Now to Him Who Is Able | Ephesians 3:14-21


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 to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Ephesians 3:14-21 ESV

We now conclude the first half of Ephesians, and the apostle caps it off with a powerful prayer and marvelous doxology of praise and confidence. These final verses seal the doctrinal realities that Paul has been painting for us so far, as well as establishing the strength and power necessary for us to live out the exhortations that follow.

FOR THIS REASON // VERSES 14 -15

As promised two weeks ago, we now return to the three words with which the apostle began this chapter for this reason. As we noted, Paul mentioned in verse 1 that he was, at the time of writing this letter, a prisoner on behalf of the Gentiles, and this thought then launched him into a massive parenthetical digression describing the mystery of Christ that has now been revealed. This mystery, as Paul said, is that the Gentiles are now included within God’s people in Christ through the gospel. This plan for God’s saving grace to extend toward all nations was the eternal purpose once hidden in God, but now it has been made known in Christ. Paul considered himself to be a steward of this grace, the grace that saved him and continued to save others. Thus, imprisonment on behalf of Christ and the Gentiles was not a matter of despair; rather, it was light momentary affliction that would soon give way to an everlasting glory.

Yet now Paul returns to his original thought for the chapter. As we noted briefly, the phrase for this reason refers primarily back to chapter two, but since 3:2-13 sought to clarify elements of chapter two, it also now refers to his most recent words. Therefore, Paul’s reason for bowing his knees before the Father to offer the following prayer is the glorious grace of Christ that has raised us to life with Him from our death in sin and that has killed the hostility between one another, specifically between Jew and Gentile believers. Thus, the prayer and doxology that follows flow from a heart enraptured by the good news that God is uniting all things in His Son. The Father is repairing the fracture in the created order by destroying its cause, sin. Or rather, He is remaking the cosmos through the blood of Christ. God’s Spirit opened the eyes of Paul’s heart to behold this incomprehensibly glorious reality, and, having already prayed for the same to happen in us, he now presents to us another prayer on our behalf.

Yet even so, this prayer is not the kind of direct supplication that we commonly associate with prayer. One commentator notes that the most common posture for prayer in the Bible seems to be standing, while also showing that Paul’s three other references to bending the knee (Romans 11:4, 14:11; Philippians 2:10) all refer primarily to “recognition of and submission to another’s lordship.” Therefore, he concludes that “this is more like an act of worship rather than a direct petition.”[1]

Of course, prayer, even direct supplication, is a form of worship because bringing our needs before God acknowledges His ability to provide. Yet I believe this element of Paul’s display of allegiance and submission to the Father’s lordship and kingship has a crucial effect on how we understand the following petitions. Even from within a Roman prison, the apostle has humbled himself before the true King and Emperor, the Creator from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named. Caesar may have claimed to be ruler of the world, the king over all kings, but every family, both here on earth and in heaven, is named by the Father (which is an act of authority), including Caesar. Paul has sworn fealty and service to the King almighty, so the following prayer is less a plea of supplication than it is a steadfast expectation. It is less a supplication for God to act than  a resolved and confident anticipation that He will act.

STRENTHENED TO COMPREHEND // VERSES 16-19

These four verses form the content of the prayer itself. Merkle, I believe, correctly identifies three main petitions: 1) 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, 2) 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, and 3) that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

The first petition connects being strengthened with power through the Spirt to Christ dwelling in our hearts through faith. Yet it is grounded in the riches of the Father’s glory. The glory of God, although eluding any simple definition, is “the radiance of his holiness,” to quote Piper.[2] If God’s holiness is His supreme divinity and otherness, then His glory is the display of His absolute and unique Godhood. Furthermore, if calling God holy is essentially declaring that He alone is God, then beholding His glory means glimpsing His transcendent beauty.

Therefore, God’s glory is always associated with His revelation. Whenever God makes Himself known, His glory is displayed and beheld. This was true for the Israelites before Mount Sinai. It was true for Isaiah before God’s throne. But it is most fully seen in Christ, who is Himself “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Hebrews 1:3). Jesus is the glory of God made visible and made flesh. He is exact “image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15). Therefore, the riches of the Father’s glory have truly been lavished upon us since through our redemption in Christ we have been given every spiritual blessing. Being united to Christ, we are bound to God’s glory and the abundance therein.

Therefore, Paul writes that according to the riches of his glory the Father 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. Of course, the Holy Spirit’s indwelling is one of our blessings in Christ. He is the seal of our salvation and the guarantee of our inheritance. He is also, as Jesus declared, the Comforter, which in the original sense of the word meant to strengthen.

The Holy Spirit, therefore, does indeed strengthen us with power in our inner being. He strengthens us by being “the Spirit of adoption” who enables us to pray to God as our Father (Romans 8:15). He strengthens us to “put to death the deeds of the body” (Romans 8:13). He strengthens us by setting our minds away from earthly things and onto Himself (Romans 8:6). He strengthens us in our weakness, interceding on our behalf (Romans 8:26-27).

Yet Paul focuses upon the Spirit’s indwelling presence here by connecting the Spirit’s dwelling within us to Christ also dwelling within us. This emphasizes the Spirit’s distinct role in uniting us to Christ as well as displaying the unity of the Trinity. The Spirit’s indwelling presence is how Christ’s presence is also with us. Jesus’ promise to be with us even to the end of the age is fulfilled through the Holy Spirit dwelling with us. Where the Spirit is, Christ is. Since the Spirit is within us, Christ is also within us.

In the second petition we find 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. The focus here is the unfathomably deep love of Christ. Because we are united to Christ, we are in the process of being rooted and grounded in His love. Being raised to life from our death in sin, we now have new life and a new foundation. We are like trees planted beside the Living Water. The redeeming love of Christ is the bedrock of who we are.

But even though we are rooted and grounded in the love of Christ that has redeemed and forgiven us, we still need strength alongside all of God’s saints comprehend and know it even more. Many have struggled to discover Paul’s meaning behind the directional markers used here. A fairly common interpretation among the church fathers (such as Augustine and Gregory of Nyssa) was that the four arms of the cross are being alluded to here. Augustine, as Calvin notes, viewed the breadth as being love, height as hope, length as patience, and depth as humility. While such claims are certainly appealing, I much more agree with Calvin’s understanding of the matter:

By those dimensions Paul means nothing else than the love of Christ, of which he speaks afterwards. The meaning is, that he who knows it fully and perfectly is in every respect a wise man. As if he had said, “In whatever direction men may look, they will find nothing in the doctrine of salvation that does not bear some relation to this subject.” The love of Christ contains within itself the whole of wisdom, so that the words may run thus: that ye may be able to comprehend the love of Christ, which is the length and breadth, and depth, and height, that is, the complete perfection of all wisdom. The metaphor is borrowed from mathematicians, taking the parts as expressive of the whole. Almost all men are infected with the disease of desiring to obtain useless knowledge. It is of great importance that we should be told what is necessary for us to know, and what the Lord desires us to contemplate, above and below, on the right hand and on the left, before and behind. The love of Christ is held out to us as the subject which ought to occupy our daily and nightly meditations, and in which we ought to be wholly plunged. He who is in possession of this alone has enough. Beyond it there is nothing solid, nothing useful, — nothing, in short, that is proper or sound. Though you survey the heaven and earth and sea, you will never go beyond this without overstepping the lawful boundary of wisdom.[3]

Indeed, the love of Christ transcends knowledge, and yet it is our joy to daily know and comprehend it more. The scope of His love is infinite as He is infinite, eternal as He is eternal, boundless as He is boundless, beautiful as He is beautiful. This is the endless pursuit that only grows in joy with each step forward. The more we know Christ, the more we love Him. The more we love Him, the more we long to know Him. And the cycle repeats beyond time itself.

Many possess an unspoken fear of heaven as a place of stagnation. We are, after all, natural story-tellers in the image of our Father who is crafting the greatest story of all, and stories without conflict are not stories. There must be a challenge, a task, a goal, an aim, a prize to move the plot along. Even in life, those without a purpose or goal shrivel away into zombified shells of themselves. We ask therefore with hesitation: without sin and pain, will heaven be a similar kind of place? Yet here is the answer. For all eternity, we will never reach the height, the depth, the length, nor the breadth of knowing Christ and His vast love for us. Knowing His incomprehensibility is eternal life. Knowing Him is life, and our inability to exhaust His riches is the scope and span of eternity.

Consider Calvin’s words again: “He who is in possession of this alone has enough. Beyond it there is nothing solid, nothing useful.” Joe Barnard echoes this notion by saying that “Christian discipleship might be challenging, but it is not complicated. The objectives of life are reduced to a bare minimum, one.”[4] Just as Jesus told Martha in Luke 10:42, “one thing is necessary.” Following Christ and seeking first His kingdom are simply two other expressions of this same truth. Our telos, our purpose, our journey and destination, our prize, our reward, our treasure, our hope, our joy, our peace, our comfort, our paradise is to know Christ. As Paul told the Philippians, he gladly embraced the loss of all things in order to know Him and the power of His resurrection. And then he continued to say that we each therefore have one thing to do: “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). Is this true of you? Does your life boil down to this one, singular pursuit?

In the final petition, Paul writes that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Notice that, as with much in this letter, there is a Trinitarian component to these three petitions. The first was for us to be strengthened with power by the Spirit. The second was for the strength to know the love of Christ. The third is now to be filled with the fullness of God. This again is vastly beyond our depth of understanding. God is infinite and omnipresent. The universe and the sum of this physical dimension are not enough to contain Him. As the Creator of all things, He extends beyond all things. No height is high enough to exceed Him. No depth is low enough to hide from Him. No length and breadth are wide enough to escape Him. He is more, with no stopping point.

We, however, stand in amazement at the enormity of the ocean or the Grand Canyon. The size and scale of these physical features are too large for us to grasp. Behind a screen, it is easy enough to call the earth small, but time outside quickly corrects such folly. We rightly feel minuscule when viewing the flashes of lightening within a towering thunderstorm or at the first sight of a snowcapped mountain. If creation itself, including this portion of creation over which we have dominion, is too mighty for us, how much more the Creator?

Yet by the Spirit who dwells within us, we are filled with all the fullness of God. Being united to Christ, we are in Him, and He is in us. And since “in him all the fullness of God was please to dwell” (Colossians 1:19), the fullness of God also dwells within us. How does the Infinite inhabit we who are finite? On a similar note, how do a husband and wife become one flesh even though they obviously remain two distinct persons? Brothers and sisters, “this mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (5:32). As the body and bride of Christ by the blood of Jesus and through the sealing of the Holy Spirit, we are filled with the fullness of God through our union with Christ.

HIM WHO IS ABLE // VERSES 20-21

Let us be clear. The petitions above are impossibilities. We do not have the capacity of strength for Christ to dwell in our hearts. We do not have the cognitive abilities to know the love of Christ that surpasses all knowledge. We are too finite to be filled with the fullness of the Infinite One. They are ridiculously beyond us, and yet, as we said earlier, Paul is not so much praying these petitions as supplication but rather as promises that will surely be fulfilled by the sovereign King. This confidence of fulfillment lies in the truth that “all things are possible with God” (Mark 10:27). Or as Paul expresses in this closing doxology, to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think.

Notice that God’s ability goes far beyond our capacity to ask Him; it reaches even past what we are able to think of. His power and authority that are at work within us exceed our loftiest thoughts and ideas. In 1:19, Paul already prayed that we would know “the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might.” Likewise, in 3:7 he spoke of being given his ministry “by the working of his power.” God’s power is beyond our ability to ask or think, but it is still a present and working power. The power of the Omnipotent One is not an alien or deistic force that set the course of the cosmos and then stepped back; instead, His power is actively working among His people.

The apostle concludes the chapter by ascribing glory to our great God, glory in the church and in Christ Jesus. In Philippians 2:11, we find that Jesus’ supreme exaltation will also be “to the glory of the Father.” Furthermore, it is the church’s awesome privilege in Christ to give glory to God. Our daily calling as saints to do all things for the glory of God is not a burdensome task to complete; it is a participation in the manifold radiance of God’s holiness. By giving God glory, we get to show everyone who He is!

Finally, notice that this glorification will extend throughout all generations, forever and ever. This should bring back to mind the mystery of Christ from earlier in the chapter, which Paul said “was not made known to sons of men in other generations” (v. 5) and was “hidden for ages in God” (v. 9). Just as the mystery of God’s saving plan was hidden in Himself for the eternity past, so it shall now be illuminated throughout all creation forevermore.

The doxology and this first half of Ephesians concludes with Amen. Meaning may it be so, the apostle is placing the seal of faith upon the truths presented thus far. Our marvelous blessings in Christ, our reconciliation between God and each other, and the now revealed mystery of Christ are how the kingdom of God has come to us, how we have been united with Christ, how we are in Him. It is God’s unilateral grace upon us, our resurrection from death to life. He alone has the power to do this work, to accomplish so great a salvation, and so with all joy and praise, to Him alone belongs all glory forevermore. Amen.


[1] Fowl, S. E. (2012). Ephesians: A Commentary. (C. C. Black, M. E. Boring, & J. T. Carroll, Eds.) (First Edition, p. 119). Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.”

[2] https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/what-is-gods-glory

[3] Commentaries, on 3:19.

[4] Joe Barnard, The Way Forward, 54.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s