Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 3:17d “that ye, being rooted and grounded in love,. . .”
Paul again mixes his metaphors, using one from the field of botany, another from architecture. “Rooted” bespeaks a tree planted deep in rich soil. “Grounded” depicts a building set on a strong foundation. The lesson is, love nourishes and supports the believer. A believer not saturated with love is like a tree without roots and a building without foundations.
We know we are being empowered by the Spirit (3:16) and indwelt by Jesus (3:17) when our hearts become flooded with love. A Spirit-empowered, Christ-indwelt, believer has love as the motive of thought and deed. Such a one has no axes to grind, no hidden agendas, no ulterior motives. He has nothing to hide because all is flowing from, and built on, love.
For a Christian, love is neither a mere passing emotion nor a weak sentiment, but the supreme and dominant principle of life. We do not make a shallow commitment to love, but seek to be “rooted” in it, to penetrate love deeply, knowing it is the rich soil from which all our life is nourished. We realize, the deeper the root, the better the output. The ancients often worshipped trees, for few things are more arresting than a majestic tree. A towering piece of timber can almost take away one’s breath and halt a person in his tracks. Why can trees grow tall and majestic? Their roots feed at unseen reservoirs and secret streams deep down in the earth. The most important part of a tree is the part we cannot see. Visible sections yield beauty and fruit, but totally depend upon the roots we do not see.
In addition to being the soil in which our life is “rooted,” love is also the rock on which our faith is “grounded.” We are established on, as well as in, love. It is the bed-rock foundation of our lives. A well “grounded” life will not show cracks and flaws through failures in the foundation.
Do not run ahead of yourself. Do not chase enhancements instead of shoring up roots and foundations. Seek knowledge, but only after pursuing deeper love. Seek more power in prayer, but only after asking for increased love. Above all else, seek love, for in it we are “rooted and grounded.”
Eph. 3:18a “May be able to comprehend. . .”
This verse, an oft quoted Bible text, is an incomplete sentence. Its object, due to the context, is understood to be the love of Christ.
Paul’s third request in this intercessory prayer is for his readers to be enabled to learn what is worth learning, the love of Christ. We are all cursed with a desire to obtain useless information. Due to my enjoyment of trivia, a friend calls me the world’s largest source of useless information. Learning can be addicting, and if careless, we find ourselves learning more and more about less and less till we finally know much about nothing.
This is the “information age,” yet we often know precious little about things that really matter. Paul prays we will be enabled to learn more of Christ’s love. Never stop contemplating it. Christianity is a relationship. Stay focused on what keeps the relationship strong–Christ’s love for us.
Eph. 3:18b “. . .with all saints. . .”
Only Christians can know the love of Christ. The lost have no conception of it. Any effort to comprehend Christ’s love is a grasp to be attempted only by people with sure footing (3:17). Only love can know love.
Increased knowledge of Christ’s love is for only believers, and for all believers. It is within the reach of us all, not only of the preacher or deacon or the mild-mannered and pleasant by nature. No Christian has the right to say, “This is not for me.” We are all “rooted and grounded in love,” and thus expected to blossom and develop in love. From the root and foundation, growth is expected. We dip our lives in love in order to rise higher in our understanding of love. Growing in our awareness of Christ’s love is the fruit and superstructure of our root and foundation.
Eph. 3:18c “. . .what is the breadth,. . .”
Leaving botany and architecture, Paul now turns to mathematics, using the sum of parts as expressive of the whole. He teaches a lesson in heavenly geometry, or more technically, in mensuration, a branch of mathematics which deals with the determination of length, area, or volume.
In picturing the love of Christ as something with true dimensions, Paul draws it as being real. The love of Christ is true substance, not fiction or mere sentimentality. Paul deemed it actual essence, something one could study and ponder a lifetime. This is what he wanted us to do.
Paul challenges us to try to grasp the vastness of Christ’s by ever considering it from the perspective of four magnitudes. He is in essence summoning us to contemplate infinity from every direction. Paul’s image encompasses the whole Universe, with its vast expanse, as if a spectator is standing on a precipice from which he glances down into a bottomless abyss, looks up into the boundless air above, and gazes from horizon to horizon. Whatever direction he stares, sight becomes lost in infinity.
The first magnitude of Christ’s love is “breadth.” “It is as broad as humanity” (Maclaren), extending to all. YHWH said, “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 45:22). Jesus said, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature” (MK 16:15).
“The breadth” of Christ’s love is a major topic in Ephesians. It extends to Gentiles as well as Jews (2:18), to all ranks and races. I pray my sermons on this theme have broadened our understanding of this “breadth.”
Eph. 3:18d “. . .and length,. . .”
The second magnitude of Christ’s love is “length,” a reference to time. God said, “I have loved thee with an everlasting love” (JR 31:3). Christ’s love stretches into infinity future. Old age cannot wear it out, continual troubles cannot deplete it. But wait! This is not all that is contained in the “length.” Christ’s love also stretches into infinity past. He chose us “before the foundation of the world” (EP 1:4). His love, pulsating from eternity past, is as ancient as the Ancient of Days who sits on the throne.
The “length” of Christ’s love is like the railroad tracks which fascinated me as a boy. I would stand on the tracks and look down them as far as I could see. They seemed to converge and then continue forever. My amazement increased when I turned and looked the opposite direction, for the tracks did the same thing that way, too. Standing on the turntable of time, whichever way we look, we see the love of Christ extending forever.
If Christ took only ten minutes of His time to consider us, we would be highly favored. This alone would be worth singing about. We would spend the rest of our lives telling others about the ten minutes Christ held us in His thoughts. Yet Paul calls us to try to grasp the idea Christ has thought on us from eternity past and will continue to into eternity future.
Eph. 3:18e “. . .and depth,. . .”
The third magnitude of Christ’s love is “depth.” Since His love is broad and long, do not assume it is shallow. It reached all the way down to where we were, “dead in trespasses and sins” (2:1). Oh how low Jesus came with wondrous love, low enough to reach the lowest abyss of our misery. Christ’s stoop of love undermined the deepest mines of sin. However far we fall, in repentance we find everlasting arms of love underneath.
We echo David’s cry, “Thou hast delivered my soul from the lowest hell. . . .He brought me up also out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay” (PS 86:13; 40:2). Jesus still comes down into our dark, dingy world and instead of His robes becoming besmirched, whatever He touches comes clean. He touches dirt, it becomes pure. He touches sinners, they become saints.
Eph. 3:18f “. . .and height;. . .”
The fourth magnitude of Christ’s love is “height.” Do not assume a love which is broad, long, and deep must necessarily be stunted. His love is lofty and sublime, reaching high enough to seat us in heavenly places (2:6) now, and to take us to Heaven when we die. “Thy mercy, O Lord, is in the heavens; and thy faithfulness reacheth unto the clouds” (PS 36:5).
It is important to note that “depth” and “height” are one dimension. “Depth” begins at the top and measures down, “height” begins at the bottom and measures up. The two distances are equal. Thus, the “depth” Christ’s love descended measures the “height” His love lifts us. To help us conceptualize the “depth and height” of Christ’s love, envision its top as being the throne, its bottom being the garden sepulchre. Though King of Glory, the Author of Life descended to death in a grave. He who indwelt the bosom of the Father entered the womb of a virgin in route to the womb of a tomb.
The “depth” of Christ’s love brought Him from throne to grave, thus the “height” of His love can lift us from our grave to His throne. We can by God’s grace rise from the lowest degradation to enjoy the highest dignity.
“Breadth, length, depth, height”–the purpose of the four magnitudes is to bespeak vastness. Whatever direction believers look, we see the love of Christ–above us, below us, before us, behind us, to our right, to our left. Christ’s love travels every direction, wherever needed, whenever needed. Once the truth of this thought becomes our pillow, our sleep will be sweet.