Ephesians Study, Part 26: Paul's Four Dimensions


Last week, we introduced the aspects of Paul’s Second prayer for new believers in Asia Minor, but more importantly, for you and me. In these last few verses of Chapter 3 of Ephesians, he petitions God to give the new believers the following:

Remember that in the first three chapters of Ephesians, Paul is enlightening the believers, trying to get them to realize the untapped power of God that is within them in the Holy Spirit.

In the last three chapters, he is teaching them how to tap into that power.   He is enabling them to use their enlightenment.

I tried to make the point that when Jesus was on earth, he played the role of man and he was empowered by the Holy Spirit, like you and I can be.   He did not play God, he played man, to show us what could be done if we would only use the power.

Since Paul said that the Holy Spirit empowers the inner man, we discussed the concept of the inner man as different from the body.  I made the case that our body is the computer hardware, the box we live in, the physical mechanics.   But the inner man, the real you and the real me is our software, not tangible, and eternal.   And we saw that the inner man can see, feel, hear and needs to be fed, but not by food.   The Bible teaches us that the inner man needs to be fed the by Word of God daily, to be healthy.

Today's Lesson:  Now let’s go on to Ephesians 3:17.

To set the stage for verse 17, let’s review the previous part of the sentence.   Remember that verse 16 was a petition for strength:

Verse 16 was for strength; verse 17 is a request for depth. He does it through three verbal word pictures or three different verbs.

  1. The first is through the word dwell.   Think about what "dwell" means.  It means more than to just be somewhere.  It includes to settle down and feel at home.

    Remember the story in the Old Testament?   The events at the Oaks of Mamre, when the Lord came with two angels in Genesis 18?   The Lord felt comfortable enough with Abraham to spend time with him.   It is interesting that the Lord sent the angels to Sodom and Gomorrah.  The Lord did not feel comfortable in the home of Lot.

    The Bible tells us that Lot was a righteous man, according to Peter in his letter.   Peter is making the point that the Lord can rescue righteous men from temptation and is using the rescue of Lot as an example of that.

    Lot was righteous, but Lot wasn't in fellowship with God.

    The question that we might raise is "is the Lord comfortable in your house?" Or if he is comfortable in your house, are there closets and pantries in your house that you'd rather he not see, metaphorically?   Or does he have free access to everything that's in your life?

    It's interesting.   Jesus comes not as a temporary visitor as the Lord did at the oaks of Mamre, but as a permanent resident. So he is in your life, but does he have unrestricted access to your entire life?   Or does he have just certain portions of your life on Sunday or just when you're paying attention?

  2. In verse 17, Paul also uses the word rooted, The second of the three verbs that he uses to paint this picture.   A tree must have its roots deep into the soil if it is to have nourishment and stability.  Do you need nourishment and stability?  Then you need to have deep roots.  Psalm 1 is a good commentary on that. It is also quoted in Jeremiah 17 in exactly that context.
  3. The next verb Paul uses is grounded.   That's an architectural word.   It refers to having a sound foundation.   The storm that blows reveals the strength of the roots and the soundness of the foundation.  Is your depth and stability and strength tested by a nice sunny day?   No.   The depth and strength of your foundation is tested by a stormy day.

    If you want to find out how good a sailor you are, go to sea in the storm, not a nice sunny day.  In World War II when a storm was in the forecast, the U.S. Navy came into port and gave the sailors liberty.  When the weather was good, they went to sea and carried out their maneuvers.

    The Japanese Navy did just the opposite.  When the weather was good, the Japanese sailors got liberty.  When a storm was at sea, that's when they went out to practice.  It took the U.S. Navy a while to realize that.  We finally realized that if you could figure out where the storms were over the Pacific, that's where the Japanese fleet would be.  They made storm their partner.

    Are you prepared for the storms ahead?  Are you grounded?  Are you well rooted? 

In the previous four verses you'll discover the Trinity again.

I do not bring this up to make a big deal, but this is another time that Paul clearly understands the three persons of the Trinity and it shows through his letter, not as a teaching on the Trinity but as the recognition of the reality of the Trinity.

If you are sensitive to things like this, you'll notice that the Trinity is all over the Scripture.  Everywhere, in the Old and New Testaments.

Picking up at 17 again:

To the word comprehend and the word apprehend both come from the same Latin base which means to "grasp" or to "understand" or to "get it".

Think about the monkey’s tail.  Monkeys have what is called a prehensile tail.  That means that they can grab a branch with their tail and hang on.

It is possible to understand something but not really make it your own.

I would venture a guess that most of what you and I have comprehended in the Scripture, we have not yet apprehended.  We understand it and we might even be able to pass a test on it, but we haven't really made it our own.

And that is your challenge and mine.  I cannot apprehend it for you, only you can apprehend the Scripture. I cannot do anything but encourage you to go get it on your own.

I think it is clear that Paul here is more interested in our apprehension.  Comprehending, yes but making it our own, apprehending it.

Pay attention to another phrase that occurs here:  "With all the Saints."

That implies that without the others, our comprehension is incomplete.   You and I need each other to comprehend, and especially to apprehend.

I'll give you an example of this that I think some of you may also experience.   Get into a small group Bible study, because that's where the real learning takes place: a small group of believers sharing the word.

I have a Bible study like that each Wednesday at noon.  Many times I come out of a small group study with insight that no individual brought to it.  There are insights that emerge from the exchange that I didn't know and that the other individuals didn't know but that emerge, I believe, through the Holy Spirit acting within the group of believers, that small group of conscientious Christians.

That is really rewarding, not that the truth is that big a deal, but it is the realization that the Holy Spirit is dynamically working in the group.

You and I need each other.  We need each other in many social ways.  We need each other as prayer partners.  But we also need each other to comprehend and especially apprehend God's word, his truth.

And the best way to do that is in a small group Bible study.  So if you are not in one, find one and join one.  If you have been in one for a while, think about forming a new one of your own with some new people.  You could lead one.  It is not hard to stay one-week ahead of the rest of the group, just enough to give it some leadership.  In a study like this, you should take it book by book and verse by verse.  It is that simple.

There is another problem here in verse 18. He says

Wait a minute.

How many dimensions are there there?   There are four words defining the size or the dimensions of what we are to comprehend with all the Saints.  I thought we lived in three dimensions.   Einstein taught us that we actually live in four, with time being the fourth dimension.   Particle physicists today tell us we live in 10 dimensions, most of which we cannot perceive.

We could spend a lot of time on this, but for those of you who were here during our study of Genesis, we made the point that Maimonades, an early theologian in the 12th century, deduced that God had 10 dimensions.   Particle physicists have now concluded what this early theologian concluded from Genesis 1.

According to particle physicists, four of the dimensions are currently measurable, and the rest are so minute that they can only be measured by indirect inference.

But here Paul uses four dimensions.

  1. The first is the Greek word platos, which means breadth or width.
  2. The second Greek word is mekos, which means length, or it could mean the length of time.
  3. The next Greek word is hupsos, which means elevation or altitude.   Metaphorically it can mean a high place like Heaven.   It can also mean a ranking for high station.
  4. The fourth Greek word is bathos, which means extent or depth, as in the depth of the sea.  We get the word bathosphere from bathos
It is interesting that he has four of these words.  I kind of wonder if the Holy Spirit doesn’t have a smile on his face about this clause that Paul uses.  I wonder if he didn’t cause Paul to insert it in order to baffle the physicists or at least to let them realize that there is more going on than they probably had insight to.

Paul clearly highlights four dimensions.  Now Paul clearly was not a professor of physics. 

The reason that those four come to mind is because the extent of his grace is in 2:11-18.  From eternity to eternity is in Ephesians 1:4, and 2:7.  We’ve already covered those.  The depth of our predicament is in the first five verses of Chapter 2.  And the height that he has talked about is being joint heirs with the Ruler of the universe, that we discussed a couple of lessons ago.  So these are aspects of God’s plan that he has already covered in previous sections of this book.

"To know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge."  Does that sound like an oxymoron to you?  To paraphrase Paul, he wants us to know everything that is beyond knowledge.

In a sense that sounds like a self-contradictory phrase.  The only example that I can think of is that of a mother holding a baby.  That baby is secure in the mother's arms.  If you as a stranger come up and try to take the baby, the baby is likely to react negatively.  It introduces insecurity.  The baby knows when it is in the mother's arms.  And yet how much does that baby know about love?

You see, it can know something in one sense without being mature enough yet to have the knowledge.  It doesn't yet truly comprehend the depths of its mother's love.

See the parallel?

The real disturbing thing that Paul says is that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.  What is the most ridiculous extreme of what you could be filled with?  The fullness of God.  He’s got to be kidding!  We cannot grasp God.  We have even less of a chance to grasp the fullness of God.  And yet that is exactly what Paul is saying.  He is praying that we would know the love of Christ so that we would be filled to all the fullness of God.

You could just take that verse and go sit on a log for an afternoon and try to absorb what Paul is saying.

The means, of course, for being filled like that is the Holy Spirit.  We will cover that in Chapter 5.  Paul is going to have a lot more to say about fullness later in this book.

Here we can see how Paul builds his sentences one phrase on another.  They almost bend under their own weight.  He starts out with able.  You can be able.  Being able is one thing but able to do it is something else.  So he says he is able, but not only able, able to do…what?

See the difference in able and to do?  "One is able" is in the potential, and "able to do" is the power to accomplish.  Able to do all that we ask.  That's pretty neat.  All that we ask or think.

What else is there from our point of view?  Did Paul say he that is able to do all that we ask or think?  No.  Far more than we ask or think.  No.  Far more abundantly than we ask or think.  No.  Far more abundantly beyond all we ask or think.

He is able
He is able to do
He is able to do all that we ask
He is able to do all that we ask or think
He is able to do far more than we ask or think
He is able to do far more abundantly than we ask or think
He is able to do far more abundantly beyond all we ask or think.

It's almost as if he builds this thought until it is ready to break.  Paul seems to want to use every word possible to convey to us, to you and me, the vastness of God's power.

Now why does God want to share his power with you?  He does, it's there.  Why would the God of the universe want to do that?

Your assignment:

Your assignment to understand this is to read, this week, Psalm 148.  It is a song of praise to the God that has made available to you, the resurrection power of Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit.  It is available for the asking.

You say that's good, it sounds wild.  The first question to ask is, "is that power active in your life?” Psalm 148 is your homework assignment to really wrap up Chapter 3 of Ephesians.


Next week:

...we will deal with the next half of Ephesians, Chapters 4, 5 and 6, to answer the question, "How do I really make this work in my life?   That's what the next three chapters will deal with, dramatically.