“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:14–19, NASB95)
Back in verse 1 of chapter 3 Paul said “For this reason” and then he proceeded to write some thoughts that were foundational to completing his reason. Here in verse 19 he continues saying, “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father….” As we can see from the words that follow, Paul’s bowing was for the reason of worshipfully approaching the Father in prayer. He was not standing defiantly shaking his fist and demanding. He was not groveling with the expectation of receiving little. He worshipfully bowed his knee before the Father and confidently brought his request to Him on behalf of those he was called to reach, teach, encourage, and lead. Paul had hopes for these believers, and it was those hopes that he laid before God asking that He would indeed answer and do a work in them.
As I read through the prayer as it was shared I did not sense any aspect of them standing on their own to please God, but Paul requesting on their behalf that God would work in and through them such that they would be “filled with the fullness of God.” I like this phrase, “filled with the fullness.” It is one thing to be filled. In a very real sense we are all filled with something. It might be pride, or it might even be self-loathing. In all of us there are things that so fill us that our minds are continually occupied with them. This even includes conflicted or double-minded people. For them they are filled with doubt and confusion leading to vacillation or even inactivity or self-destruction. It might lead to taking things into their own hands—even evil and great harm. We are all filled with something.
Even well-meaning believers are filled with something—possibly being more like unstable double-minded man of James 1:5-8. “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” (James 1:5–8, NASB95) Even the hard-working saint might be filled with his good intentions in what he sees that he is doing for God. But none of these are the things that Paul prayed the Ephesian believers would be filled with.
Paul asked God on their behalf that they would be strengthened in the inner man by the power of the Spirit. He told them that every single person who has been or ever will be saved is a part of the same family of faith. It is in the Son of God that we are united into one body before the Father. We bear His name, and specifically when it came to those living after the resurrection of Christ, we live with that name that was first given in Antioch. “And he left for Tarsus to look for Saul; and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. And for an entire year they met with the church and taught considerable numbers; and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.” (Acts 11:25–26, NASB95)
These early Christians were given that name not as a badge of honor but as a sign of disgust. Yet, they took it an ran with it as even today we identify with one another as people saved by His blood and following Him as our living Lord. Paul prayed that just as he found strength by the Spirit of God to endure hardship for the furtherance of the gospel that these believers likewise would be strengthened. And in being strengthened, he asked God that they might live constantly knowing in Him. Just as they were saved by faith in Christ, so were they to live with the certainty of Christ living in them. This was his desire for them that they would live continually knowing their living Lord present in them as the Spirt of God worked powerfully to accomplish this.
Knowing first and foremost that their salvation in Christ and the presence of the Spirit was a work of God toward them out of His great love in which they were firmly planted, Paul prayed that they would continue to grow in their knowledge and understanding of how vast and marvelous God is. Though the things of the world might loom large and the weights seem unbearable, Paul was praying on behalf of these believers that they might truly see how much greater God is and how strong He is to lift every burden and meet every need. When the world seems it’s darkest, he prayed that they might see the overwhelming light of having life in Jesus Christ and know His love to care for them as only an infinite God can do. And in praying this he asked that they might know joy without confusion or diffusion—that their cup would be filled with the fullness of God such that there is no room for anything else that might so cloud their minds or burden their hearts.
It was this prayer that Paul evidenced for them when he told them not to lose heart at his own tribulations which he surely knew even as he recounted them to others. But it was not the tribulations that owned Paul, but merely through the tribulations that Paul came to know how much greater was God’s love for him. We can probably assume, from some of the struggles Paul mentions, that this prayer he had for the Ephesian believers is one that he also had for himself knowing that it was necessary for all of us to continually turn everything back to God in prayer and to fully entrust to Him with all that touches our hearts.