Who are we?

In this blog, there will be a variety of material: thoughts on Bible books, book reviews, historical characters, aspects of Scottish church history and other things.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Paul’s Prayer for Spiritual Experience (Eph. 3:14-19)

It is worth noting the posture of Paul here. The usual posture for prayer in Jewish practice was standing, so kneeling would indicate an occasion of great seriousness and earnestness. What petitions did Paul have that made him so earnest?

First, he prayed for spiritual power in the inner life. Christians are affected adversely by two things: firstly, they are weakened by indwelling sin, by all kinds of doubts, and by Satanic assaults, and secondly they are limited by the fact that they are creatures. This petition is a reminder that we need the Spirit at all times.

Second, Paul prayed ‘that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith’ (v. 17). Paul is not focusing on what happens at conversion, but to subsequent experience(s). So what will happen when Jesus dwells in our hearts? Does Paul say there will be one or two blessings?

Those who argue that there is one blessing say that the dimensions of breadth, length, depth and height refer to the love of Christ. A common explanation is that Christ’s love is wide enough to embrace the world, long enough to last forever, high enough to take sinners to heaven, and low enough to reach down to the lowest sinner. Without a doubt, such a comment describes a truth, but it is debatable if it is the truth of these verses.

For one thing, Paul distinguishes between the four dimensions and the love of Christ. If the dimensions do not refer to Christ’s love, then to what do they refer? I think they refer to the divine resources which Paul described earlier as ‘the riches of God’s glory’. There is so much in this divine storehouse that all God’s people can visit it simultaneously and for ever.

Then Paul mentions another blessing, that of knowing the love of Christ, which passes knowledge. As we think of the Saviour’s love, several ideas come to mind. His love was sacrificial love, it is sanctifying love, and it is sweet love. When Paul says that Christ’s love surpasses knowledge, he does not mean that it cannot be known; rather its full knowledge is beyond human capacity to receive.

How do we experience this love? In the same way as human love is enjoyed, by spending time listening to a person. We must spend time listening to Jesus in his Word, the Bible.

Third, Paul prayed that we would be filled with all the fullness of God. Paul does not mean that a human can know everything that God is. Rather he means that we draw out of his fullness. We do this through Christ, for in him all the fullness of God is found. From Christ we draw everything that we need for the Christian life.

We should learn from Paul here how to pray and what priorities we should have in prayer. And we should long for the felt presence of Christ in our souls.

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