In the last study Paul explained God’s Building Project, and how the Ephesians came to be included in it. What God is doing in the church drives Paul to pray for the church, that this plan would be realised more and more fully. Before he prays, though, he digresses somewhat, explaining his particular God-given role in this plan and expanding further on how in the church we see the wisdom and purposes of God being worked out.
When Paul speaks of a mystery, as he does here, he is not referring to a secret which remains an enigma to us, but something that can only be known as God reveals it to us, which God has now done – what was once hidden from us is now an open secret. This mystery is defined in verse 6, and is essentially what he was unpacking in the second half of ch.2. This mystery was made known to Paul that he might make it known to the Gentiles and preach to them “the boundless riches of Christ”. But as well as making it known through the preaching of the Gospel, this mystery was to be “made plain to everyone” (v.9), not least to the spiritual powers in the heavenly realms, through the very being of church itself (v.10). God’s eternal purposes for the whole of creation (1:9,10) can be seen now in the church, so that seeing the church the powers of evil shudder, knowing that their days are numbered. The church then is not incidental to the Gospel, as though it is really all about me being reconciled to Christ; the Gospel is bigger than that. The Gospel is proclaimed as we share Christ and as we live out who we are as church.
It is important to see this prayer as being prompted by what he has described of God’s purposes (so “For this reason…” vv.1, 14). The prayer is therefore not some vague, worthy prayer, but shaped by and motivated by what God is doing in the church. The one to whom Paul prays is the one from whom we all derive our identity, God has made us all who we are, so Paul is going to pray that God would make us more truly what we are in Christ. “out of his glorious riches” (v.15) should be “according to his glorious riches”, i.e. the prayer is not that God would merely give from his wealth, but rather give in proportion to his wealth, so Paul is praying a big prayer. It is a request for power, or two requests for power: the first in vv.16,17a, the second in vv.17b,18.
First he prays for empowerment by the Spirit so that Christ might dwell in our hearts. Christ of course already lives in us, but the prayer is that our hearts might more and more become dwellings that reflect his character; not just “his home” but more truly “his home”. It is a prayer that the Spirit might so work in us that the character of Christ becomes the hallmark of our lives.
The second request is for power to know Christ’s love. Notice that we can’t grasp it merely by our own intellectual reflection, we need his power to enable us to grasp it. Nor can we know it until we know God’s grace in our lives and are “rooted and established in love”, which essentially I think means to be a Christian. Nor we can know the full measure of his love in isolation, we need other Christians, for only “together with all the saints” will we fully grasp God’s love.
His prayer is summed up as a request that they be “filled to the measure of all the fullness of God”. This is a prayer for maturity, to be perfect as he is perfect, holy as he is holy. It is a big prayer, but not only is God’s power more than sufficient, “his power is at work within us” already. In fact he has already done much more than we might have asked or imagined, and he has not finished yet. And the goal of the prayer, which should embolden us to pray it along with Paul, is what Paul has explained in chs.1 and 2 as being God’s ultimate purpose: his glory being revealed “in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!”