gratitude & hoopla: "For This Reason": Paul's Purpose in Prayer is God's Plan for His People

gratitude & hoopla

"Nothing taken for granted; everything received with gratitude; everything passed on with grace." G. K. Chesterton

30.11.05

"For This Reason": Paul's Purpose in Prayer is God's Plan for His People

So we arrive at last at Paul's great prayer for spiritual power, so that the Ephesians may be "filled with all the fullness of God." I have had much to say about this prayer in the past. It simply resonates with me, it gets me excited, and I find I want to pray this prayer for everyone I know. So consider this fair warning. I'm likely to park here for a few days.

Here's the prayer in its entirety [in the ESV]:
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Now, I have many questions about this passage. For example, why would Paul pray that Christ would dwell in their hearts, when they, as believers, are presumably already indwelt by him? And in what way is power necessary in order for them to have Christ dwelling in them?

I am not going to attempt to answer these questions here and now. Instead, I'm going to walk through this passage slowly, phrase by phrase. But first I simply want to make a few "overview" comments. I want to connect this prayer with the main theme of Paul's argument thus far. And in fact, the opening phrase of Paul's prayer, "for this reason," provides the connection to that argument. So what is "the reason" for his prayer? For the answer to this question, you have to go all the way back to 2:22--
In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
So that's the reason Paul is praying, and that's really the text that connects us with the dominant theme of these first three chapters of the epistle.

I simply want to summarize that theme, so we can understand the starting point (and ending point) of Paul's prayer. Many times, in these chapters, Paul has spoken of God's plan/purpose/will/intent. That plan is first summarized at 1:10, where Paul says that the purpose of God, which had long been a "mystery," was once and for all "set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth." See? God's ultimate plan is to "unite all things in him." Now, if that seems a little difficult to grasp, Paul unpacks the concept further in the following chapter-and-a-half. In sum: God took a people who were clearly not united in him, but instead were dead in their sin, sons of disobedience, children of wrath, and through the cross he raised them to new life, and even seated them at his own right hand in Christ. That's an image of unity. In other words: through Christ's salvific work of the cross God has initiated his longterm plan of uniting all things in him.

Move on now to chapter 2 and you'll see that Paul sheds still more light on this uniting process. After describing God's miraculous dissolution of the wall of hostility between Jew and Gentile (creating "a new man in the place of the two"), Paul asserts that the Ephesians as a group, as a body, are being built together, on the cornerstone of Christ Jesus, into a dwelling place for God. Do you see how in this metaphor Paul has found yet another way to describe God's purpose to unite all things in him?

So, in a nutshell, it is God's purpose to unite all things to himself. This purpose was "set forth" in Christ. In order fulfill this purpose, the law and the commandments had to be abolished, and replaced simply by the grace of God, which he lavished on us in Christ Jesus. As a result, those who have believed, those who have trusted in Christ and who as a result have the Holy Spirit as a down payment of their inheritance to come, these have become the church, which is Christ's body, the "fullness" of God, and are being built into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

Note well: they are being built. That is, they are not yet the finished cathedral. They are not yet, to change the metaphor, mature. They have not yet reached their full potential, their destiny (see Ephesians 4:13). They have not yet received their inheritance in full. God is not yet dwelling in them in "fullness." And this is the "reason" that Paul bends his knee before the Father. This is the reason he prays that the Ephesians would be indwelt by Christ through faith, that they would be "filled with all the fullness of God." He is praying, in other words, for the completion and fulfillment of the Father's longstanding purpose to unite all things in himself.

That's all for today. I hope and pray that Paul's prayer for the fullness of Christ will be answered in your life today. May you too be strengthened to comprehend the full measure of God's love for you, so that you might be filled with all the fullness of God.

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