And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:14–20
In Paul’s prayer here for the Christians in Ephesus, which is a good one to pray for any Christian that you know, Paul prays for their spiritual growth. He prays that they would be rooted and grounded in the gospel, that they would be strengthened, that they would realize more and more the love of Christ for them. But he adds an interesting phrase that struck me this morning as I was praying this passage for my family: “together with all the saints.”
What does Paul mean by this phrase? Does he mean that he wants all the saints to know the love of Christ this way? Perhaps. Certainly Paul would want that. Paul desired for all Christians to grow in their understanding of and love for God. He wanted them to mature, to be sanctified, to be strengthened and assured. Paul may have been saying that this was his prayer not just for the Christians in Ephesus but for all Christians (saints) all over the world. But perhaps Paul also meant something else here. Perhaps he meant that their power to grasp in a deeper way the love of Christ for them would come corporately.
From this perspective, Paul meant that they would grow in their understanding of God’s love for them as they were together as the body of Christ, worshiping together, having fellowship with one another, living in community with each other, serving and loving one another, caring for each other as anyone was in need, comforting and encouraging one another. In particular, Paul would have had in mind corporate worship and the means of grace God has given to grow his people: the Word of God, prayer, and the sacraments (baptism and the Lord’s Supper) (Acts 2:42). Paul was praying for them not as individual believers but as the church, as the body of Christ, as the gathered saints. He was praying that they would together grow and be strengthened, assured, and encouraged.
This is certainly in line with many other passages in the epistles that instruct the church and Christians in how to love and serve one another. Christianity is a corporate affair. In general, we were created for relationship, with God primarily and with each other secondarily. Christians especially, who are united with Christ and with one another, are meant to live and to grow as part of the body of Christ; we are to live together as a covenant community. I think this is part of what Paul was meaning by his statement.
Community is a buzzword in Christianity today. Many churches and ministries are touting their authentic communities. Unfortunately, they often mean something different than the biblical definition of community. And they often try to build community in the wrong ways. The covenant people of God, gathered together locally, who share in one baptism and one Spirit — one Lord, one faith, and one baptism (Eph. 3:4-6). We are one in Christ, members of the same body and are the one true, authentic community, where there is neither Greek nor Jew, slave nor free (Col. 3:11). This community grows together in knowledge and love for God through God-centered, Christ-focused, Scripture-saturated, Spirit-mediated corporate worship, prayer, and fellowship.
We in our culture have a hard time understanding, remembering, and living this reality. We are often independent and isolated. We have a hard enough time admitting our dependence on God, let alone other people. We don’t want to serve others, to consider others above ourselves or put others’ needs above our own. We don’t want to love difficult people or fellowship with those who are very different from us. We think Christian growth is a matter of our own personal Bible study and prayer, not corporate worship and prayer with other Christians. We don’t want to learn from others or submit ourselves to the leadership and authority of a pastor and the church leadership.
But for these very reasons, God has designed us to know him and to grow in our faith together with all the saints. It forces us to see our own sin, to learn how to love others and to love God more. And our love for one another displays Christ to the world (John 15:35).
Look for a series of articles to come exploring what it means to live in covenant community and true biblical fellowship with one another.