Rooted and Founded in Love

When Paul says that his readers are rooted and founded in love (Ephesians 3:17), he is not speaking about an abstract concept or a general feeling. Rather, his readers have been rooted and founded in love because they have been incorporated into the one body of believers that includes both Jews and Gentiles.

According to Paul, it was God’s love that put the plan into motion to bring all things together in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 1:4b-10). Among the “all things” being brought together in Christ is humanity itself. Paul reminds his Gentile readers that apart from Christ they were:

alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.” (Ephesians 2:12-16)

In the church in which Jews and Gentiles were learning to live together through faith in Christ, love was more than just an emotion or a state of mind. Love was the foundation of their daily lives together. Through the cross of Christ, God was breaking down the dividing wall (Ephseians 2:14) and “killing the hostility” (Ephesians 2:16) that existed between God’s covenant people and the rest of humankind.

When Paul gives thanks, then, for the love that his readers have for ALL the saints (Ephesians 1:15), he does so in part because their love, lived out within the community of faith, was evidence that God’s eternal plan was coming to fruition in their midst.

Where Does Christ Dwell?

In Ephesians 3:17, Paul prays that Christ might “dwell in your hearts through faith,” being “rooted” and “founded” in love. Within the sentence structure, “in your hearts” is parallel to “in the inner person” in the previous verse. In Ephesians 3:16-17, then, both “to be strengthened with power through the Holy Spirit” and “for Christ to dwell in your hearts through faith” are individual realities. Christ dwells in the heart of each individual believer.

Previously, however, Paul had spoken about the entire church – both Jew and Gentile now as one in Christ through faith – being built together as a “holy temple in the Lord” and “a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit,” established on the “foundation” of the apostles with Christ Jesus as the “cornerstone”. (Ephesians 2:19-22). Here, Christ dwells in the community of faith as a whole.

Paul, then, can use the same figure of speech to talk about both individual and corporate realities. The church is like a temple, but so is the individual Christian. Paul uses an architectural term – “foundation” – to speak about them both. (The noun themelios “foundation” in Ephesians 2:20; the passive form of the verb themelioo “to be founded” in Ephesians 3:17).

How are the corporate and individual realities related?

Most of the first three chapters of Ephesians deal with God’s eternal purpose of creating one new corporate people of God, now revealed and put into effect through the work of Christ. Ephesians 3:17 comes in the context of a prayer and doxology which Paul offers at the conclusion of this first section of his letter.

In his prayer, Paul asks that the corporate reality which God has created in Christ as part of his eternal plan (“the church is a holy temple and the dwelling place of God”) might become a living reality for every individual Christian (“for Christ to dwell in your hearts by faith”). It through faith in Christ, in fact, that every individual is incorporated into the corporate reality.

The Big God in Ephesians 3:14-21

Paul concludes the first section of his letter to the Ephesians with a prayer and a doxology. In Ephesians 3:14-21, we find that Paul worships a very big God.

God is the father (pater) of every family (patria) in heaven and earth (Ephesians 3:14-15).

The first three chapters of Ephesians describes how God has acted in Jesus to unite both Jews and Gentiles in one family of God, and to bring all things in heaven and earth together under the lordship of Christ.

God is rich (ploutos) in glory (Ephesians 3:16). The word “ploutos” indicates a large quantity of something and ordinarily refers to an abundance of material possessions (i.e, “riches” or “wealth”). Paul frequently uses the word as a figure of speech, to describe the exceptional degree to which God possesses some characteristic. God is rich in glory (Romans 9:23, Ephesians 1:18, Ephesians 3:16,  Philippians 4:19, Colossians 1:17). He is rich in grace (Ephesians 1:7, 2:7, 3:8). He is rich in kindness (Romans 2:4). The concrete word-picture of abundance or fullness here relates to the more abstract word for “fullness” in Ephesians 3:19.

Paul prays that his readers might be inwardly strengthened with the power of God’s spirit and that Christ might dwell in their hearts by faith – and not just a little bit – but in a degree commensurate with the riches of God’s great glory (Ephesians 3:16-17).

God fills every dimensions of the universe (Ephesians 5:18). Paul prays that his readers might have the power to comprehend the breadth, length, height and depth.

Is Paul speaking about the dimensions of God’s love, as most translators take it? Quite possibly. Just before he uses this phrase, Paul says that his readers are “rooted” and “have their foundations” in love. Immediately after using this phrase, Paul prays that his readers might know the love of Christ. But Paul could also be speaking again about God’s great glory, or about God’s essential grandeur – his fullness – (Ephesians 3:19).

The love of Christ surpasses understanding (Ephesians 3:19). Paul has just prayed that his readers might have the power to grasp the greatness of God – his love, his glory and/or his essential nature. Now he prays that they might know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.

God is the fullness (pleroma) of all things (Ephesians 3:19). Fullness is a quality of God in John’s gospel and in certain letters of Paul (cf. John 1:16, Ephesians 1:23, Ephesians 4:13, Colossians 1:19, Colossians 2:9). Here, it may to refer to God’s completeness or perfection, or simply to the sum of the good qualities God possesses. (Later Gnostics will turn pleroma into a technical word in their philosophy.)

Paul prays that his readers might be filled (plerothete) up to the measure of the fullness (pleroma) of God. God, whose very nature is filled with all good things and virtues of character, fills those who belong to him with his own fullness.

God’s power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:22).

A big God indeed.

Murder in the Palace

2 Samuel 11:1-15

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to do be able to do anything that you wanted to do, to have anything that you wanted to have? No one could stop you or threaten you. As the king of an ancient empire, David had that power. He could do whatever he wanted to do. He could have whatever he wanted to have. Ancient kings had absolute power and David was no exception.

This was a new voice in David’s head. You have power. Do what you want. Take what you want. It is yours. But there was another voice, an older voice. And this voice said that all of God’s people are subject to God’s law. You shall not murder. You shall not sleep with the wife of another man. You shall not take what is not yours. You shall not deceive. You shall not covet what belongs to your neighbor.

David had to choose which voice to listen to. The old voice seemed irrelevant and out of date. It belonged to the time when the Israelites were a bunch of backward hicks. It belonged to the wilderness and to the unsettled days of yesterday. But now Israel was an empire and David was the emperor.

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A Christian pastor in Caesar's army