How can we comprehend that which is incomprehensible? To “comprehend” means “to grasp mentally” or “to understand.” To know facts and to understand are really two different things. We can know that the earth is 93,000,000 miles away from the sun, but who can really understand the magnitude of that distance. If we were traveling at the speed of light (186,000 per second) we could reach the sun in a little over 8 minutes. Even though we might not be able to comprehend the distance of 93,000,000 miles, we can comprehend 8 minutes can’t we? Let’s broaden our travels a little. Instead of traveling to the sun, let’s travel across our galaxy, the Milky Way. Traveling at the speed of light, 186,000 miles per second, it would take us 100,000 years to take a trip across the Milky Way! Now try to get your mind around that trip!
Astronomers estimate that there are approximately 200-400 billion stars in our galaxy, the Milky Way. If we take the low number of 200 billion that is still an incomprehensible number isn’t it? Of those 200 billion stars there are only about 2,500 stars that are visible to the naked eye at any one time. Of those 200 billion stars in the Milky Way there are about 5,800-8,000 total stars that are visible to the naked eye period. 200 billion stars? That’s incomprehensible. The Hubble Space Telescope site estimates that there are hundreds of billions of galaxies in the universe. A German super computer simulation estimates that the number may be as high as 500 billion. The Milky Way that would take us 100,000 years to travel its length is just one galaxy among as many as 500 billion galaxies. We can’t even comprehend the vastness of the Milky Way so how are we to understand the possibility of 500 billion galaxies? Incomprehensible! We can understand all of the “facts” that I’ve just shared with you. We can memorize the numbers so that we can spout them off on demand, but to comprehend them, to truly understand what they mean, now that is an all together different reality.
When we consider the vastness and the magnitude of our universe it is truly incomprehensible, but I would dare say that there is still something far more incomprehensible and that is the love of our Savior. We talk about how much Jesus loves us, but do we really, can we truly, comprehend the depth of His love? Paul prays for the brothers and sisters in Ephesus that they might have “…power to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge…” Let’s take a look at our Scripture for today found in Ephesians 3:14-19.
14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:14-19 NIV)
Though he is in prison, Paul prays for the brothers and sisters in Ephesus. Paul is not praying that they will escape persecution, or that they will be cured of their illnesses, or that their businesses will prosper, or that their children will grow up to be NBA All-Stars or Ivy League academics. He prays that they would be strengthened inwardly by the Holy Spirit so that the Lord would settle deep in their hearts and enable them to grasp His incomprehensible love.
Each week, as I spend time with the Scriptures, I also spend time with those who have gone before us. I’ve read the studies of John R.W. Stott, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, James Montgomery Boice, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, and others during this past week. They’ve brought something to my attention that is very important for us to understand. What they have brought to my attention concerns a phrase in verse 17 where Paul writes, “…so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” John R.W. Stott writes,
Some are puzzled by this first petition when they remember that Paul is praying for Christians. ‘Surely,’ they say, ‘Christ dwells by His Spirit within every believer? So how can Paul ask here that Christ may dwell in their hearts? Was Christ not already within them?’ To these questions we begin by replying that indeed every Christian is indwelt by Christ and is the temple of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless as Charles Hodge rightly comments, ‘The indwelling of Christ is a thing of degrees.’ (Stott, John R.W. The Message of Ephesians. pg. 135)
This letter was written to Christians. It wasn’t sent as an evangelistic tool to try to win the hearts of those in the Kiwanis Club, the Rotary Club, or the Junior League—it was sent to the church in Ephesus. Why would Paul pray “that Christ may dwell in their hearts?” if they were already followers of Jesus? The key to help us understand Paul’s prayer is the word, “dwell.” The Greek word, “κατοικέω” (katoikeo) means, “to dwell, settle down.” It carries with it a sense of permanence.
There are two Greek words that are used to describe different kinds, or different degrees, of dwelling. First there is the word, “πάροικος” (paroikos), which means “dwelling near” or “neighboring.” This was the word that was used of folks who lived in Jerusalem, but they weren’t permanent residents there. They were strangers, aliens, even though they lived in Jerusalem. The word that is used in Ephesians 3:17 is the word that would have been used for Jews who lived in Jerusalem, it was their home.
Paul prays for the believers in Ephesus and it is his desire that the Holy Spirit would so work in their lives that Jesus would settle down in their hearts and completely control and strengthen every aspect of their lives. I know that there are many who will be troubled with this kind of teaching. They say, “If a person accepts Jesus as Lord and Savior of their life then they are as much a Christian as any other Christian. A person is either saved by the blood of the Lamb or they are not.” Paul wouldn’t dispute that assertion at all. We are saved by grace and not by works. We have not done anything to earn our salvation; it is a gift of God so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8) The question that must be answered is this: “Is Jesus at home in your heart? Is He at home in my heart? Has He settled down there? Is He at home there? Or is Jesus a stranger or an alien in our hearts? Does He find within my heart or your heart a ‘land’ that is so foreign to His will and His Word that He just doesn’t feel at home?” Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes,
These words then are addressed to Christians who have spiritual life, but who are in a very poor and immature condition. There is a sense in which they know the Lord Jesus Christ, but in a deeper sense they do not know Him. They are in a relationship to Him, but they are not controlled by Him. They are certainly in a position in which they are having dealings with Him; but He is not in the center of their lives. He is not really in their hearts, He is not ‘dwelling’ there, He has not ‘settled down’ there, He has not ‘taken up His abode’ there. (Lloyd-Jones, Martyn. The Unsearchable Riches of Christ: Ephesians 3. pg. 145)
Paul wants the brothers and sisters in Ephesus to have more than an intellectual understanding of Jesus. Paul wants the brothers and sisters in Ephesus to know Jesus, to be surrendered to Jesus’ will for their lives. Paul wants the brothers and sisters in Ephesus to be so consumed by the love of Jesus that His love fills their every thought and controls their every action.
The final letter to the church in Ephesus that we have in our possession was not written by Paul, but it was written by the Lord Himself. We can read it in Revelation 2:1-7. In these verses we find that the Lord knows the deeds of the folks in Ephesus, He is familiar with their hard work, and perseverance. The Lord knows that they possess a sound theology and that they are intolerant of heresy. He knows that they have been tougher than nails as they have endured hardships for His name. The Lord knows all of this and more. Yet the saddest commentary on the state of the church in Ephesus is found in verse 4, where we read, “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love.” (Revelation 2:4 NIV)
Did the folks in Ephesus “know” the Lord? Sure they knew the Lord. They could recite all of the Creeds. Their doctrine was lock-tight, spot-on. Yet, they didn’t know the Lord in the way that He wanted them to know Him did they? Their love for the Lord had waned. The Revised Standard Version says, “…you have abandoned the love you had at first.” The New Living Translation says, “You don’t love me or each other as you did at first.” Their love for the Lord had faded. Their passion had died down. Their willingness to lay it all down for the One who laid down His life for them had grown cold.
I’ve had to ask myself this past week if this description of the folks in Ephesus also describes me? I can well remember when I first came to know Jesus. I remember praying, confessing to Jesus my need for Him, and letting Him know that I wanted to serve Him above all else in life. I was willing to do anything. I spent hours reading His Word and hiding His Word in my heart. I was willing to go anywhere. I was unashamed of the Gospel and I would go to the park in Duncan where teenagers went to get high and hang out so I could witness to them. I would go to “The Strip” in Lawton to share His love with those who were arriving to go into strip joints and bars. I went to the juvenile shelter in Lawton to shoot pool and hang out with the kids who were in trouble so that I could share with them the hope that I had found in Jesus. I would pray for my teammates with passion and expectancy. I would witness to my coaches because I wanted them to know the love of Jesus. Do you know why I did those things? I did them because the love of Jesus was unlike anything I had ever experienced in my life and I wanted, more than anything in life, for others to experience His incomprehensible love as well.
What about today? Has my love grown cold? Has His Word become just another book? Am I still unashamed of the Gospel? Am I still willing to go to those that nobody else wants to be around in order than I might share with them the incomprehensible love of Jesus? Or, have I lost sight of His boundless love and become more focused on the purity of doctrine and the soundness of my theology? These are the questions the Lord has been placing before me during this past week.
I am convinced that the reason the Lord wrote a tear stained letter to the folks in Ephesus was to let them know that their love for Him had grown cold. I am convinced that the reason the Lord has put these questions before me this past week was to open my eyes to the reality that my love has grown cold, it has become academic, and I have turned our passionate love affair into a cold, stale, religion.
How does this happen? I think I know the answer. A passionate love affair becomes a cold religion when we lose sight of His incomprehensible love for us. It is not my love that is the catalyst…it is His. The more I focus on His love for me and for others the more my love for Him and others will be fueled. The deeper my understanding of His incomprehensible love becomes then the more His love will embody my thoughts and actions. This must be why Paul prays for believers to be able to grasp the incomprehensible love of Christ.
We desperately need the Lord to continuously reveal Himself, especially His staggering love, to us. Apart from this divine, perpetual manifestation of His love we will no doubt grow cold and stale in our love even though we may very well think we are just fine. Let me give you an example, a warning, from the lives of some of His followers. Turn with me to Revelation 3:14-20. Remember, this letter was written to a church, a church not unlike your church or my church.
14 “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. 15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold–I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17 You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. 19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. 20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. (Revelation 3:14-20 NIV)
The Lord offered this critique because He loved the folks in Laodicea. They believed they were doing just fine, but they just didn’t know. They thought that because they were living in fine homes, surrounded by luxury, and lacking absolutely nothing that they were blessed and most highly favored by God. God’s assessment was quite different. In verse 17 we read,
17 You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. (Revelation 3:17 NIV)
Our assessment of ourselves can fall far short of the Lord’s assessment of our souls my friends. How does a person who falls in love with Jesus find themselves “forsaking their first love” or eventually becoming “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked?” Once again, I believe this metamorphosis begins the moment we begin to lose sight of the incomprehensible love of Christ. This is why Paul prays, above all else, that the believers in Ephesus might know “this love that surpasses knowledge…” Would you read with me once again from Ephesians 3:17-19?
17 …And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:14-19 NIV)
We hear lovers say, “I’ve never known love like this before!” Yet, the kind of love they are describing, as they think about the love of their life, pales in comparison to the incomprehensible love of Christ. How do we even begin to understand it? Is there a book that I can pick up at Mardel’s? Is there a sermon out there somewhere that I can read to help me understand? The answer is, “Sure. And we should read them.” There are lots of resources out there that you and I can read which can help us to better understand this amazing love of our Savior, but all of the books and all of the sermons written about the love of God can’t adequately describe His indescribable love. The greatest minds alive today can’t dissect it, diagram it, or describe it.
The story is told about the great thinker Augustine who was born in 354 A.D. Augustine was trying to understand the Trinity. It was a mystery that no matter how hard he thought about the subject he just couldn’t get his mind around it. One day Augustine was walking on the beach thinking about the Trinity. He was saying to himself, “Father, Son, Holy Spirit; three in one!” As he was walking he came upon a young boy with a seashell. The boy was running back and forth between the ocean and a little pool on the beach. The boy would fill the seashell with water, run to the pool, and pour the water into the pool. Augustine asked, “What are you doing?” The boy said, “I’m emptying the ocean into this pool!” Augustine was humored by the efforts of the little boy and he said, “Son, you can’t do that!” As the story goes the boy, who was really an angel, turned to Augustine and said, “I will sooner empty the ocean into this pool than you will manage to get the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity into your head!” And I would say, “The boy will empty the ocean and Augustine will comprehend the mystery of the Trinity before any of us will ever fully comprehend the incomprehensible love of Christ.”
How do you describe the indescribable? How do you comprehend the incomprehensible? Bullet points and dissertations will not suffice. Examples of His love can help to give us a glimpse of His love, but all of the examples of all of the people who have ever experienced His glorious love will still fall far short of exhausting its essence. Let me give you a weak example of what I am talking about. I can list all of the wonderful examples of the many ways I’ve experienced my wife’s love during the years that I’ve known her. I can fill page after page with details. I can remember stories from when we are dating and I can describe, in detail, examples from this week—more than 30 years of experiencing the love of Connie. Yet, all of these stories will fail to truly capture the love of Connie my wife.
As much as I relish the love of my wife, her love is like a kiddie pool of love compared the oceans of the Savior’s love for me, and for you. Paul wanted the folks in Ephesus, and God wants the folks at Britton Christian Church, to grasp “how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.” How can we begin to grasp His glorious, incomprehensible love if books, sermons, and theology will not suffice? The answer is quite simple—we must make knowing His love our highest aim in life. We must pray for Him to give us eyes to see His love that is demonstrated before us each and every day of our life. We must seek Him as a deep pants for water. Spurgeon wrote,
Brothers and sisters, it will be to small profit that we shall talk to you about the breadth, and length, and depth, and height of the love of Christ unless there is in your soul a devout longing ambition to set the Lord Jesus always before you, as the frequent, if not the constant Subject of your meditation! No progress to any extent is to be made in the school of the Cross unless you separate yourself and give yourself wholly to this. It must be the one great business of your life, to know Him and the power of His Resurrection… But to do this the heart must be full of Jesus, welling up with His love, flaming with it, overrunning with it! And therefore the Apostle prays, ‘that Christ may dwell in your hearts.’ Observe the words, ‘that He may dwell’—not that He may call upon you sometimes, as a casual visitor enters into a house and tarries for a night—but that He may dwell. That Christ may take up His abode in your hearts. That the Lord Jesus may become the Lord and tenant of your inmost being, never more to go out, but to dwell there, world without end. Observe, too, the words that He may dwells in your hearts—that best room of the house of manhood—not in your thoughts alone, but in your affections! Not merely have Him in your minds, but have Him in your loves. (Spurgeon, Charles Haddon. Heavenly Geometry. 1866)
How can we know this incomprehensible love? It is impossible to fully comprehend it, but for those who will set their sights on diving deep into the love of the Savior they will experience a communion, a fellowship, an inexhaustible love that will transform every aspect of their being. They will see with new eyes. They will hear with new ears. They will walk with a security that only comes from walking with the One who is Love. It is this kind of love that moved Paul to write to the Romans and say,
38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39 NIV)
I’m free in His love. I’m sheltered in His love. I belong in His love. I’m redeemed in His love. I’m forgiven in His love. I’m a person of purpose in His love. My provision is in His love. My past is overcome in His love. My present makes sense in His love. My future is certain in His love. My friend, you cannot know the fullness of the Savior’s love for you by standing on the outside and gazing in through the stained glass windows. You can’t come to know the glorious love of the Savior by listening to other’s testimonies. You must dive in. Swim in the seas of His love and allow the Savior’s love to wash over you in ways that you cannot even begin to imagine. Won’t you cry out to Him this very morning?
“That God should love the good, the righteous, the pure, the godly, is what we can understand. But that the infinitely holy should love the unholy, and give his son for their redemption, is the wonder of all wonders. Herein is love: not that we loved God but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (Charles Hodge)
Britton Christian Church
March 18, 2012