Sometimes when things are not going well, we feel distressed and weakened in our faith. Getting some comfort is nice; being strengthened is even better.
Paul was talking about the mystery of the Church and how he was called to preach the gospel to different people. All was good, but eventually it came to a point where he needed to mention his suffering because of the gospel (Eph 3:13). His concern was not about himself but that the believers in Ephesus might get discouraged because of his imprisonment. For that reason1 he prayed to God for their strengthening or empowerment (v. 14 on).
While we usually think of strength as having the capacity to do something or to resist something, or the ability to go through difficulty without being stressed out, it is not this kind of strength that he is praying about in this particular prayer. In Paul’s mind, the true result of God’s strengthening is2
- that Christ may live/dwell in us (v. 17)
- that we may grasp the depth of Christ’s love (vv. 18-19)
- that we may be filled to the fullness of God (v. 19).
While his request to God is that his readers may be strengthened, the desired result is that Christ may dwell / live in them. There are at least a couple of things we can learn from the prayer for Christ’s living in our heart:
Presence of Christ in our daily life
Paul is not praying for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit or that Christ lives in us through the Holy Spirit. That indwelling we have the moment we believed in Christ. What he is praying for is constant awareness of Christ’s presence with us3 and that Christ is the center of our lives.4
Control of Christ over how we live
While the word to dwell (κατοικέω, katoikeo) could mean to live or to inhabit a place, it is also used “in relation to the possession of human beings by God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, and other transcendent beings, virtues, etc.”5
If somebody says “I think there is a demon living in your heart,” he probably does not simply mean there is a little spiritual being living in you but that nothing else is affected. What he likely means is that you often have evil thoughts or behaviors. In fact, this same word (katoikeo) is used in Mat 12:45 to describe an impure spirit bringing seven others to enter and live in a person. In that passage living certainly means the evil spirit controlling the person.
So Paul’s prayer is that our daily activities and thoughts may be affected or controlled by Christ on a permanent basis.
His sincerity and perhaps also seriousness of concern can be seen by his kneeling before God while praying.6 May we also pray for ourselves and our fellow christians for strengthening by God and that Christ may indeed live in us. May we sense his presence continuously and submit to his control of our lives!
“For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:14-19 TNIV)
- Of course it could also be a general prayer not related to his suffering, but since verse 14 starts with “for this reason,” it is reasonable to assume that the prayer is related to previous sentence or section. ↩
- Scholars differ in opinions on whether Paul prays for 3 separate things or whether one follows another successively. Grammatically the later is more probable although some argue for the former based on context or theology. It is impossible to discuss the difference between the two in short blog posts, so we will simply note that all three are closely related. ↩
- The word used here for live/dwell is katoikeo (κατοικέω). While the word could simply mean to live or to inhabit a place, Paul typically use other words (oikew or enoikew) to mean living or inhabiting a place, so his use of katoikeo here is stronger than the simple meaning and connotes a settled dwelling. see Harold W. Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002), 480. ↩
- Perhaps we can also get a sense of the word by the fact that the same word is also used to describe the dwelling of God’s fullness in Christ (Col. 1:19, 2:9). ↩
- BDAG, entry 4149, 1 b. ↩
- Jews typically pray standing. ↩