The 2nd SO THAT: Grasping the Love of Christ
In yesterday's post I spoke of the unity of Christians, made possible by the cross of Christ. In Christ we have peace and in Him we live peace. This is the Spiritual bond of peace that is indicative of the worldwide communion of saints, as well as of individual saints in all their personal relationships, not least of all their marriages.
That's the ideal. But it will come as no shock to my readers when I say that in reality the saints have fallen woefully short of this ideal. And the fact is, the Apostle Paul knew it would be so. He knew about strife in the church. Like James, the brother of Jesus, he was keenly aware of this disjunction between the Spiritual reality (we are one in Christ) and the fleshly reality (there is bitterness, malice and strife among us).
And yet the fact remains, the sovereign Lord is forming for himself a people who will be united in heart, who together will be a dwelling for His Spirit. Such is his will, and so shall it one day be.
Now, if you saw yesterday's post, you'll remember my brief discussion of Paul's use of the indicative and the imperative moods. Chapter 2 is essentially indicative. It indicates or describes a Spiritual reality of the body of Christ. In sum, you Ephesians are one in Spirit. All the old rationales for hostility and division are now moot, due to the cross of Christ. Then, given this Spiritual reality, in chapter 4 Paul is able to switch to the imperative: Therefore, make every effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Chapters 4 through 6 are essentially an extended elaboration on that imperative.
But standing between these two closely related sections is a prayer. It is a prayer for "fullness" and it is the hinge upon which these two sections are coupled. Paul's desire is that the Ephesians learn to walk out, in their every day lives, the Spiritual reality described in chapter 2. In chapters 4-6 he will paint a picture of what that walking out will involve, but here in chapter 3, verses 14 to 21, he prays for that which will make it all possible: the indwelling Holy Spirit in the heart of each individual Ephesian believer.
Note: the ultimate goal of God, as described by Paul in the final verses of chapter 2, is corporate. It is a corporate unity of heart so that together the Ephesians might be built into a dwelling for the Spirit of God. But the prayer of Paul in chapter 3 is for power from the Spirit in each individual Christian's inner being. In other words: the goal is corporate, but the means to that end is the heart ("inner being") of each individual. This may seem an obvious point, but I think it's worth our close attention. God will dwell corporately among those in whom he dwells individually. It is by means of the individual indwelling that the corporate dwelling place is built.
Paul has said from the start of this letter that we believers have the Holy Spirit as a downpayment or guarantee, securing us for the day of redemption. But the "fullness" of the Spirit is yet to come. For now, all we have is foretaste. "Fullness" is Paul's characteristic word for the ultimate realization of God's goal, which, again, is to make his people into a fit dwelling for His Spirit eternally. That's why Paul's prayer in chapter 3 climaxes with a restatement of this ultimate goal, but this time as it applies to the individual: "that you may be filled to the measure with all the fullness of God."
Everything that follows this prayer is a description of the life empowered by the Spirit, on its way to that goal. Humility, kindness, patience, living lives of love, living in the light, submitting to one another, encouraging one another, and all this "in reverence to Christ." (5:21) In other words, it is a description of fullness. It is life in the Spirit, on its way to "the fullness of him who fills everything in every way." (1:23)
And this is why Paul prays as he does. Paul prays with God's ultimate goal for his people clearly in mind. In fact, he restates that goal three times in this prayer. These three statements form a sequence. The Second extends and elaborates the first, and the third extends and elaborates the second: a kind of divine sequence toward the goal of divine indwelling. Each of these 3 statements begins with a Greek word which means "so that." Let's break this out into a simple list. Remember, God's goal is to build the Ephesians into a dwelling place for His Spirit. His word for this is "fullness." So Paul prays for each individual Ephesian "power through the Spirit in the inner being" (v.16):
SO THAT: "Christ might dwell in their hearts through faith." (v.17)
SO THAT: they can "grasp how wide, long, high, and deep is the love of Christ." (v.18)
SO THAT: they may be "filled to the measure with all the fullness of God." (v.19)
Now: the Ephesians are basically struggling with the second SO THAT. If there is any bickering or strife among them (especially in their case as it concerns conflict between Jew and Gentile), then they have not yet grasped the full extent of the love of Christ, which extends over all races, ethnicities, tribes and nations. And if they have not yet grasped the full extent of the love of Christ, they will not be filled to the measure with all the fullness of God.
This is precisely why bickering and strife grieve the Holy Spirit. We modern Christians are in the same place as the ancient Ephesians. We too are struggling with the second SO THAT. If there is disunity among us, not just as church fellowships but in all our personal relationships with brothers and sisters in the Lord, including our marriages, then we have not yet grasped the full extent of the love of Christ, and we are grieving the Holy Spirit, whose goal for us is unity through the Cross.
Do you get this? I've been going on about it for weeks, because God has been leading me by the hand through these verses, saying, look again. You haven't understood it fully yet. Keep looking. Keep praying. Keep wondering about my love. Get hold of it. Wrestle with it. Question it. Beseech ME to show it to you in fullness. I will not deny this request?
If you want to walk worthy, if you want patience and humility, growing up into Christ, living as children of light, living lives of love, loving your wives as Christ loved the church, praying in the Spirit on all occasions, then you need to settle the matter of the second SO THAT. How wide, how long, how high, how deep is the love of God? Through the power of the Spirit he will show you. And He will root you in that love, and it will nourish you unto fullness, the fullness of the Lord, dwelling forever among a fire-refined and holy people.