Rooted and Grounded in Christ's Vast Love

By Andy Carter

   Paul is praying for the saints who are in Ephesus and are faithful in Christ Jesus. His prayer may seem a little unusual and might cause some questions to come to mind. So as we attempt to unpack this beautiful prayer, I think it is helpful to understand the structure of it. In verses 16 and 17, Paul asks the Father to grant two specific things. Then in verses 18-19, he gives two specific purposes for these petitions. The first request is that they may be “strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man.” The second is that “Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith.” These requests are followed by two statements of purpose: that they “may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which surpasses knowledge” and “that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God.”

     We will begin by looking at Paul’s second petition for the Ephesians that says “that Christ may dwell in their hearts by faith.” What an unusual prayer for those who are believers. Do you pray for other Christians in this way? We certainly know that those who are regenerated and converted are indwelled by the Spirit of God, and that Christ lives in the heart of every true believer (Rom. 8:9-11, Gal. 2:20). Why then would Paul pray that Christ may dwell in their hearts by faith? John Gill describes this indwelling “as a King in his palace, to rule and protect them, and as a master in his family to provide for them, and as their life to quicken them; it is in consequence of their union to him, and is expressive of their communion with him, and is perpetual; where he once takes up his residence, he never totally and finally departs.” He also expresses the truth that sin remains, opposes, and rebels against the rule of the King in this palace. So think of all the areas of your life as a large palace. If you are a true believer, the Lord Jesus Christ dwells in the throne room of the palace! However, the old man, our remaining sinful nature, is creeping around in the palace as a rebel against the King. He is a defeated adversary, whose goal is to control more and more rooms of the palace. Sadly, he does many times deceive the inhabitants of certain rooms in the palace, because they forget they are no longer his slaves. He really has no power or authority, and he will never succeed in removing the King from the throne (Rom. 6:12-14, Eph. 4:22-24). Paul is asking that the presence of the King be made manifest in all areas of our life. 2 Corinthians 12:9 says, “And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” The word translated rest in this verse is defined by Strong’s Concordance to mean “to take possession of and live in the house” or “the power of Christ descending upon one, working within him and giving him help.” We see in the phrase, “that the power of Christ may rest upon me” that the two petitions of Paul in this prayer are very similar. He is praying that the Ephesian believers would be strengthened in the inner man by the Spirit and that their lives would be more and more saturated with the power of Christ, who dwells in their hearts by faith.

      Next, Paul says “being rooted and grounded in love.” This phrase may seem somewhat disconnected, but is essential to our understanding of Paul’s prayer. Rooted is an agricultural term. We might think of a large tree that has an extensive root system delving deep into the ground to provide life-giving nutrients and needed stability for the tree to be able to grow. As the roots dig deeper into the ground, the branches are able to reach higher and higher. Without the roots, the tree would not be stable, and would not be able to sustain growth. Colossians 2:7 says that we are “Rooted and built up in Him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving” (emphasis added). The concept of abounding in this verse is very much what Paul has in mind in his prayer for the Ephesian Christians and for believers today. As the roots get deeper, the tree grows taller. That is the desire of Paul for the Ephesians and for the people of God today. The other word Paul uses is grounded. this is the same word used in Matthew 7:25 to describe the house that was founded upon a rock. This passage in Matthew teaches us the necessity of a strong foundation. Any good builder knows that a strong foundation is essential. The wise man in Matthew 7 built his house upon the rock. When the storms came and beat upon his house, it did not fall, because the foundation was strong. We will not be able to abound and grow if our lives are not founded on the solid foundation of Jesus Christ. Placing our faith in anything other than Jesus Christ is building on sand and will only lead to a great fall.

      These truths about roots and foundations will help us understand the first purpose Paul reveals to us for the petitions he made on behalf of the Ephesian believers. Both of these purpose statements begin with the Greek word ῐ̔́νᾰ (hína), which can be translated “in order that.” Paul is asking the Father to grant strength in the inner man by the Spirit, and that Christ would dwell in your hearts by faith, in order that they “may be able to comprehend…the love of Christ which passeth knowledge.” The first purpose of Paul’s petition involves comprehending the breadth, length, depth, and height, and knowing the love of Christ, which passes knowledge. How can we know and comprehend the dimensions of something that Paul says passes knowledge? The answer lies in understanding more about what Paul is asking for in the preceding verses. The key word is in the beginning of verse 18. Paul says that one purpose in praying for strength and indwelling for the saints is that they may be able to comprehend the love of Christ. The natural man cannot understand spiritual things, because they are spiritually discerned (1 Cor. 2:14). As John Gill asserts in his commentary on this verse, the natural man cannot comprehend the love of Christ and “knows nothing of it.”  However, the believer that has been regenerated by the immediate operation of the Holy Spirit and converted to faith in Christ and repentance from sins has been blessed with eyes to see and ears to hear (Matt. 13:16). The believer is strengthened by the Spirit in the inner man, and Christ dwells in the heart by faith. So the purpose of Paul’s prayer is that believers would grow in, and understand more clearly, the love of Christ. This is accomplished through the work of the Spirit and the indwelling of Christ in the heart by faith. This is not merely head knowledge, but is an experiential knowledge that grows and is progressively seeing more and more of the eternal dimensions of the love of Christ. As the roots of faith dig deeper and deeper into the love of Christ, the branches will reach higher and higher towards the reality of a future glorification and conformity to Christ. And yet, even if we could spend the entirety of our lives mining the depths, reaching for the heights, and attempting to determine the length and breadth of the love of Christ our Redeemer, we would never complete in this life a reckoning of its vast expanse. Paul is praying that God would grant strength in the inner man and the presence of Christ in the heart of the Ephesians, and all believers, as they continue to view more and more of this love that passes knowledge. When we are blessed to see even a small and distant view of the love of Christ, we must stand in awe and agree with the apostle John,  “Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God” (1 John  3:1).

     The second purpose is that the Ephesians believers might be filled with all the fullness of God. What does it mean to be filled with the fullness of God? We can start by ruling out what it does not mean. It is not a complete conformity to Christ, reaching a state of sinless perfection, or a perfect understanding of the divine nature. Defining the terms here can help us understand a little more about Paul’s meaning. In this context, I believe to be filled means that every area of their lives would be affected. If a container is filled, there is no remaining part of it that is empty. In the life of a believer, some examples of areas that need to be filled could be relationships, career, family, finances, and our life in the church. So what then is the fullness of God? The fullness of God is found in Jesus Christ, and experienced through faith (Col. 2:9). Paul is practically applying the saint’s comprehension of the love of Christ that passes knowledge, by praying that they would be filled with all the fullness of God. What would our lives look like if every area of our lives were filled with the influence of the love of Christ?

     May the Father grant believers today strength in the inner man by the Spirit, and the indwelling presence of Christ by faith, in order that they might comprehend the love of Christ that passes knowledge, and be filled in every area of their lives with the fullness of God in Christ Jesus.