Ephesians 3:14-21: A Call To Holiness

The Epistle to the Ephesians is unique among Paul’s other letters. Instead of writing to correct a certain problem in a church, Paul writes to give a clear presentation of the Christianity. Given this broad purpose, it makes sense that many people regard this as a circular letter.[1] This may also explain why Paul wrote in such a broad way, in that all the themes in the Epistle to the Ephesians relate back to God’s person, to God’s glory.

As for the city, Ephesus was the capital of Asia during Roman occupation.[2] Under Roman rule, Ephesus flourished, reaching a population of 250,000, making it the third largest city in the east, besides Alexandria and Antioch.[3] The theatre, where the pagan Ephesians rioted because of Paul’s  ministry (Acts 19:21-40), could seat 24,000 people.[4] It is to this place that the circular letter of Ephesians is first addressed, and it is to this place that Paul will pen some of the most beautiful prayers recorded in Scripture.

Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3:14-21 is magnificent in both form and content. In his prayer Paul extols God’s immeasurable power and Christ’s glory, while tightly articulating a God centered theology. Having already made a prayer concerning divine resources (1:15-23), Paul now prays that the Spirit would strengthen the Ephesians and that they would comprehend the dimensions of Christ’s love. Paul believes this will cultivate spiritual maturity in the Ephesians.

Paul’s prayer needs to be set in context. in 3:1, Paul begins says, “for this reason,” referring to chapters 1-2. About to begin his prayer, Paul reconsiders and instead relates his special apostolic role to the gentiles. After this, he continues his thought in 3:14. Thus, Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3:14-21 is an outgrowth of what proceeds it.

Paul’s prayer is concise and precise. There are three discernible divisions. First, in verses 14-15, Paul glories in the Father, even in his bowed stance, which is idiomatic for prayer.[5] Second, in verses 16-19 Paul explicates the desires of his prayer. Thirdly, in verses 20-21 Paul glories in the father who can accomplish more than Paul can ask or even think to ask.

The content of Paul’s prayer is intentional. Introduced by a ί͑να clause in verse 16,[6] the Paul prays for the Ephesians “to be strengthened with power.” This power comes from the the standard of God’s righteousness, through the agency of the Spirit (16). The result is that Christ can dwell comfortably in their hearts. Paul makes a second request introduced by another ί͑να clause in 3:18. The request is modified by the adverbial prepositional phrase “in love” and the two participles “being rooted” and “being grounded” in verse 17. Thus, Paul’s request is for the Ephesians to know the dimensions of Christ’s love for them (18-19a), which is rooted and grounded in the believer’s love. The purpose (another ί͑να clause) of this request is that the Ephesians would be filled with the fullness of God (19b),which means they would reach spiritual maturity(cf. Ephesians 4:13).

The closing of Paul’s prayer is God glorifying. In verses 20-21, Paul extols the power of God. He explains that to be strengthened in the inner man (v. 16) is to have a power that is able to more than “we ask or think” (20). This is the same power with which Christ was raised from the dead (Ephesians 1:19-20).

Paul’s prayer is an example of a humble, God exalting and Godward prayer to move the Ephesians to spiritual maturity. In it, one finds at least seven principles of prayer that require special attention. Hence, in the coming days I will be posting about seven principles which I think will be helpful. hopefully, it will benefit your prayer life as much as it has mine.

[1] See discussion in Thomas D. Lea and David Alan Black, The New Testament: Its Background And Message, 2nd ed., (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2003), 437-38.

[2] L. M. McDonald, “Ephesus,” Dictionary of New Testament Background, Ed. Craig A. Evans and Stanley E. Porter (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000.), 318.

[3] McDonald, 319.

[4] McDonald, 319.

[5] See John R. W. Stott, “The Message of Ephesians: God’s New Society” in The Bible Speaks Today, ed. John R. W. Stott and J.A. Motyer (Downer’s Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity press, 1979) 132-3.

[6] Although it is common in Ephesians for ί͑να to indicate purpose, here it indicates the content of the prayer.

2 thoughts on “Ephesians 3:14-21: A Call To Holiness

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