“For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”
One of the controversies in our country for many years is whether the Constitution is a living document open to interpretations that adapt with the times and changes or it is a set of fixed principles that can only be changed by amendments. We call this difference loose constructionists and strict constructionists. Of course, it makes a difference if we believe basic principles are always evolving or if they are true for all time. That is what Paul is talking about here. What are our first principles? In what are we grounded and established?
We have options. We could be rooted and established in doctrine or economic and political theory. We could be rooted in philosophy and worldview. We could be rooted in logic and empirical experience.
What does Paul say? We are rooted and established in love. That is not sentimental love. It is not romantic or idealistic love. It is not love of country or love of family or love of life itself. It is the love that he says in Romans lays down its own life. It is the love that he describes in Philippians. “Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”
It is love that is humanly impossible but it is the one mark of identity that we have for the world. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” We cannot be grounded in feelings or emotions. We are not established in morals or theology. We are firmly rooted and strictly established in love.
He goes on to say that we are rooted and established in nothing other than love SO THAT we may be able to grasp, to catch hold of the enormity of the love of Christ. We are not rooted and established in love only to love each other but to be able to comprehend how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ. Without the roots of love we will be incapable of comprehending the love of Christ. Not the sentiment of Christ. Not the warm and fuzzy love of Christ as a pal. Not the love of Christ as a spirit guide or Christian yoda or wise teacher. It is the love of Christ that is sometimes painful and felt as harsh. It is the love of Christ that has sharp edges. It is the love of Christ that stops at nothing. It is the love of Christ that is remaking us in his own image.
At the end of “Mere Christianity” C.S. wrote “Beyond Personality” and in it he describes the love I am talking about this morning.“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently he starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense.What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of— throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself…The process will be long and in parts very painful; but that is what we are in for. Nothing less. He meant what He said.”
The Redwood Church
And it is important to understand that this is not about individual perfectionism. Paul has little interest in that. It is always the Church, the Body, the Fellowship that is uppermost in his mind. We are not disconnected individuals working our way through personal devotions, personal development, personal growth, personal piety and personal Bible study toward being more like Christ. It is about “all the saints” and that is the Church. We will read more about this in the next chapter but Paul is not interested in our using our gifts to understand ourselves better or to find career satisfaction or self-fulfillment. No, all of the gifts are for one thing – “to prepare God’s people for works of service so that the body of Christ may be built up until we reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the son of God and become mature attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ…From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”
Personal Christianity is an oxymoron. We are hid in Christ and the Church is Christ in the world – not a party, a nation, a tribe or individuals but the Church. The Church is a parts producer but a part that wants to be separate is useless. Imagine the greatest alternator or turn signal or headlight in the world insisting on staying outside a car and on its own. It would be meaningless and useless. That is how it is with us when we insist on our own personal growth and we use the Church as a means to an end. We are useless – even if we see ourselves as growing in faith and piety.
That is why he says “to him be glory in the church” and not what we do today by glorifying individuals and turning them into spiritual celebrities or striving for the same kind of individual recognition ourselves. It is the Church that glorifies God throughout all generations. As we’ve said before, the Church is an anvil that has worn out many hammers.
St. Augustine put it this way, “Yes the church is a whore; but that whore is the bride of Christ and she is your mother and you have no right to abandon her.”
So, it is a particular kind of rootedness, isn’t it? It is not a single root but like redwoods that grow in a circle with the roots interlocking completely. Paul says we are knit together. Our roots are locked together – even when we resist being tied down to others.
I don’t want to be knit together. I want to be free. Are you familiar with Enneagrams? It is another way of describing various personality types. There are nine types. For example, Type 1 people are perfectionists, Type 2 are helpers, Type 9 are peacemakers. I am a Type 4. That is the individualist.
“We have named this type The Individualist because Fours maintain their identity by seeing themselves as fundamentally different from others. Fours feel that they are unlike other human beings, and consequently, that no one can understand them or love them adequately. They often see themselves as uniquely talented, possessing special, one-of-a-kind gifts, but also as uniquely disadvantaged or flawed. More than any other type, Fours are acutely aware of and focused on their personal differences and deficiencies.”
There is no such thing as a single redwood but only a “family” of redwoods that derive their DNA from the stump in the middle of the circle. (Did you notice how Paul refers to the Father from whom the whole family derives its name?) It is the source of the whole system so the trees are identical internally even though shaped differently on the outside. Redwoods don’t blow over in a storm. They outlive generations of other trees. They share – over 500 gallons of water a day for one tree. They adapt to changing circumstances together. Together they withstand fires, floods, infestations, and erosion. I think it is not an accident that a circle of redwoods is called a cathedral. It is not an accident that we are called the same. We are designed to be redwoods. We are designed to share the same DNA but having unique personalities and shapes. We are sure to be frustrated and stunted if we are using the church as a service station for personal needs at our convenience.
And then, as we have seen before, Paul ascends to the heavens as he writes about God. For that reason, it’s important to remember his first encounter with the believers in Ephesus. They were not capable of understanding the love of Christ then because they had only experienced the baptism of repentance.
“While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples 2 and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when[a] you believed?”
They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”
So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?”
“John’s baptism,” they replied.
Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. There were about twelve men in all.”
The baptism of John is about repentance and personal improvement. They understood the importance of living a moral and straight life and to show those things that would prove they had turned from their sins. In fact, there could have been no more integrity filled, honest, moral, ethical and right living people in the church. But, they had not received the power of a new life – just the power of remaking the old one. There was no doubt about their character but they were doing it on their own with the best of intentions. They were improved but not new. They would never be able to grasp the love that surpasses all knowledge. They could never comprehend him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us. The power of repentance is not the same as the power of a new life. The power of personal morality is not the same as the power of a transformed mind. The religion of individual improvement will never understand being rooted and established in love together with all the saints. The power of more and more knowledge will never comprehend what surpasses knowledge. The religion that only sees making their life better will never understand the call to be connected family, to see ourselves as only a part of generations of believers that goes on forever and ever. Sometimes it seems this is what people want when they talk about national revival and a return to the traditional values of our history. They want a return to integrity, morals, honesty, and a country that is rooted and established in faith. But what faith? That is far different from Paul’s gospel. That is closer to John’s. It is a good ethic but not capable of comprehending what Paul describes. It is good but more like the result of repentance than a new life.
The View From Prison
Finally, what do we see in our circumstances? If we were where Paul was when he wrote these words could we have seen what he saw? He was confined in prison. For me, that is why it is so remarkable that he writes about the opposite of his circumstances. The expanse of love, the inconceivable power, the riches of Christ. It is not a “pie in the sky bye and bye” longing for freedom. It is not being so absorbed by his circumstances that he cannot see beyond them. In fact, the greatest prayers and letters in history have been written from the darkest circumstances.
Read about Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s imprisonment in a Russian gulag about which he said, “Bless you prison, bless you for being in my life. For there, lying upon the rotting prison straw, I came to realize that the object of life is not prosperity as we are made to believe, but the maturity of the human soul.”
Prison released something in them that spoke to and changed the lives of millions of people. Don’t miss the opportunity to speak from your own prison whatever that may be. What can you see inside your own circumstances?
With that soaring close the chapter ends and, again, Paul comes back to the particular, tangible, and immediate. It must have been frustrating for him to have to leave the incomprehensible and immeasurable “forever and ever” and come down to deal with real people! But that is true for all of us, isn’t it? It is, as Oswald Chambers says, in the drudgery that we are shaped. “Drudgery is one of the finest touchstones of character there is. Drudgery is work that is far removed from anything to do with the ideal – the utterly mean, grubby things; and when we come in contact with them we know instantly whether or not we are spiritually real.”
We live, as Paul did, in the in between life of drudge and divine. That is always the challenge and why it is so important to know where we are rooted and established. Is it happiness or entertainment or a pleasant life or is it, like Paul, in the deep love of Christ?