THE PRAYER OF THE APOSTLE -- Reflections on Ephesians 3:14-21
The chapter closes in a prayer that can be broken into three parts. The letter begins by proclaiming to the world the majesty of God (vs. 14-1 5), Then the prayer moves on to three related petitions: 1 ) That they might be strengthened in their inner being as Christ dwells in their hearts through faith; 2) That they might comprehend the love of Christ; 3) That they might be filled with God’s fullness (1 6-1 9). Finally, the prayer closes with a doxology, declaring praise to the God who is at work in the believer, “accomplishing far more than all we can ask or imagine.”
Focusing on the three petitions that form the middle of the prayer, we notice that the author is making a request of God, that God would strengthen the believers internally so that they might be prepared for the tasks ahead. In making this petition the author recognizes that faith, or better yet, trust, is needed if the believer is to participate in God’s work. The second petition focuses on the love of Christ, in which they are to be “rooted and grounded.” For this to occur, they must know “breadth, height, length, and depth” of Christ’s love. Regarding the dimensions of Christ’s love, there is the sense that this love is the key to overcoming the barriers that keep Jew and Gentile divided. The final petition speaks of the fullness of God. There is the sense here that in the end, as God’s purpose for the creation is fulfilled, creation, including humanity, will be drawn up into the fullness of God’s presence. In envisioning this future, the author doesn’t look forward to simply exchanging this reality for another reality that mirrors this one. Instead, the author looks forward to being made one with the creator. As a result, this petition mirrors the closing statement/prayer in chapter one, which speaks of Christ‘s fullness filling “all in all” (1 :23). It proclaims the hope and desire that the believer will know the fullness of God’s presence with all clarity, the nature of which the author has yet to define. With this prayer, the author brings to a conclusion what many consider the more doctrinal half of the letter.
The prayer closes with a doxology that lifts the eyes of the reader to the heavens and invites the reader to imagine the possibilities that come as God is at work in the world. According to the writer, God’s abundance stands far beyond anything we might imagine or ask for. There is a similarity to Anselm’s description of God being that which is greater than anyone can imagine. To this God, who has revealed the mystery that brings union between the families of earth with each other and with God, we are invited to lift up words of praise, focusing on the glory of God that is revealed through Christ and the church “to all generations forever and ever.”
Reflections on Ephesians 3:13-21, excerpted from Robert Cornwall, Ephesians: A Participatory Study Guide Energion, Publications, 2010).