Ephesians 3:14–21

Ephesians 3:14–21

This pericope is the continuation of Ephesians 2:11–22 (after which came the “digression” of 3:1–13). There, Paul had concluded by saying that believers have been recreated as a holy temple, the dwelling of God (2:20–22). Here we find out how they should function as this “temple,” and “holy dwelling” of God.

Paul, the one who became part of God’s grand purpose by the “working of his power” (3:7), now prays God will grant his readers to be “strengthened with power” (3:16). In other words, God wants the Ephesians to join in with him in this divine plan for the cosmos, as he empowers them for this purpose.

Power for believers.

But how are they to play their part? The structure of the pericope is focused upon the love of Christ*:

A   every (pas) family (3:14–15)

B   strengthened with power (dynamis) (3:16)

C   that Christ may dwell; rooted and founded in love (3:17)

D   breadth and length and height and depth (3:18)

C’   love of Christ (3:19)

B’   to Him who is able (dynamai); according to the power (dynamis) (3:20)

A’  to all (pas) generations (3:21)

There are three purpose- (hina-) clauses here: “that he may grant …” (3:16), “that you might be able …” (3:18), and “that you may be filled …” (3:19), each building on the preceding one. Empowerment by the Spirit for Christ’s indwelling (3:16–17; this is not the event that occurs at justification, but the ongoing indwelling and manifestation of Christ that occurs with sanctification: Christ being formed in the believer) leads to a comprehension of Christ’s love in the context of community, where alone, the magnitude of Christ’s love may be experienced visibly and tangibly: thus, there is an imperatival element here, the exhortation of believers to be active in love for one another. This comprehension (and expression) of love, in turn, leads to the church being filled to the fullness of God, thus glorifying God and becoming the temple/holy dwelling of God it was intended to be (3:21–22; 2:20–22). In the OT, the construction of the tabernacle and the temple were followed by their filling with divine glory (Exodus 25–31, 35–40 and 40:34–35; 1 Kgs 5–9 and 1 Kgs 8:10–11); so also, here in the NT (Eph 2:19–22 and 3:16–19). There is clearly an implication in this pericope that the fullness and glory of God is manifest in this temple of his people as they experience and express the multi-dimensional love of Christ.

Power for believers through the Spirit, so that Christ may indwell them, and thus they may understand the love of Christ and manifest it.

The thrust of this pericope is that through the power of the Spirit and in faith, believers are increasingly conformed to Christ (his indwelling them). Thus they are able, as they live in community, to comprehend the immeasurable extent of Christ’s love. Their conformation to Christ’s image enables this love—manifested in community—to grow and flourish. And through all this, they become, more and more, the temple of God, his fullness in them. And thus God is glorified by the body of Christ.

Power for believers through the Spirit, so that they Christ may indwell them, and thus they may understand the love of Christ and manifest it, thus becoming the dwelling of the Spirit, the temple of God’s fullness.

Here is a simpler version:

Believers, increasingly conformed to Christ in faith by the Spirit, and comprehending, in community, the immensity of Christ’s love, glorify God who dwells in them.

*John Paul Heil, Ephesians: Empowerment to Walk in Love for the Unity of All in Christ (Studies in Biblical Literature; 13; Atlanta: SBL, 2007), 25–26.

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