Ephesians 3
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

[3.Prayer for the Further Knowledge of this Mystery (Ephesians 3:1-21).

(1) PREFATORY DECLARATION of the newness of the revelation of this mystery of the calling of the Gentiles, and of the special commission of it to St. Paul, to be manifested before men and angels, both by word and by suffering (Ephesians 3:1-13).

(2) PRAYER for their full understanding of this mystery (although passing knowledge) by the indwelling of Christ, wrought in them by the gift of the Spirit, and accepted in faith and love (Ephesians 3:14-19).

(3) DOXOLOGY TO THE FATHER through Christ Jesus for ever and ever (Ephesians 3:20-21).]

The chapter is in form a parenthesis of fervent prayer and thanksgiving between the doctrinal teaching of Ephesians 2 and the resumption and summing up of that teaching in Ephesians 4:1-13. At the same time it involves much profound implicit teaching in itself.

For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles,
-1Ephesians 3:1-13 contain two subjects closely blended together. The first (carrying on what is implied in the contrast drawn out in Ephesians 2) is the absolute newness of this dispensation to the Gentiles—a mystery hidden from the beginning in God, but now at last revealed. The second, an emphatic claim for St. Paul himself, “less than the least” although he is, of a special apostleship to the Gentiles, proclaiming this mystery by word and deed.

(1) For this cause . . .—After much discussion of the construction of this verse, there seems little doubt that the nominative, “I, Paul,” must be carried on beyond the digression upon the mystery of the gospel, and his part in ministering it, which follows. The only question which can well be raised is whether the resumption takes place at Ephesians 3:13, “I desire that ye faint not;” or at Ephesians 3:14, “I bow my knees;” and this seems decided for the latter alternative, both by the emphatic repetition of “for this cause,” and by the far greater weight and finality of the latter sentence.

The prisoner of Jesus Christ.—The phrase (repeated in Ephesians 4:1; Philemon 1:9; 2Timothy 1:8) is dwelt upon with an emphasis, explained by St. Paul’s conviction that “his bonds” tended to “the furtherance of the gospel”—not merely by exciting a sympathy which might open the heart to his words, but even more (see Philippians 1:13-14) by showing the victorious power of God’s word and grace—which “is not bound”—to triumph over captivity and the danger of death. The expression itself is notable. When St. Paul calls himself the “prisoner of Jesus Christ,” he represents our Lord’s own will, as ordaining his captivity for His own transcendent purposes of good, making him an “ambassador in chains” (Ephesians 6:20), and these “the bonds of the gospel.” (See Philemon 1:13; and Acts 28:20, “For the hope of Israel I am bound in this chain.”) Hence in this passage St. Paul seems to speak of his captivity as a special proof of the reality of his mission, and a new step in its progress; and appeals to it accordingly, just as in the final salutation of the Colossian Epistle, “Remember my bonds.” The whole idea is a striking instance of the spiritual alchemy of faith, turning all things to good—not unlike the magnificent passage (in 2Corinthians 11:23-30) of his “glorying in his infirmities.”

For you Gentiles.—This was literally true of the origin of his captivity, proceeding as it did from the jealousy of the Jews, excited by the free admission of the Gentiles to the Church; but the reference is not to be limited to this. St. Paul regards the captivity as only one incident in a mission sending him entirely to the Gentiles (Acts 21:21; Romans 11:13; Galatians 2:9). From these words the digression of Ephesians 3:2-13 starts, bringing out the reality and greatness of that mission.

If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward:
(2) If ye have heard.—The original word rendered “if” (the same used below, Ephesians 4:21, and in 2Corinthians 5:3; Galatians 3:4; Colossians 1:23) conveys, in such collocation as this, a supposition which is only a supposition in form—a half-ironical reference to a thing not doubtful. The sense is “if (that is),” or “if, as I suppose,” “ye heard the dispensation,” &c. The passage bears on the question whether the Epistle was an encyclical letter, or one addressed to the Ephesian Church. The argument which has been drawn from it in the former direction is not so strong as appears in the English; for the original implies no doubt that the readers of the Epistle had heard, and the hearing might have been not about St. Paul, but from St. Paul himself. Still, there is a vague generality about the expression, which suits well an address to the Asiatic churches generally, but could hardly have been used to a church so well known and beloved as Ephesus, where “the signs of an Apostle” had been wrought abundantly.

The dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward.—The descriptive clause, “which is given me to you-ward,” is seen in the original to belong to the word grace,” not (as our version might suggest) to “dispensation.” The grace of God is spoken of as given to St. Paul, not so much for his own sake, as for ministration to them of the dispensation described in the next verse. We find there that the revelation of salvation to the Gentiles was the “dispensation,” that is (much as in Ephesians 1:10), the peculiar office in the ministration of the grace of God to the world, assigned to St. Paul by His wisdom. (Comp. 1Corinthians 1:17-24, “God sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel . . . We preach Christ crucified . . . unto them that are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”)

-2Ephesians 3:14-19 contain a prayer, addressed with special emphasis to the Father of all, that by the strengthening grace of the Spirit and the indwelling of Christ, accepted in faith and deepened by love, they may, first, know the mystery already described in all its greatness; and, next, learn by experience the unsearchable love of Christ, as dwelling in them, and so filling them up to “the fulness of God.”

How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words,
(3) How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery.—The words “by revelation” are doubly emphatic. By revelation, not by the wisdom of man (as in 1Corinthians 2:7-16): for “God hath revealed them to us by His Spirit.” By direct revelation to St. Paul himself, as in Galatians 1:12, “not of man or by man, but by revelation of Jesus Christ,” and in Romans 16:25, “according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery.” (See also 2Corinthians 12:17.) This revelation we may refer especially to the time when, after his conversion, he was “in a trance while praying in the Temple,” and “saw Christ Himself,” saying unto him, “Depart, for I will send thee far hence unto the Gentiles” (Acts 22:17-21).

As I wrote afore in few words.—The reference is to the brief notice in Ephesians 1:10-14, and to the further explanation in Ephesians 2:11-22. Hence, in English, the idea would be more clearly expressed by “I have written above.” St. Paul refers them back to these passages as embodying his “understanding,” or conception, of the mystery thus revealed especially to him. The reference is one of those parenthetical remarks, which, to those remembering how St. Paul’s Epistles were dictated, almost irresistibly suggest insertion on the reading over of the Epistle.

-3Ephesians 3:20-21 sum up the whole in a doxology to God the Father through Christ Jesus. It may be compared with the other more solemn doxologies in the New Testament: as Romans 16:25; 1Timothy 5:15-16; Jude 1:24-25; Revelation 1:6. Each has its distinctive character. Here the prevailing idea of the preceding chapters is the wonder and the mystery of God’s fore-ordaining love, overflowing in the riches of His grace to those who are made one with Him and with each other in Christ Jesus. Hence, God is here described as He “who is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think,” and to do all “by His power dwelling” and working in us.

Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit;
(5) Which in other ages (rather, to other generations) was not made known unto the sons of men.—For the general sense comp. Colossians 1:27. The phrase “the sons of men” (except that it is once used in Mark 3:28) is peculiar to the Old Testament, where it is of frequent use in the poetical books, and it is notable that in Ezekiel it is the name by which the prophet himself is constantly addressed. Hence, although it is probably wrong to restrict to the children of Israel, or to the prophets, words which by their very nature apply to all mankind, yet the phrase seems to be used with a suggestion of the contrast between the old dispensation and the new. (Comp. our Lord’s words in Matthew 11:11, “Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”)

As it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit.—The application of the epithet “holy” to the Apostles has been thought strange as coming from one of their number; and it is worth notice that this exceptional application is certainly more appropriate to the comparatively impersonal style of an encyclical epistle. But the epithet (applied to the Old Testament prophets in Luke 1:70; Acts 3:21; 2Peter 3:2), like the frequent use of it as the substantive “saints,” in application to all Christians, refers not to personal character, but to official call and privilege. In this passage it is clear that it is used thus, in emphatic contrast with “the sons of men” above, and in connection with the following words, “in the Spirit.” The contrast here briefly conveyed is the same which is drawn out in 1 Corinthians 2 between the “wisdom of men,” and the “wisdom of God,” sanctifying, and so enlightening, the Christian soul.

That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel:
(6) That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs.—More exactly, are fellow-heirs, admitted already fully in God’s councils, as partially in actual fact to the kingdom of God.

And of the same body, and [fellow-] partakers of his promise.—These three words (of which the last two are peculiar to this Epistle) evidently describe progressive steps in the work of salvation. First comes the acceptance by God to a share in the inheritance, as “heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17); next, incorporation into the mystical body of Christ; lastly, the actual enjoyment of a share in the promise—that is, all the spiritual blessings of the covenant, called “promises” because, though real in themselves, they are only an earnest of the hereafter. At every point stress is laid on their fellowship with Israel in all these gifts. The shoots of the wild olive (Romans 11:17) are first chosen out, then “grafted in,” and lastly “partake with the natural branches of the root and fatness of the olive tree.”

In Christ by the gospel.—These words should be joined with all the three preceding. Of all the privileges of the new life, the being “in Christ” is the substance, the reception of the gospel in faith the instrument.

Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power.
(7) According to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power.—The words “given by” should be rendered given according to. The working of God’s power is described, not as the means, but as the measure of the gift of His grace. In fact, what is a “gift” in its source, is “effectual working” in its actual nature. On the phrase “effectual working of power”—a divine force in the soul, not latent but energetic—see Ephesians 1:19. In the whole of this passage, however, the chief emphasis is laid, not on the spiritual power, but on the freedom of God’s gift to the Apostle of this high privilege of preaching the mystery of the gospel.

Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ;
(8) Less than the least of all saints.—Compare with this expression of deep humility the well-known passages 1Corinthians 15:9-10; 2Corinthians 11:30; 2Corinthians 12:9-11; 1Timothy 1:12-16. It may be noted that in each case his deep sense of unworthiness is brought out by the thought of God’s especial grace and favour to him. Thus in 1Corinthians 15:9-10, the feeling that he is “the least of the Apostles, not meet to be called an Apostle,” rises out of the contemplation of the special manifestation of the risen Lord to him as “one born out of due time;” in 2Corinthians 11:30; 2Corinthians 12:9-11, “boasting” has been forced upon him, and so, having been compelled to dwell on the special work done by him, and the special revelations vouchsafed to him, he immediately adds, “though I am nothing;” in 1Timothy 1:12-16, as also here, it is the greatness of his message of universal salvation which reminds him that he was “a persecutor and injurious,” “the chief of sinners,” and “less than the least of all saints.” Elation in the sense of privilege—“the glorying in that which we have received,” so emphatically rebuked in 1Corinthians 4:7—is the temptation of the first superficial enthusiasm; deep sense of weakness and unworthiness, the result of second and deeper thought, contrasting the heavenly treasure with the earthen vessels which contain it (2Corinthians 4:7). Possibly there is a “third thought,” deeper still, belonging to the times of highest spiritual aspiration, which loses all idea of self, even of weakness and unworthiness, in the thought of “the strength made perfect in weakness,” and the consciousness (as in Philippians 4:12-13) that “we can do all things through Christ that strengtheneth us.” See this last brought out in peculiar fulness and freedom in 2Corinthians 5:13 to 2Corinthians 6:10; a passage almost unique in its disclosure of spiritual experience.

The unsearchable riches of Christ.—The word “unsearchable” properly carries with it the metaphor (latent in our word “investigate”) of tracking the footsteps, but not tracking them completely to their source or issue—thus gaining an evidence of a living power, but “not knowing whence it cometh or whither it goeth.” In this proper sense it is used in Romans 11:33, “How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!” (as also in Job 5:9; Job 9:10). Here it is used in a slightly different sense—applied to that “wealth” or fulness of Christ on which this Epistle lays such especial stress, as a wealth of truth which we can see in part but cannot wholly measure, and a wealth of grace which we can enjoy but cannot exhaust.

And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ:
(9) To make all men see.—St. Paul speaks here first of manifestation to all men. The phrase used in the original is at once stronger and weaker than our version of it. It is stronger, for the word is, properly, to enlighten or illuminate—the same word used above (Ephesians 1:18), “the eyes of your heart being enlightened.” Strictly, Christ alone is the Light of the world, “which enlightens every man” (John 1:4-5; John 1:9; John 8:2); but, as reflecting Him, He declared His servants to be the “light of the world.” Yet it is weaker, for while we can enlighten, it is our daily sorrow that we cannot “make men see.” Even He wept over Jerusalem because His light was, by wilful blindness, “hidden from their eyes” (Luke 19:41). To “open the eyes, and turn men from darkness to light,” although (as in Acts 26:18) attributed in general terms to the servants of God, because naturally following on their ministry, is properly the work of the Holy Spirit, even in relation to the words of our Lord Himself (John 14:26).

The fellowship of the mystery.—Both MS. authority and internal evidence point here to “the dispensation of the mystery” as the true reading. Probably here the reference is not to the commission of the mystery to the Apostle (as in Ephesians 3:2), but (as in Ephesians 1:10) to the law or order which God Himself has ordained for the manifestation of the truth, both to men and angels.

Who created all things by Jesus Christ.—The words “by Jesus Christ” should be omitted, probably having crept in from a gloss, and not belonging to the original. The description of God as “He who created all things,” material and spiritual, is here emphatic—designed to call attention to the dispensation of the gospel as existing in the primeval purpose of the Divine Mind (comp. Ephesians 1:4; 1Corinthians 1:7), hidden from the beginning of the world (properly, from the ages) till the time of its revelation was come. The New Testament constantly dwells on this view of the Mediation of Christ, as belonging in some form to the relation of humanity to God in itself, and not merely to that relation as affected by the Fall; but nowhere with greater emphasis than in the profound and universal teaching of these Epistles.

To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God,
(10) In this verse St. Paul passes on to consider the manifestation of God in Christ as brought home not only to the race of man but to the angels—“the principalities and powers in the heavenly places”—who are described (1Peter 1:12) as “desiring to look into” the consummation of the gospel mystery. In the same sense the Apostles, in their ministration of the gospel, are said to be a spectacle to angels and to men (1Corinthians 4:9); and in a magnificent passage in the Epistle to the Hebrews (Hebrews 12:22), Christians are encouraged in their warfare by knowing it to go on before “the city of the living God” and “an innumerable company of angels.” The angels are, therefore, represented to us as not only ministering in the Church of Christ, but learning from its existence and fortunes to know more and more of the wisdom of God. Hence we gain a glimpse of a more than world-wide purpose in the supreme manifestation of God’s mercy in Christ, fulfilled towards higher orders of God’s rational creatures, aiding even them in progress towards the knowledge of God in Jesus Christ, which is life eternal. (There is a notable passage on a kindred idea in Butler’s Analogy, Part i., c. Iii. § 5.) This world, itself a speck in the universe, may be—perhaps as a scene of exceptional rebellion against God, certainly as a scene of God’s infinite goodness—a lesson to other spheres of being, far beyond our conception. Possibly this view of angels as our fellow-learners in the school of Christ may have been specially dwelt upon in view of the worship of angels of which we read in Colossians 2:18; but it accords well with the wide sweep of thought characteristic of this Epistle, literally “gathering up all things in Christ.”

The manifold wisdom.—The word “manifold” (properly, many-coloured, or wrought in many details) is used here (and nowhere else) for the wisdom of God, as “fulfilling itself in many ways” (the “sundry times and divers manners” of Hebrews 1:1). It is manifested, therefore, in the infinite variety both of the teaching and the life of the Church—manifold, yet one, as embodying but one life, the life of Jesus Christ.

According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord:
(11) The eternal purpose.—Properly, the purpose of the ages; but the sense clearly is, of the purpose of God (see Ephesians 1:11), conceived before the ages of His dispensation, and fulfilled through them. Hence the rendering of our version is substantially correct.

Which he purposed.—It should be, which He wrought, or made, for the word is quite distinct from the substantive “purpose,” and is in itself ambiguous, capable of meaning either ordained or worked out. Either sense will suit the passage; but the latter perhaps better, since the idea is throughout of the completion and manifestation of the mystery of God’s purpose in the Lord Jesus Christ.

In whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him.
(12) This verse returns to the idea of Ephesians 2:18, as though St. Paul, after the wide sweep of thought far beyond the earth in Ephesians 3:10-11, desired, as usual, to bring his readers back to the practical and personal aspects of their Christianity.

In whom we have (our) boldness and (our) access with confidence.—“Boldness” is, properly, boldness of speech (as in Ephesians 6:19), though used in a derivative sense for confidence and frankness generally. Probably here it is suggested in its original sense by the reference in the preceding verse to the charge of proclaiming the mystery of God, and accordingly means that boldness of thought and utterance before men and angels which Christians, in virtue of that charge, ought to assume. The “access (see Ephesians 2:18) in confidence” is, on the other hand, that confidence before God, as presented to Him in the Lord Jesus Christ, which belongs to Christians as no longer servants but sons. (On this confidence see 2Corinthians 3:4-6.) Both these gifts depend on “faith in Him:” in the one case, faith in His teaching and grace; in the other, faith in His atonement and His gift of the new life.

Wherefore I desire that ye faint not at my tribulations for you, which is your glory.
(13) Wherefore I desire . . .—The verse is parenthetical—a reflection suggested by the greatness of the trust and the littleness of the minister dwelt upon in Ephesians 3:8-12, and inserted as a warning to the Ephesians not to be disheartened at the present “tribulation” of his imprisonment, as if it were a failure of his mission. (See this idea more fully worked out in Philippians 1:12-29.) “To faint” (as in 2Corinthians 4:1; 2Corinthians 4:16; Galatians 6:9; 2Thessalonians 3:13) is “to play the coward,” as “thinking it (see 1Peter 4:12-13) a strange thing” that trouble should fall on him or them. It might well seem strange, when for four years at least, at Cæsarea and Rome, the marvellous activity of St. Paul’s Apostolic career was apparently cut short.

At my tribulations for you, which is your glory.—There is a peculiar beauty in the thought suggested by the words “which is your glory.” The suffering, triumphantly borne and actually turned to the furtherance of the gospel, is certainly a “glory,” in the proof which it gives of the power of the truth and the grace of Christ. But the more obvious idea would have been to comfort the Ephesians by the declaration that St. Paul’s tribulations were to himself a cause, not of pain, but of joy and glory—as is, in fact, done in Colossians 1:24, and in the celebrated passage, 2Corinthians 11:23-31. Here, however, instead of so doing, St. Paul pursues the same line of thought as in 1Corinthians 4:10—there half ironically, here seriously—that, while the suffering falls on himself, the glory passes to the Church, for which he suffers, and in which he is content to sink himself. Hence he bids the Ephesians find encouragement and glory for themselves, instead of a cause for “fainting,” in the afflictions endured on their behalf and overcome in Christ. As he identifies himself with them, so he would have them take what might be his glory to be their own.

For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
(14) Unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.—The words “of our Lord Jesus Christ” appear, by both external and internal evidence, to be an interpolation—probably from a gloss indicating (in the true spirit of the Epistle) that the universal Fatherhood here spoken of is derived from the fatherly relation to Him in whom “all things are gathered up.”

Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named,
(15) Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named.—The original word (patria) here rendered “family” is literally derived from the word “father” (pater). It has been proposed to render it fatherhood, and translate, from whom all fatherhood whatever derives its name—all lower fatherhood being, in fact, a shadow and derivative from the Fatherhood of God. The translation is tempting, yielding a grand sense, and one thoroughly accordant with the treatment of the earthly relationship below (Ephesians 6:1-4). But the usage of the word is clearly against it; and we must render it every family—that is, every body of rational beings in earth or heaven united under one common fatherhood, and bearing the name (as in a family or clan) of the common ancestor. Such bodies are certainly the first germs or units of human society; what their heavenly counterparts may be, who can tell? The Apostle looks upon the fathers whose names they delight to bear as the imperfect representatives of God, and upon the family itself, with its head, as the type in miniature of the whole society of spiritual beings united in sonship to the Father in heaven. Hence he declares that it is ultimately from Him that every family derives the name of patria, and by that very name bears witness to the Divine Fatherhood, on which he desires here to lay especial stress.

That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man;
(16) To be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man.—From the Father, as the source of all life and being, St. Paul passes on to the Spirit, “proceeding from the Father,” as the giver of life to men. His prayer here, as in Ephesians 1:17, is for the gift of the Spirit, but under some difference of aspect. There the prayer is for illumination, here for strength to grasp the mystery, to be rooted in love, and be filled up to the fulness of God. Accordingly, there the inner man is represented only by the “eyes of the heart;” here (as in Romans 7:22; 2Corinthians 4:16) we hear of the “inner man” in his entirety, including all faculties—intellectual, emotional, moral—which make up his spiritual nature. And St. Paul emphasises this prayer very strikingly by asking that the gift may be “according to the riches of His glory,” unlimited as the illimitable glory of the Divine Nature itself. Moreover, a greater closeness of communion is clearly indicated here. For light is a gift from without; strength comes from an indwelling power, making itself perfect in weakness, and continually growing from grace to grace.

That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love,
(17) That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith.—What that indwelling power is he now indicates, so passing to another Person of the Holy Trinity. It is (see Colossians 1:27) “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” The indwelling of Christ (as here the construction of the original plainly shows) is not a consequence of the gift of the Spirit; it is identical with it, for the office of the Holy Spirit is to implant and work out in us the likeness of Christ. So in John 14:16-20, in immediate connection with the promise of the Comforter, we read: “I will not leave you orphaned; I will come to you.” “Ye shall know that . . . ye are in me and I in you.” Hence the life in the Spirit is described as “To me to live is Christ” (Philippians 1:21); “I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me” (Galatians 2:20). Faith is simply the condition of that indwelling of Christ (comp. Ephesians 2:8), the opening of the door to Him that He may enter in.

The prayer is here complete, all that follows being but consequent from it. In accordance with the universal law of revelation, all is from the Father, all is through the Son vouchsafing to tabernacle in our humanity, all is by the Spirit effecting that indwelling of Christ in each individual soul.

That ye, being rooted and grounded in love.—The phrase “ye, being,” &c., stands in the original before the word “that,” as a kind of link between the previous clause and this, which seems to describe the consequence of the indwelling of Christ—viz., first love, next comprehension, and finally growth into the fulness of God.

The expression “rooted and grounded” (i.e., founded) contains the same mixture of metaphor as in 1Corinthians 3:9, of the tree and the building—a mixture so natural as to pass into common usage. (Comp. Colossians 2:7, “rooted and being built up in Him.”) The idea implied in “rooted” is of the striking down deeper and spreading wider into the soil; in “founded” of the firm basis on which ultimately we rest. “In love:” Love is not itself the root or foundation (for this is Jesus Christ Himself), but the condition under which growth takes place. Generally that growth is upward, as in 1Corinthians 8:1 : “Knowledge puffeth up, but love buildeth up;” or, as in Ephesians 4:16, where the body is said “to build itself up in love.” Here that growth is downward, deeper and deeper into the communion with God in Christ, as “faith is made perfect (or, efficient) by love.” As in relation to man, so also to God, love is at once the recognition of an existing unity between spirit and spirit, and a means—probably the only means—of making that unity energetic and deepening it continually. Hence love is the first consequence of the indwelling of Christ in the soul; and by it the soul becomes rooted and grounded in the unity, given by that indwelling, with man and God.

May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height;
(18) May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height.—It has been asked, Of what? Various answers have been given; but as St. Paul has obviously of set purpose omitted all definition, leaving the phrase incomplete in absolute generality, no answer can be perfectly satisfactory. The early fathers delighted to refer it to the cross, and to trace in the four dimensions of the cross a symbol of this four-fold extension of the love of God in Christ. The clause following, “to know the love of Christ,” though partly explanatory of this, hardly seems to be identical or co-extensive with it. The knowledge there described is a part—perhaps the chief part, but not the whole—of the comprehension here prayed for. If anything is to be supplied, it should probably be “of the mystery”—i.e., of the whole mystery on which St. Paul had been dwelling, including the predestination, the redemption, the call and union of Jews and Gentiles. The prayer is that we may know it every way, in every direction in which the soul can go forth towards God.

It may be noted that comprehension is placed after love, just as in Philippians 1:9, “I pray that your love may abound (that is, overflow) in knowledge and in all judgment.” The spiritual order of revelation differs from that of the “wisdom of the world.” It has first faith, next love, and finally knowledge, because its object is a person, not an abstract principle. That knowledge must, even here, “grow from more to more;” but St. Paul’s prayer can never be perfectly realised till we “know even as we are known.”

And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.
(19) To know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge.—The intentional paradox of this expression is weakened if (with many interpretations) we suppose that there is opposition in kind between knowledge referred to in the two clauses: as if “to know” meant to know by faith and spiritual experience, while the “knowledge,” which the love of Christ “passes,” is mere “human knowledge”—head-knowledge, and the like. Of such opposition there is no trace (contrast 1Corinthians 2:6-16). In the original, the word “to know” is in a tense which expresses cognition in a particular case; hence the meaning of St. Paul’s prayer seems to be that they may know from time to time, as each opportunity offers, what must in its entirety pass all human knowledge, either to discover or fully to understand, even when revealing itself; so that they may always go on from faith to faith, from knowledge to knowledge, and yet find new depths still to be fathomed. The “love of Christ” is the love which He bears to us, and which is the motive of His sacrifice for our redemption. It is known only by those who are rooted in love to Him; such love being at once the consequence of the first knowledge of His love to us (1John 4:19) and the condition of entering more deeply into that knowledge.

That ye might be filled with (or, rather, up to) all the fulness of God.—This clause must be taken as dependent, not merely on the clause immediately preceding, but on the whole sentence. It describes the final and glorious consequence of the indwelling of Christ in the heart, viz., the “being filled” with grace “up to the fulness of God.” The meaning is more clearly seen in the fuller expression below (Ephesians 4:13): “till we all come . . . to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” It is simply perfect conformation to the image of Him in whom “dwells all the fulness of the Godhead bodily” (Colossians 2:9), and whose fulness is therefore the “fulness of God,” manifesting all the attributes of the divine nature. The process is described in 2Corinthians 3:18, “We all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory;” its consummation in 1John 3:2, “When He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is.” (Comp. Philippians 3:20-21.) Here it completes the climax. When Christ dwells in the heart we have first, love perfecting the faith which roots the life in Him; next, a thoughtful knowledge, entering by degrees into the unsearchable riches of His love to us; and, lastly, the filling the soul, itself weak and empty, up to the perfection of likeness to Him, so renewing and deepening through all time and eternity the image of God in our humanity.

Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.
(21) Unto him be glory in the church by (properly, in) Christ Jesus.—In the parallelism of these clauses is implied the great idea of the Epistle—the unity of the Church in Christ. Hence all that is “in the Church” is “in Christ Jesus.” The visible unity of the Church represents, as it depends on, the invisible unity with God in Him.

Throughout all ages, world without end.—The original expression is emphatic and peculiar: to all the generations of the age of the ages; that is, in each successive generation of that age (or, dispensation) which includes in itself all the ages which we can reckon or conceive. The conception represents to us each generation, as adding its own peculiar thanksgiving to the great chorus of praise which fills eternity.

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

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