Sermon: The First Prayer On Our Prayer List

Ephesians 3:14-21



14 For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, 16 That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, 


to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; 


17 That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; 


that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; 19 And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, 


that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God. 


20 Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, 21 Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen. (Ephesians 3:14–21)




What does your prayer list look like? If it’s like many Christians, it might be filled with prayer requests for safe travel, healing for physical ailments, and the like. Hopefully there’s also prayers for the salvation of friends and family.


By and large, however, the prayer that Paul prayed here in Ephesians 3:14-21 is a foreign prayer to many Christians. 


Yet it is a prayer that we should be praying constantly for ourselves and for one another. 


This should be the first prayer on our prayer list. What is it? Let’s look and see:


Ephesians 3:14 For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 

Ephesians 3:15 Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named [every believer now in Heaven and every believer still on earth],

Ephesians 3:16a That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory…


After this introduction, Paul goes on to make four prayer requests for the Ephesian Christians. Each request builds on the request that came before it, like walking up prayer stairs


These are prayer requests that we can pray for ourselves and for those around us. First…




Ephesians 3:16b to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man;


Paul prays that the Ephesian Christians would be “strengthened in the inner man” (i.e., spiritually strengthened). 


Now we know that if we want to be strengthened physically, we have to exercise and work out—lift weights or hay bales or something like that.


But how do we get strengthened spiritually? We have to be strengthened “by his Spirit.” Only God’s Spirit can strengthen man’s spirit. In Galatians 5:16, Paul says, “Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.” (Galatians 5:16)


That verse tells us at least two things:


1) Growth Equals Not Sinning: Part of spiritual growth is not fulfilling the lust of the flesh, i.e., not committing sins that our sinful nature wants us to do. Spiritual growth can be called sinning less and less.


2) Walking Is Growing: We need to walk in the Spirit to grow spiritually. How do we walk in the Spirit? That deserves a whole series of sermons to answer, but the most critical step is to feed on God’s Word.


2 But his delight is in the law of the Lord; And in his law doth he meditate day and night. 3 And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, That bringeth forth his fruit in his season; His leaf also shall not wither; And whatsoever he doeth shall prosper. (Psalm 1:2–3)


Just as walking is exercise for our physical body, so we need to exercise ourselves spiritually by walking in the Spirit. The closer we are to God through his Word, the easier it will be to give ourselves over to the Spirit and walk in the Spirit. 


Our spiritual muscles will gradually be strengthened. In fact, Paul says:


16 For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. (2 Corinthians 4:16)


Just like physical exercise doesn’t make you stronger overnight, so walking in the Spirit doesn’t mean that you will be instantly made into a spiritual superman or woman. It’s a day by day process.


It’s important that we, like Paul does here, pray for this to happen for ourselves and for those Christians around us. 


Pray that the Lord, according to his riches glory, would strengthen you, your family, and your Church family, with might by his Spirit in our inner persons. 


And we should pray this…




Ephesians 3:17a That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; 


When we grow spiritually and the amount of sinning in our lives decline, we will find that Christ will dwell in our hearts.


Now, wait a moment. Doesn’t Christ dwell in our hearts from the moment that we are saved? He certainly does, as it says in Romans:


9 But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. (Romans 8:9)


And in Galatians, Paul testifies: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me…” (Galatians 2:20)


So why does Paul pray that Christians (and he is praying for Christians here) have Christ dwell in their hearts if he is already there?


The word for “dwell” in this verse is κατοικῆσαι, and it means to settle down and make a place your home. Another word for dwell that could have been used here means to dwell as a foreigner in a place. 


But Paul doesn’t use that word, he uses the one that means to make a place your home. Perhaps what Paul is praying for here is that Christ would be welcomed to settle down and be “at home” in the hearts of believers. 


I find confirmation of that in Revelation 3, in a letter that John wrote from Jesus to the church at Laodicea. This was a lukewarm church that was distracted by materialism:


16 So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. 17 Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing… (Revelation 3:16–17)


And then Jesus says:


20 Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. (Revelation 3:20)


Typically we think of this verse as for unbelievers, but who is it first written to? To a church, a church full of lukewarm Christians! 


These were Christians who had Christ in their hearts, but evidently he was pushed off into a corner closet so that they can let the rest of their hearts be consumed with riches and goods.


Perhaps we could even think of the door that Christ is knocking on as a closet door—he saying, “Let me out of here and into the rest of your heart!”


Would Christ feel comfortable in your heart? Robert Munger, in a sermon, My Heart Christ’s Home, imagines our heart as a house:


  • There’s a library, which contains the things that we think about. Are they pure things? Would Christ be saddened by your thoughts?
  • There’s a dining room—what are your appetites? What kinds of things do you feast on when it comes to activities, hobbies, etc.
  • There’s a hall closet that contains our secrets that we keep from others.


At the end of his sermon, Munger has the imaginary house owner say this: “Lord, You have been a guest and I have been the host. From now on I am going to be the servant. You are going to be the Lord.”


Many Christians simply have Christ as a guest in their hearts. He is tolerated and maybe even appreciated a little on Sundays or during hard times, but the house is their house—not his.


Would Christ feel comfortable dwelling in your heart? 


When we grow spiritually, being strengthened by the Spirit, we’ll being sinning less and less and our hearts will become a better home for Christ in which to live. And when he is “at home” in our hearts we will find…




Ephesians 3:17b that ye, being rooted and grounded in love,

Ephesians 3:18 May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; 

Ephesians 3:19a And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge,


The basic prayer of these verses is that we would be able to comprehend and know the love of Christ, but Paul surrounds it with additional information. First he says that Christians are…


A. Rooted And Grounded In Love


The word “rooted,” as it sounds has to do with a plant’s roots going down into the soil. “Grounded,” on the other hand, pictures the firm foundation of a building. 


When Christ is given free reign in our hearts, we become “rooted and grounded in love.


What does that mean? Love is the foundation of a Christian’s spiritual growth. Look at the verse that describes the spiritual fruit that Christians are to have growing in their lives:


22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, 23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. (Galatians 5:22–23)


See how love is at the beginning of the list? The reason that it is at the beginning is because love is the key to all the other fruits of the Spirit. Donald Grey Barnhouse, a famous pastor who died in 1960, wrote:


Joy is love singing. Peace is love resting. Long-suffering is love enduring. Kindness is love’s touch. Goodness is love’s character. Faithfulness [faith] is love’s habit. Gentleness is love’s self-forgetfulness. Self-control [temperance] is love holding the reins.” (qtd in R. Kent Hughes, Ephesians: The Mystery of the Body of Christ, Preaching the Word [Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1990], 116)


When Christ has swept our heart’s house clean, his love begins to manifest itself in those ways. We become rooted and grounded in love, which helps us to comprehend the full scale of Christ’s love for us…


B. The Dimensions Of Christ’s Love


Here Paul uses wonderful image of Christ’s love for us; he challenges us to think of his love in terms of it’s “breadth, and length, and depth, and height.”


(1) The Breadth Of Christ’s Love


We’ve seen in Ephesians 2 especially how God wanted the Jews and Gentiles to form one Church body, with no differences. Christ’s love is broad enough to include both Jew and Gentile—the whole, wide world.


16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)


(2) The Length Of Christ’s Love


We saw in Ephesians 1:4 that Christians were chosen in love before the foundation of the world. And Christ’s love for us will last forever and ever, so his love for us is as long as eternity itself (see 1 Corinthians 13:8).


Charles Spurgeon said that Christ’s love “is so long that your old age cannot wear it out, so long that your continual tribulations cannot exhaust it…” (C. H. Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 12 [London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1866], 478)


(3) The Depth Of Christ’s Love


The depth of Christ’s love is shown in how far down he reached to save us. Christ became a man, yes, even a dependent baby, a very humbling experience, so that he could experience the most humbling thing any man experiences: death.


7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: 8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. (Philippians 2:7–8)


If Christ humbled himself that deeply for mankind, how can we ever think that we have sinned too greatly for him to reach us? 


He has come down from the infinite heights of Heaven, do you think that he can’t reach you because you are under a little dirt from your sins?


(4) The Height Of Christ’s Love


We can see the height of Christ’s love in that Heaven is how high he will take a sinner. It’s not like a homeowner who allows a traveler to sleep in the barn or on a couch. It’s that the traveler gets the whole run of the place. 


Through Christ, Heaven is ours. Heaven is the Christian’s true home; we are citizens of that grand place, not foreigners. Heaven is our eternal inheritance. 


Oh how high Christ’s love is for us! How deep does Christ go to love us! How long does Christ love us! How wide are his loving arms for us!


C. Knowing The Unknowable Love Of Christ


Wrapping up the portion of this prayer on love, we read that Paul prays for the Ephesian Christians, “And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge.”


Now, how can someone know a love that passeth knowledge? How we know the unknowable love of Christ?


The answer lies not in facts, but in experience. What he is saying is that we could never know all the facts about Christ and his love for us: that would fill all the books in the world and that would only be the introduction!


However, we can know Christ’s love by experience. In other words, we can grow in our awareness of Christ’s love for us—even in the midst of trials.


[In the 1800’s], when Napoleon’s armies opened a prison that had been used by the Spanish Inquisition they found the remains of a prisoner who had been incarcerated for his faith. 


The dungeon was underground. The body had long since decayed. Only a chain fastened around an anklebone cried out his confinement. 


But this prisoner, long since dead, had left a witness. On the wall of his small, dismal cell this faithful soldier of Christ had scratched a rough cross with four words surrounding it in Spanish. 


Above the cross was the Spanish word for “height.” Below it was the word for “depth.” To the left the word “width.” To the right, the word “length.” 


Clearly this prisoner wanted to testify to the surpassing greatness of the love of Christ, perceived [known by experience] even in his suffering. (James Montgomery Boice, Ephesians: An Expositional Commentary [Grand Rapids, MI: Ministry Resources Library, 1988], 111)


Are we so rooted and grounded in the love of Christ that we are growing each day in the awareness—the knowledge coming from experience—of Christ’s love for us? When we do, we will find ourselves filled with the fulness of God.




Ephesians 3:19b that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.


A. What Does It Mean To Be Filled With God?


The word here for “filled” (πληρωθῆτε, Aor/Pass/Subj/2nd/Pl, πληρόω) means to be completely filled. It’s like a glass that is filled to the brim—there is no room for anything more.


To be filled with the fulness of God means that there isn’t room for anything more in our lives. God dominates our lives, just as a glass would be dominated by the water when it was filled.


Our thoughts would constantly be coming back to Christ. Our desires would be to worship him, to spend time with him, to serve him.


B. How Do We Get Filled With The Fulness Of God?


Remember that this passage is a progression—I called them prayer stairs—and we cannot skip the steps to get to this step, at the very top of the stairs.


So being filled with the fulness of God means first praying to be strengthen by his Spirit so that sin becomes less and less in your life. That will make your heart a comfortable place for Christ to dwell in. 


And when Christ is “at home” in your heart, you will be able to comprehend—to grasp and fully understand—Christ’s love for you: it’s breadth, and length, and depth, and height.


And that’s when God fills your life with his fulness; when your life becomes dominated by the Lord.




There’s a sense in which we might think that this prayer is too much to ask for. 


To pray to be strengthened by the Spirit against sin, so Christ can be “at home” in our hearts, causing us to comprehend his great love us and leading us to be filled—dominated—by the fulness of God sounds like it’s too much. But read the last verses here in chapter three.


Ephesians 3:20 Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, 


Christian, it’s not too much to pray this prayer to God for yourself, and for your church family. 


Perhaps the Spirit is prompting you today to do just that. Might I suggest printing this text on an index card and putting it where you will be reminded to pray this great prayer for the spiritual growth of yourself and the Christians around you?


And it’s not that we would be great spiritual giants. No, it’s so that God would be glorified. Paul closes his prayer by saying…


Ephesians 3:21 Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.

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