Rooted and Grounded in Love
Topic: Expository Scripture: Ephesians 3:14–21
What is the state of your “inner being” this morning? That is the opening sentence in this sermon. And where do you turn when your inner being feels empty? In exploring these questions, this message explores Ephesians 3:14-21 as Paul once again prays for “all the saints”. Find out what Paul prays for us, and how the answer to that prayer ultimately results in our being “filled with all the fullness of God” in this sermon entitled Rooted and Grounded in Love.
What is the state of your “inner man” this morning? That may sound like an odd question – so let me explain what I mean. You are all here. Most of you look relatively presentable. You got up. You had some breakfast. You brushed your teeth. You chose what you wanted to wear and put it on. Those of you who have hair, combed it. And here you are. But all of that preparation had to do with your “outer man”, your physical body. But what is the state of your “inner man”, your “inner being”? The real you, the part we cannot see; what is going on inside of you this morning?
Let me approach the question another way. Picture your inner being as a cup. Is it empty? Half full? Full? How would you describe the cup over the past week? If we are honest, most of us would probably reflect and say that the state of our inner being fluctuated throughout the week, depending on what was going on around us. Sometimes it feels full, sometimes it feels half full, sometimes it feels desperately empty.
So let me ask you another question. When your cup feels empty, what do you do to try to fill it? Where do you turn to quench the inner thirst and refill the empty cup?
In the passage in front of us this morning, Paul again prays for the believers to whom he is writing. This is the second such prayer in this letter. And in both of these prayers, I believe Paul is not only praying for the Ephesians, but for all of us who follow Christ. We found the first prayer in Ephesians 1:15-23. In that prayer, he asked that God would open our spiritual eyes to see our incredible riches in Christ, our standing in the heavenly realm and the power of Christ that is at work in us and on our behalf.
In this second prayer, Paul’s prayer once again focuses not on physical needs or problems. He focuses on the state of our inner being. He prays for what is going on inside us.
Paul actually started this prayer in verse 1 of chapter 3. Immediately following that great passage on what God has done to bring Jew and Gentile believers together into a temple in which God himself is dwelling, Paul opens the next verse with the words; “For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus…” (Eph. 3:1) But if you analyze the grammar, he never finished that sentence. It is as though he became distracted by another thought. He goes back to fill in that thought by describing his authority as an apostle, the revelation he received from God and the source of his knowledge about these great truths concerning the Church of Jesus Christ.
But now he is coming back to finish what he started. You will notice that the first words of verse 14 are identical to his opening in verse 1: “For this reason…” And now he continues: “I bow my knees before the Father…” I point this out so that we will keep in mind that the prayer he is about to pray is closely tied to the truth he was expounding in the second half of chapter 2 and the great truths of the Church of Jesus Christ composed of all who trust in Christ, whether Jew or Gentile or any other human distinction – all are “no longer strangers and alien, but…fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God…”
This “household of God” is a family. And this family has a father. And so it is to this Father that Paul addresses his prayer. “I bow my knees before the Father…”
And then he adds these words: “from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.” This verse is somewhat difficult to interpret. It is based on a play on words that is not clear in the translations. The word “father” in Greek is “patera” and the word translated “family” in verse 14 is “patria”. It is the concept of a family as a father-led family unit. I think what Paul is saying is that the ultimate role model of a father and fatherhood is founded in the character of God himself. He is not only our Father, but the core idea of fatherhood and father-led families in heaven and on earth is inspired by and modeled after his own Fatherhood. That places a very heavy responsibility on us as human fathers, doesn’t it men? The fatherhood of God and his character should be our model and inspiration as we seek to be the fathers God has called us to be in our families. Father and fatherhood are God’s ideas. They are based on his own identity and character. And of course, the ultimate family to which we belong is the spiritual family of all who belong to the “household of God” that Paul referred to in Ephesians 2:19.
This is the Father to whom Paul addresses his prayer. But what does he ask for? What is his request on our behalf?
that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, (verse 16)
Now you can see where my introductory question came from this morning. “What is the condition or state of your inner being?”
Paul prays that “according to the riches” of God’s glory, he will give us a gift, and that gift is that our inner being will be strengthened with God’s power through the Holy Spirit.
But Paul has a particular purpose or goal in mind for this strengthening of our inner being. He tells us what it is in verse 17: so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.
What is Paul saying here? Is he implying that they are not saved and that they need to invite Christ into their hearts? No. Paul’s meaning here is to be found in the word “dwell”. It doesn’t just mean “live”. It means to settle down and be at home; to become a resident and not just a temporary visitor or guest. We might translate it this way: “That Christ may make himself at home in your hearts.”
I have been a guest in some of your homes. You have been very hospitable and made me feel welcome. But I do not feel free to walk into any room except those into which you invite me. I don’t feel free to rummage through the refrigerator or look into the closets or rearrange the furniture. I am a guest.
Paul’s prayer is that Jesus may be more than a guest; that he may be at home. How about it? Is Christ at home in your heart? In America a generation ago, many homes had a room in them called the parlor. It was a special room for entertaining important guests. It was rarely used by the rest of the family. It was a place to entertain visitors like the preacher when he visited on a Sunday. Is that how Christ feels in your heart? Do we only allow him into the front room? Into the parlor? Do we honor him as a guest, but keep at a safe distance from the real “stuff” of our everyday lives?
So what will it take for Christ to really be at home in your heart and in mine? It is going to take faith. It is the practice of our faith in the indwelling Christ that invites him into every nook and cranny and closet of our inner being. It will also takes place as a result of the Spirit’s working. Remember, the Spirit is sometimes called the Holy Spirit. He is also called the “Spirit of Christ”. He is Christ’s own invisible presence. And it will take the working of Christ’s own power to strengthen our inner being to truly receive and welcome Christ’s own presence.
And there is something even more wonderful that Paul prays for here. “That you, being rooted and grounded in love…” When Christ makes himself at home in our hearts, he floods every corner with his wonderful love. I love these two images: rooted and grounded. “Rooted” is an image from nature and forests and trees. Roots that go deep into the soil of love. “Grounded” projects the image of a building whose foundation is solidly set in love.
Paul continues to pursue this theme of love: that you, being rooted and grounded in love may have strength to comprehend with all the saints…
Once again, this emphasis on being strengthened. This is the divine and supernatural working of God in our inner being. That we may be strengthened “to comprehend…” What is in view here is more than simply superficial knowledge, text book learning, or theoretical understanding. “To comprehend” is a very strong word. It means to really get something, to master it, to know something thoroughly and comprehensively by experience. This thorough comprehension is something Paul wants “all the saints” to share.
And now his language takes poetic wings and flies. To comprehend will all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge...
This has to be one of my favorite segments of Scripture, both for the magnificence of the language as well as the truth that is being communicated. The dimensions of the love of Christ. There is no real interpretive significance to the different dimensions. It is just a poetic way of describing the vastness of Christ’s love. So high, you can’t get over it. So low you can’t get under it. So wide you can’t get around it.
There is even poetic paradox here. “To know the beyond knowable love of Christ…” To know what can never be fully known. To comprehend what can never be fully comprehended. What a magnificent prayer! What a life-long and life fulfilling objective. To know the love of Christ.
And what happens when Christ makes himself at home in our hearts, and we begin to fully glimpse and grasp the magnificence and boundlessness of Christ’s love?
That you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
The inner man, the inner being, that “cup” I asked you about earlier – it gets filled up. Filled with what? With God himself and all his fullness. I asked you at the beginning about the state of your inner man. I also asked you where you turn when your inner being feels empty. What do you use to fill the emptiness?
Can I suggest to you that the only real answer to that question; the only answer that will truly satisfy, is to be found right here, in the answer to Paul’s prayer. As Christ makes himself at home in our hearts, and we are given the strength to really comprehend the love of Christ, our inner being will be filled to overflowing with the very fullness of God himself. Friends, there is no inner filling, no inner feasting that can satisfy us like the love of Christ.
Over the years of my walk with Christ, I have often feasted and fed my inner man at this table. But one particular experience was particularly powerful and foundational in my spiritual development. It happened when I was in university. I attended a Christian retreat one weekend. The speaker’s topic was the unconditional love of Christ. This is how he presented it. “Christ loves you and there isn’t a thing you can do about it! You can be as good as you can possibly be, and dot all the “i’s” and cross all the “t’s” of Christian performance – and Christ won’t love you any more than he does already. On the other hand, if you fail him and make mess of your life and make bad decision after bad decision, Christ won’t love you any less than he does right now. Christ loves you unconditionally.”
I sat and listened to messages like that all weekend, and I became increasingly miserable. A real spiritual battle was going on inside of me. It wasn’t that I had never heard about the love of Christ before. I had been a follower of Christ since I was a child. I had even heard that his love was unconditional. But somehow, deep inside me, there was a part of me that was still on a performance treadmill. There was a part of me that believed that Christ loved me more when I was good. And because I was usually pretty good at being good, I wanted to hold on to that. And so I wrestled with this truth. I fought it. I was miserable. I left the retreat still filled with inner turmoil, and went back to my dorm on campus. I remember sitting in the cafeteria, discussing the retreat with a friend of mine who had also attended. I tried to put my feelings into words. I said, “I know Christ loves me, but…”
And my friend held up his hand and stopped me. He said, “No! There is no ‘but’ in that sentence. Christ loves you…full stop.”
I went back to my room, still struggling. I turned his words over and over in my mind. “Christ loves me…period, full stop!” There is nothing to add to that sentence. And finally, it was as though some door opened deep in my inner being, as I allowed myself to believe it. Christ loved me, and I didn’t have to do anything; in fact I couldn’t do anything to add or detract from that reality. “Christ loved me and there wasn’t anything I could do about it. Christ loved me…period, full stop.” And as that door opened to believe it, Christ’s joy flooded me in an incredible rush of emotion until my inner being was full to overflowing and I burst out in singing one of my favorite hymns: How Great Thou Art. In that moment I literally felt filled with the fullness of God.
So, what is the state of your inner being this morning?
Many years later, I was counseling with a young missionary. He had left the mission field under a cloud of disgrace because of sin in his life. He himself had grown up in a missionary family. He was one of the good kids, always living up to expectations and doing what was expected – including going to Bible college and becoming a missionary. But deep down, his relationship with God was always based on performance; on measuring up. Inside there was a deep emptiness – one that eventually he tried to fill by turning to an illicit relationship. Now he was a failure; a washed out missionary – and he was deeply depressed.
Out of curiosity, I asked him: If you weren’t a missionary and if you could be anything you really wanted to be, what would it be? He looked wistful. “I have always wanted to be a mechanic. I love working on cars and machinery and fixing things with my hands. But how could God possibly be pleased with me if I were only a mechanic?”
I felt led to share my testimony with him; the one I just shared with you. He was quiet. He didn’t say much. As he left my office, I wondered if anything I had said had really gotten through to him.
A couple weeks later, he stopped me on the sidewalk of the counseling center. It was actually the last conversation I had with him. He and his family were getting ready to leave. But he shared with me that after our last session, he had gone back to his apartment and wept for the first time in a long time. He sensed Christ’s forgiveness, his compassion and his deep love; a love that was not based on performance or the tread mill of living up to expectations.
“I haven’t made up my mind about the future,” he said. “I feel like now that I have something to share, I may want to return to the ministry. But now I know that Christ’s love for me is not conditioned on my living up to his expectations by being a preacher or a missionary or anything else. I know that he loves me just the way I am. For the first time I feel truly free to choose, and to love and serve God because I want to and not because I have to.”
He had experienced a new dimension of Christ’s love. And his inner being was being filled with the fullness of God.
After this incredible prayer request, Paul closes his prayer with a doxology. Let me read it:
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think.
Think about that for a moment. He has just prayed that we will be “filled with all the fullness of God.” Now he marvels that God is able to do far more abundantly than that!
…according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
What is the state and condition of your inner being this morning? Did you come here dry and empty? Is your inner being half full, fluctuating with the whims of your emotions or your latest successes and failures? Whatever your condition, I would like to pray this prayer for you and for all of us.
I bow my knees before you, Father, that according to the riches of your glory you may grant us to be strengthened with power through your Spirit in our inner being, so that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith—that we, 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 we 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.
- Read Ephesians 3:14-21 together.
- In interpreting verse 15, Pastor Cam pointed out the play on words (in Greek) on the words “father” and “family” and that God is the ultimate “father” on whom all other fathers and father-led family units are modeled. What attributes of God make him the perfect father? What impact or influence should that have on us as earthly fathers?
- Pastor Cam began the sermon with the question: What is the state of your “inner man” this morning? How would you answer that question, reflecting on the past week?
- What are some common things people might do when their “inner being” feels empty? What are ways you try (or have tried) to fill the emptiness?
- Considering Paul’s prayer in verse 17 (‘that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith”), does Christ feel at home in your heart? Are you comfortable inviting him into every “room” in your heart? Why are or why not?
- What happens in our hearts and inner beings when we truly begin to comprehend the love of Christ?
- What does it mean when we say that Christ’s love for us is unconditional? Why is it important to understand this reality?
- Spend some time as a group praying and reflecting in prayer on the love of Christ.
Note: Some of these questions were contributed by the Sunday morning Men’s Bible Study. Thanks, guys!