Presented at Trinity Fellowhip on 11/15/1998
". . . that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, 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, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God."
For the last three weeks we have been climbing one of the greatest mountains of Scripture. We set up our base camp in v. 16, where we were strengthened in the inner man. Then we started climbing up onto the shoulders as Christ began to dwell in our hearts through faith. Then we reached the last and steepest slope, as we became rooted and grounded in love. Today we will scale the absolute pinnacle of the tallest spire and be filled up to all the fullness of God. Well did H. Dermott McDonald say of this description that "nothing less will satisfy; nothing more is possible." So what does it mean--what can it possibly mean--to be filled up to all the fullness of God?
The meaning of this awe-inspiring phrase can best be grasped by seeing it as the completion of the series of statements that begins in v. 16. It is fullness in terms of precisely these things that have been mentioned. First, being strengthened in the inner man. In this sense, Paul prays that we will be at full strength spiritually. When a running back has a sprained ankle, the coach might say, "he will tape it up and play, but he will not be 100%--he will not be at full strength." And that is the way we usually are spiritually. What is it like to be at full strength spiritually? How strong can you be? Physically we all have genetically preset limits. No matter how long or hard I work out, I am never going to be an Olympic lifter or runner. Not enough fast-twitch fibers. But how strong can I be to resist temptation? To love and to serve? Here there is no limit, for our strength comes from One who is omnipotent! That is what it means to be filled up to all the fullness of God.
Then in v. 17a, Christ comes to dwell in our hearts by faith. In this sense, Paul prays that he will be fully at home in our inner lives. Some of us know how empty a house can feel after the kids grow up and leave. This is the spiritual opposite of empty nest syndrome: an inner life full of the presence, the activity, of Jesus Christ. Some women are able to make a house full of their presence. Here one sees an afghan she has made, there the furnishings she has chosen. Everywhere one encounters the sound of her voice, the smell of her cooking. So Paul prays that Christ will not just be in our hearts but dwell there to the point that they are full of him, overflowing with the signs of his presence--filled up to all the fullness of God.
Next in 17b we became rooted and grounded--full now of love. There are moments when you look at your children, or at a special person, and your love for them seems to swell up within as if it were going to choke you. You feel that no sacrifice would be too great, that could not only willingly but gladly give your life for them. What if that were your response to God? And what if it were galvanized into action? That is what it is to be filled with the love of Christ, filled up to all the fullness of God.
In v. 18 we are to comprehend his love with all the saints. Here we are, last but not least, to be filled with knowledge, or, perhaps equally, with interest. Part of heaven will be to have an infinite curiosity, infinite desire, and infinite fascination infinitely satisfied. When someone has an interest which amounts to a passion we say he is "full of" that subject. When Tom was little he was full of baseball. At about 3 or 4 he knew the starting lineup for the Braves and would pretend to be each in turn as I threw whiffle balls for him to hit in the back yard. Therefore, Paul wants us to have the same kind of deep, abiding, and overflowing joy in learning and knowing about Christ and sharing that with others--filled up to all the fullness of God.
This then is what Paul prays for us: to be filled up to all the fullness of God--fully strong, fully indwelt, full of love, full of knowledge of Christ. But these are only the analyzed aspects or effects of being filled with God himself. As McDonald summarizes it, "Not an attribute of God, his love, his power, his strength he asks for them; but the very God himself [Paul] would have to indwell them. Not he gift, but the Giver; not even his grace, but the God of grace."
How does this relate to the similar language of the fullness of the Holy Spirit? It is another way--and I think a very useful one, because less skewed by controversy--of talking about the same thing. Who is the Holy Spirit? He is the personal agent and representative of Jesus Christ (Jn. 16:13-15), sent to represent Christ in our lives during his absence between the Ascension and his Return. Christ dwells in us in the person of his agent and representative, the Spirit. We must never divide their work therefore, as if Christ redeems but the Spirit sanctifies and empowers. Rather, they work together at each stage: conviction, calling, regeneration, indwelling, rooting and grounding, comprehending, filling--it is all the work of the Spirit on behalf of Christ. The work of the Spirit is indispensable at each stage. But where is the focus? It is always on Jesus Christ. The Spirit comes to glorify him, to disclose him. It is through the Spirit that Christ dwells in our hearts. To be filled with the one is to fully know the other. It is "to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, 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, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God."
How do we come to experience this blessing? The standard answer of our Pentecostal brethren is to "wait" or "tarry," like the disciples did in the upper room, until they were filled with power from on high at the day of Pentecost. Well, in a way I have no problem with that. Too many Christians are trying to do the Lord's work in the flesh; some could stand to do some waiting. But I would add two things not often brought by people who exhort in this fashion. First, do not wait for some particular stereotyped experience with the external trappings of Pentecost. Pentecost was the first outpouring of the Spirit for his post-resurrection ministry. It was therefore unique. That is why the command to "wait" is never repeated anywhere in the New Testament after Pentecost. Never. Afterwards, the apostles had many fillings, and they got fuller and fuller as they grew.
Second, do not think of waiting as passive, but ask this question. What should I do while I'm waiting? First, focus your mind and heart on Jesus Christ. That is the focus of the Holy Spirit himself. So the best way to prepare yourself for the fullness of that heavenly Guest is to adopt his own orientation. Therefore, do not ask, "Have you received the baptism and fullness of the Spirit," but "Is Jesus beginning to dwell in your heart by faith?" Meditate on him as he is presented in Scripture: the incomparable wisdom of his teaching, the inconceivable beauty and majesty of his person, the incomprehensible dimensions of his love. Fill your mind with the eternity of glory he had with the Father, the humiliation of his experience on this earth, the depths of his sacrifice. Feast your soul on his manger, his cross, and his empty tomb.
Then, constantly remind yourself of the purpose God plans for you and the position he has granted you in Jesus Christ: to be a living stone in the great Temple of the Church through which the glory of his grace will be made known to all the universe. This is your position; this is your privilege; this is your birthright, your purpose, and your destiny if indeed you belong to Christ. Next. be much in the presence of others who have the same beliefs and desires. Find a church that emphasizes theses things, which is centered on the person of Christ, and which can nurture you in them and encourage you in them as they begin to come to expression in you. Then as love, worship, celebration, praise, gratitude, and the desire to serve well up in your heart in response to these truths, then act on them, on the basis that they are true. As you meditate, and you act, and you meditate, and you act, you will find that the response wells up increasingly deeper and stronger like a stream of living water until you are filled up to all the fullness of God.
Can such things be? Can this really be our experience? Is Paul's prayer one that can really be answered?
Thou art coming to a King; Large petitions with thee bring! For his grace and power are such, None can ever ask too much.
Not even "to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, 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, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God."
Here endeth the lesson.
Dr. Donald T. Williams