A Commentary by John Stott
Ephesians 3:16b-19. The substance of his prayer.
I like to think of the apostle’s petition as a staircase by which he climbs higher and higher in his aspiration for his readers. His prayer-staircase has four steps, whose key words are ‘strength’, ‘love’, ‘knowledge’ and ‘fullness’. More precisely, he prays first that they may be *strengthened* by the indwelling of Christ through his Spirit; secondly that they may be rooted and grounded in *love*; thirdly that they may *know* Christ’s love in all its dimensions, although it is beyond knowledge; and fourthly that they may be *filled* right up to the very fullness of God.
a). Strengthened with might.
The prayer opens: *that..he may grant you to be strengthened with might through his Spirit in the inner man, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith* (verses 16-17a). These two petitions clearly belong together. Both refer to the Christian’s innermost being, his ‘inner man’ on the one hand and his ‘heart’ on the other. Then, although one specifies the strength of the *Spirit* and the other the indwelling of *Christ*, both surely refer to the same experience. For Paul never separates the second and third persons of the Trinity. To have Christ dwelling in us and to have the Spirit dwelling in us are the same thing. Indeed, it is precisely by the Spirit that Christ dwells in our hearts (See Jn.14:16-18; and Rom. 8:9-11), and it is strength which he gives us when he dwells there. Moreover, the experience of ‘Christ in you’ was a part of the ‘mystery’ and so of the privilege of Gentile believers (Col.1:27).
Some are puzzled by this first petition when they remember that Paul is praying for Christians. ‘Surely’, they say, ‘Christ dwells by his Spirit within every believer? So how can Paul ask here that Christ may dwell in their hearts? Was Christ not already within them?’. To these questions we begin by replying that indeed every Christian is indwelt by Christ and is the temple of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:9, 10; 1 Cor.6:19). Nevertheless as Charles Hodge rightly comments, ‘The indwelling of Christ is a thing of degrees’. So also is the inward strengthening of the Holy Spirit. What Paul asks for his readers is that they may be ‘fortified, braced, invigorated’, that they may ‘know the strength of the Spirit’s inner reinforcement’ (JBP), and may lay hold ever more firmly ‘by faith’ of this divine strength, this divine indwelling.
That this is Paul’s meaning is further confirmed by his choice of word for the ‘indwelling’ of Christ in the heart. There are two similar Greek verbs *paroikeo* and *katoikeo*. The former is the weaker. It means to ‘inhabit (a place) as a stranger’ (AG), to live in fact as a *paroikos*, the very word Paul has used in 2:19 for an alien who is living away from his home. *Katoikeo*, on the other hand, means to settle down somewhere. It refers to a permanent as opposed to a temporary abode, and is used metaphorically both for the fullness of the Godhead abiding in Christ (Col.2:9) and for Christ’s abiding in the believer’s heart (here in verse 17). Bishop Handley Moule draws out the implications: ‘The word selected (*katoikein*)…is a word made expressly to denote residence as against lodging, the abode of a master within his own home as against the turning aside for a night of the wayfarer who will be gone tomorrow.’ Again, it is ‘the residence always in the heart of its Master and Lord, who where he dwells must rule; who enters not to cheer and soothe alone but before all things else to reign’. Thus Paul prays to the Father that Christ by his Spirit will be allowed to settle down in their hearts, and from his throne there both control and strengthen them. For the fourth time in the letter one is struck by the natural trinitarian structure of the apostle’s thought (cf. 1:3,17 and 2:18).
Tomorrow: Ephesians 3:16b-19.b). Rooted and grounded in love.