Eph. 3:16-17

“I pray that, according to the riches of His glory, [God the Father] may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through His Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.” (Eph. 3:16-17)

There are a few things I would like to note about this marvelous passage in one of Paul’s most impressive epistles.

First, I think it is wonderful that a prayer of the Apostle Paul’s is included in the biblical canon, and this for a number of reasons. It gives us an example of the prayer of a holy person; it gives us a model for how to pray like the Apostle to the Gentiles; it teaches us what kinds of things a person prays for who has done so much in the service of Christ’s Gospel. Beyond that, however, it is also a comfort to us, who are also Paul’s readers, even if we are removed from his original audience by two thousand years. I recall feeling this way while reading this passage not long ago: I felt as if Paul had prayed for me, too; I had a kind of assurance of his concern for me, as well, and that God heeded his prayer with respect to me, too, and not only with respect to his original readers. Perhaps in some way, by God’s providence and inspiration, this prayer of Paul’s had a further scope and significance than he might have ever imagined.

Second, I think it is interesting to note the operations of the Trinity in this passage. Paul’s prayer is addressed to the Father, by whose providence all things are guided and who exercises control over absolutely everything, even — so it would seem — the facts of a person’s inner life. The Holy Spirit is the one who strengthens us in our inner being, as I have argued in one of my papers on the phenomenology of the Trinity. Christ dwells in our hearts through faith as we are grounded and rooted in love.

What exactly does it mean for Christ to dwell in our hearts through faith? And how does He does this as we are grounded and rooted in love? I will venture the following guess. I think Christ dwells in our hearts through faith when we are preoccupied with Him, when we look at Him, think about Him, listen to Him, seek to obey Him, and so on. Our “heart” is our inner life, our consciousness and thoughts and feelings and the rest of them. Christ dwells in our hearts when all our thoughts and concerns and feelings are ordered toward Him, i.e. when we have a fundamental and abiding preoccupation and fascination with and orientation towards the person of Christ.

Importantly, Paul says that Christ dwells in our hearts through faith as we are grounded and rooted in love. Faith and love are inseparable from one another, because our faith in Christ is also a love for Him, and indeed our faith in Him increases simultaneously with our love for Him. We may have a kind of preoccupation with Christ, but if it is not one of faith and love — if, for example, our preoccupation with Christ is born of hatred for Him — then it is not saving. This is not of dwelling in our hearts through faith for which Paul prays. Rather, I understand Paul to be praying that God the Father, through the Holy Spirit, make us to be more and more preoccupied with Christ in faith and love — that is, more concerned to know Him, to love Him, to obey Him, to follow Him, to seek after Him. That is what it means for Christ to dwell in our hearts.

When Paul prays that this should happen to us “as we are being rooted and grounded in love,” I think the words “rooted” and “grounded” refer to a kind of permanence and stability. Paul wants that our love for Christ not only increase, but become a permanent part of us, so that it comes to define us essentially.

Published by Steven

I study theology and philosophy without ceasing. I have a B.A. in Philosophy from Arizona State University (2013), and an M.Div. from Fuller Theological Seminary (2016). I am currently an adjunct professor of philosophy at Grand Canyon University and a Ph.D. student at Fuller Theological Seminary.

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