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Stephen Fowl: Formally, the passage begins with Paul situating himself relative to God (3:14–15). Paul then makes a series of requests to God on behalf of the Ephesians (vv. 16–19). There are three separate sections, each expressing a particular request and introduced by the Greek hina. Finally, the passage concludes with a doxology.

Frank Thielman: He wants his readers to know that he prays for God to strengthen them in the inner human being so that Christ might dwell in their hearts and they might become strong enough to grasp the vast dimensions of Christ’s love for them. The ultimate goal of this prayer is that his readers might “be filled up to all the fullness of God” (3:19b), that is, that they might be all God has created them as individuals (2:10) and as the church (2:15) to be (O’Brien 1999: 266).

Clinton Arnold: This is Paul’s second intercessory prayer report in the letter. This one differs from the first in that it ends with a stirring doxology, which also serves as a fitting conclusion to the contents of the first half of the letter. The introductory “for this reason” (τούτου χάριν) is a repetition of the same expression in 3:1, where Paul had begun the prayer report, but then he digressed to describe the wonders of God’s plan of salvation and his responsibility as a divinely commissioned steward of this good news. This expression thus links the prayer closely to the content of 2:11–22 and especially the nearness that believers now experience with God. Paul concluded that section by affirming that believers now constitute the new covenant temple—a holy habitation for God. Paul resumes this thought here by this prayer that Christ will dwell in their lives (3:17).

This prayer also has significant continuity with the first prayer (1:15–23) in that they both contain requests for God to reveal the vastness of his power to the readers. This prayer goes beyond the first, however, by appealing to God to actually impart his power to the readers. This second prayer also picks up on the theme of the love of God and seeks divine revelation into the magnitude of Christ’s love; Paul prays that his readers will experience such love in a way that will provide a firm foundation for their lives.

This prayer also prepares the way for what follows in the rest of the letter. Paul’s request for divine enabling power is precisely what the readers will need so they can live in accordance with the many ethical demands of the letter (chs. 4–6)—not only in terms of getting rid of unhealthy, sinful practices, but also in displaying the virtues commended. He especially appeals to us to exercise love in the same unselfish and self-giving way that Christ showed love (5:1–2).

This supernatural empowerment is also essential because of the supernaturally powerful opposition that believers face (4:27; 6:10–20). Paul’s additional petition that Christ may extend his reign in their lives (3:17) is particularly relevant for summarizing this transforming work that Christ undertakes within every member of the church and within the church as a corporate community (4:11–16 and 4:17–24).

Klyne Snodgrass: Both in terms of content and structure, similarities exist between this prayer and the one in 1:15–23 Connections also exist with the beginning doxology by a focus on love (1:4), glory (1:6, 12, 14), and the Spirit (1:13–14). Prominence is given to words for power, knowledge, the interior life, and fullness. Once again this passage is strongly theocentric and Trinitarian.

Andrew Lincoln: The intercessory prayer-report [:14-19] constitutes one long sentence in Greek. . .  The structure of thought in the intercessory prayer-report is as follows. Verses 14, 15 introduce the prayer and vv 16–19 relate its content. The content falls into three main requests, each of which is introduced by ἵνα. The first main request itself begins with ἵνα δῷ ὑμῖν, “that he might grant you . . . ,” and this is followed by two parallel infinitive clauses and a participial clause. The first infinitive clause, with κραταιωθῆναι elaborates that what the readers are to be granted is “to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner man.” The second, with κατοικῆσαι, provides a further equivalent, “that Christ might dwell in your hearts through faith.” Verse 17b, with its two perfect passive participial forms, is best taken as a further subsidiary request, “that you might be rooted and grounded in love.” It could be interpreted as a result clause, dependent on the two infinitives, which, in turn, provides the condition for the next request, i.e., “so that you, having been rooted and grounded in love, might be empowered” (so RSV, JB; also Caragounis, Mysterion, 75). But elsewhere in the NT, participles can function to express wishes or commands (cf. BDF §468[2]), and in the context of a prayer it is appropriate to understand them as having the force of a prayer-wish (so GNB; also Gaugler, 155; Gnilka, 185; Schnackenburg, 152; Bratcher and Nida, Handbook, 86). The second main request, with ἵνα, also asks for strengthening, this time using ἐξισχύσητε, “that you might be empowered.” Again the ἵνα clause is followed by two infinitive clauses, which in all probability express parallel thoughts (see the comments on vv 18, 19). The empowerment is in order for the readers to grasp (καταλαβέσθαι) all the dimensions (of love) and to know (γνῶναι) the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge. By the time the third ἵνα clause has been reached, the prayer has gathered rhetorical momentum, and the final request becomes the climactic one—“that you might be filled up to all the fullness of God.”

Harold Hoehner: Prayer for Strengthened Love

  1. (:14-15) The Approach in Prayer
  2. (:16-19)  The Appeal in Prayer
  3. (:20-21)  The Ascription of Praise


(for our own growth and here: for the growth of others)

Context– Spiritual Need: “For this reason” — resuming the thought of 3:1

How are we going to accomplish the Father’s goal of being built up together

– “into a holy temple in the Lord

– “into a dwelling of God in the Spirit

A.  Spiritual Posture — “I bow my knees” — Must take the necessary action and Pray

  1. Dependent Prayer
  2. Worshipful Prayer
  3. Submissive Prayer

Clinton Arnold: When Paul intercedes for them, he bows his knees in a posture of humility before the Father. Since this is a report of how he regularly intercedes for them, it is likely that Paul commonly kneels as he engages in intercessory prayer. Kneeling represents submission, respect, and humility before God (see Isa 45:23; Rom 14:11; Phil 2:10). It was a common posture for prayer as attested in the OT (e.g., 1 Chr 29:20; Ps 95:6) and in Judaism (see 3 Macc 2:1; 1 Esdras 8:73 [70]). Daniel’s habit was to approach God three times daily in prayer, and when he did so, he bowed his knees (Dan 6:10). This is not the only posture attested in the Bible for prayer. Jews often stood when they prayed (1 Sam 1:26; 1 Kings 8:22; Matt 6:5; Mark 11:25; Luke 18:11, 13). On one occasion, Jesus raised his eyes to heaven as he prayed, presumably while standing (John 11:41). Sometimes people fell on their faces before God, that is, touching their foreheads to the ground while kneeling (Gen 17:3; Matt 26:39).

B.  Spiritual Family Relationship — “before the Father

Remember our “bold and confident access

No Insecurity here

Stephen Fowl: Paul emphasizes his submission to the Father “from whom every ‘family’ in heaven and on earth is named.” The central act of the Father here is “naming.” This seems to refer to God’s activity in creation (cf. Ps 147:4; Isa 40:26; Eccl 6:10). In this sense the name identifies the Creator, perhaps in the same way potters or smiths identify their works with a particular mark. The image here is of God’s comprehensive power and control over all social formations, whether in heaven or on earth.  This emphasis on God’s power is fitting, given the nature of the requests that follow in vv. 16–19.

C.  Universal and Exclusive Source of Spiritual Blessing

from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name

Same approach will work for anyone;

No other approach will work for anyone

Kenneth Wuest: The various classes of men on earth, Jew, Gentile, and others, and the various orders of angels in heaven, are related to God, the common Father, and only in virtue of that relation has any of them the name of family.  But we must be careful here to note that the fatherhood of God over all created intelligences is in the sense of Creator, as in Paul’s word to the Athenians, “We are the offspring of God,” not at all in the sense of salvation where only saved individuals are children of God.

Harold Hoehner: To summarize, God the Father is the one who creates (3:9) and thus names every family in heaven and on earth. He is a God who is alive and acting in the present time, rather than a god who has died and is no longer active in history. God’s ability to create and name every family in heaven and on earth stresses his sovereignty and his fatherhood. He is the one who is able to perform more than we ask or think, as expressed in the doxology in verses 20–21. It should be noted that the early disciples of Jesus extolled God as the sovereign Lord who created heaven, earth, and sea (Acts 4:24). It is to this sovereign God that Paul prays the following prayer.


A.  Comes as a Gift from God

that He would grant you

B.  Cannot be Measured in Human Terms

according to the riches of His glory

Not asking for some small dose of power here

Clinton Arnold: The source of the power that Paul asks the readers be strengthened with is “the riches of his glory” (τὸ πλοῦτος τῆς δόξης αὐτοῦ). The glory of God is a manifestation of who he is in his brilliance, majesty, holiness, and power. In this context, the emphasis lies more on glory as a representation of God in all of his might. The superabundance of God’s power is heightened by the use of the term “riches” (πλοῦτος) in connection with glory. The genitive may best be interpreted as a genitive of content, that is, God’s wealth consisting of his glory. The idea here is that God possesses extraordinary might, which he is able and willing to impart to his people.

Andrew Lincoln: For this writer, God’s giving corresponds to the inexhaustible wealth of his radiance and power available to humanity, and that alone sets the limit for his prayer. In this way the writer’s formulation of his request is meant to evoke further the confidence of the readers in God’s ability to grant what is asked in a fashion more than adequate for their needs.

Harold Hoehner: In essence, he asks God to grant that forthcoming request according to the wealth of his essential being. After he has made this appeal, he then proceeds to make the request.

C.  Consists in Holy Spirit Power

to be strengthened with power through His Spirit

Clinton Arnold: One of the principal blessings of the new covenant is the pouring out of the Spirit in much fuller measure than the old covenant people of God experienced (e.g., Ezek 36:26–27). Paul is keenly aware of the empowerment available through the Spirit in his own life and the availability of the Spirit’s strengthening for his readers. In the NT and especially in Paul’s writings, the Spirit is made the explicit agent in the dispensing of divine power (Acts 1:8; Rom 1:4; 15:19; 1 Cor 2:4; 1 Thess 1:5). Paul thus prays that God will strengthen his readers “through his Spirit.” . . .

God’s power and love are not impersonal forces operating in the world that one needs to discover. Our God is a personal God, who has brought us near to himself. He has bestowed on us his Spirit, who imparts his power and shows us his love. This Spirit is closely related to the risen Christ, who now dwells in the lives of all believers and seeks to reign over the enemies—the power of sin and the forces of evil. In fact, it is God himself who has made the corporate community of new covenant people his holy habitation and fills us with his presence and the benefits of his presence—his power and his love. This Trinitarian portrayal of God’s present work in the lives of believers is unmistakable in this prayer.

D.  Changes and Transforms the Inner Man

in the inner man

Frank Thielman: The inner human being, then, is the interior life of the person, which God, by his Spirit, can strengthen with divine power. If Paul’s readers were discouraged (ἐγκακεῖν, enkakein) because of the suffering that the apostle was experiencing in the course of his ministry to the Gentiles (Eph. 3:13), and perhaps because they too were suffering, then Paul prays that God might give them the inner strength that in 2 Corinthians he says he himself experienced under similar circumstances.

Andrew Lincoln: The prayer, however, is clearly one which asks God through the Spirit to vitalize and strengthen believers in that part of them which is not accessible to sight but which is open to his energizing influence.


A.  Goal of Deepened Intimacy with Christ — Requires Faith

so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith

Stephen Fowl: From a Trinitarian perspective it is striking that an increase in the Spirit’s powerful work in the lives of believers entails Christ’s deeper dwelling in the hearts of believers. The actions of Spirit and Son are intimately tied here in 3:16–17. When this is coupled with the claims in Eph 1 that locate Christ within the identity of the Father, the Spirit is thus also drawn into the identity of the one God.

Clinton Arnold: He indicates that the means of Christ’s dwelling in their hearts is through the exercise of faith (διὰ τῆς πίστεως). The passage seems to suggest a growing experience of nearness to the Lord, but more than that, a growing experience of Christ’s exercising his lordship and reign over every area of their lives. Prior to coming to know Christ, the hearts of Paul’s readers were darkened, hard, and alienated from God (4:19). Paul has already prayed that their hearts might become enlightened (1:18). Now he prays that Christ will dwell in their hearts in a fuller measure. This prayer is thus an important prelude to the ethical admonitions of Eph 4–6. Paul prays for a deeper experience of the empowering Christ so that the lordship of Christ may be exhibited in their lives in ever-increasing ways.

Grant Osborne: At first glance Paul’s asking Christ to dwell in the hearts of the Ephesians may seem strange, since Christ comes into the heart of every believer at conversion. Paul’s request here is similar to “be filled with the Spirit” in 5:18. How can Christ take up residence and the Spirit fill Christians when they are already “in Christ” and in the Spirit? The key is that Paul is referring not to the initial indwelling but to the continuing Christian life. Paul has in mind the process of spiritual growth, so his prayer here is that each of the readers might experience more and more of Christ’s indwelling presence and the increased power this produces. When our thought life is continually strengthened with the presence of Christ and the Spirit, spiritual growth will be the natural result.

Andrew Lincoln: “Christ in the heart” is a popular notion in certain traditions of piety. It is interesting to note, therefore, that it is found in this particular formulation only here in the NT. What is its significance in the writer’s prayer for his readers? Its force is that the character of Christ, the pattern of the Christ-event, should increasingly dominate and shape the whole orientation of their lives.

B.  Goal of Deepened Roots and Foundation of Love

that you, being rooted and grounded in love

2 metaphors: tree and building – both botanical and architectural images

Stephen Fowl: Being rooted in God’s love provides a stability or security from which to grow. Thus growth in love of God and love of neighbor is both the vehicle and the end of the Christian life.

Clinton Arnold: Both of these metaphors and the content of the prayer may anticipate Paul’s concern that his readers be sufficiently well established so that when the storm of trials and testing comes, they will not be “tossed around by the waves and carried about by every wind of teaching” (4:14). Being rooted and established in this love goes beyond the emotional experience and assurance that comes from being near to God, although this is an integral part of what it entails.

Harold Hoehner: In the present context Paul states that believers are firmly rooted and grounded in love. This root and foundation of love refers to God having chosen them, predestined them, bestowed them in the beloved, redeemed them, made them a heritage, sealed them with the Holy Spirit, made them alive, raised and seated them in the heavenlies, and placed them equally in one new person in the body of Christ. Therefore, for the believer, the origin of this love is God’s love. Having established this root and foundation, Paul makes his next appeal.

C.  Goal of Deepened Comprehension of the Love of Christ

may be able to comprehend with all the saints

what is the breadth and length and height and depth,

and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge

Abbott: The four words seem intended to indicate, not so much the thoroughness of the comprehension as the vastness of the thing to be comprehended.

Klyne Snodgrass: The first half of 3:19 is a good example of an oxymoron (a combination of words that appears contradictory): Paul prays that they may know the love that is beyond knowing. This is language from someone who has been surprised and overwhelmed with Christ’s love.

Stephen Fowl: Here several things should be said about the immeasurable, infinite love of Christ, which “surpasses knowledge.”

  • First, although immeasurable and infinite, Christ’s love can provide the root and foundation of the Christian life. This foundation is necessary but is not the end or goal of the Christian life. Further, as the end of the Christian life, this love must remain infinite, beyond measure. Otherwise one can imagine some point at which one would fully comprehend and be inhabited by that love. Growing in the knowledge and experience of God’s love never reaches an end. This love has no limit; we cannot exhaust it.
  • Second, because knowledge of this love “surpasses knowledge,” our comprehension of it can only be given as a gift from God. It must be revealed. Hence it is important to recall that this discussion is cast in terms of Paul’s request to God on behalf of the Ephesians. Paul does not admonish the Ephesians to sharpen their faculties so that they may comprehend what a talented, ordered, and properly trained mind might comprehend on its own. Rather, he asks God to give it to the Ephesians.
  • Finally, it is clear that the phrase “love of Christ” here must refer to Christ’s love and not human love directed to Christ. Yet it would be extremely odd if growth in knowledge of Christ’s love did not deepen and enhance believers’ love of God, love of neighbor, and following Chrysostom, love of enemy.

Clinton Arnold: Paul thus prays that the readers will be able to grow in their comprehension of the divine power and love. He wants them to know that they now serve an omnipotent God, who is sufficiently capable of keeping all of his people under the umbrella of his vast love regardless of the strength and number of supernatural powers working to sever believers from that love. The tremendous love of Christ will also provide incentive and motivation for the readers to manifest love toward one another.

Grant Osborne: The verb “grasp” (katalambanō) is a military term used for attaining and capturing a goal. It refers to the complex process of overcoming obstacles to reach an objective and achieve victory. There is a four-dimensional objective Paul wants the Ephesians to grasp. The four dimensions function together to describe a single attribute of God that is quite ambiguous. They could refer to:

(1) the incredible power of God, which would be in keeping with 1:18–20, as well as this context;

(2) the multifaceted wisdom of God (3:10), so strongly emphasized in Ephesians and Colossians2 and the source of the revelation of the mysteries;

(3) the love of Christ (and of God), as in Romans 8:39 (“neither height nor depth … will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ”); and/or

(4) the mystery as God’s plan of salvation, which would fit the emphasis in 3:2, 9 on Paul’s stewardship of the mystery of God’s plan.

All of these explanations are viable, but none is ultimately verifiable. The text does mention divine love, as in option three, but Paul actually separates the four dimensions from love as two separate points. In the Greek there are two concepts to grasp, not one (as in the NIV). This verse literally says “to grasp what is the width and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ.”

Perhaps it is best to see all four of these dimensions as summing up this chapter. If this is the case they may be said to refer to a combination of the last three possibilities—the revealing of the mystery as a result of the love and wisdom of God. Paul is then asking for the multidimensional plan of God to work itself out in the church and the world, manifesting God’s wisdom and Christ’s love as one person after another is converted to Christ.

Harold Hoehner: It seems simplest to consider that to comprehend the love of Christ is beyond the capability of any human being. The very fact that Christ’s love expressed itself in his willingness to die on behalf of sinners is in itself beyond one’s comprehension. The reality of Christ’s love is overwhelming to all believers, from the point of conversion and continuing as growth in the knowledge of Christ progresses. No matter how much knowledge we have of Christ and his work, his love surpasses that knowledge. The more we know of his love, the more we are amazed by it. Paul is not denegrating knowledge, for it is greatly emphasized in this epistle (1:9, 17, 18; 3:3–5, 9; 4:13; 5:17). He even requests it in this very prayer (vv. 18, 19a), but here he wishes to stress Christ’s love as that which is beyond human comprehension.


that you may be filled up to all the fulness of God

Clinton Arnold: Paul has used the expression “all the fullness” (πᾶν τὸ πλήρωμα) on two other occasions, both in his letter to the Colossians. In his poetic praise to Christ, Paul declares that “all the fullness” was pleased to dwell in Christ (Col 1:19). The “fullness” (πλήρωμα) refers to the glory and presence of God analogous to the way that God filled the temple with his presence in the Old Testament (see comment on 1:23). Under the new covenant, the “fullness” becomes coextensive with the presence and power of the Holy Spirit because this is the principal way that God manifests his presence. Paul elsewhere connects the ministry of the Spirit with glory (e.g., 2 Cor 3:8, 18; see also 1 Pet 4:14). . .

By praying for the readers to be filled with the fullness of God, Paul is asking that they experience a greater measure of the divine presence in their lives. This is conceptually consistent with his central affirmation of 2:11–22: “the Lord is near” (cf. 2:13), which is alluded to when Paul begins the prayer with “for this reason.” Paul prays that they may experience that nearness to a far greater degree. Later, Paul will use “filling” language with respect to the Holy Spirit when he appeals to them to “be filled (πληροῦσθε) with the Spirit” (5:18). We have already observed that when Paul speaks of “fullness” (πλήρωμα), he has in mind the presence and work of the Spirit as mediating the divine presence to God’s people.

Paul thus wants Christ to dwell in their lives to a greater degree. He wants the Spirit to impart divine strength to them and desires for them to know and be rooted in the love of Christ (which the Spirit pours into the hearts of believers, Rom 5:5). Paul’s characterization of the church as the new temple (Eph 2:19–22) may have prompted him to use the language of fullness/filling here. Just as the glory of the Lord filled the temple under the old covenant, he earnestly prays that the divine glory will fill the new covenant temple.

Grant Osborne: In a very real sense being filled with God’s fullness is a reference to our being indwelt by the Holy Spirit, who is the presence of God living with us and within us (John 14:17). Moreover, since we experience this fullness “in Christ” (Col 2:10), this prayer-wish is mediated to us by the Triune Godhead. The fullness of God fills us both through the Spirit taking up residence within us and by Christ himself indwelling us (John 14:23; Eph 3:17). This is the meaning of spiritual growthit is a process by which the fullness of the Godhead burrows deeper and deeper into our lives as we yield ourselves ever more fully to his presence and power.

Andrew Lincoln: As believers are strengthened through the Spirit in the inner person, as they allow Christ to dwell in their hearts through faith, and as they know more of the love of Christ, so the process of being filled up to all the fullness of the life and power of God will take place.

Stan Mast: That, in turn, will give you an experience of “the fullness of God.”  This is the third hina clause, and with it Paul has reached the heights of prayer.  This is the highest blessing we could ever pray for.  It is the goal of all human life.  It is what we were made for.  Though all religions aim for this, it is utterly impossible for sinful human beings to attain it, except by the grace of God.  And that is precisely what Paul prays for here.  By the grace of God through the power of the Holy Spirit, those who have Christ dwelling in their hearts through faith can grasp the love of Christ in their experience.  Then, and only then, can we be filled to the measure of the fullness of God.  That last phrase surely cannot mean that we can contain God in ourselves, for that is impossible.  The finite cannot contain the infinite anymore than a teacup can contain the ocean.  It must mean that God will fill us with the fullness he intended in the beginning, the full humanity that has been ruined by sin, the fullness of life Christ came to bring, “the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”  (Ephesians 4)  The world has ever seen only one fully human being, in Christ.  God’s ultimate intent is to restore us all to the full glory of the image of God.  That’s what Paul prays for here.


Clinton Arnold: This doxology follows the typical threefold form of doxologies in the NT:

(1)  the dative case is used to indicate God as the recipient of the praise;

(2)  there is an ascription of praise; and

(3)  the doxology is concluded with an expression of the eternality of the praise.

This doxology differs from others in that it significantly expands on God as all-powerful in the first element.

A.  (:20) Reason for Hope and Optimism –

Praising the God who exceeds all of our expectations

Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or

think, according to the power that works within us

Kenneth Wuest: Paul says that God is able to do super-abundantly above and beyond what we ask or think, and then some on top of that.

Stephen Fowl: God is both sufficiently powerful to bring these things about and disposed to grant this petition because of God’s care for us. The verse goes further to indicate that God is disposed to grant even more than humans can ask or think.

Klyne Snodgrass: This doxology sums up the intent of the first half of the letter. We should praise God for his astounding work in Christ Jesus. Paul’s point is not merely that God is able to do beyond what we expect. Rather, this power is already at work in us (cf. the similar language in Col. 1:29, which describes God’s work in Paul’s ministry). God does not fit the limitations of our expectations. The language is reminiscent of Isaiah 55:8–9: God’s ways and thoughts are exceedingly beyond our ways and thoughts. God is at work and eager to work in us to achieve his purposes for salvation.

B.  (:21) Ultimate Goal –

Praising the God who deserves eternal glory

to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever

and ever.  Amen.”

Grant Osborne: “Glory” here refers to the recognition of God’s majesty, splendor, and worthiness to be worshipped by the saints. It is not that God needs us to glorify him; it is that we desperately need to acknowledge and celebrate his glory. We are the bride of Christ, and there can be no true marriage without our regularly telling our spouse that we love them.

Andrew Lincoln: In the second half of the letter he will exhort his readers to carry out their distinctive calling to be the Church in the world. He knows, however, that nothing short of an experience of the generous love of Christ, which roots and grounds them in love, will enable them to walk in the love to which he will exhort them (cf. 4:2, 15, 16; 5:2, 25, 28, 33; cf. also 6:23, 24). He knows also that nothing short of an experience of the greatness of the power of God at work within them and nothing short of a vision of the glory that belongs to God will sustain them in fulfilling the task to which God himself has called them. In other words, he has written to them in this particular way because he is aware that, ultimately, the profundity of their theological appreciation, appropriated in worship, will be far more effective in helping them to be what they were meant to be than merely piling moral exhortation upon moral exhortation.