One of the most famous intellectuals in the church in the last 100 years was Karl Barth. Near the end of his life, he was lecturing at the University of Chicago Divinity School. When Dr. Barth completed the lecture, the school president noted that Dr. Barth was exhausted, so that rather than allowing students to ask lots of questions, the president asked one on behalf of all: “Of all the theological insights you have ever had, which do you consider the greatest?”
Here was a man who had written tens of thousands of pages of some of the most sophisticated philosophy ever put on paper. The students sat poised to record the premier insight of the greatest theologian of their time. Barth closed his eyes and paused, deep in though. Then he smiled, opened his eyes, and said: “The greatest theological insight that I have ever had is this: Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so!”
All study, all theology, all ministry culminates there; there is nothing deeper.
That is why the Apostle Paul, when praying for the believers in Ephesus, asks the Father that they might comprehend the breadth, the length, the height and the depth, and know the love of Jesus Christ. This love changes lives; this love overcomes fear; this love overwhelms uncertainty. The love of Christ converts doubting Thomases into courageous martyrs; the love of Christ propels missionaries into the Muslim world; the love of Christ presses a husband into self-sacrificial and single-hearted service to his wife and children; the love of Christ pushes fearful church members out as faithful witnesses into their communities.
Read Ephesians 3.14-21. Pray.
I’m surprised that Paul prays for us to have “strength to comprehend” the love of Jesus (verse 18). Why do I need special strength to comprehend love? Here is the most simple and fundamental gospel teaching, yet Paul falls to his knees to plead with God for our help here. Saying that we need a special work of the Holy Spirit in order to understand Christ’s love is almost insulting!
But listen to 1Corinthians 2.14: “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”
Here is a shocking revelation: the more simple and fundamental the truth, the more spiritual strength is needed to accept and believe. Peripheral ideas have a place in preaching and teaching, but they do not so readily strike the very vitals of our self-sufficiency. The great truths, those at the very core of the gospel, these offend us as they demand we place our whole hope and trust in Christ alone.
1. We Must Draw Strength from Jesus’ Love (Ephesians 3.17b-18a)
Paul uses two word pictures to show how the love of Jesus affects us. First, we must be “rooted in love.”
Have you ever seen landscapers transplant a really large tree? They did it out of the ground and then wrap the ball of roots tightly in a burlap bag. For those trees to survive, they must quickly get their roots working again. Once they are placed into the ground, their roots must immediately begin to absorb water and nutrients (actually sucking life into itself) from the soil in which it is placed. Paul uses that same image to describes us. Our spiritual life and vitality depends on our roots drawing life from Christ’s love.