Mr. Standfast

"Nothing taken for granted; everything received with gratitude; everything passed on with grace." G. K. Chesterton

July 17, 2005

The Reason: Paul's Ephesians Prayer in Context

I'm back on the subject of Paul's mighty Ephesians 3 prayer, beginning at verse 14. Right there at the start Paul says something that is both crucial and easily overlooked. He says, "for this reason." Now, if you're like me, when you see that phrase, "for this reason," you'll want to glance back to the preceding verses, just to make sure that you know what Paul is referring to?

But in this case, the "reason" is not in the preceding verse. Paul, you see, can be a digressive writer. Sometimes he begins to explain something, then drops the thread in favor of an extended aside, only to pick up the original thought thereafter. That happens here in Ephesians 3. Go all the way back to verse 1. There, too, Paul begins a sentence with the words "for this reason." He says: "For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles . . ." But this self-identifying phrase, "prisoner of Christ," seems to require explanation. So Paul leaves the sentence unfinished, and takes off on a two-paragraph digression concerning his ministry. Now, it's no ordinary rabbit trail. It's a rich and glorious digression, but only in verse 14 does Paul once again pick up the thread, repeating the words, "for this reason," and then continuing on with the thought he'd begun back in verse 1.

So: what this means is that if you want to know the "reason" for Paul's prayer, the prayer that begins at verse 14, you mustn't look to verse 13, but to the passage immediately preceding verse 1. What, then, is the reason for the prayer? Why does Paul "kneel before the Father," praying that the Ephesians would have inward power, imparted by the Holy Spirit, to grasp the height, depth, length, and breadth of the love of God?

Well, let's go to the relevant text:

And [Jesus] came and preached peace to you who were far off [the Gentiles] and peace to those who were near [the Jews]. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

For this reason, I kneel before the Father . . .
This, then, is the reason that Paul prays what he prays. The Ephesians, you see, are a part of a massive, a worldwide, building project. The dividing wall of ethnic enmity has been removed. Not only that, but they (the mostly Gentile Ephesians) are being built into "a dwelling place for God by the Spirit." This worldwide building project will result in a people among whom, and in whom, the spirit of God will reside.

And it is for this reason that Paul prays the prayer beginning at verse 14. In other words: Paul perceives that God's goal for his people is that they be formed into a unity, with all rationales for enmity and division now set aside once and for all, through the blood of Christ; a new people, a new tribe, shall we say, is being formed, united not by ethnicity, not by geography, not by political views, but by the very presence of Spirit of God.

All this sheds light on the prayer itself. Since Paul is a Spirit-inspired author, we can be assured that the prayer that he prays here is no wild guess, but a precise and Spirit-led prayer for the God-ordained means to that stated end. It seems clear that Paul perceived that the way God breaks down those dividing walls, the way he brings peace where there once had been strife, reconciliation where there once had been enmity, is by imparting this inward power to grasp the full extent of his love for them. Only in this way will they be rooted in love. And when they get that, when they grasp it, they can begin to be that temple. They can begin to be "filled to the measure with all the fullness of God." And this, the presence of the Spirit in fullness, will be the sole and sufficient ground of their unity and peace.

What do you think that would look like? Ah, good question, and one to be pursued in a future post, I think. What would you expect of a people in whom the dividing walls that normally exist among us had been once-and-for-all removed? Not only that, but a people in whom the Spirit of God dwells? How would they behave? How would they talk, and work, and spend their leisure time? Let's just think about that for a while, shall we?


BTW: My extended (will he ever stop?) musings on the last 7 or 8 verses of the third chapter of Ephesians can be found in the following posts:

Ephesians 3:16-19
I am an Ephesian
Awesome God
Glorious Riches
Inward Power
Inward Power (2)
Breadth, Length, Height, Depth
Breadth, Length, Height, Depth (2)
Pray in Wonder
Pray with Kingdom Purpose
The Consequences of Under-estimating the Love of Christ


Anonymous Greg said...

This is truly an outstanding post! Both informative and inspirational...


9:58 AM  
Blogger Broken Messenger said...


I have to echo Greg here, truly outstanding and inspired.


1:13 AM  
Blogger 1bigapple said...

Good guess Bob but the Ephesian Prayer actually starts:

Eph chpt 1 vs. 15 thru 23 then picks up Chapt 3 vs. 14.

I learned this prayer over 20 yrs ago thru Rhema Christian Ctr.

11:21 AM  
Blogger Bob said...

Not a guess, actually, but your opinion is duly noted. See, for example, the note in the the ESV Study Bible to 3:14, which points back to verse one of the same chapter. No doubt that Paul's chapter 3 prayer hearkens back to and continues the thought of his chapter 1 prayer, but my point is to show where we should look for the referent to 3:14's "for this reason." Not to chapter 1, which is too far back to be a clear and natural referent. I may be wrong, of course, but your assertion without foundation does nothing to change my mind.

11:40 AM  

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