A Commentary by John Stott
Ephesians 3:16a-19. b). Rooted and grounded in love.
If we had the opportunity to ask Paul for what purpose he prayed that Christ would control and strengthen his readers, I think he would reply that he wanted them to be strengthened to love. For in the new and reconciled humanity which Christ is creating love is the pre-eminent virtue. The new humanity is God’s family, whose members are brothers and sisters, who love their Father and love each other. Or should do. They need the power of the Spirit’s might and of Christ’s indwelling to enable them to love each other, especially across the deep racial and cultural divide which previously had separated them.
To express how fundamental Paul longs for their love to be, he joins two metaphors (one botanical, the other architectural), both of which emphasize depth as opposed to superficiality. These Christians are to be *rooted and grounded*, or to have ‘deep roots and firm foundations’ (NEB). Thus Paul likens them first to a well-rooted tree, and then to a well-built house. In both cases the unseen cause of their stability will be the same: love. Love is to be the soil in which their life is to be rooted; love is to be the foundation on which their life is built. One might say that their love is to be of both a ‘radical’ and a ‘fundamental’ nature in their experience, for these English words refer to our roots and our foundations.
c). Knowing Christ’s love.
We observe that the apostle now passes from our love (in which we are to be rooted and grounded) to Christ’s love (which he prays we may know). Indeed, he acknowledges that we need strength or power for both, strength to love and power to comprehend Christ’s love. Certainly the two cannot be separated, and it is partly by loving that we learn the meaning of his love.
Paul prays that we *may have power to comprehend* the love of Christ in its full dimensions – its *breadth and length and height and depth*. Modern commentators warn us not to be too literal in our interpretation of these, since the apostle may only have been indulging in a little rhetoric or poetic hyperbole. Yet it seems to me legitimate to say that the love of Christ is ‘broad’ enough to encompass all mankind (especially Jews and Gentiles, the theme of these chapters), ‘long’ enough to last for eternity, ‘deep’ enough to reach the most degraded sinner, and ‘high’ enough to exalt him to heaven. Or, as Leslie Mitton expresses it, finding a parallel to Romans 8:37-39: ‘Whether you go forward or backward, up to the heights or down to the depths, nothing will separate us from the love of Christ.’ Ancient commentators went further. They saw these dimensions illustrated on the cross. For its upright pole reached down to earth and pointed to heaven, while its crossbar carried the arms of Jesus, stretched out as if to invite and welcome the whole world. Armitage Robinson calls this a ‘pretty fancy’. Perhaps he is right and it is fanciful, yet what it affirms about the love of Christ is true.
We shall have power to comprehend these dimensions of Christ’s love, Paul adds, only *with all the saints*. The isolated Christian can indeed know something of the love of Jesus. But his grasp of it is bound to be limited by his limited experience. It needs the whole people of God to understand the whole love of God, *all the saints* together, Jews and Gentiles, men and women, young and old, black and white, with all their varied backgrounds and experiences.
Yet even then, although we may ‘comprehend’ its dimensions to some extent with our minds, we cannot ‘know’ it in our experience. It is too broad, long, deep and high even for all the saints together to grasp. It *surpasses knowledge*. Paul has already used the ‘surpassing’ word of God’s power (1:19) and grace (2:7); now he uses it of his love. Christ’s love is as unknowable as his riches are unsearchable (verse 8). Doubtless we shall spend eternity exploring his inexhaustible riches of grace and love.
Tomorrow: d). Filled up to God’s fullness.
|The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Ephesians. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.|