To Know the Love of God

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.\

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.\

(Ephesians 3:14-21, ESV)

I love Paul’s prayer for the church in Ephesus. In this letter, like his others, Paul sought to address particular challenges the church was facing, key things they needed to understand, and ways in which their lives needed to change to conform more fully to what God desired of them. Paul knew that he had to address all of these important aspects, but even more than these things, he desired something much bigger, something more important and life-transforming for them.

Paul knew that the life of a follower of Christ was not merely about knowing the right things (orthodoxy) and doing the right things (orthopraxy), but being in a relationship with God where God’s power, through the Holy Spirit, would be at work within them to strengthen them and ground them in the love of God. He prayed that God would dwell within them in powerful ways, the main fruit of that indwelling being their ability to know the vastness of Christ’s love and to be filled with the fullness of God.

Pauls’ prayer challenges me to reflect on how I tend to pray for those I am leading in a Bible study. If I am honest with myself, much of the time I pray that they will be open to learn, that God will use the lesson to help them grow in faith and faithfulness to God. These are good things to pray, and I’ve seen God answer these prayers time and time again. However, what I don’t tend to pray is that those I teach be rooted and grounded in love, or have the strength to comprehend the unfathomable vastness of God’s love for them in Christ. Paul’s prayer pushes me to consider what my prayers for my students may be lacking.

Rereading and meditating on Paul’s prayer gives me some insight into why he believed these things were so important to pray for the church in Ephesus, and in turn for us today. When we teach only for right beliefs and right behaviors, people may pursue these things for a season, but over time they may get distracted, and their convictions may fade or weaken. We need a powerful, motivating force that enables us, over time, to persevere in pursuing right knowledge and right behavior when things are difficult, or when others criticize us. We need the powerful motivation of God’s love for us, experienced through Christ, to live out our faith well in spite of hardship or distractions. When I experience and understand something of the immeasurable love that God has for me, my soul responds in gratitude and obedience. As we come to know that love, God fills us with His fullness, and we become more open to His transforming work within us.

Paul concludes his prayer by affirming God’s ability to accomplish far more than we can imagine as His power works within us through the Holy Spirit. That transforming power brings about real change, and the starting point for that change is our being rooted and grounded in God’s love for us. When we begin to grasp that great love, it helps us respond in kind with a love that moves us in the direction of obedience and growth.

I remember a girl who once told me that she believed God loved everyone else, but He did not, could not love her. I, and others, sought to love and convince her of God’s love for her, but she did not respond. In her inability to believe and accept God’s love for her, she gave up following God and walked away from the youth ministry I was involved in. I grieved her departure.

Believing in and understanding something of God’s great love for us is foundational to our walk with God and a catalyst to spiritual growth. As you pray for those you teach or lead in Bible study, be sure to pray as Paul did, that they would be rooted and grounded in love, that God would be powerfully at work within them to see that love more clearly, and that they be open to God’s transforming work within them.

Father, I marvel at your steadfast love for me! As I pursue Bible study and seek to know you better, help me to grow in my understanding and appreciation of the greatness of your love, and may it move me to love you better and follow you more fully. I pray that those I teach will gain more than mere knowledge and changes in behavior. May they grow in their experiential knowledge of your love for them, and may that become the power within them that accomplishes more than they can imagine. To you be the glory! Amen.

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