Commentary on Ephesians 3:14-21
The church is called to provide people with the means through which they can have communion and fellowship with God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit.
In Ephesians 3:14-15 the writer rises above culture and tradition in order to show readers that God is a parent to all humanity. The author is spiritually aware that God is inclusive of all people, nations, genders and ethnicities. In other words, the language of family is in the author’s heart, mind and soul.
Being aware of God, the author prays that Ephesian believers will be indwelled by the Holy Spirit whose office is to form faith in the hearts of all God’s children. The Holy Spirit is meaningful when it offers people what they need in times of hardships, instead of what they want. Hence, this prayer for the Ephesians, knowing that only prayer would strengthen their hearts and open new possibilities in their congregations.
Prayer is what the soul requires, and God seeks to communicate with us through prayer. Many New Testament books point to the importance of prayer, as the only thing desired by human souls. In many ways, prayer unlocks miracles in the lives of people. We in the 21st century, like the Ephesian Church, need to rediscover prayer and learn as well as grow in the art of prayer.
In the Gospels Jesus is portrayed as a prayerful leader. In the Gospels the disciples requested Jesus to teach them about prayer and praying. Similarly, having done his work of reconciling Jews and Gentiles, the author bursts into prayer, pleading with God on behalf of the Ephesian church. Summoning the Holy Spirit’s power, this passage prays that disciples in Ephesians be given power and strength to build up each other and also build the kingdom of God.
Not only that, but the author prays that Jesus Christ would dwell in disciples’ hearts and to be given the knowledge and full manifestation of God in their ministry, evangelism, and mission work. In reading and listening to Ephesians 3:14–21, we encounter this heart of prayer. Overwhelmed with God’s mystery of reconciling Jews and Gentiles, the passage begins by saying, “Because of this I bow down my knees.” This is a posture of humility and reverence to God who is able to unite all nations, cultures, ethnicities and male and female.
The Church today needs to revive the art of prayer, fasting and believing. In essence, the entire Ephesians letter can be called a prayer book. Hence, this section introduces us to a prayerful apostle, who summons all believers to carve out time for prayer. Ephesians 3:14–21 is not just an intercession prayer but it is also a doxology in which the author acknowledges the resurrection power of Jesus, whose identity after the tomb became the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.
With doxology comes also an expression of the writer’s faith in Jesus Christ, the one whose spirit draws humanity into one faith community. Like Jesus in John 17:6–18, this passage’s prayer for the Ephesian church calls on the power and substance of the Holy Spirit, so that the church will continue to grow as a multicultural faith community. As pastors, leaders, parents, and siblings in Christ, we are called to prioritize prayer in all that we do on behalf of God. While people may be invited into the church, exposing them to a life of prayer helps them to be attuned to the voice of the Holy Spirit. Strangely enough, most Christians have lost the art of kneeling in prayer, and instead prayer is taken as a ritual if not an item on a to-do list.
It is important to see the message embedded in this passage: the author is praying to God as a father figure with words revealing an intimate and life-giving relationship. It is indeed crucial to remember that human souls cannot be fed by food, money, power, or ego, but connection through prayer. We may also take note of the kneeling posture, and teach ourselves to pray in such a manner. Kneeling demonstrates that the praying person is one who has reverence for God, submission, as well as adoration of God. In 1 Thessalonians 5:17, the apostle Paul encourages believers to “pray without ceasing.” While the Bible speaks deeply about the need for prayer, Christians in the 21st century seem not to have time to pray. Hence, ministry and mission work have been turned into a professional exercise, instead of a vocation. However, in Ephesians 3:14–21, we also see the writer has a relationship with God, and is considered a member of the family.
Pastors and church leaders should perhaps reread Ephesians as it is a book about prayer, and for prayers. Divine healing, and life miracles are all manifested if one lives a life of dependence on God. The catalogue of Jesus’ time on earth is filled with prayers and miracles. Intimacy with God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit is possible in and through prayer. In fact, there is no Pentecost without prayer, and a summoning of the Holy Spirit.
In critical seasons like this global pandemic, droughts, wars, hunger, shootings of people, HIV/AIDS, polarization, and many other dehumanizing experiences, the church is called to institute prayer and invite people to prayer meetings. In acknowledging the graciousness and compassion of God, we see the author laying out requests on behalf of the Ephesians, and possibly for the church throughout our world. It is worth noting that this prayer entreats the Holy Spirit to enter into peoples’ hearts, minds and wills (3:16–17). While prayer sustains believers’ lives, the Holy Spirit who listens to our prayers allows Christians to live and experience the love of Christ in their lives, as well as among their fellow sisters and brothers. While the 21st-century church has abandoned faith healing, there is urgency to teach Christians that prayer is a vehicle through which healing miracles happen. Miracles of all kinds are a way to show Christians that when they humbly seek God and His presence, life becomes livable. In other words, faith and prayer are inseparable, as Jesus is shown at prayer in numerous parts of the New Testament.
The love that the author focuses on in Ephesians 3:18–19 is not just temporal, but Christ’s love is both earthly and eternal. As in verse 18, Christ’s love can rescue a sinner from hell, if one believes. In our 21st-century church, the boundless love of God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit is not realized. Maybe life challenges and COVID–19, have robbed people and communities of their experience of Christ’s boundless love. Church leaders and pastors should pray that people experience and live in the boundless love of Jesus Christ (3:19).
Realizing Christ’s love will lead to spiritual growth, faith formation, and character in people’s lives. People, especially in the 21st century know temporal love, and many people have been cheated, dumped, and humiliated by people, if not the church itself. Hence, their trust and love for the Church is deeply low. Just as Ephesians 3:20–21 ends with praise and acknowledgement of God, it is urgent that 21st-century rituals emphasize and teach believers about the importance of praising God. Summoning God’s spirit and praising God are not optional parts of faith, but they are a must in every church and every Christian believer. To praise is to worship, and without praise, there is no true worship.