A trio of old veterans were bragging and joking about the heroic exploits of their ancestors one afternoon down at the VFW.
“My great grandfather, at age 13,” one declared proudly, “was a drummer boy at Shiloh.”
“Mine,” boasted another, “ Was with Custer at the Battle of Little Big Horn.”
“I’m the only soldier in my family,” confessed the third vet, “but if my great grandfather was living today he’d be the most famous man in the world.”
“Really?” they asked. “What’d he do?”
“Nothing much,” he replied, “but he’d be 165 years old.”
Isn’t it good to know that unlike people, when it comes to God it’s impossible to brag? Whatever we say, however grandiose it is, it will be true!
The author of Ephesians wins the prize when it comes to flowery expansive language. To be honest, it doesn’t sound like Paul to me. It sounds like somebody who took Paul’s basic message, swallowed a thesaurus and went crazy with adjectives. Regardless of who, what and how Ephesians was written, however, there are some real gems here, even if I find myself cutting down on the flowery language to find them.
This is a prayer asking for three things:
That we might be strengthened with power through God’s Spirit in our inner being—so that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith.
That having been rooted and established in love we may have power (together with everyone else in the church) to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,
That we might know God’s love that surpasses knowledge—and as a result be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
To put it even more simply this is a prayer for spiritual strength, spiritual wisdom and spiritual oneness with God.
Almost the entire prayer is written in the plural. It’s “you” as a group. We can’t do that in English. We have one word that covers both singular and plural. This is all in the plural except for one part, and that part is the prayer that we be strengthened in our inner selves. More literally it’s in “your inner person.” The word is anthropon, which is inclusive of men and women. We are talking about the inner being of each person. It’s that part of us that is us.
There are people who don’t want to know their inner selves. You may have met them. They absolutely cannot tolerate being alone. If there are no people around they must have the television on, and it has to be a show that doesn’t encourage introspection. If not TV then the radio or computer. If that doesn’t work there is always alcohol, or drugs, or shopping, ANYTHING but being stuck alone psychologically facing the mirror. I’m not sure what the source of the fear is, but I suspect it is shame. Deep down if we think we will be found lacking, we do anything we can to avoid ourselves.
Ephesians prays not that we successfully run from our inner self, but that we be strengthened in our inner self! Instead of hiding away in shame and fear, Ephesians asks God to make us whole and strong from the inside out. That’s pretty awesome. Furthermore this strengthening is not a half measure on God’s part. It’s everything we need—because we will be strengthened with power, or dunamis. This is the word we get dynamite from. It’s a special kind of power. It’s the ability to accomplish something. It’s power that enables us to do the good things we want to do that we can’t pull off on our own. It is extra strength, right where and when we need it.
When we are strengthened like this Christ dwells in our hearts through faith. This is actually just another way of saying that Christ dwells with our inner self. The heart had a different meaning then than it does now. We think of the heart physically as a pump and metaphorically as emotion, usually love. But the people in the 1st century believed that the heart was an intelligent organ. They thought that the head took care of things like algebra, but the heart was where the center of the personality lived. The character, will, and emotions all literally lived in the heart. It was the physical location of the inner self. This understanding of human biology lasted a long time—long enough to enter our language. We talk about “thinking with our head or with our heart.” We say, “I knew in my heart it was right,” or “she’s got a good heart,” or “my heart longs for. . .” The list goes on and on. This is not just poetry. It is actually based on an earlier understanding of how the human body works.
The physical location of our personality really doesn’t matter as long as we understand the message. To say that God will dwell in our hearts is a way of saying that God will live with the real me. That person that I’m sometimes embarrassed by and think might not be good enough is the one Jesus comes to and lives with. This is just the beginning of what God has in mind, however, because Ephesians goes on to pray that we might gain true spiritual wisdom. This wisdom comes from having a deep and secure foundation.
Anyone who has ever planted something knows the importance of digging deep enough for the root system to take hold. A strong root system is essential for a strong life. Ephesians prays that we be deeply rooted and established in our faith because when we are we will be able to begin to grasp the incredible depth of God’s love. We don’t really know if there is any specific meaning behind how “wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.” It’s probably just a way of saying God has everything covered. To grasp the vastness of God and God’s love is impossible for the human mind, but we can try.
In daily life we tend to make our God small. In the ancient world there was a tendency to reduce God to a tribal warrior. Now we make God a CEO. Either way, God has limited concerns and limited power, but the facts are far from this. Think of the universe. The Hubble telescope has now found ten times as many galaxies than previously thought. We thought it was “only” 200 billion. Now multiply that by 10. There are at least 100 million stars in our galaxy alone, and the Milky Way is a relatively small galaxy. Feel insignificant yet? Then there are vast areas of the universe where new stars are being born and old ones dying. There are things like black holes that we can’t even begin to understand. God created all of this, and we are connected to this Being!
The third part of the prayer is for us to grow in spiritual oneness with God. This truly takes us over the edge. Ephesians asks that we may know Christ’s love which surpasses knowledge and be filled with the fullness of God. The word “fullness” that Ephesians uses doesn’t mean much to us, but for the Christian competition, the Gnostic groups, it would have lit up. They talked about the pleroma of God endlessly. I think probably only Charlie has read any of this 1st and 2nd century stuff. It is totally bizarre. The closest thing we have to it today is probably the convoluted thinking of Scientology. But while the author of Ephesians used the word, he did so in a deliberately different way from the Gnostics. The Gnostics thought that the physical world was evil, and true spiritual knowledge, or gnosis, could only come by overcoming physical needs and desires. No physical being could truly achieve this. It was necessary to leave the body behind. Ephesians says that the infinite transcendent Spirit of God will fill us in our physical bodies with the fullness of God.
This inspired prayer shows us what God wants for us, and it is far vaster and more incredible than we could ever think or imagine. The god we created is far too small. The true God is vast. And this God wants us to open ourselves to all the Spirit has for us. We are weak, fallible beings, yet this God, creator of the whole universe has actually taken on our tiny limited human flesh and become incarnate to redeem us and bring us home. How great and amazing is God’s love! How do we respond? What do we do?
We begin with where this prayer began. We invite Christ in to that inner place where we let no one else. We open our hearts. Despite our shame and fear we let God in to see the real us. God knows anyway. We open the door and say yes to God’s infinite love, healing and transforming power. Amen
6 No one is like you, Lord; you are great, and your name is mighty in power. 7 Who should not fear you, King of the nations? This is your due. Among all the wise leaders of the nations and in all their kingdoms, there is no one like you.
14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.