On a Thursday in October, I finished teaching through Ephesians for the sixth time in six years. Having one student in Prison Epistles this year permitted me to employ Socrates’ teaching method extensively. It bears good fruit.
This year I dug deeper into Ephesians 3:17-18 and discovered a well of truth that has been delighting my soul. I hope it will yours as well. First the context.
Eph. 3:14’s “For this cause” is the closing parenthesis of the parenthetical statement Paul began in 3:2. The opening parenthesis is the “For this cause” in 3:1. The “cause” that motivated Paul to bow in prayer is found in 2:21-22. God is building us into a temple in which He will dwell by His Spirit.
Scenic Exegetical Detour: In Eph. 2:22 the word translated habitation (KJV) or dwelling (NASB) occurs 18x throughout the OT, but it is most frequently used (10x) in statements about Heaven as the habitation or dwelling place of God. Perhaps Paul had Solomon’s use of this term (1 Kings 8:39, 43, 49; cf. Psa. 33:14 [LXX 32:14]) in the back of His mind? Though Solomon had built a magnificent temple for worshiping Yahweh, he knew Heaven was Yahweh’s dwelling place. But Paul seems to be saying that God intends to have a change of residence some day: we will be His habitation!
Because God is in this building program, Paul prays that He would strengthen the Ephesians inwardly by His Spirit so that (purpose infinitive) Christ may dwell in their hearts (16-17a). Wait a minute, Paul. You said yourself that “he that does not have the Spirit of Christ is none of His” (Rom. 8:9). Why are you praying for Christ to dwell in their hearts when He already does?
I think Paul would say, “Notice that I used katoikeo, not oikeo or enoikeo.” The verb katoikeo can denote taking up permanent residence (cf. Mat. 2:23; 4:13). Louw-Nida offer, “to live or dwell in a place in an established or settled manner.” I don’t think the permanence of Christ’s dwelling is at issue here, for Christ does not enter and dwell in a new believer’s life only temporarily. He enters intent to stay eternally.
Rather, the focus of “dwell” in Eph. 3:17 seems to be on what dwelling in an established or settled manner implies: making oneself completely at home in the residence. Here then is the crux of the matter. In order for us to be the permanent dwelling place of God, we must first by strengthened by the Spirit so that Christ may make himself fully at home in our lives – by faith.
By faith! Whose faith? Surely, ours not Christ’s. And why faith? What additional faith/trust is requisite for Christ to make himself fully at home in our lives? Faith that gladly, willingly allows Him access to every room, attic and cellar, closet and shed of my life. Faith that believes any renovations of heart and life He wants are good and in my best interest. Faith that believes His plans are better than mine, His paths are perfect. Indeed, it is a profoundly strong faith that is needed, thus Paul’s prayer for inner strengthening by the Spirit.
And here is that joy-well I mentioned: v. 18-19a. “that you may be able to comprehend with all the saints length and breadth and height and depth and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge ….”
To be honest, v. 18 never meant much to me before this semester. Most of the commentators I’ve read after like to soar eloquent on the height, depth, length, and breadth of Christ’s love. His condescension; the universal scope of his love; the cross as the measure of the length of his love. Don’t get me wrong. Those are all marvelous truths, but they didn’t resonate with me in this context.
Then it occurred to me that “to know” in Greek can indicate experiential knowledge and not just cognitive knowledge. That’s when the light turned on for me. Paul is talking about experiencing the unlimited love of Christ in all of its dimensions! That’s why he opened v. 18 with a “that” (KJV) or “so that” (NASB)—this verse indicates the purpose for Christ’s dwelling in our hearts.
Christ wants to make himself fully at home in our hearts so that He can fill all the “rooms” of our lives with His limitless love. Even though his love surpasses knowledge (cognitively), it can be known experientially! Ah, here is a joy-generating thought: If I, by faith, grant Christ unhindered access to every dimension of my life, He, whose love always has my best interest and his greatest glory at heart, will allow me to experience His unfathomable love in all of its limitlessness!
Herein lies the beauty of Christ in us, “the hope of glory.” It glory now and greater glory yet to come! Who wouldn’t want to experience the limitless love of Christ?
O Father, would you not by your Spirit strengthen me mightily that your Son may make himself fully at home in my heart so that I might come to know experientially the vastness of his love. Amen.