Ephesians 3:17b - 21

Sunday Morning Bible Study

April 2, 2006


Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians contained five requests: strengthened (:16); dwell (:17); comprehend (:18); know (:19); filled (:19).

:17  that you, being rooted and grounded in love …

in loveagape – brotherly love, affection, good will, love, benevolence

rootedrhizoo – to cause to strike root, to strengthen with roots, to render firm, to fix, establish, cause a person or a thing to be thoroughly grounded; perfect participle

Roots are where the tree draws it’s nourishment from.

Roots are where the tree gets it’s stability from.

groundedthemelioo – to lay the foundation, to found; to make stable, establish; perfect participle

This is what you build a house upon, the foundation. 

Love is foundational:

(John 13:34-35 NKJV)  "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. {35} "By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."
(1 Cor 13:1-3 NKJV)  Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. {2} And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. {3} And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.
(1 John 3:18 NKJV)  My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.

What’s at the foundation of your life?

Jesus said,
(Mat 7:24-27 NKJV)  "Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: {25} "and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. {26} "But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: {27} "and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall."

It’s the storms of life that show you what you’ve been built upon.

What’s sad is that though this is what Paul prays that they be built upon, they don’t stay there.

About thirty years later, Jesus writes a letter to the Ephesians:
(Rev 2:1-4 NKJV)  "To the angel of the church of Ephesus write, 'These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands: {2} "I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; {3} "and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name's sake and have not become weary. {4} "Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love.

Warren Wiersbe writes,

In the first two churches I pastored, we were privileged to construct new buildings, and in both projects it seemed we would never get out of the ground. In my second building program, we had to spend several thousand dollars taking soil tests because we were building over an old lake bed. For weeks, the men were laying out and pouring the footings. One day I complained to the architect, and he replied, “Pastor, the most important part of this building is the foundation. If you don’t go deep, you can’t go high.” That sentence has been a sermon to me ever since. [1]

Roots and foundations both need to be deep.

(Mat 13:20-21 NKJV)  "But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; {21} "yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles.
How deep are your roots in His love?

:18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height;

may be ableexischuo – to be eminently able, able, to have full strength – a very “strong” word

to comprehendkatalambano (“alongside” + “to take”) – to lay hold of; to apprehend; to lay hold of so as to make one’s own, to lay hold of effectively; to make one’s own, to take into one’s self; to seize upon, take possession of; to lay hold of with the mind; comprehend

It almost paints a picture of a ball player getting ready to catch a difficult ball.  Will he be “strong” enough to catch it?

What is it that needs to be comprehended?

In the context, it’s the love of God.

(Rom 5:8 NKJV)  But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
demonstratessunistao – to place together, to set one with another; to comprehend; to put together by way of composition or combination

God has given us a lesson for us at the cross.  Do we get it?

with all the saints – you can’t understand the full dimensions of God’s love by yourself.  You have to “get it” with the saints. You can’t disconnect the love of God from the love of the brethren.


A monk once came to Basil and said, “Speak a word, Father,” and Basil replied, “Thou shalt love the lord thy God with all thy heart”; and the monk went away at once. Twenty years later he came back and said, “Father, I have struggled to keep your word; now speak another word to me”; and Basil said, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself,” and the monk returned in obedience to his cell to keep that also.
- Benedicta Ward, The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, cited by Kathleen Norris, Books & Culture, Vol. 4, no. 2.
Bogus!!! You can’t love your brother from a “cell”.

Speaking of monks…


Fish and Chips
Lost on a rainy night, a nun stumbled across a monastery and requests shelter there. Fortunately, she’s just in time for dinner and was treated to the best fish and chips she had ever tasted. After dinner, she went into the kitchen to thank the chefs. She was met by two of the Brothers. The first one says, “Hello, I am brother Michael, and this is Brother Charles.” “I’m very pleased to meet you,” replies the nun. “I just wanted to thank you for a wonderful dinner. The fish and chips were the best I’ve ever had. Out of curiosity, who cooked what?” Brother Charles replied, “Well, I’m the fish friar.” She turned to the other Brother and says “then you must be....?” “Yes, I’m afraid I’m the chip monk.”

(1 John 4:7-11 NKJV)  Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. {8} He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. {9} In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. {10} In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. {11} Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

(1 John 4:20-21 NKJV)  If someone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? {21} And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.

Loving God and being loved by God is how we learn to love others.
The difficulties of loving others refines how we love God.
You can’t “get it” unless you love others.  You can’t live alone and grasp the love of God.

Width and length = horizontal.

Depth and height = vertical.  In a sense, Paul almost seems to be describing the cross.

At the cross, God joined us to each other – the width and length.  At the cross, God joined us to Him, the depth and height.

:19 to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge;

to knowginosko – to know, understand; a knowledge grounded on personal experience

(1 John 3:16 NKJV)  By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.

to knowginosko – to know … same word.

which passeshuperballo (“over” + “throw”) – to surpass in throwing, to throw over or beyond any thing; to transcend, surpass, exceed, excel

knowledgegnosis – knowledge; understanding; applies chiefly to the apprehension or understanding of facts or truths

How can you “know” something that is beyond knowing?

1.  Could it be that Paul is talking about knowing something beyond what you already know?

That seems to be a question that would puzzle an atheist.  An agnostic simply claims that he doesn’t know whether or not there is a God.  An atheist claims that he absolutely knows that there is no God.
For the atheist, I’d like to ask a couple of questions, “Do you claim to know everything?”  “Is it possible that God could exist outside of scope of your present knowledge?”
Did you ever hear about the dyslexic atheist? He says, “There is no dog”.
In a company of literary gentlemen, Daniel Webster was asked if he could comprehend how Jesus Christ could be both God and man.  “No Sir,” he replied, and added, “I should be ashamed to acknowledge Him as my Savior if I could comprehend Him.  If I could comprehend Him, He could be no greater than myself.  Such is my sense of sin, and consciousness of my inability to save myself, that I feel I need a superhuman Savior, one so great and glorious that I cannot comprehend Him.”
He’s bigger than we can comprehend.

2.  Could it be that Paul is saying that what he wants the Ephesians to know is something that you’ll never reach the end of knowing.  You don’t get to the point that you can say, “I get it, I have all there is to get”.

There was an old Christian who wrote the following poem on the walls of his prison cell regarding the love of God:
Could we with ink the ocean fill, and were the skies of parchment made;
Were every stalk on earth a quill, and every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above, would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole, though stretched from sky to sky.
There is always more.  You can never get to the end of God’s love.

I wonder if some of us wonder if anyone could ever love us?

Behind the scenes of an Arizona circus, Bobb Biehl started chatting with a man who trains animals for Hollywood movies:  “ ‘How is it that you can stake down a ten-ton elephant with the same size stake that you use for this little fellow?’ I asked, pointing to a baby elephant who weighed three hundred pounds.   “ ‘It’s easy ... ‘ the trainer said. ‘When they are babies, we stake them down. They try to tug away from the stake maybe ten thousand times before they realize that they can’t possibly get away. At that point, their ‘elephant memory’ takes over and they remember for the rest of their lives that they can’t get away from the stake.’
“Humans are sometimes like elephants. When we are teenagers, some unthinking, insensitive, unwise person says, ‘He’s not very good at planning,’ or ‘She’s not a leader,’ or ‘Their team will never make it,’ or, “No one could ever love you” and zap, we drive a mental stake into our minds.

- Bobb Biehl in Masterplanning. Leadership, Vol. 19, no. 1.

Could someone ever love you?  Yes.  God does.

:19  that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

may be filledpleroo – to make full, to fill up, i.e. to fill to the full

the fullnesspleroma – that which is (has been) filled; fulness, abundance

When Solomon dedicated the Temple, he prayed,

(1 Ki 8:27 NKJV)  "But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain You. How much less this temple which I have built!

If heaven can’t contain God, how can I be filled with all the fullness of God?  Wow.

Paul tells the Colossians:

(Col 2:9-10 NKJV)  For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; {10} and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.

completepleroo – to make full, to fill up, i.e. to fill to the full

You can have all that God has for you in Jesus.


“Dr. A. B. Simpson used an illustration which was about as good as any I ever heard. He said, ‘Being filled with the fullness of God is like a bottle in the ocean. You take the cork out of the bottle and sink it in the ocean, and you have the bottle completely full of ocean, but the bottle contains only a little bit of the ocean. So it is with the Christian.’ We are filled unto the fullness of God, but of course, we cannot contain all of God because God contains us; but we can have all of God that we can contain. If we only knew it, we could enlarge our vessel. The vessel gets bigger as we go on with God.”—A. W. Tozer (The Counselor)

But is there room?


Fitting more in

A while back I was reading about an expert on the subject of time management. One day this expert was speaking to a group of business students and, to drive home a point, used an illustration those students will never forget. As this man stood in front of the group of high-powered overachievers, he said, “Okay, time for a quiz.” Then he pulled out a one-gallon, wide-mouthed mason jar and set it on a table in front of him. Then he produced about a dozen fist-sized rocks and carefully placed them, one at a time, into the jar. When the jar was filled to the top and no more rocks would fit inside, he asked, “Is this jar full?” Everyone in the class said, “Yes.” Then he said, “Really?” He reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel. Then he dumped some gravel in and shook the jar causing pieces of gravel to work themselves down into the spaces between the big rocks. Then he asked the group once more, “Is the jar full?” By this time the class was onto him. “Probably not,” one of them answered. “Good!” he replied. He reached under the table and brought out a bucket of sand. He started dumping the sand in and it went into all the spaces left between the rocks and the gravel. Once more he asked the question, “Is this jar full?” “No!” the class shouted. Once again he said, “Good!” Then he grabbed a pitcher of water and began to pour it in until the jar was filled to the brim. Then he looked up at the class and asked, “What is the point of this illustration?” One eager beaver raised his hand and said, “The point is, no matter how full your schedule is, if you try really hard, you can always fit some more things into it!” “No,” the speaker replied, “that’s not the point. The truth this illustration teaches us is: If you don’t put the big rocks in first, you’ll never get them in at all.”

[1]Wiersbe, W. W. The Bible Exposition Commentary. Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1996, c1989. Eph 3:16.