Part 3: Ephesians 3:14-19: God's Good News for Marriage
Updated: Jul 17, 2022
The third reading at our wedding was Ephesians 3:14-19:
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he 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. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
From the various weddings I have been to of differing Christian traditions, I have noticed a pattern: the religious theme of the service is usually following the example of Christ. Ephesians 5:22-33 develops this theme clearly: Christ loved us sacrificially. Therefore, love one another sacrificially. The sermons, then, follow a particular form: “You need to love sacrificially. Here is what you need to do to love sacrificially. You need to follow Christ’s example. This is hard work for you to do.”
In our marriage counseling and our reading of Tim Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage, we have heard this theme and the advice on how to do the hard work. But as we came to our wedding and considered our Scripture readings, I had another question. “If this is such hard work, how do I do it? Where do I get the motivation? How can the selfishness that could get in the way be transformed? Is God going to help at all?” As we have continued to read Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage, we have learned and talked about how the Gospel addresses these very questions. We wanted a Scripture reading that could summarize those themes for us and found Ephesians 3:14-19.
Its opening verse highlights that marriage is not simply something we create ourselves with hard work, but God Himself creates it, a theme I addressed in part 1 of this series. He states, “from [the Father] every family in heaven and on earth takes its name.” If that is the case, our marriage is not dependent on our hard work. It is dependent on God as its source. Our hard work, instead, is to live out of the reality God has already created for us.
This God is a God of abundance and generosity, described as “the riches of his glory” in our passage, not a God simply of demands. And He is willing to pour them out on His children. God does not demand anything of His children God does not also give them the means to fulfill it. That is why in the rest of this passage, the author, St. Paul the Apostle, prays for God to empower the Ephesians to live the lives He has called them to live. This same God still gives these same gifts “according to the riches of his glory.”
What are these gifts? “That you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit,” the very same Spirit St. Paul says elsewhere is “the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead” (Romans 8:11). “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.” The Spirit that overcame death in the body of Jesus is more than capable of overcoming the sin, selfish desires, exhaustion, and laziness that dwells in us and gets in the way of marriage’s hard work. In fact, the Spirit completes the most difficult task of marriage! Our hard work is to live out of the victory He has already accomplished in us. We do not need to accomplish it ourselves.
St. Paul also prays “that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” God does not simply command us to love as Christ loved us (Ephesians 5:25). The love of Christ is not merely an example we have to emulate on our own. His love dwells within us, softening our hearts, animating our desires, and motivating us to love. He commands us to have the love of Christ, but we do not muster it on our own. That love dwells in our hearts and is rooted and grounded by the Spirit. Every failure to love is actually a failure to understand the love of Christ that is already within us. That is why Paul prays that we “may have the power to comprehend… what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ.” We come to know His love through Scripture, prayer, and the worshiping and serving life of the Church. He has given us all we need to love one another as Christ has loved us.