Ephesians 3:14-21 (Tenth Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 12—Series B)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
July 29, 2018
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Epistle lesson appointed for today recorded in Ephesians 3:
14For this reason I bend my knees to the Father, 15from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16that He might give grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit for the inner man, 17that Christ may dwell through faith in your hearts; that you, being firmly rooted and grounded in love, 18might be able to comprehend with all the saints what is [its] breadth and length and height and depth, 19and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled up into all the fullness of God. 20Now to the One who is able to do more than all things, quite beyond anything that we might ask or think, according to the power that is working in us, 21to Him be the glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
Dr. Luther once remarked, “None can believe how powerful prayer is, and what it is able to effect, except those who have learned it by experience. It is a great matter when in extreme need, to take hold of prayer. I know that whenever I have earnestly prayed, I have been amply heard, and have obtained more than I prayed for” (Table Talk). From a text like Ephesians 3, we also can learn to pray as Paul did. Here Paul offers a multi-petitioned prayer for the Ephesians. He asks God the Father to grant these Christians:
- to be strengthened with power through the Holy Spirit for the inner man, the new Adam, that has been created in them through the Spirit by grace through faith in Jesus;
- that Christ may dwell through faith in their hearts;
- that the Ephesian believers, firmly rooted and grounding in agape (in “love”) might be able to comprehend with all the saints this love’s breadth and length and height and depth—the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that they may be filled up into all the fullness of God.
What marvelous requests to make before the throne of our Father in heaven! Paul is praying
for the members of the Church, “all the saints,” that our life together as new creations in Christ would be a life of knowing, experiencing, being rooted and grounded in God’s love in Jesus Christ. And comprehending what we are able through the Gospel of the breadth, length, height, and depth of the love of Christ, we act in that love toward others so that they might also know the abundance of love that God has for all people in Jesus.
The breadth and length and height and depth of the love of God, Love3 (love cubed), if you will. These four terms (breadth, length, height, and depth) embrace “the heavens and earth and all the powers therein,” to borrow the language of the Te Deum Laudamus. Paul is describing the breadth and length and height and depth of Christ’s love. It’s all-encompassing. There’s such an abundance that there is “always more where that came from.” There’s no running out of the Father’s love for you in Jesus!
It is this love with which the Father so loved the world that He gave His One-of-a-Kind Son so that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. It is this love of Christ that is actually beyond our ability to know “how the immeasurable God could take up residence in human flesh, how he could reveal the mysteries of salvation to a man [Paul] who once persecuted the church. . . , how his promises to Israel could be kept while admitting the Gentiles into the kingdom apart from the works of the Law. And most important, it is beyond our comprehension how God could die on a cross.”
And yet to know God’s love is exactly to know the breadth, length, height, and depth of Jesus’ love as He bore the sins of the whole world on the cross. Perhaps we might do well to visualize the love of God in Christ if we consider the four arms of the cross on which Jesus’ love was acted out as representative of these four dimensions of the breadth, length, height, and depth of His love. His love3.
By nature, we do not love God. We do not have love for other people. We are not interested in God’s love or in loving God nor our neighbor. You and I are turned inward to self-love, selfish love because of our sinful corruption. Loving self more than God is idolatry. We are to fear, love, and trust in God above all things. As sinners, we love ourselves far too much as we place ourselves, our wants, our desires, our passion ahead of God and His Word. And that Word shows us that we are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and that we are to love our neighbors—anyone to whom we can show love and mercy. Even our best attempts at this love fail and fall short of the glory of God.
Now where we fail to love God and our neighbor, the Lord Himself never fails to love His fallen creation. From the very moment of the Fall into sin, God loved the world so much that He planned to send God the Son into the world as a human to redeem and to save all people from idolatry and self-love. John the beloved disciples says it so simply in his first epistle, “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 Jn. 4:10 NET).
The love of God the Father and God the Son took that Son, Jesus Christ, to Calvary’s cross. God’s love in action is there at the cross for you to see. On that tree the Savior bled and died, paying the full price of your idolatry and self-love. He died to save you from all sin and death. He died, was buried, and then rose again so that He might grant to you the power of the Holy Spirit to repent, receive His blood-bought forgiveness, and so live a new life with faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord. You were first strengthened with this power through His Spirit in Holy Baptism as the old man, your old sinful nature, was crucified and buried with Christ and a new man arose with saving faith to live before God daily, even as Christ lives in you by the power of the Spirit through Word and Sacrament.
In Baptism, through the hearing of the Gospel, and by the faithful eating and drinking Christ’s body and blood with the bread in wine in the Supper, you are being firmly grounded and rooted in the love of Jesus that won the forgiveness of your sins and gives you the new life of faith that apprehends the gifts of the love of Christ—its breadth and length and height and depth—Love3. Through Word and Sacrament, the Holy Spirit is filling you up “into all the fullness of God.” You are being made holy by the holiness and righteousness of Jesus given to you through the Gospel Word and Sacraments. You are being formed into the image of the Savior whose name and righteousness you bear as Christians.
That for which Paul prayed our heavenly Father to grant to the Ephesian believers the Father has given also to you in Jesus.
- You are strengthened with power through the Holy Spirit for the new Adam that has been created in you through the Spirit by the means of grace;
- Christ dwells through faith in your hearts by the same Holy Spirit;
- You, sisters and brothers, are firmly rooted and grounding in love and so are able to comprehend with all the saints the breadth and length and height and depth of the Father’s love for you and for all people in Christ Jesus.
Now you are able to do for others what Paul did. You can learn from this text to pray as Paul prayed, praying for other people.
Luther in his lectures on Romans noted, “A Christian without prayer is just as impossible as a living person without a pulse.” Why is this true? It is true because of the love of Jesus that is firmly rooted and grounded in you so that you are grounded and rooted in that love. That love acts out toward others with the love of Christ. Comprehending what we are able through the Gospel Word about the breadth, length, height, and depth of the love of Christ, we act in that love toward others so that they might also know the abundance of love that God has for all people in Jesus. And one way we do that is through prayer.
Pastor Terry Cripe, President of the LCMS Ohio District, put it this way:
It was for fallen humanity that God sent his Son to set things right between himself, us, and all creation. The fate of all human history reached its climax when one Jesus of Nazareth died in that insignificant little patch of land called Israel. But the enormity of God’s love doesn’t stop with Jesus’ death and resurrection. He sent apostles and missionaries throughout the world to get the word of life out (like Kylee and Mariah will be doing as they travel to Poland this week on their short-term mission trip). [God] saw to it that faithful parents, grandparents, or friends spoke that love to generations of people. . . .
What such a prayer envisions for those for whom you pray is like the difference between hearing about a great teacher’s techniques and watching that teacher use them in the classroom. Christianity is not just a matter of knowing that God is love, for even the devils know that, much to their dismay. But it is also the experience of it that Paul prays for his hearers—“the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” (v 19).
How and when does that experience take place? Today folks will jump from one church to another trying to find the experience they’re looking for. But the experience of God’s love is not defined by a church’s size, worship, or its architectural style. It is found where Jesus speaks to us in the Scriptures each week as we meet together. We experience that love as we hear him speak forgiveness through the Absolution, for Jesus said to the apostles, “The one who hears you hears me” (Lk 10:16). We experience that love as we receive him in the Sacrament as a pledge that he has given himself completely for us.
What amazing opportunities we have to pray to our Father in heaven, not only for our fellow
Christians, but all for our neighbors, that all would know Love3—the breadth, length, height, and depth of the love of God in Christ Jesus! We pray that all might hear the Gospel Word and come to know with us the love of Jesus in the forgiveness of sins and the new life of faith. We pray that by the power of the Holy Spirit, the abundance of love that God has for all people in Jesus would be made known to “all nations” and that we would gladly tell of the Savior’s love to many generations. Amen.
“Now to the One who is able to do more than all things, quite beyond anything that we might ask or think, according to the power that is working in us, to Him be the glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”
 Thomas M. Winger, Ephesians, Concordia Commentary (St. Louis: Concordia, 2015), 415.
 Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 24: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 14-16, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 24 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 89.
 Terry L. Cripe, “A Powerful Prayer,” Concordia Pulpit, vol 28, part 3 (May 27-Aug. 26, 2018 Series B), 39.