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Paul prays for the church in Ephesians 3:17-19,
17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.
“God is love” (1 John 4:8), and Christ is “the exact representation of His nature” (Hebrews 1:3). Therefore, if Christ dwells in our hearts, then we too will manifest love. 1 John 4:16 says,
16 We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.
Love is evidence that we have been begotten by God and that God abides in us. So Paul bowed his knees and prayed that believers would be “rooted and grounded in love,” as “trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord” (Isaiah 61:3). If we are so grounded, we can then begin to know and comprehend the measure of the love of Christ, which is incomprehensible to the carnal mind (soul).
Recall what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 2:9, 10,
9 but just as it is written, “Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him.” 10 For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God.
Paul’s point was that fleshly eyes and ears of the soulish man are incapable of comprehending the things of the Spirit, but the new creation man of the Spirit is indeed capable to receiving the things of the Spirit. The new man which is begotten by God has spiritual ears and eyes that are ready to receive “the depths of God.”
Therefore, when Paul prays that we would be able to comprehend the love of God, he was praying specifically for those who had been begotten by God. They can measure, or survey, the love of God. To comprehend pictures a person surveying and taking the measurements of that which he is trying to understand. We see this illustrated in the negative in John 1:5,
5 The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.
Darkness is incapable of comprehending light, because it cannot surround it or take its measurement or define its boundaries. Darkness cannot survey light. But we who have the light of Christ in our hearts are able to know and comprehend the love of God, because the Spirit reveals these things to the new creation man.
I began to understand this more than 40 years ago when I first noticed something unusual going on inside of me. I discovered that I knew something that I did not believe. In other words, I knew something was true, but I did not believe it. This was my first awareness of the difference between soul and spirit and that each had a distinct conscious mind.
As I pondered this and prayed further about it, this awareness continued to grow, and I began to comprehend this great truth. Ultimately, I expressed this as “the two I’s” (or “eyes”), which I found in Romans 7.
Spirit, Soul, and Body
This is also how I came to understand 1 Corinthians 2:14-16 in terms of the soul and the spirit,
14 But a natural [psuchikos, “soulish”] man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. 15 But he who is spiritual [the spiritual “man” within, or the inner conscious mind of one’s spirit] appraised all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. 16 For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he will instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ.
Every man has a spirit, a soul, and a body (1 Thessalonians 5:23). Each part has a mind (conscious awareness) of its own. The body has a brain, the soul has a fleshly mind, and the spirit has a spiritual mind. The soulish mind (as Paul calls it) lacks the ability to comprehend deep spiritual truths.
Those who are dominated by the soulish mind are born of the flesh from the mortal, corruptible seed going back to Adam, who was made “a living soul” (Genesis 2:7 KJV). But those who are dominated by the spiritual mind are those who have the mind of Christ, for their identity (their I AM) has shifted from the “natural” man to the “new man.” So Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:45,
45 So also it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living soul.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.
Those who continue to identify with the first Adam are yet soulish and fleshly. Either they have never been begotten from above or, if they have, they have failed to shift their identity to this new spiritual man. So they remain rooted in the old man and its soulish mind and are unable to comprehend the things of the Spirit.
Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3:14-21 is for those who have an “inner man” (vs. 16) to be strengthened. The apostle presumes that they have been begotten by the Spirit and therefore have an inner man that is distinct from the soulish man of flesh. Paul was not praying as an evangelist to see more people converted to Christ. His prayer was for those already converted, that they would grow spiritually, be rooted in love, and survey the love of God so that they “may be filled up to all the fullness of God.”
This “fullness” (pleroma) was what Paul contemplated earlier in Ephesians 1:22, 23,
22 And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is His body, the fullness [pleroma, “fullness, completeness, full development”] of Him who fills all in all.
Believers are the first to be filled with the fullness of God. When they complete their work in the calling of Abraham, all families of the earth will join them in this fullness, because God “fills all in all” according to the promise in Psalm 8:6. Paul applies the pleroma on both levels: individual and universal, one forecasting the other, as we see in Romans 8:19.
Having presented his prayer request to God, Paul then gives a benediction in Ephesians 3:20, 21,
20 Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power [dunamis] that works within us, 21 to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever [aionos ton aionon, “age of the ages”]. Amen.
It is interesting that Paul prays that the church would comprehend the love of Christ and then remind us that He “is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think.” It sounds like it will take a long time to fully comprehend the works of God. Perhaps this is why Paul said earlier in Ephesians 2:7,
7 so that in the ages to come, He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
No matter how much we learn or comprehend spiritual things in this present age, our learning experience will continue into “the ages to come.” We will not be bored in the coming ages. There will always be new things to surprise us about our infinite God. We will have to wait until later to discover these aspects of God.
Meanwhile, in the here and now, God is able to do more than we can ask or think, because of “the power that works within us.” This power is dunamis, which Jesus promised just before His ascension. Acts 1:8 says, “but you will receive power [dunamis] when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.”
Paul closes his benediction in verse 21 by giving glory to God, noting that this glory was expressed in the Person of Christ and also in the church when it received dunamis from the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. This dunamis was not merely for the first century believers, nor was it to expire with the death of the last apostle. It was to continue “to all generations to the age of the ages.”
The age of the ages is a climactic age to come, just as the Song of Songs is the greatest of Songs and a King of Kings is the greatest of kings. We understand that there are at least two ages yet to come: first the Millennial Age between Christ’s second coming and the Great White Throne judgment; and secondly, the Age of Judgment which ends with the Creation Jubilee.
The common Jewish terminology in Paul’s day spoke of the 7th thousand-year period as “The Age,” that is, the Messianic Age. Paul may have been referring to this age, which was the climax of the first “week” of man’s history. Yet perhaps he was referring to the age of judgment that was to follow, as this age (I believe) is to last another six “weeks” (i.e., 42,000 years) until the Creation Jubilee after 49,000 years of Adamic history.