TXAB: The Christ Almighty Blog

10 August 2016

Paul prays for God’s superabundant riches.

God has a lot he could give us—if we’d ask.

Ephesians 3.13-20

God’s mystery, now revealed to the world through Paul, was that his kingdom includes gentiles. Previous generations weren’t aware of this—despite hints in the Old Testament—but now God wanted his church to make it crystal clear. The good news is for everyone. No exceptions. Jesus is Lord of all.

This, Paul explained, was why he was in chains. Ep 3.1 In Acts, he proclaimed—in temple, of all places!—that Jesus had sent him to the gentiles. Ac 22.21 The resulting riot got the Romans to arrest him, Ac 22.22-24 originally to prosecute him, but it quickly turned into protective custody, as the Judean leadership sought to get Paul killed. At the time he wrote Ephesians, we figure he was awaiting trial in Rome. All this was provoked by the very idea of including gentiles in God’s kingdom—but Paul was certainly not so petty as to blame the gentiles for his situation. Wasn’t their fault.

On the contrary: The gentiles drove him to rejoice.

Ephesians 3.13-17 KWL
13 So I request you don’t despair over my suffering for you—which is in your honor.
14 It’s why I bend my knees to the Father,
15 for whom every “fatherland” in heaven and on earth is named.
16 So he could give you power from his glorious riches,
make you strong in his Spirit in the person within,
17 and settle Christ in your hearts, planted and established through faith in love.

Christians tend to miss the importance of Paul bending his knees to the Father. Ep 3.14 ’Cause lots of us kneel to pray. But first-century Christians didn’t ordinarily pray like that: They usually prayed standing up, facing the sky, arms outstretched. Mk 11.25, Lk 18.13 Kneeling was a much bigger deal. It meant you had a serious request, like when Jesus asked not to suffer, Lk 22.41 or when Simon Peter asked God to raise a dead woman. Ac 9.40 It meant you were begging. Paul was begging God to grant the Ephesians “power from his glorious riches,” make them “strong in his Spirit,” and “settle Christ in [their] hearts.” He wanted the Ephesians to become solid Christians. (’Cause they were good Christians Ep 1.15 —but could be better!)

Every “fatherland,” Paul pointed out, is named for the Father. That’s a bit of Greek wordplay, which made it a little tricky to translate. Paul was comparing patír/“father” and patriá/“nation.” He correctly pointed out the word patriá comes from the word patír. Originally patriá meant “family,” and the KJV translated it that way: “Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named.” Ep 3.15 KJV But a patriá wasn’t just one small little family, but a national family—the ethnic identity of an entire nation. Back then, people figured a significant part of their national identity was their ancestry. They were all descendants of a common ancestor. You know, like Jews all figured they were descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the “sons of Israel.”

Nowadays we consider that idea racist—’cause it is. Especially in nations like the Roman Empire—and the United States—which are based on ideas and rights, not ancestry. Particularly in God’s kingdom, where everyone’s adopted, Ep 1.5 so race shouldn’t make any difference. And lest anyone assume it does, Paul’s point was how every ethnic identity has its origin in God. He put people-groups where he wanted them. Ac 17.26 Now he wants ’em in his kingdom, the patriá of heaven: One nation, under God, indivisible.

Paul’s prayer was that the Ephesians could get power from God’s riches: God’s got more than enough power to do whatever we can ask or imagine. He invites us to tap it. We’ve just gotta trust him enough to start doing miracles.

And at the same time, Paul prayed the Ephesians would grow “in the person within.” Spiritual might, wielded by someone who lacks spiritual fruit, who lacks character, can quickly turn into nothing. 1Co 13.1-3 God doesn’t just want us to do mighty deeds, but wants us to get better. Be more like Christ. Have Jesus be the foundation, the basis, of everything we say and do. You know, be Christian.

Knowing Jesus.

More of Paul’s request: So the Ephesians would know Christ’s love.

Ephesians 3.18-19 KWL
18 So you could be capable of grasping—with all the saints—
what’s its nearness and farness, depth and height.
19 You could also know the knowledge-overwhelming love of Christ,
so you could be filled with all God’s fullness.

Since the KJV translated to plátos kai míkos kai ýpsos kai báthos as “the breadth, and length, and depth, and height” Ep 3.18 KJV we wind up with a lot of Christians who immediately start plumbing their memories of geometry: Dimensions! Paul’s describing dimensions! But why four? Shouldn’t he have only listed three: What’s the X-axis, Y-axis, and Z-axis of Christ’s love? Every so often, one of us speculates the fourth descriptor might be a T-axis—a fourth dimension, a dimension of time—and then they get all science-fictiony about this verse. Which is ultimately a waste of time. If Christ’s love has a duration, that means it has an endpoint, and it’s not meant to have an endpoint.

Paul wasn’t describing four dimensions, but two. Plátos, short for pelatós, means “approachable”; míkos means “distance.” So that’d be how close Christ’s love is, and how far it extends. The KJV’s “depth and height” is fine, so I stuck with that. Paul wasn’t describing a cube, nor a tesseract.

The reason he described Christ’s love with dimensions was ’cause he wanted the Ephesians to imagine it in real space. Not just think of love as an abstract idea, only to be found in our own brains. Think of it as an object in the real world. More: Put it in the real world. Stop internalizing it, and start doing it.

Of course, if love’s an object in the real world, how big should it be? Well, there you’re gonna get Christians trying to outdo one another in our descriptions. “Bigger than anything! Bigger than the universe!” Hyperbole like that. Which is fine; it should be big. Big enough to include everyone. Big enough to achieve big things.

He also prayed the Ephesians would “know the knowledge-overwhelming love of Christ.” You realize that’s a paradox. Know the unknowable? But hey, if we know it in part, that’s still really good.

Likewise being filled with God’s fullness: Also sorta impossible-sounding, since we’d expect God’s infinite fullness to burst any finite human, like a water balloon filled by a fire hydrant. But humans aren’t containers so much as sponges. The whole point of the Holy Spirit’s fruit is that his goodness doesn’t just fill us, but overflows, leaks into everyone around us, affects them, maybe produces good fruit in them too. Imagine how such Christians could affect their communities. Imagine how you could.

Praising our super-more-extraordinary God.

Here’s where Paul’s discussion wraps up about God’s plan of salvation. The next chapters of Ephesians are more about how God expects us to live, now that we’re saved. So in order to wrap that up, then switch topics, Paul capped it with a little bit of praise to the Father for all he’s done.

Ephesians 3.18-20 KWL
20 To the one more capable than anyone
to do superabundantly whatever we ask or imagine, by the power operating in us:
21 Glory to him in the church, and in Christ Jesus,
in all generations of the age and ages. Amen.

Plus a little reminder that God’s able to do yper-ek-perissú/“super-more-extraordinary.” It’s a word we only find in the bible, in Paul’s letters. Betcha he coined it. But how else can we describe almightiness?

And really, that’s always been a problem for us. We know God’s almighty, but we don’t entirely grasp just how almighty. We know he can do anything he wants. We just don’t realize how far this power extends. Imagine the grandest, mightiest thing God could do. (Like create the universe.) Well, almightiness means God can actually do greater than that. Twice as great. Twenty times as great. A billion times greater—and even though we fling the word “billions” around nowadays, we still struggle with that concept. Yet God’s more almighty than that.

So why don’t we see him doing such things among us? Well we could—if we stopped limiting him with our tiny finite ideas. God can do more than we ask or imagine. Let’s stop imagining, or asking for, such small things. Dream bigger.