Ephesians 3:19
And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.
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(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.



Ephesians 3:19The Apostle’s many-linked prayer, which we have been considering in successive sermons, has reached its height. It soars to the very Throne of God. There can be nothing above or beyond this wonderful petition. Rather, it might seem as if it were too much to ask, and as if, in the ecstasy of prayer, Paul had forgotten the limits that separate the creature from the Creator, as well as the experience of sinful and imperfect men, and had sought to ‘wind himself too high for mortal life beneath the sky.’ And yet Paul’s prayers are God’s promises; and we are justified in taking these rapturous petitions as being distinct declarations of God’s desire and purpose for each of us; as being the end which He had in view in the unspeakable gift of His Son; and as being the certain outcome of His gracious working on all believing hearts.

It seems at first a paradoxical impossibility; looked at more deeply and carefully it becomes a possibility for each of us, and therefore a duty; a certainty for all the redeemed in fullest measure hereafter; and, alas! a rebuke to our low lives and feeble expectations. Let us look, then, at the petition, with the desire of sounding, as we may, its depths and realising its preciousness.

I. First of all, think with me of the significance of this prayer.

‘The fulness of God’ is another expression for the whole sum and aggregate of all the energies, powers, and attributes of the divine nature, the total Godhead in its plenitude and abundance.

‘God is love,’ we say. What does that mean, but that God desires to impart His whole self to the creatures whom He loves? What is love in its lofty and purest forms, even as we see them here on earth; what is love except the infinite longing to bestow one’s self? And when we proclaim that which is the summit and climax of the revelation of our Father in the person of His Son, and say with the last utterances of Scripture that ‘God is love,’ we do in other words proclaim that the very nature and deepest desire and purpose of the divine heart is to pour itself on the emptiness and need of His lowly creatures in floods that keep back nothing. Lofty, wonderful, incomprehensible to the mere understanding as this thought may be, clearly it is the inmost meaning of all that Scripture tells us about God as being the ‘portion of His people,’ and about us, as being by Christ and in Christ ‘heirs of God,’ and possessors of Himself.

We have, then, as the promise that gleams from these great words, this wonderful prospect, that the divine love, truth, holiness, joy, in all their rich plenitude of all-sufficient abundance, may be showered upon us. The whole Godhead is our possession; for the fulness of God is no far-off remote treasure that lies beyond human grasp and outside of human experience. Do not we believe that, to use the words of this Apostle in another letter, ‘it pleased the Father that in Him should all the fulness dwell’? Do we not believe that, to use the words of the same epistle, ‘In Christ dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily’? Is not that abundance of the resources of the whole Deity insphered and incarnated in Jesus Christ our Lord, that it may be near us, and that we may put out our hand and touch it? This may be a paradox for the understanding, full of metaphysical puzzles and cobwebs, but for the heart that knows Christ, most true and precious. God is gathered into Jesus Christ, and all the fulness of God, whatever that may mean, is embodied in the Man Christ Jesus, that from Him it may be communicated to every soul that will.

For, to quote other words of another of the New Testament teachers, ‘Of His fulness have all we received, and grace for grace,’ and to quote words in another part of the same epistle, we may ‘all come to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.’ High above us, then, and inaccessible though that awful thought, ‘the fulness of God,’ may seem, as the zenith of the unscaleable heavens seems to us poor creatures creeping here upon the flat earth, it comes near, near, near, ever nearer, and at last tabernacles among us, when we think that in Him all the fulness dwells, and it comes nearer yet and enters into our hearts when we think that ‘of His fulness have we all received.’

Then, still further, observe another of the words in this petition:-’That ye may be filled.’ That is to say, Paul’s prayer and God’s purpose and desire concerning us is, that our whole being may be so saturated and charged with an indwelling divinity as that there shall be no room in our present stature and capacity for more, and no sense of want or aching emptiness.

Ah, brethren! when we think of how eagerly we have drunk at the stinking puddles of earth, and how after every draught there has yet been left a thirst that was pain, it is something for us to hear Him say:-’The water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life,’-and ‘he that drinketh of this water shall never thirst.’ Our empty hearts, with their experiences of the insufficiency and the vanity of all earthly satisfaction, stand there like the water-pots at the rustic marriage, and the Master says, ‘Fill them to the brim.’ And then, by His touch, the water of our poor savourless, earthly enjoyments is transmuted and elevated into the new wine of His Kingdom. We may be filled, satisfied with the fulness of God.

There is another point as to the significance of this prayer, on which I must briefly touch. As our Revised Version will tell you, the literal rendering of my text is, ‘filled unto’ {not exactly with} ‘all the fulness of God’; which suggests the idea not of a completed work but of a process, and of a growing process, as if more and more of that great fulness might pass into a man. Suppose a number of vessels, according to the old illustration about degrees of glory in heaven; they are each full, but the quantity that one contains is much less than that which the other may hold. Add to the illustration that the vessels can grow, and that filling makes them grow; as a shrunken bladder when you pass gas into it will expand and round itself out, and all the creases will be smoothed away. Such is the Apostle’s idea here, that a process of filling goes on which may satisfy the then desires, because it fills us up to the then capacities of our spirits; but in the very process of so filling and satisfying makes those spirits capable of containing larger measures of His fulness, which therefore flow into it. Such, as I take it, in rude and faint outline, is the significance of this great prayer.

II. Now turn, in the next place, to consider briefly the possibility of the accomplishments of this petition.

As I said, it sounds as if it were too much to desire. Certainly no wish can go beyond this wish. The question is, can a sane and humble wish go as far as this; and can a man pray such a prayer with any real belief that he will get it answered here and now? I say yes!

There are two difficulties that at once start up.

People will say, does such a prayer as this upon man’s lips not forget the limits that bound the creature’s capacity? Can the finite contain the Infinite?

Well, that is a verbal puzzle, and I answer, yes! The finite can contain the Infinite, if you are talking about two hearts that love, one of them God’s and one of them mine. We have got to keep very clear and distinct before our minds the broad, firm line of demarcation between the creature and the Creator, or else we get into a pantheistic region where both creature and Creator expire. But there is a Christian as well as an atheistic pantheism, and as long as we retain clearly in our minds the consciousness of the personal distinction between God and His child, so as that the child can turn round and say, ‘I love Thee’ and God can look down and say, ‘I bless thee’; then all identification and mutual indwelling and impartation from Him of Himself are possible, and are held forth as the aim and end of Christian life.

Of course in a mere abstract and philosophical sense the Infinite cannot be contained by the finite; and attributes which express infinity, like omnipresence and omniscience and omnipotence and so on, indicate things in God that we can know but little about, and that cannot be communicated. But those are not the divinest things in God. ‘God is love.’ Do you believe that that saying unveils the deepest things in Him? God is light, ‘and in Him is no darkness at all.’ Do you believe that His light and His love are nearer the centre than these attributes of power and infinitude? If we believe that, then we can come back to my text and say, ‘The love, which is Thee, can come into me; the light, which is Thee, can pour itself into my darkness; the holiness, which is Thee, can enter into my impurity. The heaven of heavens cannot contain Thee. Thou dwellest in the humble and in the contrite heart.’

So, dear brethren, the old legends about mighty forms that contracted their stature and bowed their divine heads to enter into some poor man’s hut, and sit there, are simple Christian realities. And instead of puzzling ourselves with metaphysical difficulties which are mere shadows, and the work of the understanding or the spawn of words, let us listen to the Christ when He says, ‘We will come unto him and make our abode with him’ and believe that it was no impossibility which fired the Apostle’s hope when he prayed, and in praying prophesied, that we might be filled with all the fulness of God.

Then there is another difficulty that rises before our minds; and Christian men say, ‘How is it possible, in this region of imperfection, compassed with infirmity and sin as we are, that such hopes should be realised for us here?’ Well, I would rather answer that question by retorting and saying: ‘How is it possible that such a prayer should have come from inspired lips unless the thing that Paul was asking might be?’ Did he waste his breath when he thus prayed? Are we not as Christian men bound, instead of measuring our expectations by our attainments, to try to stretch our attainments to what are our legitimate expectations, and to hear in these words the answer to the faithless and unbelieving doubt whether such a thing is possible, and the assurance that it is possible.

An impossibility can never be a duty, and yet we are commanded: ‘Be ye perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect.’ An impossibility can never be a duty, and yet we are commanded to let Christ abide in our hearts.

Oh! if we believed less in the power of our sin it would have less power upon us. If we believed more in the power of an indwelling Christ He would have more power within us. If we said to ourselves, ‘It is possible,’ we should make it possible. The impossibility arises only from our own weakness, from our own sinful weakness; and though it may be true, and is true, that none of us will live without sin as long as we abide here, it is also true that each moment of interruption of our communion with Christ and therefore each moment of interruption of that being ‘filled with the fulness of God,’ might have been avoided. We know about every such time that we could have helped it if we had liked, and it is no use bringing any general principles about sin cleaving to men in order to break the force of that conviction. But if that conviction be a real one, and if whenever a Christian man loses the consciousness of God in his heart, making him blessed, he is obliged to say: ‘It was my own fault and Thou wouldst have stayed if I had chosen,’ then there follows from this, that it is possible, notwithstanding all the imperfection and sin of earth, that we may be ‘filled with all the fulness of God.’

So, dear brethren, take you this prayer as the standard of your expectations; and oh! take it as we must all take it, as the sharpest of rebukes to our actual attainments in holiness and in likeness to our Master. Set by the side of these wondrous and solemn words-’filled with the fulness of God,’ the facts of the lives of the average professing Christians of this generation, and of this congregation; their emptiness, their ignorance of the divine indwelling, their want of anything in their experience that corresponds in the least degree to such words as these. Judge whether a man is not more likely to be bowed down in wholesome sense of his own sinfulness and unworthiness, if he has before him such an ideal as this of my text, than if it, too, has faded out of his life. I believe, for my part, that one great cause of the worldliness and the sinfulness and mechanical formalities that are eating the life out of the Christianity of this generation is the fact of the Church having largely lost any real belief in the possibility that Christian men may possess the fulness of God as their present experience. And so, when they do not find it in themselves they say: ‘Oh! it is all right; it is the necessary result of our imperfect fleshly condition.’ No! It is all wrong; and His purpose is that we should possess Him in the fulness of His gladdening and hallowing power, at every moment in our happy lives.

III. One word to close with, as to the means by which this prayer may be fulfilled.

Remember, it comes as the last link in a chain. I shall have wasted my breath for a month, as far as you are concerned, if you do not feel that the preceding links are needful before this can be attained.

But I only touch upon the nearest of them and remind you that it must be Christ dwelling in our hearts, that fills them with the fulness of God. Where He comes God comes. And where does He come? He comes where faith opens the door for Him. If you will trust Jesus Christ, if you will distrust yourselves, if you will turn your thoughts and your hearts to Him, if you will let Him come into your souls, and not shut Him out because your souls are so full that there is no room for Him there, then when He comes He will not come empty-handed, but will bring the full Godhead with Him.

There must be the emptying of self, if there is to be the filling with God. And the emptying of self is realised in that faith which forsakes self-confidence, self-righteousness, self-dependence, self-control, self-pleasing, and yields itself wholly to the dear Lord.

There is another condition that is required, and that is the previous link in this braided chain. The conscious experience of the love which is in Christ will bring to us ‘the fulness of God.’ Love is power; love is God; and when we live in the sense and experience of God’s love to us then we have the power and we have the God. It is as in some of these petrifying streams, the water is charged with particles which it deposits upon everything that is laid in its course. So, if we plunge our hearts into that fountain of the love of Christ, as it flows it will clothe us with all the divine energies which are held in solution in the divinest thing in God-His own love. Plunged into the love we are filled with the fulness.

Then keep near your Master. It all comes to that. Meditate upon Him; do not let days pass, as they do pass, without a thought being turned to Him. Do not go about your daily work without a remembrance of Him. Keep yourselves in Christ. Seek to experience His love, that love which passeth knowledge, and is only known by them who possess it. And then, as the old painters with deep truth used to paint the Apostle of Love with a face like his Master, living near Christ and looking upon Him you will receive of His fulness, and ‘we all, with open face, beholding the glory, shall be changed into the glory.’

3:13-19 The apostle seems to be more anxious lest the believers should be discouraged and faint upon his tribulations, than for what he himself had to bear. He asks for spiritual blessings, which are the best blessings. Strength from the Spirit of God in the inner man; strength in the soul; the strength of faith, to serve God, and to do our duty. If the law of Christ is written in our hearts, and the love of Christ is shed abroad there, then Christ dwells there. Where his Spirit dwells, there he dwells. We should desire that good affections may be fixed in us. And how desirable to have a fixed sense of the love of God in Christ to our souls! How powerfully the apostle speaks of the love of Christ! The breadth shows its extent to all nations and ranks; the length, that it continues from everlasting to everlasting; the depth, its saving those who are sunk into the depths of sin and misery; the height, its raising them up to heavenly happiness and glory. Those who receive grace for grace from Christ's fulness, may be said to be filled with the fulness of God. Should not this satisfy man? Must he needs fill himself with a thousand trifles, fancying thereby to complete his happiness?And to know the love of Christ - The love of Christ toward us; the immensity of redeeming love. It is not merely the love which he showed for the Gentiles in calling them into his kingdom, which is here referred to; it is the love which is shown for the lost world in giving himself to die. This love is often referred to in the New Testament, and is declared to surpass all other which has ever been evinced; see the Romans 5:7-8, notes; John 15:13, note. To know this; to feel this; to have a lively sense of it, is one of the highest privileges of the Christian. Nothing will so much excite gratitude in our hearts; nothing will prompt us so much to a life of self-denial; nothing will make us so benevolent and so dead to the world; see the notes on 2 Corinthians 5:14.

Which passeth knowledge - There "seems" to be a slight contradiction here in expressing a wish to know what cannot be known, or in a desire that they should understand that which cannot be understood. But it is the language of a man whose heart was full to overflowing. He had a deep sense of the love of Christ, and he expressed a wish that they should understand it. Suddenly he has such an apprehension of it, that he says it is indeed infinite. No one can attain to a full view of it. It had no limit. It was unlike anything which had ever been evinced before. It was love which led the Son of God to become incarnate; to leave the heavens: to be a man of sorrows; to be reviled and persecured; to be put to death in the most shameful manner - on a cross. Who could understand that? Where else had there been anything like that? What was there with which to compare it? What was there by which it could be illustrated? And how could it be fully understood Yet "something" of it might be seen, known, felt; and the apostle desired that as far as possible they should understand that great love which the Lord Jesus had manifested for a dying world.

That ye might be filled with all the fulness of God - What an expression! How rich and glorious Who can comprehend all that it implies? Let us inquire into its meaning. There "may" be here in these verses an allusion to the "temple." The apostle had spoken of their being founded in love, and of surveying the length, and breadth, and depth, and height of that love, as of a vast and splendid edifice, and he now desires that those whom he addressed might be pervaded or filled with the indwelling of God. The language here is cumulative, and is full of meaning and richness.

(1) they were to be "full of God." That is, he would dwell in them.

(2) they were to be filled with "the fulness of God" - τὸ πλήρωμα τοῦ Θεοῦ to plērōma tou Theou. On the word rendered "fulness," see on Ephesians 1:10, note, 23, note. It is a favorite word with Paul. Thus, he speaks of the "fulness" of the Gentiles, Romans 11:25; the "fulness" of time, Galatians 4:4; the fulness of him that filleth all in all, Ephesians 1:23; the "fulness" of Christ, Ephesians 4:13; the "fulness" of the Godhead in Christ, Colossians 1:19; Colossians 2:9. It means here, "that you may have the richest measures of divine consolation and of the divine presence; that you may partake of the entire enjoyment of God in the most ample measure in which he bestows his favors on his people."

(3) it was to be with "all" the fulness of God; not with partial and stinted measures of his gracious presence, but with "all" which he ever bestows. Religion is not a name. It is not a matter of form. It is not a trifle. It is the richest, best gift of God to man. It ennobles our nature. It more clearly teaches us our true dignity than all the profound discoveries which people can make in science; for none of them will ever fill us with the fulness of God. Religion is spiritual, elevating, pure, Godlike. We dwell with God; walk with God; live with God; commune with God; are like God. We become partakers of the divine nature 2 Peter 1:4; in rank we are associated with angels; in happiness and purity we are associated with God!

19. passeth—surpasseth, exceeds. The paradox "to know … which passeth knowledge," implies that when he says "know," he does not mean that we can adequately know; all we know is, that His love exceeds far our knowledge of it, and with even our fresh accessions of knowledge hereafter, will still exceed them. Even as God's power exceeds our thoughts (Eph 3:20).

filled with—rather, as Greek, "filled even unto all the fulness of God" (this is the grand goal), that is, filled, each according to your capacity, with the divine wisdom, knowledge, and love; "even as God is full," and as Christ who dwells in your hearts, hath "all the fulness of the Godhead dwelling in Him bodily" (Col 2:9).

And to know, sensibly and experimentally to perceive in yourselves,

the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge; which, though it may in a greater degree than hitherto be known and experienced, yet never can be in this life fully and absolutely understood and comprehended: see Ephesians 3:8, and the like expression, Philippians 4:7.

That ye might be filled with all the fulness of God; all that fulness of knowledge, faith, love, holiness, and whatsoever it is with which God fills believers gradually here, and perfectly hereafter, when God shall be all in all, 1 Corinthians 15:28.

And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge,.... The love of Christ to his own, to his church and people, is special and peculiar; free and Sovereign; as early as his Father's love, and is durable and unchangeable; the greatest love that ever was heard of; it is matchless and unparalleled; it is exceeding strong and affectionate, and is wonderful and surprising: the instances of it are, his engaging as a surety for them; his espousing both their persons and their cause; his assumption of their nature; his dying in their room and stead; his payment of their debts, atoning for their sins, and bringing in for them an everlasting righteousness; his going to prepare a place for them in heaven; his intercession for them there; his constant supply of all their wants, and the freedom and familiarity he uses them with. The saints have some knowledge of this love, some tastes of it; their knowledge is a feeling and experimental one, fiducial and appropriating, and what influences their faith, and love, and cheerful obedience, but it is but imperfect; though the knowledge they have of it is supereminent, it exceeds all other knowledge, yet this love passes knowledge; not only the knowledge of natural men, who know nothing of it, but the perfect knowledge of saints themselves, in the present life, and of angels also, who desire to look into it, and the mysteries of it; and especially it is so as to some instances of it, such as the incarnation of Christ, his becoming poor who was Lord of all, being made sin, and a curse, and suffering, the just for the unjust. Now the apostle prays, that these saints might know more of this love; that their knowledge, which was imperfect, might be progressive.

That ye might be filled with all the fulness of God; this is the last petition, and is to be understood, not of a full comprehension of the divine Being, nor of a communication of his divine perfections, nor of having in them the fulness of grace, which it has pleased God should dwell in Christ; but either of that fulness of good things, which they may receive from God in this life; as to be filled with a sense of the love and grace of God; with satisfying views of interest in the righteousness of Christ; with the Spirit, and the gifts and graces thereof; with full provisions of food for their souls; with spiritual peace, joy, and comfort; with knowledge of divine things, of God in Christ, of Christ, of the Gospel, and of the will of God; and with all the fruits or righteousness, or good works springing from grace; or else of that fulness which they shall receive hereafter, even complete holiness, perfection of knowledge, fulness of joy and peace, entire conformity to God and Christ, and everlasting communion with them.

And to know the {k} love of Christ, which {l} passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the {m} fulness of God.

(k) Which God has shown us in Christ.

(l) Which surpasses all the capacity of man's intellect, to comprehend it fully in his mind: for otherwise whoever has the Spirit of God perceives as much (according to the measure that God has given him) as is necessary for salvation.

(m) So that we have abundantly in us whatever things are required to make us perfect with God.

Ephesians 3:19. Γνῶναι] Parallel to καταλαβέσθαι.

τέ] and, denotes, in a repetition of words of corresponding signification (καταλαβέσθαιγνῶναι), the harmony, the symmetrical relation of the elements in question (Hartung, Partikellehre, I. p. 105); hence we have the less to assume a climax in connection with γνῶναί τε κ.τ.λ., since this must have been hinted at least by γνῶναι δέ, or more clearly by μᾶλλον δὲ καὶ γνῶναι, or the like.

τὴν ὑπερβάλλ. τῆς γνώσεως] The oxymoron (“suavissima haec quasi correctio est,” Bengel) lies in the fact that an adequate knowledge of the love of Christ transcends human capacity, but the relative knowledge of the same opens up in a higher degree, the more the heart is filled with the Spirit of Christ, and thereby is itself strengthened in loving (Ephesians 3:17-18),—which knowledge is not of the discursive kind, but that which has its basis in the consciousness of experience. Theodore of Mopsuestia aptly says: τὸ γνῶναι ἀντὶ τοῦ ἀπολαῦσαι λέγει, ἐπὶ πραγμάτων εἰπὼν τὴν γνῶσιν, ὡς ἐν ψαλμῷ τὸ ἐγνώρισάς μοι ὁδοὺς ζωῆς, ἀντὶ τοῦ ἐν ἀπολαύσει με τῆς ζωῆς κατέστησας. The genitive τῆς γνώσεως is dependent on the comparative ὑπερβάλλουσαν (Hom. Il. xxiii. 847; Plat. Gorg. p. 475 C; Bernhardy, p. 170), not upon ἀγάπην, from which construction the reading of Jerome (also A, 74, 115, al., Ar. p.), ἀγάπην τῆς γνώσεως, has arisen, which in any case—even though we should understand, with Grotius, the love (to God and one’s neighbour) which flows from the knowledge of Christ—yields an inappropriate sense, and obliterates the oxymoron.

ἀγάπην τοῦ Χριστοῦ] genitive of the subject. It is the love of Christ to us (Romans 8:35), shown in His atoning death (Galatians 2:20; Romans 5:6 f., al.). Incorrect (although still unhappily enough defended by Holzhausen) is the view of Luther, 1545[192]: “that to love Christ is much better than all knowledge.” At variance with the words, since τὴν ὑπερβ. τῆς γνώσ. can only be taken adjectively; and at variance with the context, since love to Christ is not spoken of in the whole connection. Comp. on the other hand, Ephesians 3:8; Ephesians 3:12.

ἵνα πληρωθῆτε κ.τ.λ.] Aim of the ἐξισχύειν καταλαβέσθαιΧριστοῦ: in order that ye may be filled up to the whole fulness of God. τὸ πλήρωμα τοῦ Θεοῦ (comp. Ephesians 4:13, πλήρωμα τοῦ Χριστοῦ) is, according to the context, which speaks of the operationes gratiae (Ephesians 3:16-18; Ephesians 3:20), the charismatic fulness, which is bestowed by God. Hence the sense: in order that ye may be filled with divine gifts of grace to such extent, that the whole fulness of them (πᾶν has the emphasis) shall have passed over upon you. πλήρωμα namely, the definite meaning of which is gathered from the context (comp. on Ephesians 1:10, Ephesians 1:23), has, by virtue of its first signification: id quores impletur, often also the derived general signification of copia, πλοῦτος, πλῆθος, because that, by which a space is made full, appears as copiously present. So Song of Solomon 5:12 : πληρώματα ὑδάτων, Romans 15:29 : πλήρωμα εὐλογίας Χριστοῦ, Ephesians 4:13;[193] Eur. Ion. 664: φίλων πλήρωμα. Comp. Hesychius: ΠΛΉΡΩΜΑ· ΠΛῆΘΟς, fritzsche, ad Rom. II. p. 471. Quite so the German Fülle. Grotius takes it actively, thus as equivalent to πλήρωσις, making full: “donis, quibus Deus implere solet homines.” This is not, indeed, at variance with linguistic usage (see on Ephesians 1:10), but less simple, inasmuch as the passive πληρωθῆτε most naturally makes us assume for ΠΛΉΡΩΜΑ also the passive notion, namely, that of the experienced divine fulness of gifts. Others, retaining the signification: id quo res impletur, but not the signification copia derived therefrom, have assumed as the meaning: the perfection of God. See Chrysostom: πληροῦσθαι πάσης ἀρετῆς ἧς πλήρης ἐστιν ὁ Θεός. Comp. Oecumenius and others. Recently so Rückert: “in order that you may be continually more filled with all perfection, until you have finally attained to all the fulness of the divine perfection.” Comp. Olshausen. But this goal cannot possibly be thought of by Paul as one to be realized in the temporal life (1 Corinthians 13:10-12). This also in opposition to Matthies, who understands the infinite fulness of the—in grace, truth, etc., inexhaustible—essence of God, which has become manifest in Christ. Harless here, too (but see on Ephesians 1:23), will have the gracious presence of the divine δόξα, with which God fills His people, to be meant; just as Holzhausen makes us think of the Shechinah filling the temple (comp. Baumgarten, Michaelis). The church, however, is not according to the context here meant by πλήρωμα (Koppe, Stolz, and others); and the turgid and involved analysis given by Schenkel in this sense is quite an arbitrary importation of meaning,[194] since εἰς π. τ. πλήρ. τ. Θ. can only state simply that the ΠΛΗΡΩΘῆΝΑΙ is to be a full one, consequently πᾶν τὸ πλήρωμα must be the totality of that which is communicated by the πληρωθῆναι.

ΕἸς] does not stand for ἘΝ (Grotius, Estius, Rosenmüller), and does not signify either: into the very (becoming merged into), as Matthies, nor up towards, as Schenkel explains it, to which πλήρωμα is not suitable; but it indicates the quantitative goal of the fulfilment. Matthiae, p. 1348.

[192] In the earlier editions he had correctly: the love of Christ, which yet surpasses all knowledge.

[193] Not even in John 1:16, where, rather, the context (ver. 14: πλήρης χάριτος κ.τ.λ.) demands the first signification: that, of which Christ is fall.

[194] “The world-whole (?) fulfilling itself (?) in God, i.e. completing itself unto the expression of the highest perfection, reflecting itself in the church (?), in so far as there is no longer found in it any want, any kind of defect.” A complication of ideas, of which the clear-headed rational Paul was quite incapable.

Ephesians 3:19. γνῶναί τε τὴν ὑπερβάλλουσαν τῆς γνώσεως ἀγάπην τοῦ Χριστοῦ: and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge. Literally, “the knowledge-surpassing love of Christ”. The gen. γνώσεως is due to the ὑπερβάλλουσαν having the force of a comparative (cf. Aesch., Prom., 944; Hom., Il., xxiii., 847; Bernhardy, Synt., iii., 48 B). That the Χριστοῦ is the gen. subj., Christ’s love to us, is made clear by the description of it as surpassing knowledge, which could not be said of our love to Him. The repetition of the same idea in contrasting senses in the γνῶναι and the γνώσεως has its point not in any antithesis between theoretical or discursive knowledge (Ell.) and practical knowledge, or between false knowledge and true (Holz), or between human knowledge and divine (Chrys.), but in the simple fact that there is a real knowledge of Christ’s love possible to us, a knowledge that is capable of increase as we are the more strengthened by power in the inner man, while a complete or exhaustive knowledge must ever remain beyond our capacity. This petition for the gift of a true and enlarging knowledge (a knowledge which is obviously not a matter of mere intellect but of conscious, personal experience) is connected with the former petition for spiritual comprehension by τε, and this is presented in the character, not of a climax, but of an adjunct, an additional statement in supplement of the former. The simple τε (as distinguished from τεκαί) occurs rarely in the Gospels, with greater comparative frequency in Romans and Hebrews, but oftenest by far in Acts. It is used to connect single ideas in Greek poetry (seldom in Greek prose), and is occasionally so used in the NT (cf. Acts 2:37; Acts 2:40; Acts 27:4; and see Bernh., Synt., xx., 17). In this case it seems to indicate a “closer connection and affinity” than καί (cf. Blass, Gr. of N. T. Greek, p. 263).—ἵνα πληρωθῆτε εἰς πᾶν τὸ πλήρωμα τοῦ Θεοῦ: that ye may be filled unto all the fulness of God (or, into the whole fulness of God). The great Vatican Codex (followed by 17, 73, 116) has an interesting variety of reading here, viz., πληρωθῇ for πληρωθῆτε, the εἰς being also dropped. This reading gets a place in the margin of WH. On the difficult term πλήρωμα see under Ephesians 1:10 and especially Ephesians 1:23 above. The interpretation of this clause is much disputed. The εἰς cannot mean with or in, as it is taken by some, but must = “into” or “unto,” expressing the measure up to which the being filled is to take effect, the limit of the filling, or the goal it has before it. The AV and the other Old English Versions erroneously give “with”; except Wicl., who makes it “in,” Cov., who renders “into,” and Rhem., “unto”. The Θεοῦ may be the gen. of originating cause, = the fulness bestowed by God; or, better, the poss. gen., = the fulness possessed by God. The main difficulty is the sense of the πλήρωμα itself. Some explanations may be set aside as paraphrases rather than interpretations; e.g., that πλήρωμα = the Church (Koppe, etc.); the gracious presence of God, the Divine δόξα, filling the people (Harl.); the perfection of God, in the sense of the highest moral ideal that can be presented to him “in whose heart Christ dwells” (Oltr.), etc. Nor can any good sense be legitimately got by taking it as = πλήρωσις—“that ye may be filled with the gifts with which God is wont to furnish men” (Grot.)—an interpretation that cannot be adjusted to the εἰς. The choice lies between two views, viz., (1) that πλήρωμα has its primary, pass, sense—the fulness that is in God, or with which God Himself is filled; or (2) that it has the sense derived from this, viz., fulness, copia, πλοῦτος, πλῆθος. The latter is preferred by Meyer, who appeals to such passages as Song of Solomon 5:12; Romans 15:29; Ephesians 4:13, etc., in support of it, and understands it to convey the special idea of charismatic fulness as bestowed by God. So he renders it, “in order that ye may be filled with Divine gifts of grace to such extent that the whole fulness of them (πᾶν has the emphasis) shall have passed over upon you”. So also substantially De Wette, Abbott, and others, who refer to 2 Peter 1:4. But there are weighty reasons for preferring the former view with Alf., Ell., Haupt, etc. It gives πλήρωμα the largest and profoundest sense, not restricting it to gifts of grace bestowed, but taking it to express the sum of the Divine perfections (so substantially Chrys., Rück., etc.), the whole ἀρετή or excellence that is in God; cf. Chrysostom’s ὥστε πληροῦσθαι πάσης ἀρετῆς ἧς πλήρης ἐστὶν ὁ Θεός. It brings the whole paragraph to a conclusion worthy of itself, lifting us to a conception which surpasses all that has preceded it, and carrying us from the great idea of the fulness in Christ to the still greater idea of the fulness in God. Nor is it any valid objection to it that what is thus put before us is what can never be attained in this life. It is an ideal, essentially the same as that contained in the injunction to be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect (Matthew 5:48). This interpretation also is most in harmony with the great idea of the indwelling of Christ in our hearts, expressing indeed what is implied in that. In Christ the πλήρωμα of God dwells; so far as Christ dwells in us the πλήρωμα of God is in us. In that indwelling lies the possibility of our growing in moral excellence on to the very limit of all that is in God Himself. That they might be strengthened in the inner man so as to have Christ’s living and abiding presence in them, and be lifted thereby to the comprehension of His love and the personal knowledge of that which yet surpasses all knowledge, and at last be filled with all spiritual excellence even up to the measure of the complete perfection that is in God Himself—this is the sweep of what Paul in his prayer desires for these Ephesians so late sunk in heathen hopelessness and godlessness.

19. And to know] An aorist verb, expressing a new and decisive development of knowledge, knowledge of the spiritual kind, the intuition of the regenerate spirit, realized in its own responsive adoring love.

the love of Christ] Who “loved the Church, and gave Himself for it” (Ephesians 5:25); “Who loved me, and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). See further Romans 8:35, with 39; 2 Corinthians 5:14; Revelation 1:5.—The context favours the chief reference here of these sacred words to the Lord’s love for the true Church, without excluding, what cannot be excluded in the matter, His love, and the sense of it, for the individual saint.

which passeth knowledge] knowledge of every sort, spiritual as much as intellectual. Here is an Object eternally transcending, while it eternally invites, the effort after a complete cognition. For ever, there is more to know.—To find a reference here to heretical or unspiritual gnôsis is frigid and out of place, in a passage glowing with the highest truths in their loveliest aspects.—For a similar phrase, cp. Php 4:7.

The testimony of such words as these to the Nature of Christ is strong indeed, none the less so because not on the surface. No created Person, however exalted, could either be, or be commended as being, to the human spirit, an infinite object of knowledge in any aspect.—“None fully knoweth the Son save the Father” (Matthew 11:27).

that ye might be filled] An aorist again; indicating a crisis and new attainment. For the thought, cp. Colossians 1:9; “that ye may be filled with the knowledge of His will”; such knowledge as to lead to “walking worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing.” See too, for kindred language, Romans 15:13-14. The idea is of a vessel connected with an abundant source external to itself, and which will be filled, up to its capacity, if the connexion is complete. The vessel is the Church, and also the saint. It may be only partially filled; it may be full—every faculty of the individual, every part of life and circumstances, every member of the community, “ful-filled with grace and heavenly benediction.” And this latter state is what the Apostle looks for. See further, on Ephesians 3:18.

with] Lit., and better, unto, “up to.” The “fulfilling” is to be limited only by the Divine resources. Not, of course, that either Church or soul can contain the Infinite; but they can receive the whole, the plenitude, of those blessings which the Infinite One is willing and able at each moment to bestow on the finite recipient.

all the fulness of God] I.e., as in Colossians 2:9 (and see note on Ephesians 1:23), the totality of the Divine riches, whether viewed as Attributes as in God, or Graces as in us; whatever, being in Him, is spiritually communicable to the saints, the “partakers of Divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). The believing reader will find inexhaustible matter in such a phrase for thought, prayer, and faith[36].

[36] Observe the silent testimony of this whole paragraph against disproportioned theories of the true use of the holy Sacraments. The theme is the mode of development of Divine Life in the saint, and yet no allusion is made (here or elsewhere in the Epistle) to the Holy Communion.

Ephesians 3:19. Γνῶναί τε τὴν ὑπερβάλλουσαν τῆς γιώσεως, κ.τ.λ., and to know what passes knowledge, etc.) This clause also depends on that you may be able. This is a very charming correction of himself, so to speak;[52] he had said, to know: he immediately denies that our knowledge can be considered adequate; we know only this, that love is more abundantly rich than our knowledge. The love of Christ to us always exceeds our knowledge; and so in Ephesians 3:20 the power of God exceeds our knowledge.—ἵνα, that) without a conjunction; comp. ἵνα, that, Ephesians 3:18. Spiritual knowledge and fulness are joined together.—εἰς, unto[53]) This is the goal.

[52] See App. When we take away what has been said, and put in something better or more important: ‘correctio.’

[53] Not with, as Engl. V.; but. “that ye may be filled even as far as unto all the fulness of God.”—ED.

Verse 19. - And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge. The love here is evidently the love of Christ to us, and this may well be specified as a special matter of prayer. Knowledge of Christ's love, in the sense of an inward personal experience of it - its freeness, its tenderness, its depth, its patience - is the great dynamic of the gospel. This love is transmuted into spiritual force. As the breeze fills the sails and bears forward the ship, so the love of Christ fills the soul and moves it in the direction of God's will. But in its fullness it passeth knowledge; it is infinite, not to be grasped by mortal man, and therefore always presenting new fields to be explored, new depths to be fathomed. That ye may be filled with all the fullness of God; that is, that ye may be filled with spiritual grace and blessing to an extent corresponding to all the fullness of God. Though the finite cannot compare with the infinite, there may be a correspondence between them according to the capacity of each. There is a fullness of gracious attainment in every advanced believer that corresponds to all the fullness of God; every part of his nature is supplied from the Divine fountain, and, so far as a creature can, he presents the image of the Divine fullness. In the human nature of Christ this correspondence was perfect: "In him dwelt all the fullness of the Godhead bodily;" in the soul of the believer there may be a progressive movement towards this fullness. No higher view can be conceived of the dignity of man's nature, and the glorious privileges conferred on him by the gospel, than that he is susceptible of such conformity to God. Who can conceive that man should have attained to such a capacity by a mere process of evolution? "So God made man in his own image;" and in Christ man is "renewed in righteousness and holiness after the image of him who created him." Ephesians 3:19To know (γνῶναι)

Practically, through experience; while apprehend marks the knowledge as conception.

Love of Christ

Christ's love to us. Human love to Christ could not be described in these terms.

Which passeth knowledge (τὴν ὑπερβάλλουσαν τῆς γνώσεως).

Which surpasses mere knowledge without the experience of love. Note the play on the words know and knowledge.

That ye might be filled with all the fullness of God (ἵνα πληρωθῆτε εἰς πᾶν τὸ πλήρωμα τοῦ θεοῦ)

Note the recurrence of that; that He would grant you; that ye may be strong; that ye may be filled. With is better rendered unto, to the measure or standard of. Fullness of God is the fullness which God imparts through the dwelling of Christ in the heart; Christ, in whom the Father was pleased that all the fullness should dwell (Colossians 1:19), and in whom dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead (Colossians 2:9).

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