May 10, 2017: Verse of the day

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Christ’s Indwelling

so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; (3:17a)

So that translates hina, a Greek word used to introduce purpose clauses. The purpose of our being “strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man” is that Christ may dwell in [our] hearts through faith.

The proper order seems to be reversed, because every believer at salvation is indwelt by Christ (2 Cor. 13:5; Col. 1:27) and cannot have “the Holy Spirit in the inner man” until he has received Christ as Savior (Rom. 8:9, 11; 1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19). Paul has already made clear that all believers are in Christ (1, 3, 10, 12; 2:6, 10, 13). He is therefore not here referring to Christ’s indwelling believers in salvation but in sanctification.

Katoikeō (dwell) is a compound word, formed from kata (down) and oikeō (to inhabit a house), In the context of this passage the connotation is not simply that of being inside the house of our hearts but of being at home there, settled down as a family member. Christ cannot be “at home” in our hearts until our inner person submits to the strengthening of His Spirit. Until the Spirit controls our lives, Jesus Christ cannot be comfortable there, but only stays like a tolerated visitor. Paul’s teaching here does not relate to the fact of Jesus’ presence in the hearts of believers but to the quality of His presence.

When the Lord came with two angels to visit them, Abraham and Sarah immediately made preparations to entertain their guests in the best possible way. From the rest of the passage (Gen. 18) it is evident that Abraham and Sarah knew they were hosting the Lord Himself. It is also evident that the Lord felt at home with Abraham and Sarah. It seems significant that when, a short while later, the Lord warned Lot to take his family and flee for their lives, He did not go Himself but only sent the two angels (19:1). Lot was a believer, but the Lord did not feel at home in Lot’s house as He did in Abraham’s tent.

In his booklet My Heart Christ’s Home, Robert Munger pictures the Christian life as a house, through which Jesus goes from room to room. In the library, which is the mind, Jesus finds trash and all sorts of worthless things, which He proceeds to throw out and replace with His Word. In the dining room of appetite He finds many sinful desires listed on a worldly menu. In the place of such things as prestige, materialism, and lust He puts humility, meekness, love, and all the other virtues for which believers are to hunger and thirst. He goes through the living room of fellowship, where He finds many worldly companions and activities, through the workshop, where only toys are being made, into the closet, where hidden sins are kept, and so on through the entire house. Only when He had cleaned every room, closet, and corner of sin and foolishness could He settle down and be at home.

Jesus enters the house of our hearts the moment He saves us, but He cannot live there in comfort and satisfaction until it is cleansed of sin and filled with His will. God is gracious beyond comprehension and infinitely patient. He continues to love those of His children who insist on spurning His will. But He cannot be happy or satisfied in such a heart. He cannot be fully at home until He is allowed to dwell in our hearts through the continuing faith that trusts Him to exercise His lordship over every aspect of our lives. We practice as well as receive His presence by faith.

How awesome and wonderful that the almighty and holy God wants to live in our hearts, be at home there, and rule there! Yet Jesus said, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him, and make Our abode with him” (John 14:23).

Love’s Abundance

and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, (3:17b–19a)

Being made strong inwardly by God’s Spirit leads to Christ’s being at home in our hearts, which leads to love that is incomprehensible. The result of our yielding to the Spirit’s power and submitting to Christ’s lordship in our hearts is love. When Christ settles down in our lives He begins to display His own love in us and through us. When He freely indwell-s our hearts, we become rooted and grounded in love, that is, settled on a strong foundation of love.

“A new commandment I give to you,”Jesus said, “that you love one another, even as I have loved you” (John 13:34). Peter wrote, “Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart” (1 Pet. 1:22). It is God’s supreme desire that His children sincerely and fully love each other, just as He loves us. Love is the first fruit of the Spirit, of which joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self–control are essentially subcategories (Gal. 5:22–23).

Love is an attitude of selflessness. Biblical agapē love is a matter of the will and not a matter of feeling or emotion, though deep feelings and emotions almost always accompany love. God’s loving the world was not a matter simply of feeling; it resulted in His sending His only Son to redeem the world (John 3:16). Love is self-less giving, always self-less and always giving. It is the very nature and substance of love to deny self and to give to others. Jesus did not say, “Greater love has no one than to have warm feelings for his friends,” but rather, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

In obeying the Father’s loving will to redeem the world,Jesus willingly and lovingly gave Himself to accomplish that redemption. “Although He existed in the form of God, [He] did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond–servant, and being made in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:6–8). That is love in its most perfect form, and it is this divine attitude of self–sacrificing love that every believer should have in himself (v. 5).

We can only have such love when Christ is free to work His own love through us. We cannot fulfill any of Christ’s commands without Christ Himself, least of all His command to love. We can only love as Christ loves when He has free reign in our hearts. “By this,”John says, “the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has beheld God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us. … We love, because He first loved us” (1 John 4:9–12, 19).

When the Spirit empowers our lives and Christ is obeyed as the Lord of our hearts, our sins and weaknesses are dealt with and we find ourselves wanting to serve others, wanting to sacrifice for them and serve them—because Christ’s loving nature has truly become our own. Loving is the supernatural attitude of the Christian, because love is the nature of Christ. When a Christian does not love he has to do so intentionally and with effort—just as he must do to hold his breath. To become habitually unloving he must habitually resist Christ as the Lord of his heart. To continue the analogy to breathing, when Christ has his proper place in our hearts, we do not have to be told to love—just as we do not have to be told to breathe. Eventually it must happen, because loving is as natural to the spiritual person as breathing is to the natural person.

Though it is unnatural for the Christian to be unloving, it is still possible to be disobedient in regard to love. Just as loving is determined by the will and not by circumstances or other people, so is not loving. If a husband fails in his love for his wife, or she for him, it is never because of the other person, regardless of what the other person may have done. You do not fall either into or out of agapē love, because it is controlled by the will. Romantic love can be beautiful and meaningful, and we find many favorable accounts of it in Scripture. But it is agapē love that God commands husbands and wives to have for each other (Eph. 5:25, 28, 33; Titus 2:4)—the love that each person controls by his own act of will. Strained relations between husbands and wives, between fellow workers, between brothers and sisters, or between any others is never a matter of incompatibility or personality conflict but is always a matter of sin.

The principle applies to everyone with whom the Christian has contact, especially his fellow Christians. Loving others is an act of obedience, and not loving them is an act of disobedience. “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also” (1 John 4:20–21). In the deepest sense, love is the only commandment of God. ‘The greatest commandment, Jesus said, is to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind; and the second greatest is to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matt. 22:37–39). And “he who loves his neighbor,” Paul said, “has fulfilled the law. For this, ‘You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,’ and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; love therefore is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom. 13:8–10).

The absence of love is the presence of sin. The absence of love has nothing at all to do with what is happening to us, but everything to do with what is happening in us. Sin and love are enemies, because sin and God are enemies. They cannot coexist. Where one is, the other is not. The loveless life is the ungodly life; and the godly life is the serving, caring, tenderhearted, affectionate, self–giving, self–sacrificing life of Christ’s love working through the believer.

When we are rooted and grounded in love, we then become able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth of love. We cannot comprehend the fulness of love unless we are totally immersed in love, unless it is the very root and ground of our being. When someone asked the famed jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong to explain jazz, he replied, “Man, if I’ve got to explain it, you ain’t got it.” In some ways that simplistic idea applies to love. It cannot truly be understood and comprehended until it is experienced. Yet the experience and working of love that Paul is talking about in this passage is not emotional or subjective. It is not nice feelings or warm sentiments that bring such comprehension, but the actual working of God’s Spirit and God’s Son in our lives to produce a love that is pure and sincere, self-less and serving. To be rooted and grounded in love requires being rooted and grounded in God. When we are saved, God’s love is “poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Rom. 5:5). It is the Lord Himself who directs our “hearts into the love of God and into the steadfastness of Christ” (2 Thess. 3:5).

Love is available to every Christian because Christ is available to every Christian. Paul prays that we will become able to comprehend with all the saints. Love is not simply for the even–tempered Christian or the naturally pleasant and agreeable Christian. Nor is it for some supposed special class of Christians who have an inside spiritual track. It is for, and commanded of, every Christian—all the saints.

Comprehension of love comes from being continually immersed in the things of God, especially His Word. “Thy words were found and I ate them,” Jeremiah declared, “and Thy words became for me a joy and the delight of my heart; for I have been called by Thy name, O Lord God of hosts” (Jer. 15:16). Job testified, “I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food” (Job 23:12), and the psalmist tells us that the delight of the righteous person “is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night” (Ps. 1:2; cf. 19:9b–10; 119:167; etc.).

To comprehend … what is the breadth and length and height and depth of love is to understand it in its fullness. Love goes in every direction and to the greatest distance. It goes wherever it is needed for as long as it is needed. The early church Father Jerome said that the love of Christ reaches up to the holy angels and down to those in hell. Its length covers the men on the upward way and its breadth reaches those drifting away on evil paths.

I do not think that breadth and length and height and depth represent four specific types or categories of love but simply suggest its vastness and completeness. In whatever spiritual direction we look we can see God’s love. We can see love’s breadth reflected in God’s acceptance of Gentile and Jew equally in Christ (Eph. 2:11–18). We can see love’s length in God’s choosing us before the foundation of the world (1:4–5) for a salvation that will last through all eternity. We can see love’s height in God’s having “blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (1:3) and in His raising us up and seating us “with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus” (2:6). We can see love’s depth in God’s reaching down to the lowest levels of depravity to redeem those who are dead in trespasses and sins (2:1–3). God’s love can reach any person in any sin, and it stretches from eternity past to eternity future. It takes us into the very presence of God and sits us on His throne.

In what may at first seems a self–contradiction, Paul says that to know the love of Christ … surpasses knowledge. Knowing Christ’s love takes us beyond human knowledge, because it is from an infinitely higher source. Paul is not speaking here of our knowing the love we are to have for Christ but the love of Christ, His very own love that He must place in our hearts before we can love Him or anyone else. We are commanded to love because we are given love. God always gives before He commands anything in return, and love is one of Christ’s greatest gifts to His church. Throughout John 14–16 Jesus promises to give love, joy, peace, power, and comfort without measure to those who belong to Him.

The world cannot comprehend the great love that Christ gives because it cannot understand Christ. Worldly love is based on attraction and therefore lasts only as long as the attraction. Christ’s love is based on His own nature and therefore lasts forever. Worldly love lasts until it is offended or rebuffed. Christ’s love lasts despite every offense and every rebuff. Worldly love loves for what it can get. Christ’s love loves for what it can give. What is incomprehensible to the world is to be normal living for the child of God.[1]


17 Either this verse expresses what Paul means by being strengthened “in your inner being,” or it specifies a further and additional request. Probably the first makes more sense of the grammar here; there is no connecting conjunction. So Christ’s indwelling of their hearts further elaborates what Paul wishes God to grant to them: inner strength emanates from the indwelling Christ. In 1:18, we saw that “heart” (kardia, GK 2840) represents the hub of a person’s being, the foundation of understanding and will, the center of one’s personality. It is equivalent to “inner being” in 3:16. Paul prays that Christ may dwell there. “Dwell” (katoikeō, GK 2997; cf. BDAG, 534) can refer to a literal place to inhabit or settle, or it can be used metaphorically (see Col 1:19; 2:9, where the fullness of deity dwells in Christ). Paul prays that Christ (his values and virtues) would take up permanent residence in the center of his readers’ beings. But if the readers are already believers, surely Christ already inhabits their hearts. Probably Paul’s prayer seeks to reinforce that reality for the readers’ benefit. He prays not that they become Christians, but that God would grant them more and more inner spiritual strength, which comes from yielding to Christ’s presence within them. So strength in the inner person implies that Christ increasingly governs the course of a person’s life, or, in Schnackenburg’s words, 149, “Christ is ever more effective in us.”

How can this happen? Paul expresses the means in very unequivocal terms: “through faith.” As Christ does not barge into a person’s life to begin with, neither does he usurp the “control center” of a person’s being. This Christ-centered inner-directedness requires a trust in God, not the following of one’s own inclinations. Paul summarized the point earlier: “The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God” (Gal 2:20). Inner spiritual strength results from a personal submission to the transforming work of God’s Spirit (cf. Ro 12:1–2).

Two perfect passive adverbial participles express the purpose or result of Christ’s indwelling of believers: they become “rooted and established in love” (“in love” modifying both participles). The passive voices indicate that God accomplishes this work; the perfect tenses emphasize its ongoing state of affairs: love is the soil in which and the foundation on which they function as Christians. Paul combines two metaphors—from botany and architecture (which he does elsewhere; see 1 Co 3:9; Col 2:7). The point is clear: he desires that their roots go deeply into God’s love, that their lives become built on the foundation of God’s love. They already love one another (1:15) as a response to God’s love for them (2:4; cf. 5:2, 25), but Paul longs for God’s love to be the hallmark of Christ’s presence among and within them (and so its repetition; see 3:18–19; 4:2, 15–16; 5:2, 25, 28, 33; 6:23–24).[2]


3:17 The second step is that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. This is the result of the Spirit’s invigoration: we are strengthened in order that Christ may dwell in our hearts. Actually, the Lord Jesus takes up His personal residence in a believer at the time of conversion (John 14:23; Rev. 3:20). But that is not the subject of this prayer. Here it is not a question of His being in the believer, but rather of His feeling at home there! He is a permanent Resident in every saved person, but this is a request that He might have full access to every room and closet; that He might not be grieved by sinful words, thoughts, motives, and deeds; that He might enjoy unbroken fellowship with the believer. The Christian heart thus becomes the home of Christ, the place where He loves to be—like the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus in Bethany. The heart, of course, means the center of the spiritual life; it controls every aspect of behavior. In effect, the apostle prays that the lordship of Christ might extend to the books we read, the work we do, the food we eat, the money we spend, the words we speak—in short, the minutest details of our lives.

The more we are strengthened by the Holy Spirit, the more we will be like the Lord Jesus Himself. And the more we are like Him, the more He will “settle down and feel completely at home in our hearts” (KSW).

We enter into the enjoyment of His indwelling through faith. This involves constant dependence on Him, constant surrender to Him, and constant recognition of His “at home-ness.” It is through faith that we “practice His presence,” as Brother Lawrence quaintly put it.

Up to this point Paul’s prayer has involved each member of the Trinity. The Father is asked (v. 14) to strengthen the believers through His Spirit (v. 16) that Christ might be completely at home in their hearts (v. 17). One of the great privileges of prayer is that we can engage the eternal Godhead to work in behalf of others and ourselves.

The result of Christ’s unrestricted access is that the Christian becomes rooted and grounded in love. Here Paul borrows words from the worlds of botany and building. The root of a plant provides nourishment and support. The groundwork of a building is the foundation on which it rests. As Scroggie says, “Love is the soil in which our life must have its roots; and it is the rock upon which our faith must ever rest.” To be rooted and grounded in love is to be established in love as a way of life. The life of love is a life of kindness, selflessness, brokenness, and meekness. It is the life of Christ finding expression in the believer (see 1 Cor. 13:4–7).[3]


[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1986). Ephesians (pp. 106–111). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Klein, W. W. (2006). Ephesians. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon (Revised Edition) (Vol. 12, pp. 98–99). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1930). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

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