In the Ephesian letter the apostle writes about a theme that was to those who first read that letter, and even to us today, almost incomprehensible. He had stated in chapter one what I believe is the overall theme of the letter – God’s “plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Ephesians 1:10). In immediate terms that meant the uniting of Jews and Gentiles in one body. In social terms it would mean the healing of the division of humanity that was created by mankind’s rebellion against God (Ephesians 2:11-15; Genesis 11:1-9). In cosmic terms it meant this uniting of the diverse parts of humanity would be a restoration of creation as a temple for God’s residence (Ephesians 2:18-22) and thus, in a way, the uniting of heaven and earth as God had always intended.
These are overwhelming thoughts! The part of it that produced the greatest problem for human beings was that of the integrating of the widely diverse segments of humanity. The terms, Jews and Gentiles, as they are identified in the New Testament, are really oversimplifications. Within these broad terms there were various shades of distinctive classifications such as ethnic, national, social, cultural, dietary and religious differences. When God brought these people together he intended that they be together in a very real and practical sense. They were to be together as his temple. He was to dwell among them.
Can we begin to understand the enormity of this project? In the world of today we have, in a measure, seen the incorporation of people of diverse national and ethnic backgrounds into a more or less homogeneous whole. The United States used to be known as the great “melting pot” in which people of diverse nationality and social backgrounds blended together into a cohesive nation. With the coming of “multiculturalism” that practice has largely been abandoned and diverse peoples, instead of blending together, maintain their distinctive identities. Either way, for people to learn to live together is an undertaking of gargantuan proportions.
What Paul had written about in Ephesians 3 is that the coming together of Jews of various sectarian, ethnic or national identity and the far more diverse nations, ethnicities, cultures, languages of the rest of humanity, an undertaking of overwhelming immensity. Paul had spoken of this as having been a “mystery” which had now been made known … “that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Eph. 3:6).
How were mere human beings to cope with this divine mandate? It was nothing less than the healing of the whole human race that God was effecting! More than two thousand years of enmity reinforced by strict religious taboos, superstitions, laws, traditions, prejudices and military conquests were to be swept aside. The scope of this is incomprehensible even to us in this 21st century! Obviously they needed divine help. That is the reason for the prayer Paul offered in Ephesians 3:14-21…
“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”
What God asks of the believer is not something that is easily accomplished. From a human point of view we might well say that it is impossible. Whoever thought that it would be desirable, much less possible that Jews and Gentiles could ever be brought together, become a “dwelling place for God in the Spirit” and be the chosen means of revealing and demonstrating His wisdom to principalities and powers? But God has done by grace what man could not do himself and provides the strength or ability to accomplish whatever He expects of man “by His Spirit in the inner man…”
He further prays “that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith,” that they might comprehend the dimensions of the divine love demonstrated toward them, in fact to know the unknowable and to “be filled with all the fullness of God.” It is this awareness of the divine presence that brings these blessings, an understanding of the presence and glory of God in His holy temple, the presence and power of the Spirit in the inner man and the presence and love of Christ in the heart through faith.
To be filled with the fullness of God is a prayer that they might attain unto all that is possible for man – all that God put into man to be. This is possible because God “is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think.” Far from being an impossible task, whatever it is that God desires us to do or to become, the Christian can accomplish because he relies upon the ability which God supplies.
Notice that it is not just power in us, but he names the source of that power. It is “through his Spirit in your inner being.” The divine help we need to achieve his purpose in our life is by means of divine presence. Through the Spirit dwelling in us Christ dwells by faith in us and we may be filled with the fullness of God. We are by his presence enabled to comprehend the full dimensions – the length, breadth, depth and height – of the love of Christ and to know the love which surpasses knowledge! How can this be? How can we know the unknowable? How can we comprehend the incomprehensible?
There is in this prayer a strong indication of our being the temple in which God dwells through the Spirit (Eph 2:22). What a wonderful God we have! By His grace He saves all who would come to Him, raises them up by His love, makes them to sit together in a shared reign over all His creation and dwells among us as in the tabernacle/temple of old, sharing His glory with us and showing it to all the creation. All of this He did at great cost to Himself. Then, whatever He expects of us, He provides the power to accomplish so that there is neither ground for boasting nor excuse for failure. Truly, “to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end!”
How thankful we should be for all that God has done for us in Christ Jesus! We should be constantly mindful of His love and His grace! When we realize what He has done for us in the past it should make us more aware of His ability and His willingness to aid us in the accomplishment of His will in the present and in the future. Our God does not want us to fail so that He can condemn us! He provides for the successful pursuit of His will for us in this life so that we might live successfully with Him both now and eternally.
This latter fact is something we have largely overlooked. Because we tend to emphasize human responsibility in salvation we tend to de-emphasize and de-value the “divine power that works in us.” When we make the outcome of the Christian life to depend entirely upon ourselves it is no wonder there is so much discouragement and despair among professed Christian. We cannot live joyfully, giving praise to God when all we are conscious of is our own miserable failure.
This thought applies particularly to the subject of unity. We have mistakenly thought that unity is something God has commanded and then left up to us to accomplish by the best means possible, whether by coercion, cunning or compromise. But when we realize that God has brought about the unity of all believers and then has provided the means and the ability (power) to maintain that unity it relieves us of a great burden. Our responsibility is simply to acknowledge that it is there and then use the power God supplies to maintain His purpose of unity – or whatever purpose He has for us. By this means we become free to live the Christian life.