For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:14-21)
There are a number of interesting things we might note from this passage. The intercessory prayer life of the apostle Paul is stressed. We are also told to whom he prayed: the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named. But we want to focus on what he prayed for. Among the many things Paul requests, one stands out: he wants them to be able to comprehend the love of God. He mentions four dimensions of God’s love in v. 18: breadth, length, height, and depth.
When I think of the breadth of God’s love, I think of the most famous verse in the Bible, John 3:16: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. God loves the world; his love does not discriminate in any way. There is neither Jew nor Greek, neither bond nor free. Often our love is so narrow by comparison—we love other people like us. But God’s love extends to all kinds of people. Just consider the examples in the book of Acts: all races—Jews, Samaritans, Greeks, Romans; all social classes—rich and poor, rulers and powerless; both men and women of all levels of respectability, education, or any other criteria you might name. God’s love is not just for a chosen few or a small circle, but for everyone!
When I think of the length of God’s love, I recall that God is love (1 Jn 4:18). Love is God’s nature— and that means that God’s love is endless. The love of God can only be measured by eternity. We see that clearly indicated in Scripture: it was his love that motivated him to create; that formulated a plan for redemption; that is working in the present; that prepares a place for his people. God’s love is the past, present, and future! And it is further seen in that it endures. Justice says that we are unworthy to live, but his grace and mercy—his love—spares us. God even allows his blessing to flow to the rebellious! He sends rain on the just and on the unjust (Mt 5:45). How different that is from our fickle love!
The height of God’s love is seen in the lofty purposes it creates. God so loves us that he might save us and give us life. God has loved us so we might reflect his love to the world. We are created in him for good works (Eph 2:10). We are to be salt and light, so that others see our good works and glorify God. Our love is so often selfish in nature: it is based on what we want and what we can get out of it. But God’s love creates us to be a blessing for others.
When I think of the depth of God’s love, I can remember that God so loved the world. Now that properly has to do with the manner in which he loved it, not the extent of his love, as we often think. But the idea is still not far off the mark: we see the depth of God’s love precisely in the manner he demonstrated it. The world was lost, it was perishing, in desperate need of redemption. So God made the supreme sacrifice in the giving of His Son. God’s love stooped and became incarnate, it reached down and lifted up even the vilest sinner.
Anna Warner and her sister Susan lived in a lovely townhouse in New York City. Their father, Henry Whiting Warner, was a successful lawyer there. But the panic of 1837 wrecked the family finances. They were forced to sell out and move to a stately but rather ramshackle house. It was a Revolutionary War era mansion located on Constitution Island, just across from West Point.
Anna and Susan saw the need to contribute to the income, so they began writing poems and stories for publication. The girls launched parallel literary careers. The result was modest success: 106 publications, 18 of them co-written.
For more than 50 years, the sisters would arrange for cadets from West Point to row over for Bible classes. When Anna died at 95 years old, she was buried with full military honors. She and her sister are the only civilians in the cemetery at West Point. The school still maintains the home as a museum to their memory
Anna’s most lasting legacy comes from a novel, titled “Say and Seal.” It was a best seller, second only to “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” in its day. In the story, a little boy named Johnny Fox is dying. His Sunday School teacher comforts him in his arms. He rocks him and makes up a little song. “Jesus loves me, this I know…” The hymn writer William Bradbury read the words of the song and put them to music. And soon, this became the best known children’s hymn on earth.
That song we all know is as good a summary of the message of this text as any. God, in Christ, has given his love to us:
As broad as the world.
As long as eternity.
As deep as sin and misery.
As high as heaven.
May our hearts respond to the great love by loving him in return.