Read the full study here.
If you have been around our joint Member’s ministry for any length of time, you will know that in addition to an in-depth, serious Bible study emphasis, together we have an aggressive missionary side as to what we are seeking to accomplish. Our partnership in ministry is much more than weekly Bible studies in the House and Senate: We are purposefully leveraging the spiritual fruit of the D.C. ministry into worldwide expansion. Via the influence of you Members on the Hill we are planting new ministries — not only in U.S. State Capitols and Civic Governments, but in foreign Federal Capitols throughout the world as well.
With the latter in view, please be praying for three upcoming ministry leader training conferences in Eastern Europe, French and English Africa, and Central America. These recruiting and training conferences have as their purpose the objective of planting new Federal Capitol ministries in those respective areas of the world.
Thank you for your partnership in ministry to reach Public Servants for Christ worldwide! It is quite exciting to see what God is doing — as you can tell by the sidebars in our weekly Bible study notes. I just love what God is enabling us to do together!
This week I would like to turn our attention to a small but powerful passage of Scripture found in the text of Paul’s letter to the Church at Ephesus. In Ephesians 3:17b-19b, we read the following:
And that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge . . .
At first glance, this particular passage may seem to be expressing the priority of love over knowledge per the last stanza. The primacy of love over knowledge is certainly the case in 1Corinthians 13:1 wherein the great Apostle states, If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. Elsewhere, in 1Corinthians 8:1, Paul concludes similarly: in comparing knowledge to love he makes a similar comparison . . . knowledge puffs up, but love edifies. For sure, knowledge as a pursuit of one’s life should take a back seat to the priority of love. Love must be the primary pursuit of the believer’s life.
In this week’s passage, what then does Paul mean when he says the love of Christ . . . surpassing knowledge? This is not so much a comparison of knowledge to love (as is the case in the aforementioned passages) as it is a proclamation concerning the mental incomprehensibility of love: The vastness of the love of Christ is unintelligible in ways similar to star gazing. Peering into the sky at night aids more so the incomprehensibility of the universe than it does knowledge of it. The greater one’s knowledge of the universe becomes — or in this case, of love itself — the greater is the sober admission of its incomprehensibility!
Hopefully this clarification serves to underscore the point of today’s passage: the more the believer understands about God’s love the more he becomes enamored by its vastness! The love of God is mentally unfathomable! Nonetheless:
TODAY’S STUDY WILL HELP US GAIN A GREATER MENTAL COMPREHENSION OF THE INCOMPREHENSIBILITY OF THE TOTAL COMPREHENSIBILITY OF THE LOVE OF GOD
A further extremely important perspective is in order relative to the tension between knowledge and love: In stating the preeminence of love over knowledge, it is improper to assert the converse: that someone who is knowledgeable and in the pursuit of knowledge is therefore unloving. Those who dumb down the importance of knowledge relative to spiritual maturity often convey this (as a matter of fact, just this past week I was talking with someone from this camp who said to me he thought one of America’s greatest theologically conservative seminaries was more of a “cemetery” than a “seminary”). This is a tragic mindset that is ever brewing in American Christianity today. To illustrate my point metaphorically, someone who eats at the dinner table for three hours a night might not be puffed up at all (physically speaking).
In fact, he could be competing in the Tour de France in the morning! The mental preparedness of the believer is quite necessary for any, especially lofty Kingdom assignments — such as serving Christ in a nation’s Capitol! Those who pursue knowledge are not necessarily unloving.
The sinfulness or otherwise appropriateness of the pursuit of knowledge depends on motives. In the book of Proverbs, the word knowledge appears 40 times, always related to and descriptive of a wise person. Proverbs 1:22 states, “How long, O naïve ones, will you love being simple-minded? And scoffers delight themselves in scoffing, and fools hate knowledge?” Later, in Proverbs 1:28-29, knowledge is directly related to finding God: “Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer; They will seek me diligently but they will not find me, because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the LORD.” These passages are but two that characterize the pursuit of the knowledge in a positive light.
Yet another powerful way to illustrate the point I am making — that the Bible teaches that one’s faith in Christ must be equally cognitive as well as loving — is to examine the three stages of the believer’s spiritual growth as listed in 1John 2:12-14. This is worthy of our time relative to supporting my proposition regarding the importance of pursuing knowledge. Notice how each of the following stages of personal spiritual growth are dependent on knowledge:
12 I am writing to you, little children, because your sins have been forgiven you for His name’s sake. 13 I am writing to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I have written to you, children, because you know the Father. 14 I have written to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.
The below chart is an attempt to sort out the above, twice repeated, three distinct stages of spiritual maturity as delineated by the Apostle John in this passage. Observe what titles John mentions in the same order, two times: little children, fathers, and young men. Think of John’s communication style here as someone painting a wall with two separate coats in order to obtain the desired outcome:
In this analogy of physical maturation to spiritual maturation, the Greek words used to describe the believers’ stages of growth are not intended to relate to his or her physical age, but rather spiritual maturity. Again, keep in mind my point for delving into this exercise: each of these stages of spiritual growth relate to and are dependent on knowledge. With this in mind, look more closely at each of the three in the same order John presents them:
A. Little Children of the Faith
Little children are saved but they only possess a rudimentary understanding of God: “Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so!” is depicting of his very minimal level of biblical knowledge. Nonetheless, he possesses this knowledge in comparison to an unsaved person who does not possess this knowledge. Satan can and often does make havoc of little children because they have little knowledge of his wiles. Christian cults often target little children in the faith because they are tenderhearted toward spiritual matters, but very naïve; Ephesians 4:14 states to ignorant believers that they should not remain in such a state of infancy, As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming. In opposition to those who say that knowledge in the life of the believer is unimportant or of lessor importance, note the contrary: Scripture says knowledge is absolutely critical to spiritual maturity!
B. Father of the Faith
The father of the faith is the one who is depicted by John as the most spiritually mature; he has a deep knowledge of the Eternal God: twice John states, he knows Him. This is commensurate with Philippians 3:10 wherein the Apostle Paul states regarding himself (himself a father of the faith), that I may know Him. The height of spiritual maturity is to know God in His fullness via His Word and the first-hand knowledge of having experienced the truths of His Word in one’s life.
C. Young Men of the Faith
Young men are those who, while not yet having walked with God over a longer period of time and gotten to know Him as is the case with a father, who has experienced the truths of His Word first-hand, do know sound doctrine (in contrast to the child of the faith who does not yet). They are strong against sin and error because the word of God abides in [them], which is synonymous with having knowledge of His Word. It is via this knowledge that this believer has overcome the deceitfulness of the evil one.
All three of the aforementioned are in God’s family but have different levels of spiritual maturity: And each respective level is related to their commensurate knowledge. The point again, for stating all of this in the introduction is that one can only become a Father in the faith and have profound intimacy with God by first becoming a Young Man in the faith. And, one becomes a Young Man in the faith by being strong in the Word, all of which implies obtaining knowledge. Proverbs 22:17 says it most succinctly, Apply your mind to my knowledge.
In summary of the introduction, herein lies the tension between knowledge and love. Both are extremely important, foundational, and critical in the life of the believer. Proverbs 3:3 states that both are necessary in this way: Do not let kindness and truth leave you; Bind them around your neck, Write them on the tablet of your heart.
DON’T LET ANYONE FOOL YOU INTO THINKING THAT THE CHRISTIAN LIFE DOES NOT INCLUDE THE PURSUIT OF KNOWLEDGE
With this understanding and balance of knowledge to love fully cemented, Ephesians 3:17b-19b, is a primary descriptive of love, providing the believer with keen insights relative to its profundity and enormity. What follows are four aspects from this passage regarding how God blesses the believer with love. Let us examine each of these great truths.
II. THE BEDROCK OF LOVE
And that you, being rooted and grounded in love,
Right before the passage under study this week (in 3:17a) Paul states that Christ may dwell in your hearts. Contextually, this is not a soteriological statement, but rather one pertaining to the believer’s sanctification. I.e. that Christ would be at home in the heart of every believer. It follows therefore that believers (you and I) are rooted and grounded in love to the degree they allow Christ to dwell in their heart. They are inseparably linked.
Obviously rooted and grounded are used metaphorically. The former is a botanical word that compares the believer to a plant — rooted in the love of God. Grounded is borrowed from the world of architecture expressing the idea of being established on a foundation of love. Whereas mixing metaphors does not make for the best in English prose, their use by Paul communicates excellent theology. They imply that love will be a constant source (rooted) and stabilizing force (grounded) — both gifts from God — in the life of the believer.
How is this so? When saved, the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us states Romans 5:5.
2Thesallonians 3:5 states that it is the Lord who guides our hearts into the love of God . . . . Accordingly, at salvation the believer is strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man (Ephesians 3:16). He or she is positionally filled with all of Christ’s love — therefore one immediately becomes rooted and grounded in love at salvation; such is the very nature of every true follower of Christ who has been borne from above by Him. This incomprehensible love comes from God; it is a gift bestowed in you! In essence every believer is a very loving person! Whether or not the believer, you or I, have matured to live out this truth is another thing.
Love (agape) means unconditional love and is used here to refer to one’s imputed character at salvation, versus his or her emotions. When we have properly dealt with our sin and our selfishness this love naturally flows from every believer’s life. We will find ourselves wanting to serve others and sacrifice for them (even if others have wronged us we will find the capacity to forgive). That is God’s love that has been bestowed in our hearts by Him. Love then in this sense is not a constant self-discipline, continuously in need of conjured, fake emotions.
LOVE IS THE BEDROCK OF EVERY TRUE BELIEVER. ITS UNRELENTING PERSISTENT PRESENCE AUTHENTICATES TRUE CONVERSION.
Lastly before moving on, worth underscoring here for the sake of clarity is Paul’s overall perspective in this passage: keep in mind what is being taught here by Paul relates not to our love for Christ, but His love for us — i.e. Paul is praying for the believer’s ability to comprehend the greatness of God’s love toward us (cf. Romans 5:8) as we shall further see:
III. THE BROTHERHOOD OF LOVE
may be able to comprehend with all the saints
The phrase with all the saints refers to the need of every believer to be in fellowship with other believers — but note especially the context in which Paul is stating with all the saints — it is necessary in order to fully comprehend God’s love! The writer of Hebrews 10:25 echoes this idea, when he says not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some. Furthermore, in John 13:35 John expresses the fact that the unbelieving world has been given the right by God to judge the credibility of the body of Christ by the presence or absence of agape love. Jesus states therein, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” Accordingly, it is critically important that believers in the Capitol not forsake assembling together and maintain unity and love for one another, respectively! It constantly saddens my heart to see how so many Members are flippant about their commitment to the body of Christ in the Capitol. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that lone wolf believers often are the ones who prematurely leave office: is it not predictable, given what this passage is saying? Is it no wonder they leave saying “where’s the love?” It is difficult to receive the nutrition of God’s love when one shies away from all the saints that God has put around His saints in order to keep them sustained and encouraged. Likened to a lone wolf in the cold of winter, believers, perhaps naïve to this passage, place themselves in a danger’s way. Beloved, do not be counted among them: fulfill your calling in the nation’s Capitol by staying encouraged by the brethren!
TO AVOID FELLOWSHIPPING AND STUDYING THE WORD OF GOD WITH OTHER BELIEVERS WEAKENS BOTH THE INDIVIDUAL AND THE OVERALL WITNESS OF THE MINISTRY IN AND TO THE CAPITOL
Precisely, your failure to be with all the saints hinders your ability to comprehend the love of God in a place that is often dark, cold, impersonal and full of betrayal. “Several logs burn brightly together, remove one and the glow soon ceases” stated the now deceased founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, Dr. Bill Bright.
How well spoken and fitting!
Understanding the meaning of comprehension plays back to the introduction of this study. There are no shortcuts to comprehending the love of God. One must become a student of the Word of God in order to comprehend. Again, a good Bible study is designed to, and achieves both of the aspects of this passage simultaneously: comprehension of the Word, and being with all the saints.
Comprehension comes from being continually immersed in the things of God, especially His Word. Your words were found and I ate them, Jeremiah declared, and Your words became for me a joy and the delight of my heart; for I have been called by Your name, O Lord God of hosts (Jer. 15:16). Job testified, I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food (Job 23:12), and the Psalmist tells us that the delight of the righteous person is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night (Ps. 1:2; cf. 19:9b-10; 119:167; etc.). There is no substitute for Members studying God’s Word together in the Capitol!
IT IS INCONGRUOUS TO SAY IN YOUR DISTRICT THAT GOD HAS CALLED YOU TO D.C. BUT THEN WHEN YOU’RE ON THE HILL FORSAKE COMPREHENDING HIS WORD WITH ALL THE OTHERS HE’S CALLED HERE!
In light of this week’s passage, the lack of personal and corporate comprehension of the love of Christ on the Hill is totally understandable if believers forsake the corporate study of the Word of God.
IV. THE BIGNESS OF LOVE
what is the breadth and length and height and depth,
Paul now attempts to expand the believer’s mind relative to the enormity of God’s love. As stated earlier, and captured by the title of this study, in one sense he is praying that the Ephesians would further comprehend that which is ultimately incomprehensible. Herein is described the love of God available to us:
A. A love which is wide enough to embrace the world (Jn. 3:16)
B. A love which is long enough to last forever (1Cor. 13:8).
C. A love which is high enough to take sinners to heaven (1 John 3:1, 2).
D. A love which is deep enough to reach the lowest of the lost (Phil. 2:8).
An unknown prisoner once expressed the infinitude of God’s love this way:
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.
God’s love is really big; it can conform the worst sinner into the strongest and most magnetic of persons for God’s glory. We need try to comprehend that!
V. THE BENEFICIARY OF LOVE
and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge . . .
Whereas formerly the incomprehensibility and immensity of Christ’s love are delineated, herein they are brought to fore. The phrase, to know the love of Christ means that at the end of the day the believer need grow in his experiential knowledge/understanding of love. As one comprehends God’s love intellectually, he or she lives it out accordingly. Herein is a love which the believer can begin to comprehend in ways which the unbeliever cannot.
Lastly the words surpassing knowledge need careful understanding as alluded to in the introduction. Simply stated, to speak of Christ’s love as surpassing knowledge means that it is so great that one can never know it fully. Again, the wording of this passage does not suggest any disparagement of knowledge. In other words, Paul is not expressing in this particular passage that love is superior to knowledge (although he does elsewhere); rather, that God’s love is so vast that it surpasses a human’s finite ability to ever totally comprehend it.
In order to experience the love of God, the believer must study the Word of God and be in close proximity with other believers. This not only helps buoy the individual believer in terms of his or her ability to comprehend God’s love on a continual basis in a difficult environment such as the Capitol, but it facilitates a credible and powerful personal and corporate witness — all to the glory of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.