Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 3:19a “And to know the love of Christ,. . .”
Verse 18 challenged us to contemplate the vastness of Christ’s love from the perspective of four magnitudes. Its “breadth” reaches everyone, its “length” extends from everlasting to everlasting, its “depth” stoops to our level, its “height” lifts us to the throne of glory. Paul stressed these dimensions in order to stimulate us mentally. He wants us to “comprehend,” to think on these things, to dwell on them. Isaac Watts conveys the idea in writing, “When I survey the wondrous cross.” It takes time to survey, to contemplate, to “comprehend,” to take in and absorb the love of Christ. People who demand instant gratification will often be disappointed in Christianity. The song, “Take Time to be Holy,” is still valid. For success in life, we have to slow down, to take time, “to comprehend” Christ’s love.
Contemplation, though, is not all there is. We take time “to comprehend” the four magnitudes of Christ’s love, but then press on to a fifth magnitude–experience, “to know the love of Christ.” This is the focus of verse 19. Head knowledge must translate into heart knowledge. Christ’s love is truth to be pondered in the mind, but also a fire to be ever blazing in the heart. Samuel Rutherford, writing from his prison, described Christ’s love as “the hottest coal that ever I felt.” In contemplating the immensity of Christ’s love for us, remember to experience its intensity.
As we seek to measure the cube of Christ’s love, it is easy to become lost in awe, but we must regain our equilibrium and know as much of it as we can. Muse over the extent of Christ’s love, do not overlook knowing the love which fills the expanse. Never give up the effort due to its vastness.
To “comprehend” and “know” Christ’s love are rewarding pursuits, well worth the effort. They yield at least a fourfold blessing. A believer whose mind and heart are fixed on the love of Christ will have a life characterized, first of all, by comfort. Contemplating and experiencing Christ’s love has upheld us in sorrow, uplifted us in failure, and upended us in error. We are steadied in life’s most trying hours by knowing He loves us.
In Spain, Napoleon’s troops opened a dungeon which had been sealed since the Inquisition. Inside, a chain fastened to the anklebone of a skeleton bespoke the confinement of a man who had been incarcerated for his faith, forgotten, and allowed to starve. This man did not die without a witness. He had used a sharp piece of metal to cut into the rock wall a cross. At the four points of the cross he had etched “height, depth, breadth, and length.” Even while starving to death in solitary confinement, the awe of God’s love in Christ overwhelmed him, and comforted him to the end.
A believer whose mind and heart are fixed on the love of Christ will have a life characterized, secondly, by commitment. Thoughts and passions translate into deeds. One cannot concentrate on the love of Christ, and remain the same. His love changes people. Count Zinzendorf, who claimed serving Christ was “his one passion,” traced the decisive moment in his life to a time when he was contemplating a picture of the crucified Christ. Taking time to “survey” the scene, he was overwhelmed with Christ’s love, and asked, “Thou hast done this for me; what can I do for Thee?” This moment of sincere contemplation became the impulse for his subsequent career.
A believer whose mind and heart are fixed on the love of Christ will have a life characterized, thirdly, by communion. We will sense ourselves being drawn irresistibly to love Christ more. This is not only for deep mystics, but is to be the norm for all believers. We do not consider His love only abstractly, but in order to enjoy more direct intimacy with Him. We seek Him. Every Christian should desire to know Jesus better. The new birth implants in us a loving instinct, a desire which clamors for satisfaction. We identify with William Cowper, who yearned to love Jesus more,
“Lord, it is my chief complaint
That my love is weak and faint.”
A believer whose mind and heart are fixed on the love of Christ will have a life characterized, fourthly, by compassion. The love of Christ conforms its admirers unto itself. The old painters used to portray John the Beloved with a face similar to His Master’s. The painters were making a valid statement. Anyone enamored with Christ’s love, will eventually begin to love like Jesus, be like Jesus, and look like Jesus.
Eph. 3:19b “. . .which passeth knowledge,. . .”
Paul here uses a figure of speech known as oxymoron, wherein contradictory terms are used back to back for dramatic effect. In challenging us “to know the love of Christ,” Paul puts us on the trail of something “which passeth knowledge.” A paradox indeed. “To know” Christ’s love is an ideal to which we never fully attain. We ever press toward it, and continuously draw nearer and nearer, but though it invites us, it also transcends us.
As we learn more, we become more conscious of ignorance. Chalmers expressed it mathematically, “The wider the diameter of light, the greater is the circumference of darkness.” The more we know, the more points of contact we have with the unknown. Know all of Christ’s love you can. Be content to admire the rest. To know we cannot know all is the beginning of knowledge, to crave to know all we can is the beginning of success.
The love of Christ is our all in all. It is our primer as children, and as we age, it becomes the most stupendous and amazing element of our faith. A prisoner, name unknown, etched these words on a prison wall:
Could we with ink the oceans 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 oceans dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole
Though stretched from sky to sky.
Eph. 3:19c “. . .that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God.”
“That” means “in order that.” The wonderful possibility presented in this text is premised on what has preceded, having one’s essence focused on the love of Christ. Paul’s intercessory prayer ended with a climax worthy of itself. He began the prayer with a request for blessings to come from the reservoir of God’s “glory” (3:16). The Apostle finishes his intercession with a request for the reservoir to be turned upside down and poured upon us.
“There can be nothing above or beyond this wonderful petition” (Maclaren). In it all blessing is contained and consummated. This is the ultimate petition of prayer, a request so bold that we would never dare to use it were it not recorded in Holy Writ. Some of us are nevertheless afraid to breathe this prayer for ourselves for fear we might overstep the bounds of spiritual propriety. We often pray for more of God, but when did any of us last pray for “all” His communicable attributes to be given us? The inhibition in and of itself is a rebuke to our low lives and anemic expectations.
I fear we often believe more in the power of sin than in the power of God. When self becomes enmeshed in a sin, we often give in to it, become filled with it, and therefore think it impossible to be “filled” with God. The fact we believe we cannot be “filled” with God is one reason our lives are often shallow. We must deem it possible before we will even try to seek it.
Be content with nothing less than what this prayer calls us to. Give self neither rest nor sleep. Without ceasing, pray this for ourselves. I dare us to pray it with sincerity, to make it the pursuit of the rest of our life. Ask henceforth not only for more of God, but for “all” of God. The request is taught us by Paul, recorded in the Bible, and thus something attainable.
As believers our birthright is to be “filled” with God, to enjoy the ultimate human experience. To be full of God means to be dominated by Him, to have every thought, motive, and deed controlled by Him. It means to be so saturated with God that there is room for sin. A person “filled” with God is enthralled with Jesus, dead to evil, and sees no attractions in it. Successful saints send “their souls onwards to that place where their bodies are one day to go, to the throne where Jesus sits and reigns” (Spurgeon).
Seek this “fullness,” but be sure to pursue it aright. Errant holiness teachings have harmed many believers. Certain groups stress signs, wonders, experiences, manifestations, etc. Believers who lack such outward exhibitions often begin to doubt, “What must I do to have the infilling–fast, pray through, speak with tongues?” One can easily receive the impression God made it difficult for us to be “filled” with Himself. This is rank heresy.
“God is love” (1 J 4:8), and what is love other than a desire to give self wholly to another? God wants to pour His “fullness” into our emptiness. He does not have to be persuaded to do what He yearns to do. We do not have to pry His fingers apart. His heart and hand are always open.
To be “filled,” the burning issue is not a particular, momentary experience, but an ongoing, growing relationship. Ours is a precarious fullness. Our lives leak. Thus, a one-time event will never do. We must remain immersed in the sea of God’s “fullness.” Jesus said, “He that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst” (JN 6:35). This does not always describe me. I am often depleted. I am tired of anemia, aren’t you? I want more, don’t you? I want “all,” don’t you?
The solution lies in uninterrupted relationship. Stay close to Jesus all the time. Abide in Him. Focus on His love. Meditate on Him. Talk to Him. Carry your heavenly seat with you and regularly sit in it to pray.