gratitude & hoopla: Paul's Parallel Prayers

gratitude & hoopla

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


Paul's Parallel Prayers

Yesterday I said that Paul, in his prayer for the Ephesian church (Ephesians 3:14-19), was praying for the fulfillment in them of God's long term plan to unite all things in himself. I also said that he restates this goal when he says at 2:22 that God is building them into a holy temple in which he might dwell by his Spirit. And that is Paul's very "reason" for praying. Paul is simply praying for the completion of that building-project, so that God would dwell in them in all fullness. You will see that goal re-stated twice within this very prayer.

Why twice? Well, I have come to believe that in these 6 verses Paul in fact prays the same prayer twice, the second iteration being parallel to--but also an elaboration of--the first. Each prayer possesses a simple 2-part structure:
A. I pray that you would be given__________,
B. So that_________.
In each iteration the B-statement states the purpose of the prayer, and that's where we find the restatements of God's purpose to dwell in his people. Let's read the whole prayer again, and then I'll break it down into its constituent parts.
14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith--that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Now, the first iteration goes from verse 14 through 17a (up to the dash), and the second iteration follows the dash. We'll call them "Iteration #1" and "Iteration #2." In each of these segments we find the A-B structure mentioned above. But the second iteration is a significant elaboration on the first. Let's extract the parallel segments and read them side by side.
1a. Paul prays that God would strenghten them with power through his Spirit in their inner being. (v.16)
2a. Paul prays that they 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. (vv.18-19a)
Notice that both of these requests are prayers for strength (more on that word in the next post), with the second iteration being a significant elaboration of the first. Following both of these requests is segment B. Remember the structure--Paul prays for A, so that B. Segment B is in each case a "so that" statement, beginning with the Greek word hina, which literally means "so that" or "in order that."
1b. So that Christ would dwell in your hearts through faith. (v.17b)
2b. So that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (v.19b)
Both of these, you see, are re-statements of the "reason" for the prayer, which is spelled out back at 2:22. "In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by his Spirit." See? That's the goal. Paul prays briefly for the fulfillment of that goal (restated as Christ dwelling in their hearts through faith), and then prays again for the same goal, but this same time elaborating on the kind of Spiritual strength that will be necessary to bring it about, and concluding with a restatement of the goal in its most superlative possible terms: "that you may be filled with all the fullness of God."

Now, this is not the only way to read Paul's syntax here. The segment could be read as a single prayer in which there are actually 3 "so that" statements. That would look something like this:
1. Paul prays for inner strength from the Spirit,
2. So that Christ would dwell in their hearts,
3. So that they would comprehend the full extent of God's love for them,
4. So that they would be filled with the fullness of God.
I don't know for sure which reading is more accurate, but I do notice the fact that the foundational reason for the prayer has to do with God's goal to "indwell" his church, and that (2) and (4) restate that goal in different ways. That's why I lean to the 2-prayer option described above.


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