Presented at Trinity Fellowhip on 11/08/1998
Paul prays 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."
If there are mountain ranges in Scripture, Ephesians is one. And if Ephesians is a mountain range, then these verses are among its highest peaks. We set up our base camp for an assault on them in 3:16, being strengthened by His Spirit in the inner man. Last week we climbed the first peak in 3:17a, as Christ began to dwell in our hearts by faith. From its shoulders, we spy several more summits rising ahead: to be rooted and grounded in Christ's love, know the heights and depths of it, comprehend it with all the saints, and be filled up to all the fullness of God (3:17-19). To hike over every inch of that ground is a feat we could not accomplish in a day or even a lifetime. But we will try to survey it for you, point out the paths to follow and the pitfalls to avoid, so you can tramp over it and explore it for yourselves. So let's get started. For it will not only take us the rest of our lives, but even all of eternity will not suffice. So begin by taking a deep breath. For the clean mountain air you breathe on these peaks is the love of Jesus Christ.
The intention of Paul's eloquence here is nothing less than to describe the indescribable, to impart knowledge of the unknowable, and to express the inexpressible. For he is speaking of the love of Christ. But wait a minute. How does he expect us to know it if it is unknowable? For certainly he does expect us to know something of this love. In vs. 18 he wants us to "comprehend" it (katalambano), which means to take a firm mental grasp of it, to lay hold of it with your mind. Then in vs. 19 he uses the regular word "know" (ginosko), which means to know by experience. And yet he says that this thing surpasses knowledge. But note: He says it SURpasses knowledge, not that it BYpasses knowledge. We are to "know" it with our minds--and more. Our cognitive faculties do not exhaust this knowledge; it is far more than they can take in. But it is not less.
There are two implications of this truth. First, the love of Christ is something that must be grasped by the Heart. But as we saw last week, this is not primarily a reference to the emotions, but to the whole person. It involves, but does not focus on, how we feel about it. Every faculty we have will be required to receive this great thing. You must contemplate it with your mind--but it is more than just intellectual fascination. It can rock you to the very foundations of your emotional being--but it is more than just teary-eyed sentimentalism. You must ultimately embrace it with your will--but it is more than just stoic determination. It is the love of Jesus Christ which surpasses knowledge. It comes when he dwells in your heart by faith.
The second implication of the fact that this love surpasses knowledge is that the exploration of it is never-ending, for this love is inexhaustible. This is a very high mountain whose top pierces to the very heaven of God. You will never reach the end of it. You will never understand it fully, feel it adequately, or respond to it sufficiently. But do not despair! That's the joy of it. It is a love that surpasses knowledge, and therefore there will always be more of it to discover.
Paul describes the love of Christ in terms of its dimensions, its breadth, length, height, and depth. That is part of the comprehension he wants us to have. But what are these things? I can really only suggest an answer, for it is love that surpasses knowledge. But something I think we can see.
What is the breadth of Christ's love? It extends to every tongue, tribe, and nation. It extends to black and white, rich and poor, Jew and Gentile--it extends to you and me. It could take a Peter, a traitor and a coward who denied the Lord who bought him--it could take a Paul, who persecuted his Church--it could take a John Newton, who sold his children into slavery and made traffic of their very lives--and transform them into saints. Therefore, it is wide enough to include you too. What is the breadth of the love of Christ? I cannot even begin to tell you, for it is a love that surpasses knowledge. I can only scratch the surface. The love of Jesus, what it is, only his loved ones know.
How long is the love of Christ? It extends from eternity past to eternity future. It was fixed on his people before the foundations of the earth were laid; it found them in this life; having loved his own, he loved them to the end; and therefore it will keep them for glory, to and beyond the end of time as we know it. What is the length of the love of Christ? I cannot even begin to tell you, for it is a love that surpasses knowledge. I can only scratch the surface. The love of Jesus, what it is, only his loved ones know.
What is the height of the love of Jesus? It splits the clear dome of the sky and reaches into the heavenly places, where it blesses us with every spiritual blessing (1:3). It flows from the very right hand of the Father's throne on high, where Christ is seated (1:20-21). And it has already seated us there with him in the heavenly places (2:6). What is the height of the love of Christ? I cannot even begin to tell you, for it is a love that surpasses knowledge. I can only scratch the surface. The love of Jesus, what it is, only his loved ones know.
And what is the depth of the love of Christ? Here our breath is truly taken away. For he did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped but emptied himself, took on the form of a servant, and humbled himself to be obedient to death, even death on a Cross. We see the depth of his love in his Incarnation: from deity to humanity, from the mansions of heaven to the womb of a virgin and a feeding trough in a stable. >From being omnipresent to being cramped and stuffed into the limitations of a finite body; from being omniscient to having to learn to walk, to talk, to read; from being omnipotent to becoming as helpless as a newborn baby: what wondrous love it this! But we see it even more in his Humiliation: The one who had enjoyed perfect fellowship and love with the Father and the Spirit, who had enjoyed the worship and adoration of myriads of angels, would now endure being called a glutton and a winebibber, a lunatic and a psychopath, a false prophet--would be forced silently to bear the jeers, "Come on down from that Cross and save yourself if you're the Messiah!" And so we come at last to the Crucifixion. There he died in suffering unimaginable the death of a criminal and an outcast. There upon his pure shoulders was laid the intolerable burden of Sin. There he bore the full force of his Father's just wrath against sin, which tore from his lips those awful words, "Elloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani!--My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" And there the high King of heaven died alone and descended into the pit of hell that we might be raised with him to the pinnacle of heaven. What is the depth of the love of Christ? I cannot even begin to tell you, for it is a love that surpasses knowledge. I can only scratch the surface. The love of Jesus, what it is, only his loved ones know.
Where is this discussion of the incomprehensible dimensions of Christ's love going? Its end is that we might be "rooted and grounded" in it. Have you comprehended something of it? Have you experienced something of it? You are meant to! How can this be? It has to be, first of all, "with all the saints." This phrase means two things: first, that this rooting and grounding is meant for all of God's people, not just for the spiritually elite; second, that it can only be known in and through one's fellowship with the community of the others who are coming to know it too. Something of it is revealed in each one, and through him to all the others. For the Church is the only place where the full effects of Christ's love are seen. It is there that Jew and Gentile, natural enemies, become one new man. And apart from this, the love of Christ cannot be truly known.
In that context then, what do we do? We go back to the base camp! This rooting and grounding happens as you are strengthened in the inner man so that Christ comes to dwell in your heart, for He alone can bring this about. Then one of the effects of having Him, the Source of love, dwelling in your heart, is that you yourself become rooted and grounded in love, like the tree planted by the rivers of water whose leaf does not wither.
But you must understand what it is that God wants to work in you. You must be willing to be conformed to the image of this divine Lover if you are to know his love, be rooted and grounded in it. Do you want to know the breadth of Christ's love? Then you love must be wide enough to include the unlovely and the unlovable. Do you want to know the length of Christ's love? Then your love must be rooted so firmly in Him, rather than outward circumstances, that it does not fade with the passage of time. Do you want to know the height of Christ's love? Then you must lift your eyes above the horizon of temporal experience and material things and set your heart on things above. Do you want to know the depth of Christ's love? Then you must be willing to lay down your life in his service. It is only in recapitulating these things in our own lives that we truly begin to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.
And then to those who find, ah this! Nor tongue nor pen can show. The love of Jesus, what it is, you will begin to know. For then 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