Prison Prayers of Paul (2): Prayer for Fullness in Christian Experience

Ephesians 3

If we thought we were on high ground in the prayer of chapter one, this prayer scales even greater heights, as high as it is possible to go in spiritual experience. Scroggie says it is “perhaps the most fervent, comprehensive, and sublime prayer in the Bible.” Quoting another, he says “What John 17 is to the Gospels, this prayer is to the writings of Paul … with the prayer of chapter 1, we have in these two effusions the loftiest language of human worship not uttered by the Lord Himself.”

The Reason for this prayer is noted by two occurrences of “For this cause” (3:1, 14). At verse 1, Paul starts praying but digresses a little, giving us an important piece of autobiography, before coming back to prayer. We discover that, while others knew about the “mystery,” he had a unique role as a communicator of it in writing. This mystery is mentioned six times in Ephesians (1:9, 3:3, 4, 9; 5:32; 6:19). It is not a mystery in the sense of something mysterious, but something now revealed that formerly was hidden. Without elaborating here, a survey of chapters 1-3 will show what the mystery is (note especially: 1:9-10; 2:11-16; 3:3-12). Paul was breaking down the barriers between Jew and Gentile and this got him into trouble with the Jewish religious leaders; they put him in prison. The reason for this prayer, then, is that the saints would better understand and enjoy the wonder of divine love and purpose.

The Reverence in the prayer (3:14) should be reflected in our own. A number of postures are noticeable in Scripture, but here Paul bows his knees. We can almost sense his outburst of emotion and joy. A sense too, of our unworthiness, and an appreciation of Who God is, will give character to our communion in word and in posture. Sadly, by a casual approach, we only betray our limited knowledge of Him.

The Resource to which Paul comes here is “the Father.” This conveys the care, compassion, and capability of the God we address. The resource is unlimited. The apostle is not emphasizing here the relationship between Christ and the Father (see RV and JND footnote), but he is saying that God is the great pattern and prototype of all fatherly relationships (v15 RV, “every family”). God’s fatherhood is underived, and all other fatherhood derives from Him, and should follow His example.

The Requests of the prayer are three in number (vv16-19), and these are identified by the three occurrences of “that” (Greek, hina) in verses 17 and 19. Note the first “that” in verse 17 is a different word in Greek and is not a new request in the prayer but part of the first request. The prayer ascends higher and higher in these three requests, which link with the trinity – the Spirit, Christ, and God, in that order. The ultimate is that saints would be filled unto all God’s fullness. There is a progress in Paul’s mind.

First, they need Empowerment. In the prayer in chapter 1, it was enlightenment as to God’s power toward us. In this prayer, it is enablement by God’s power within us. It is given from a God Whose glory and status are such that the supply is unlimited. They would need this strength so that Christ could dwell, or be at home, in their hearts. To what degree has Christ the occupancy of our hearts? Christ already indwells since conversion, but He can be enjoyed increasingly as the Holy Spirit’s power acts upon our inner man, the real self, so that we give more and more place to Christ and His control. Paul further says that this will be by faith. It is open to every believer and does not depend upon intellectual ability. Perhaps in these things lie the wide variations between Christians. Some are more spiritual than others; some give more place to Christ than others; some exhibit more likeness to Christ than others; some are more submissive than others. Many of us have to confess a good deal of clutter in the homes of our hearts, and space taken up that should be filled by Christ. The residence must be suitable for such a Guest.

Second, there is a request for En­lightenment. The word “comprehend” has the sense of “grasping.” Three conditions accompany this: To be rooted and grounded in love (v17b). We need to be established in, and enjoying His love; Enablement(v18a), which is divine and supernatural; and a sense of unity and inclusiveness, “with all saints,” (v18), in the experience of these things. Some Christians are excessively “individualistic.” With these conditions in place, the dimensions can be grasped. But to what dimensions is he referring? Some suggest that it is the spiritual temple at the end of chapter 2; others, of the purpose of God involving the mystery; others, the “fullness” of chapter 1:23 or of 3:19. Others, still, take it to refer to the love mentioned in the surrounding context (vv17, 19). Certainly, the love of Christ is central to all divine purpose, and by use of paradox, Paul asks that they would know increasingly in experience, what cannot be fully known.

Third, he prays for Expansion that they might be filled unto all the fullness of God. Elsewhere, we are to be perfect as God is perfect, holy as God is holy. Here, we are to be full as God is full – nothing lacking, but completeness in our experience as Christ is increasingly our enjoyment. We may feel that we have not yet reached this, but it is the true goal for us as Christians. Paul’s prayer will ultimately be answered in a coming day.

The Refrain at the close (vv20-21) reminds us that all prayer must have God’s glory in view. Any lesser motive falls short. Christ and the Church will display His glory eternally. We learn that divine power from which we can draw is available in abundance. We really have no excuse for spiritual stagnation. His power is already within us, and each believer can have as much of this fullness as is desired. To Paul’s prayer we gladly add our “Amen!”