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.

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