Scripture Reading: Psalm 136
Sermon Title: Praying for Maturity (part 3) … Comprehend and Experience Being Loved
Sermon Text: Ephesians 3:14-19
Introduction: The Tragedy of Rejection
Strive to Comprehend the Love of Christ
Strive to Experience the Love of Christ
Personal Application: Aim for the Height of Spiritual Maturity
NOTE: “Scripture quotations are from the NASB." I provide this manuscript as a courtesy. I do not follow the document word for word during the message. I also do not write the document with the intent of publication; there may be grammatical errors throughout. Thanks for understanding.
Imagine the greatest of all tragedies. Imagine we hear about Jesus and we fall deeply in love with everything about Him. He dwells in our heart. We make Him the center of our lives. We commit ourselves to Him completely. We sing songs about Him. We memorize His words. All who know us, know we are deeply in love with Jesus.
Imagine the tragedy of loving Jesus with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, with a deep, intense, passionate love, and Jesus does not love us in return.
Most of us have experienced rejection by people. We know the feeling. Some of us, as parents, love a child, and the child does not love us in return. Sometimes a young man is deeply in love with a young woman, but she does not love him in return.
The pain and anguish to love, and not be loved in return, is perhaps the greatest pain and anguish a human being may ever experience. We often see this scenario played out as a theme in the movies; when someone secretly loves another and their love is not reciprocated. We empathize with the one who is rejected. Being rejected is a common human experience.
Because we understand rejection, it is possible for us to imagine the tragedy of being rejected by Christ. The more valuable the object of love, the greater the pain of the rejection. With some rejection, we move on, and our love fades away. We find another person to be the object of our love. We replace the person who rejected us.
However, this would be impossible if we were to be rejected by Jesus. Nobody may take His place. Only He offers salvation and His rejection results in the loss of salvation. Only He offers eternal life. Only He offers joy for our soul.
Herein is the great news. There is no tragic ending to our story. If we love Jesus, it is because He first loved us. As we endeavor to love Christ and place Him at the very center of our heart, we may know, our love is not in vain; Jesus loves us. In fact, He loves us more than we may ever love Him.
Paul prays and asks God to strengthen the Ephesian believers through His Spirit in the inner man so Christ will dwell in their heart through faith. He wants the saints to be rooted and grounded in their love for Jesus. And, Paul prays the same strengthening by the Holy Spirit will bring about a deep knowledge and understanding of the love of Christ.
So, as Christ dwells in our heart through faith, and as we are being rooted and grounded in our love, Paul adds that the saints:
18may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge (Eph. 3:18-19)
Being strengthened in the inner-man by the Holy Spirit results in our deeper love for Jesus and knowing Jesus loves us.
The first part of knowing the love of Christ is in verse 18:
18… comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth (of Christ’s love)
We need to strive to comprehend with our mind the vast immensity of Christ’s love. What a great prayer request! When is the last time we prayed for someone to comprehend the vastness of Christ’s love? This is a great prayer to add into our everyday prayer for our loved ones. Pray for God’s strengthening by His Spirit so that they may comprehend the love of Christ.
Paul provides dimensions of Jesus’ love. The point in giving the dimensions of breadth, length, height, and depth, is to have the reader ponder and think about the enormity of Christ’s love. His love is far-reaching. It is vast, massive, immense and incalculable. He wants the reader's mind to stop, and think about how far-reaching is Christ’s love is for the saints.
We may only guess as to what Paul’s intentions are in giving these words. But, let’s take a moment and venture how we may use these words to describe the love of Christ.
For instance, how might we think of the breadth of Christ’s love? Another word for breadth is the extensiveness or latitude. When thinking of the breadth, what may come to mind is how Christ loves us despite the breadth of our sin. Christ demonstrates His love for murderers. He dies for them despite their heinous act. If we steal food from poor people or take the life savings and 401K of someone’s grandparents, Christ love is willing to forgive. Christ died for those who rebel against His Father. He died for those who blaspheme His name. Every sin, from little white lies to the slaying of innocent children in the womb, is covered by the blood of Jesus Christ. His love covers a multitude of sins for those who come to Him in faith asking for forgiveness.
Any person, despite the severity of their sin, whether it is as vile and horrifying as a serial killer, or as minor in comparison as speaking gossip, the breadth of Christ’s love stretches from one end of the spectrum to the other. King David’s adultery, Peter’s denial of Jesus, and the blasphemy and insults said by the thief on the cross to the Son of God are not sins out of the reach of Christ’s love.
If we put our faith in Christ, we have no sin outside of boundaries of Christ’s love.
How might we think about the length of Christ’s love? The length of His love goes from one end of the globe to the other. People of every nation, tribe, and tongue are loved by Jesus Christ. Within each nation, the length of Jesus’ love reaches every socioeconomic class, rich and poor, young and old, intellectual and those who don’t know their right hand from their left. There is no human who lives too far away, who runs too fast or walks too slow, who is the wrong color or has the wrong job. The length of the love of Christ extends and reaches beyond them all. All people are within the boundary of the length of His love.
What is the highest high and the deepest low? When thinking about the height of Christ’s love, we can’t help but think about how Christ left the loftiest height of Heaven to come here to earth so He may demonstrate His love. He left the highest Kingdom of perfection to journey to the lowest place of corruption and sin. He left the soaring place of eternal joy to be the lowly Man of Sorrows. He left behind complete pleasure to be in a place to experience pain and suffering.
Jesus descended from that place beyond the highest stars. He breached the great divide of the spiritual realm to the material realm.
The height of Jesus’ love is as high as the difference between the measure of God and the measure of man. Christ descended from the heights of being God and took on the form of a man to show the height of His love for us.
In Heaven, the angels did His bidding and obeyed His every command. Upon the earth, Christ was disobeyed by man and He became the servant of all; even the lowliest of servants who washed the feet of His disciples.
The height of Christ’s love is beyond the furthest star in the Universe, as high as heaven is above the earth and descends beyond the lowest depths of hell.
We’ve talked about three dimensions, breadth, length, and height. But, Paul provides a fourth dimension. In geometry, we would speak of the fourth dimension as being the mass. Within the box of Christ’s love, there is great mass. The number of love molecules is incalculable.
Jesus loves with the great passion and intensity. His love is not shallow.
His love goes beyond the shedding of His blood. The intense passion of Christ’s love is measured by His ultimate sacrifice. Greater love has no man than this, but to lay down His life for His friends (Jn. 15:13). The most important and valuable being in the universe died because of His great love. Someone may die for us, such as a soldier dying on the battlefield, but the value of the soldier’s life may not be compared. Christ, our Creator, died for us, the creature. He who is strong died for the weak. He who is all-wise died for the simple. He who is eternal died for the mortal.
Christ love is that of a husband loving the church as a bride.
Paul prays for all the Saints to comprehend the love of Christ. For us to comprehend this love, we need to be strengthened by the Holy Spirit in the inner man. We need God’s supernatural strength to comprehend the vastness of the love of Christ. His love is of a greater dimension than any love we have ever known.
The one who we love loves us more. We may never love Christ more deeply, higher, wider, or of a greater length than His love for us. What great news and how wonderful it is for us to contemplate the superior, and far-reaching love of our Savior.
Pray for God to strengthen us in the inner man so we may comprehend the love of Christ and then open the Scriptures so that the Holy Spirit will speak the words of our Savior’s love.
Paul prays for us to comprehend, with our mind, the love of Christ. Then, he adds an interesting statement. He tells the Ephesians that he prays for them:
19 … to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge (Eph. 3:19)
We are to know that which is beyond knowledge. On the surface, this appears as an impossible prayer to achieve. It is as if he is saying, “I want you to know something, but, by the way, good luck trying, it is not knowable; it is far out of your reach.”
We know there are aspects of God that are beyond our capability to comprehend. Who may know the mind of God? Who serves as His counselor? God’s ways are unsearchable. His riches are unfathomable. It seems this statement fits in with Paul’s use of hyperbole (overemphasis and magnification). However, when Paul uses hyperbole, it usually in doxologies and not in his prayers.
Paul typically requests from God that which is attainable. For example, he prays that the Philippians love would abound more and more in real knowledge and discernment. Abounding with increased love is achievable. Paul asks the Colossians to pray for him that He may be bold and make the gospel clear to others. This also is achievable. He prays for the Ephesians, in the opening of the letter, that they may know the hope of their calling and what is the surpassing riches of their glorious inheritance. This also is achievable.
How then, may we, know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge? Acquiring information and learning facts is not the only way we come to know things. We know by experience.
To understand this, we need to understand the meaning and use of the word know. Notice, the used is not comprehend; like he used in the previous phrase. Comprehending is having an intellectual grasp with our mental faculties. The word know in this phrase is beyond comprehension and is speaking of an experiential knowledge (Vincent Word Studies).
The word know is often used to denote an intimate experience which goes beyond mental comprehension. For example, the word is used in speaking of God’s choosing of Abraham; God knows Abraham (Ge. 18:19). It is used to describe the relationship between Adam and Eve; Adam knew Eve (Gen. 4:1).
Paul prays for the saints to comprehend with their mind and to know the love of Christ in a way which extends beyond knowledge. He wants them to experience the love of Christ in a way which goes beyond head knowledge and extends to the fibers of their being.
There are things in life we comprehend with our mind. And, there is knowledge we obtain from our experiences in life which go beyond intellectual comprehension with our mind. Knowing some things may only be gained by experiencing them.
For example, I may talk until I am blue in the face about what it is like to have children. However, unless the person I am talking to has had children, they will not know, in the way I know, what it is like to have children. I do not know what it is like to adopt a child. However, Josh and Steph know what it is like to adopt a child.
Scripture tells us that we are not to be anxious, but to pray. In doing this, God replaces our anxiety with peace that passes all understanding (Ph. 4:6-7). I may explain and tell you facts about that peace, but you will not know this peace because it is beyond understanding; it surpasses knowledge.
However, the peace that is beyond understanding is not beyond knowing. You will know this peace when you bring your requests to God in prayer.
Paul says, “I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity” (Philippians 4:12). We take from this that Paul knows, not from learning in school, but because he experienced both poverty and prosperity. He knows from experience.
How then might we know the love of Christ by experience?
To know the love of Christ experientially, beyond head knowledge, sounds like an emotional experience. It is not likely that Paul is talking about us walking along the way, and out of nowhere, we are overcome by a feeling of Christ’s love. One moment, we didn’t feel His love, and the next moment, His love wraps around us like a blanket.
It would be wrong for me to deny that knowing Christ’s love may be purely an emotional experience. There may be times we feel lonely, or we are in despair, and we read about the love of Christ, and we feel loved. The emotion of love may overwhelm us with joy and tears.
This may be one way to know, but it is not the primary means for us to know. I believe Paul has something much deeper in mind.
Imagine crawling out of a warm, cozy, soft, comfortable bed on a cold wintry morning. You go downstairs, stub your toe on a chair because it is still dark, you make your way to the coffee maker, and brew a fresh pot of coffee. Once the coffee is ready, you pour a cup, go outside to grab the newspaper and stumble your way back upstairs carrying the coffee and the newspaper. You bring them over to the bed to your spouse and say, “Here you go love, coffee, and the news. Enjoy your morning. Let me know if you need anything else.”
Fast forward a couple of days. Now, the other spouse does the same thing. They leave the warm comfy bed to retrieve coffee and the newspaper. They are now experiencing the cold floor on their feet and the blustery wind on their face from retrieving the newspaper from outside. In going through the experience, the other spouse gains an appreciation of the sacrifice made a few days earlier. They know they are loved from experience.
Let me give you another example. Imagine we live in a world where there is no pain. We are all born without nerve endings. There are no sharp objects. We live in a place where suffering and pain do not exist. There are no bruises and no bleeding.
We may read Scripture as it describes the crucifixion or Isaiah 53 which says Christ was bruised for our sin, but we would not know how to relate to His loving sacrifice. We could read about Christ’s love and sacrifice for our sins, but unless we understand pain, bleeding, or bruises, we do not know His sacrifice.
Imagine a young prince receives Christ as His Savior. The prince has always been served his entire life. He has never lifted a finger for another person. He lives in opulence. As the young prince opens the Bible to Philippians and reads that Christ, “emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:7). The prince has trouble understanding the passage because he has never emptied himself or has taken on the role of being a servant. He talks to his pastor and asks for help in understanding the passage. The pastor says, “Go and serve for a week at the homeless shelter. Don’t tell anyone that you are the prince. Deny the privileges of your royalty. Then, come back, and we will talk about this passage.”
The prince does as his pastor says. He leaves behind his privileges and serves others. There are situations he wishes he could pull his royalty card, but he doesn’t. Now, because of his experience at the homeless shelter, the prince knows of the love of Christ. He did not know before, but now he knows what it is like to leave the comforts of home, to empty himself of royalty, and to place himself in the role of a servant. After this experience, the prince knows the love of Christ in a way which surpasses knowledge. He knows from experience. He knows Christ loves him deeply.
We only know of Christ’s love because we know of pain and suffering. Jesus did not have to leave the comforts and warmth of heaven. But, He did. He left His home to become homeless. He left being served by angels to become a servant.
We have a Savior who understands what it means to be human. He knows how to be hungry. He knows rejection. He purposefully put Himself in these positions because of His great love for us.
Yes, Jesus died on the cross for the glory of God. However, let’s not lose sight that the Bible clearly states Jesus died on the cross because of love. He laid down His life for His bride; the church.
Because we have experienced temptation, and Christ chose to resist the temptation of thinking of His own needs for our salvation. We know it takes will-power and self-control to resist temptation, and we think of our Savior resisting temptation on our behalf, we know His love in a way which surpasses knowledge. We know from our experience of being tempted a measure of the love of Christ.
Because we have experienced pain, and Christ took our sins upon Himself and suffered excruciating pain on our behalf, we know His love in a way which surpasses knowledge. We know from our experience of pain a measure of Christ’s love.
We need to ask God to strengthen us with His Spirit in our inner-man. We need to move on past the prayers for our outer man. Stop wasting requests on our flesh. We are fighting a losing battle. We need to pray for our inner-man. Pray for deeper trust. Pray for endurance and self-control.
The heart is the center of our life. It is the seat of our desires, passions, will, mind, and worship. When Christ dwells in our heart, He is our desire and passion. We need God’s help for us to find our joy in Christ alone.
We need the Holy Spirit’s help to have all our decisions be based on Jesus our treasure. “Will doing this bring me closer or further to Jesus? Is this something which pleases Him? How may I learn more about Him? How may I honor Jesus in my work or my marriage?”
We need to pray for God’s Spirit to help us trust with our lives. We need to trust Him in the good times and the bad. We need to trust that His commands are for our good.
We need to mature so that we are rooted and grounded in our love for Jesus. Our souls are to be nourished by our love for Jesus. We need to be mature in our faith, not swaying back and forth between Christianity and the world. We need to be firmly grounded in loving Christ.
The greatest evidence of our love for Jesus shows in our love for people. Our love for Him must be our firm foundation which brings us into a deeper, more meaningful love for others. Because we love Jesus, and Jesus is love, we love one another.
Spend time in Scripture learning and comprehending in what ways Christ has loved us. Pray for the Holy Spirit to open our eyes and ears to comprehend the love of Christ. Search each page of the Bible and ask, “how is the love of Christ displayed on this page?”
Comprehending the enormity of Christ’s love is motivating. It is helpful to motivate us. As we make our way through life, we have hope. It is like the soldier on the battlefield who takes a picture of his girl out of his pocket as he sits in the foxhole. The picture helps him to go forward because he knows he loves his girl and she loves him.
Let the pages of the Bible serve as our picture to help us through the tough times in life. We are never outside of the reaches of His love.
37 But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Ro. 8:37-39)
Be careful. When we pray that we might know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, the answer to that prayer may be rejection, sorrow, or trouble we were not expecting.
We may pray to know the love of Christ, and an opportunity to serve will present itself. Serving others is good. Why? Because serving helps us understand the deep love Christ has for us. When we deny our privilege of not having to be involved, we get a small taste of the love Christ has for us when He serves us.
Perhaps God will answer our prayer by allowing us to experience pain. Why? It helps us know just how much Christ loves us. If we never felt pain, we would not know of His sacrifice. Paul wrote, “I want to know Christ and the fellowship of His sufferings.” We need to see suffering as bringing us into greater fellowship with Christ.
Perhaps God will answer our prayer with thirst. Being thirsty helps us know in a small way how our Savior loved us when He was on the cross, taking the punishment for our sin, and crying out, “I thirst.”
Circumstances in life are ways for us to have a deeper understanding of the love of Christ. When we are rejected, mocked, and persecuted for the sake of the gospel, we are given the great privilege and opportunity to know the love of Christ on a deeper level. He experienced rejection for our salvation because of His love for us.
Instead of reacting to difficulty by saying, “Lord, take away my pain” we should say, “Lord, what are You showing me, what are You teaching me about Christ? Thank you, Lord for revealing more of my Savior to me!”
(I imagine Satan telling his minions, don’t bother them with trouble, they just use it to know Christ better. Go find
We need to get to the place of Christian maturity where we stop cursing God’s unfolding of circumstances and events in our life, and we embrace everything that comes our way. We need to know everything comes from the hand of God and it is for our good. God is working all things to exalt Christ. Pain gives us a deeper insight into the crucifixion. Hunger and thirst give us a way to know in a small way how our Savior left the fullness of heaven to become a man.
Even death helps us to see the love of Christ because we know He died so we may live. He suffered for our joy. Jesus saw our deepest need, our need for forgiveness of sin, and He loves us so much, He died so we may be blameless, righteous, above reproach, holy, and pure.
Ultimately, the prayer aims at bringing believers to maturity.
19… that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.
The outcome is our maturity. Maturity means we bear fruit. We are pleasing to God. We are cooperating with His purposes and plans instead of resisting.
Sometimes, telling one another to “grow up and be mature” sounds like taking all the fun out of life. Why do we want to grow up? Let’s just be like kids. I want my toys and my games and my parties. Having fun is a way of escaping the difficult aspects of life. We all like to have a good time. What we need to realize is God desires for us to escape the difficult aspects of life. God desires for us to have a good time.
Do we believe Him?
God says at His right hand are pleasures forevermore (Ps. 16:11). Jesus promises that our joy will be made full (Jn. 15:11). Our soul will be satisfied as with rich foods (Ps. 63:5).
We need to trust God’s ways are what brings us joy and satisfaction. We want to grow up and be mature because it is satisfying.
Being filled with all the fullness of God means that we are totally sold out in our love for Jesus and knowing He is totally sold out in His love for us. What does being filled up with all the fullness look like? It looks like being filled with love because God is love.
With Christianity, there is no tragedy. We may know the One we love is not loved in vain. Our great love, our Bridegroom, our Lord, and Savior, knows our name. He loves us.
Rejoice Christian! Christian maturity is not a lifetime of serving God out of duty. Christian maturity is not an eternity of enduring sacrifice and giving up pleasure.
Christian maturity is gaining everything. Christian maturity is an intimate love affair filled with bliss, joy, and pleasure.
Love Christ, for He loves you!