The Expository Files


The Unfathomable Power of God

Ephesians 3:20-21

Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (NKJV)

If we outline Paul's letter to the Ephesians very broadly it consists of two parts as described by Paul in Eph. 2:10:

Christian Doctrine: Chapters 1-3, "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works..." Here Paul describes spiritual blessings that accrue to us in Christ.

Christian Morality: Chapter 4-6, "... which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them." Paul then closes the letter by showing that such spiritual wealth must be applied.

In this article we will attempt to show that Eph. 3:20-21 is the passage that acts as the hub of the entire Ephesian letter. Without an omnipotent God, there would be no doctrine or morality worth following and there would be no reason for mankind to unite under Christ.

The Doxology - Introduction

The doxology of 3:20-21 acts as the conclusion of not only the prayer of 3:14-19, but also of the first three chapters. It serves as an introduction to the last three chapters as well.

By examining the prayer and then taking a look at the broader context we can come to understand that Paul realized that unity among believers takes divine intervention. Man will not be able to understand God's limitless power because man has a limited mind. So powerful is our God that even mortal enemies (such as the Jews and the Gentiles of Paul's time) can become united in Christ Jesus.

Note: "Doxology" is not a Biblical word, but it describes a particular type of phrase or sentence that frequently occurs in the Bible. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary a doxology is "an expression of praise to God." Many of us are familiar with T. Ken and G. Franc's "Doxology," which is often sung as a closing hymn:
"Praise God from whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heav'nly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!"

The Conclusion of the Prayer

Eph. 3:14-19: For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height-- to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (NKJV)

It is the love for one another as members of the family of God that Paul is stressing in this prayer. It is his wish that each Christian possess this kind of love along with adoption, acceptance, redemption, forgiveness, wisdom, inheritance and all the other God-given spiritual blessings. "It is in the context of loving relationships within the church [emphasis mine, cd] that we experience through one another, the depths of God's love. It is in this context that we grow to the fullness of Christ. All this is possible only because God is 'able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us...'" (Larry Richards, The Teacher's Commentary, p. 920.)

"Rooted and grounded in love..." This phrase calls on us as Christians to make a devotional study of the love of Christ, thus filling us with the fervent desire to spread the Gospel ourselves. (This is regardless of the fact that this love has no limits and therefore is beyond our total comprehension.) This is how sinners will be won and the Godhood glorified. (William Hendrickson, New  Testament Commentary: Ephesians, p. 178)

Broadening the Context

Eph. 3:8-12: To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ; to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him.(NKJV)

The fellowship of the mystery is the key here. The fact that once mortal enemies (Jew and Gentile) would become united in one spiritual body via the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ would be a hard pill for either side to swallow. This union is according to the wisdom of God (vv. 1-13). Beyond God's wisdom, He also displays His love in sending Christ to save the world. As already mentioned this love entails His love for us, His love for His Son, the Son's love for us and His Father, and our love for the Father, the Son and each other.

Eph. 4:1-4: I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. (NKJV)

Now Paul segues between the doctrinal portion of his letter and the application by once again emphasizing the unity that must exist in the church among its diverse members. Jew and Gentile, Greek and Barbarian, male and female, bound and free, must all come together under one flag - the cross of Christ! Man would deem this an impossibility, but all things are possible through an  application of God's wisdom because His power is limitless.

The Doxology - Conclusion

In spite of the fact that Paul had asked much of God in his prayer, in spite of the seeming impossibility of uniting all mankind under one spiritual banner, Paul concludes the prayer with a statement that the commentators call a "super-superlative." Paul (under the guidance of the Holy Spirit) coined the compound word "exceedingly, abundantly, above" to express God's capacity to transcend all that we ask or think. (F.F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Ephesians, p. 70.)

Although Paul has asked much, God can and is willing to grant more. In order to appreciate Paul's super-superlative Hendrickson suggests the following should be noted concerning Paul's reasoning: "a) God is able to do all we ask him to do; b) He is even able to do all that we dare not ask but merely imagine; c) He can do more than this; d) far more; e) very far more!" God is well deserving of the "glory in the church" based on His power (1:19; 2:20), wisdom (3:10), mercy (2:4), love (2:4), grace (2:5-8), and so forth - manifested in the church which is the body of Christ (the exalted head). (Hendrickson, p. 175.)

Notice the four individuals (or group of individuals) referred to in the doxology: 1) God, 2) individual Christians, 3) the church, and 4) Jesus Christ. God's wisdom (including His plan for the salvation of mankind) requires the participation of all parties  involved. While most of those claiming to be Christians have no problem with three out of the four of these participants, many have been willing to sell the importance of the church short.

The Church is important and Paul paints us a glorious picture of it in the Ephesian letter.  "This world is not what it was meant to be; it is torn in sunder by opposing forces and by hatred and strife. Nation is against nation, man is against man, class is against class. Within a man's own self the fight rages between the evil and the good. It is God's design that all men... should become one in Christ. To achieve this end Christ needs the Church to go out and tell men of His love and of His mercy. And the Church cannot do that until its members, joined together in fellowship, experience the limitless love of Christ." (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible: The Letters to the Galatians and Ephesians, p. 133.)

Those that are looking for an eternal home with the all-powerful God must be prepared to offer an eternity of doxologies. As so aptly put by hymnist John Newton in verse four of Amazing Grace: "When we've been there ten thousand years, Bright shining as the sun,We've no less days to sing God's praise Than when we first begun."

By Carey Dillinger
 From Expository Files 10.8; August 2003