A Commentary by John Stott
Ephesians 3:16b-19. d). Filled up to God’s fullness.
‘Fullness’ is a characteristic word of Ephesians, as it is of Colossians. In Colossians Paul tells us not only that God’s fullness dwells in Christ, but also that in Christ we ourselves have come to fullness (Col.1:19; 2:9-10). At the same time, he makes it plain in Ephesians that we still have room for growth. As individuals we are to go on being filled with the Spirit (5:18), and the church, although already the fullness of Christ (1:23), is still to ‘grow up into him’ till it reaches his fullness (4:13-16). ‘Growth into fullness’ is therefore the theme of Paul’s fourth and last petition for his Asian readers. He prays that they *may be filled with all the fullness of God*. It is uncertain how this genitive should be understood. If it is objective, then God’s fullness is the abundance of the grace which he bestows. If it subjective, it is the fullness which fills God himself, in other words his perfection. Staggering as the thought may be, the latter seems the more probable because the Greek preposition is *eis*, which indicates that we are to be filled not ‘with’ so much as ‘unto’ the fullness of God. God’s fullness or perfection becomes the standard or level up to which we pray to be filled. The aspiration is the same in principle as that implied by thecommands to be holy as God is holy, and to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect (1 Pet.15-16; Mt.5:48).
Such a prayer must surely look on to our final state of perfection in heaven when together we enter the completeness of God’s purpose for us, and are filled to capacity, filled up to that fullness of God which human beings are capable of receiving without ceasing to be human. Another way of expressing the prospect is that we shall become like Christ, which is God’s purpose and promise (Rom.8:29; 1 Jn.3:2), for Christ is himself the fullness of God. Yet another way of putting it is to say that we shall attain the fullness of love, of which Paul has just spoken in his prayer. Then Jesus’ own prayer will be fulfilled: ‘That the love with which thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them.’ (Jn.17:26).
In saying that Paul’s last petition points to heavenly perfection, we have no liberty to try to evade its contemporary challenge. For God expects us to be growing daily towards that final fullness, as we are being transformed by the Holy Spirit into Christ’s image from one degree of glory to another (2 Cor.3:18).
As we now look back down the staircase which we have been climbing with Paul, we cannot fail to be struck by his audacity. He prays that his readers may be given the strength of the Spirit and the ruling presence of Christ, the rooting of their lives in love, the knowledge of Christ’s love in all its dimensions, and the fullness of God himself. These are bold petitions. Climbers of this staircase become short of breath, even a little giddy. But Paul does not leave us in suspense.
Tomorrow: Ephesians 3:20-21. 3). The conclusion of his prayer.