to love God and to love one another. Fourth, Paul prays that the church would “be filled with the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:19b), by which he means an ever-growing spiritual maturity.
In concluding his prayer, at Eph. 3:20–21, Paul gives one of the most often cited benedictions in all of Scripture, writing, “Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” It is interesting that Paul appeals to God’s omnipotence here, as the book of Ephesians is one of Paul’s few letters that is not written to address a particular church crisis. Of course, when God does work in an undeniable way in our lives, it is according to the power of the Holy Spirit who indwells us. As we pursue Jesus and participate in the Body of Christ, we need to keep in mind the fact that God is always at work, bringing about good things to glorify Himself that are beyond our own awareness and even our own ability to comprehend.
- Should prayers be written or extemporaneous? Why does Paul interrupt this letter, two times (cf. Eph. 1:15–23; 3:14–21), to record his prayers for the Ephesian church?
- Who is the “whole family in heaven and earth” (Eph. 3:15) that Paul references in this passage? Are you part of this family?
- In his letters, why does Paul almost never pray for physical well-being for the church, nor ask for material things for himself?
- What does Paul mean in praying that believers would experience the fullness of God (cf. Eph. 3:19), of Christ (cf. Eph. 4:13), and of the Spirit (cf. Eph. 5:18)?
- Have there been any acts of God in your Christian life that you would categorize as being exceeding and abundantly above and beyond your prayers and thoughts?