As Paul reveals the content of his prayers in Ephesians 3:16-19, each request becomes the basis for his next one, as one step in a staircase leads to the next. Paul begins by praying for “strength in the inner man,” which is a preparation for the next request – Christ dwelling in your hearts. It might surprise you that all of these requests are not offered for individuals, but are framed with the plural form of the pronoun “you.” Paul is praying for the church as a whole, rather than for individuals. Although it can be said that the whole building is only as strong as its individual stones, Paul’s prayer requests are not directed toward individuals. His prayer for Christ to dwell in the hearts of his people in the context of the church, picks up from the idea expressed in chapter 2 verse 22, that the church is being built together as a dwelling place for God. The verb “dwell” in verse 17 is in the emphatic position in Greek, and is the same word which appears in 2:22 in its noun form, dwelling place. As the temple was designed that God may dwell among His people, so the church is designed that God may dwell in the hearts of His people, corporately.
The next clause of verse 17 follows this request: that you, being rooted and grounded in love. Several good commentators familiar with the Greek language say that this phrase, rather than being a separate request, is connected to the preceding one. In other words, as a result of the inhabitation of Christ in their hearts, the church then lives in the ground of love, as it were like the roots of a tree in the earth. This then becomes basis of our knowing the love of God which is beyond knowledge. The people of God, as a result of Christ’s presence in their hearts, become rooted and grounded in love (vs. 17) – two participles borrowed respectively from botany and architecture – indicating that this dwelling place for God has a sound foundation. We understand this to mean that the church grows in the soil of Christian love – love for God and love for others. Just like the roots of a tree nourish and water the tree, so, love empowers the Christian life. Notice also that it says, that you may be able to comprehend, with all the saints – suggesting that the pursuit of the knowledge of this love is to be done corporately – with all the saints. God has so ordered things that those who love the fellowship of His people are in the best position to grasp the fullness of His love.
Being rooted and grounded in love then, the church is in a position to begin to understand – that is, come to a decided conclusion on – what Paul describes as a love that is incomprehensible. The irony is that in this prayer, Paul is asking for the church to know something that is beyond knowledge … Knowing the unknowable – is this an oxymoron, a paradox, an apparent inconsistency? What Paul desires is for God’s people to begin to be acquainted with that which, in this life absolute understanding of, is beyond reach. Christ’s love may be known in some measure, but at the same time it stretches into infinity, far beyond the ability of the human intellect to comprehend.
To know this love to a greater degree is why the church gathers corporately on Sunday morning. Don’t miss out on it!