Saturday, 27 August 2016
…may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height— Ephesians 3:18
This verse should be placed with the previous verse to get a fuller understanding of Paul’s intent –
“…that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height…”
He conditions the fourfold aspect of this verse on the point of “being rooted and grounded in love” of the previous verse. By being so firmly set, he petitions that we may then “be able to comprehend with all the saints…” It is a call for universal understanding. The Ephesians are being addressed, but the letter is inclusive of all believers. He petitions for Jew and Gentile alike to be able to comprehend “what is the width and length and depth and height…”
As the English, so in the Greek, an article only precedes the first of the four words – “the width and length and depth and height.” Because of this, Paul is giving the idea of infinite vastness; something actually unattainable. It expresses the totality of what he is speaking of. We are not to place our minds on one aspect of it, but of the entirety of it.
The question however is, “What is Paul speaking of?” There is no noun or pronoun given which indicates possession or close association to the words in this clause (a genitive). Some translations tie it directly to the next clause which speaks of “the love of Christ.” This seems likely on the surface, but why then didn’t he just say that? Charles Ellicott wisely notes –
“Various answers have been given; but as St. Paul has obviously of set purpose omitted all definition, leaving the phrase incomplete in absolute generality, no answer can be perfectly satisfactory.”
In other words, Paul purposefully left off what was on his mind, as if his words could not even describe what he was thinking of. It is as if he was writing to make a point about something; he then stopped, and simply stumbled over what he was trying to explain. And so he just left it unsaid. Thus, it is probably referring to the totality of everything that God has done for us in Christ – to include the wisdom behind it; the knowledge of what has been done and is to come; the love involved in the cross to redeem His people; the splendor of the resurrection; the fact that both Jew and Gentile are included in the plan; the word which has been given to explain it; the giving of the Holy Spirit to seal it upon our faith; and on and on and on.
Paul simply stopped, gasped, and then wrote about what is otherwise impossible to express. And then in essence he says, “I hope you will be able to grasp the infinite majesty of this redemptive process in all its varied aspects.”
How then can we comprehend what in incomprehensible? How can we apprehend that which cannot be seized? How can we attain to that which is out of reach? The answer is that we cannot, but we should strive to do so. Our highest joy should be searching out the mystery of God’s workings in and through His creation in order to redeem man. We should ponder the imponderable love of God. We should seek out God’s infinite wisdom, read His word, yield to His Spirit, and cling to Christ’s cross. This is what Paul would ask for us to do.
Life application: Fix your eyes on Jesus. All things come into clear and understandable (even if not fully attainable) terms when we do this.
Lord God, the manifold aspects of Your wisdom are on display in what You have done for Your people. You have set forth knowledge for us to ponder and included it in Your word. You have called people of all races as Your own; Jew and Gentile without distinction. You have done it through the cross of Christ and proved it in His resurrection. And You have sealed our faith with the guarantee of Your Holy Spirit. All this You have done – so much that we will ponder the majesty of the plan for all eternity. All of our praises we send forth to You, O God. Honor and praise belong to You alone. Amen.