Filled With Fullness

I. Note the continuation of the Trinitarian unfolding of all the blessings of salvation.

A. It is to the Father that Paul bends the knee to ask for a manifestation of the reality he has mentioned in 2:22. They are to be a habitation of God by the working of the Spirit, a holy temple with Christ as the cornerstone.

  1. Since in the very godhead itself, the Father eternally generates the Son and from the Father and the Son the Holy Spirit eternally proceeds, the model of all relations is found in the eternal paternity of God and the consequent perfect relations within the persons of the triune God.
  • God has designed the world to function according to the authority structure and personal relations within the Trinity; all nations, all families, all relational structures on earth and all systems of authority even among the angelic beings assume the perfection of function within the godhead.
  • This is why the fifth commandment closes the first table of the commandments: “Honor your father and your mother that your days may be long on the land that the Lord your God gives you.” Loving God requires remaining within the structure of authority that he has established. This includes both those relations that are absolute and those that are accommodations to a fallen world (See Ephesians 5:20 – 6:9).
  • The instructions to wives and husbands, children and parents concern relations that were anticipated in an unfallen world and thus concern relational absolutes.
  • The instructions related to slave and masters are in the context of an accommodated relationship in a fallen world. The instructions themselves are absolute and give regulation for the godly management of this accommodation. See also Colossians 3:18-4:1 and 1 Peter 2:13-3:7.
  • Even as the Father has elected and predestined and adopted, so we ask from him a continual effectual work to complete his purpose through the Spirit in Christ—“he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being.”
  1. He does this in accord with “the riches of his glory.” God has engaged in the redemption of sinners as a manifestation of his glory.

B. We are strengthened with the power of the Spirit (verses 16, 20).He effects within us, may we say existentially(?), all the purposes of the Father and the redemptive work of the Son. Having already prayed that the saints may discern what is the “exceeding greatness of his power toward us who believe according to the working of his mighty strength which he exerted in Christ” (1:19, 20), Paul now prays that we would be “strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being.” He also refers to “the power at work within us” (20). The Holy Spirit carries out the will of the Father in accord with the purchase of Christ the Son. The Spirit’s power operates in each aspect of this redemptive work from the incarnation, through Christ’s perfect obedience, to the resurrection and then the coming in power at Pentecost, the gifting of the church, the regeneration of the elect, and his consequent continual empowering them, sanctifying them, and making them into a holy temple in the Lord. To the fullness of all these blessings of grace, the Holy serves as the guarantor, for believers “were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance” (1:13, 14).

C. In Christ, we find the meritorious cause and source of all the Father’s blessings and the Spirit’s powerful application of blessings.

  1. Through the faith generated by the Spirit, Christ dwells in our hearts (17). This means that Christ is the center of our affections and the source of our hope of eternal life. Our lives are being conformed to his perfect holiness and righteousness by the work of the Spirit. Paul explained in 2 Corinthians 3: 18; “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this come from the Lord who is the Spirit.” The work of the Spirit is to form us like Christ; he does this as he reveals the glory of God in the face of Christ. The work of the Spirit is so perfectly identified with his forming us to be like Christ that Paul can say, “This comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”
  2. Our experience of the fullness of God is located most pointedly in the love of Christ. His love is not greater than that of the Father and of the Spirit but has a more observable historical manifestation in his death. Paul interweaves the person and work of Christ throughout the passage but expands in an exuberant way the dimensions of the love of Christ (18, 19).
  3. The glory of God is manifest both in the church, the body of Christ, and “in Christ Jesus” throughout the remaining generations of this world and then forever. The entire reason for creation as perceived in the eternal counsels of God was that the glory of God would be manifest in a redeemed people, showing the wisdom of the redemption plan and the glory of the redemptive person.



II. Note the centrality of divine love in the gracious operations of God toward the saints.

A. We are rooted and grounded in love (verse17).

  1. Our grounding in love begins in eternity past with the electing and predestining love of the Father (1:4, 5). This love is unprompted by worthiness in its object but arises out of the pure benevolence of God.
  2. This love was expressed in regeneration when “out of the great love with which he loved us . . . he made us alive together with Christ” (2:4).
  3. Christ’s propitiatory death also was an expression of this purposive redemptive love. “Herein is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).

B. We are to live within an ever-increasing yet inexhaustible knowledge of the love of Christ.

  1. Our first contemplation should hover around the love of the Son for the Father. The Son came to do the will of the Father with perfect compliance to all that was required of him. “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me. . . . The works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me. . . . I do know him and I keep his word. . . . Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (John 5:30, 36; 8:55; 14:13). He had come with the intention of doing only that and all that the Father sent him to do and he did it for the glory of the Father. He was obedient even unto death, yea the death of the cross.
  2. Then we look to a corresponding love of Christ for his people. Sent for their sake, as their covenant representative, under commission to die for the people the Father had given him (John 17:2, 6), “he loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (John 13:1).
  3. ”To know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge:” By the work of the Spirit the love of Christ can be known. It can be sensed as the love of God is spread abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5) and can be contemplated as one “surveys the wondrous cross on which the Prince of Glory died.” “Did e’er such love and sorrow meet, or thorns compose so rich a crown.” It can be known as a transforming power in the soul. Though it can be known in this way and to differing measures, never can one’s knowledge of it be complete.
  4. The dimensions of this love are inexhaustible for they are commensurate with the love the Father has for them, and that is an expression of the love that God has for his own glory—that indeed is immeasurable, an infinitely joyful love. The four dimensions mentioned probably are given to show that this love transcends any earthly measurement and soars into eternity. It covers sinners contemporaneously and throughout the ages, is manifest in history, and has its origin in the eternal character of God.

C. In the context of that love, we are filled with all the fullness of God (verse 19). Such a statement given us by divine revelation is impossible to explain. It must be adored for its grace. It serves as an impetus to celebrate the hope that we have of the glory of God. To be with Christ in the context of the ever flowing divine love, in glorified bodies and uncorrupted affections will certainly fill us with the very essence of the divine nature, but, though we are filled, yet his love is inexhaustible and will never cease to press his glorified one to new heights of joy forever. We are not changed so that God’s own essence is ours, for his eternal attributes are incommunicable; but to the degree that a created thing can reflect and be under the influence of the divine fullness, so it shall be swith the redeemed in eternity. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:5, “He who made us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.”



III. Note the continued display of power in every facet of salvation.

A. Paul prayed that the Ephesians, and the other Gentile Christians, would be “strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner man.”

  1. This shows the confluence between prayer and divine sovereignty. God never will allow any of his elect to perish. “He who began the good work in you will bring it to completion to the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6). And yet Paul prayed for the granting of such persevering power. This conjunction of prayer and divine power is seen in his observation to the Philippians, “For I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance” (Philippians 1:19).
  2. This shows that we still are needy for the sustaining power of the Spirit in our perseverance. As Paul prayed for boldness and courage in the face of opposition, even so must we recognize that in our weakness and malleability the world can intimidate us and make our spirits decline. We can be filled with dread and think we are about to sink. The Spirit, however, will anoint the burning ember of love and faith with his oil and cause the flame of courage and faithfulness to meet the challenge thrown before the timid soul. “God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7)

B. In his doxology, Paul put it as a matter of praise that God is “able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us.” Something of the wonder of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit should grip us and make us increasingly heavenly-minded. We are being fitted for heaven and the earnest of the Spirit has been given us. The purpose of the Spirit in our hearts is to make us holy, conformed to the perfection of Christ, and fit us for the life of heaven. We have no clear understanding of what to ask for in that regard, but we are given assurance that even in the absence of our perfect knowledge, the Spirit, “the power at work in us,” will do it; his final product will be exceeding beyond all that we can ask or think.



IV. Note that all of these blessings arise from divine glory and finally will display the divine glory (Verses 16, 21)

A. God grants to us all that is involved in salvation “according to the riches of his glory” (16). God’s purpose in creation, providence, and redemption is to unfold before other intelligent, rational beings an endless display of the external potentialities of his simple essence. As he loves himself and finds infinite joy in himself, so he finds joy in displaying his attributes to others for their enjoyment. It is the vibrant joy and love of his internal Trinitarian life that prompted him to make a world in which justice, wisdom, mercy, patience, wrath etc could be displayed.

B. As it arose from the desire to manifest his glory, so it results in the eternal and increasing display of all that constitutes the eternal character of God. “To him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever.” Never will the moment come in eternity when all that can be known and enjoyed of God by the redeemed has been brought to complete manifestation. Though we will know that more yet remains, never will there be any impatience or dissatisfaction but we will indeed at each moment be filled to full capacity in our own states with the fullness of God.

C. Since this is the life of eternity, even in his world we should cultivate heavenly-mindedness and exercise ourselves to live in the enjoyment of God, increasing in the knowledge of his word, practicing the fruit of the Spirit, and glorying in Christ Jesus. Like Paul we should resolve, “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14).

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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