That Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height—to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:17–19—NKJV)

The love of God is one of the most misconstrued concepts about God in our culture today. The fact that God is love has been wrongly applied to provide blanket exemptions from the consequences of sin. Well-meaning Christians tell people indiscriminately that God loves them equally with all other men on this earth. The expression, “for the love of God…” uses the terminology to express surprise. God’s love is also magnified to the point that His holy, righteous justice is relegated to insignificance as a notion of ancient, archaic theological exercise hardly palatable to today’s sensitive taste.

Our text beautifully puts the love of God in its rightful context. Paul is voicing a prayer for the Ephesian saints that is infused with the love of God. The basis of the prayer is easily seen by a quick review of the preceding chapters. The theme of chapter 1 is the unseen, exclusive love of God for His elect from before time began. Chapter 2 shows this exclusive love of God in gracious action fully redeeming His elect. And now, in chapter 3, the focus is on the mysteries of the love of God at work making all believers, of all the ages, one in the loving favor of God. Making known the mystery of the loving purpose of God has been committed to the Apostle Paul, and for this cause He is expending his life.

A quick reading of verses 15 to 19 shows four requests clearly delineated by the word “that.” We would all see our prayer lives more focused if we begin to pray thus for ourselves and other believers around us.

Paul’s concern is for the whole man as he prays. He refers to the inner man in verse 16—who the saint is with God into which all this love of God is poured. He refers to the heart in verse 17—the volitional and emotional aspect of the saints. He refers to the comprehension of the saints in verse 18—the engaging of the intellectual, rational, reflective and thinking aspect of the saints. And finally, he refers to the filling of the saints in verse 19—the joyful and spiritual satisfaction of the saints. Paul’s prayer serves to expand the horizons of your usual prayer requests to something reflecting the heart of God for His children.

God is the recipient of Paul’s prayer. It is His love for His elect that is being evoked. It is “out of” Him that the whole family in heaven and earth is named. His love is a discriminating love. Though He does love His whole creation as only the Creator can, you must not diminish to commonplace the significance of the vibrant, unquenchable love which He zealously exhibits to His saints—the special objects of His gracious favor. Authentic believers are uniquely His family. It is this dynamic, inexhaustible, and unstoppable love which Paul has been busy explaining in the first three chapters.

This eternal, infinite love is poured into the individual lives of His saints through the work of His Holy Spirit as He strengthens the inner man. This strengthening in spiritual might exerts its refining and sanctifying work in the saint so that the Lord Jesus indwells (“to be perfectly at home within”) the life of the saint. It is this work that causes a deeply settled, and firmly grounded saint to comprehend (“grasp with a firm grip and claim for ones own”) the infinite love of God.

The four dimensional terms do not give some “otherworldly” feel to God’s love; instead the terms serve to express the way any grand vista opens up to the human eye—left, right, up, down, across. Just as standing at the rim of the Grand Canyon fills the senses with indescribable awe when taking it all in, so Paul prays for every believer to be captivated by holy awe at each of the new revelations of God’s love he discovers at every twist and turn of his spiritual pilgrimage toward his eternal home. Trust and obey.