Ephesians - Lesson 6

By Curt Niccum

It's the Power of Love. Ephesians 3:14-21


  1. The student can explain the significance of "family" language in the letter to the Ephesians.
  2. The student will connect spiritual maturity in the church with "the fullness of Christ."
  3. The student can describe the social and liturgical importance of the doxology and identify its four constituent parts.


  1. Bibles and pens as needed.


After such a tale of grace and love, nothing remains for us but to worship God for providing placement and power and to dutifully seek purity.

Lesson Plan for Conducting the Class


  1. Call the roll or have someone check it. (It is very important to know who is present so someone can check on those who are absent.) Introduce and welcome visitors, take prayer requests, and make any necessary announcements.
  2. Prayer and songs as desired.
  3. Review last week's lesson.
    1. At the beginning of chapter 3, we saw Paul getting down on his knees to pray, but suddenly stopping to give one last lesson. Q: That lesson was about the 'M' word.What is that 'M' word? A: Mystery. Q: To what does the word "mystery" refer in all of Paul's letters? A: That God has included Gentiles into the Kingdom. In other words, God has opened up membership in Israel to all who believe.
    2. Q: According to 3:10, the church proclaims this mystery to whom? A: To the spiritual beings in the heavenly realms. Q: For Gentiles in Asia Minor in the first century, why would this statement of Paul's been so startling? A: Gentiles greatly feared those beings in the invisible spiritual realms. In Christ the church proclaims victory to those powers previously so eager to defeat them.
  4. Review assignment.
    1. As mentioned last week, since we no longer need to fear the spiritual powers opposed to us and we indeed proclaim God's manifold wisdom to them, whatever fears prevent us from sharing the word to fellow humans would appear trivial.
    2. Q: Who tried to share the word of God with someone they previously feared approaching? A: (Give the class some time to narrate stories. Plan for both positive and negative responses. Make sure you have followed through with the assignment yourself so that 1) all can see that you learn from the lessons as well,and 2) at least one person fulfilled the assignment.)
    3. The issue here has nothing to do with whether or not bad things will happen. Q:From where does Paul write? A: Under house arrest awaiting trial for capital charges. Q: What happened to God's own Son when he shared the good news with others? A: He was crucified. So then, bad things may happen. Ultimately,though, we have no reason to fear even bad things (see Romans 8:31-39). Q: Why not? A: Because our eternal future lies in the hands of a gracious and loving God.Because we know the full truth behind the mystery.
    4. When one realizes the importance of God's love for us, the only appropriate response is worship. Paul, therefore, returns to his prayer in 3:14-21.

Learning Experience:

  1. This particular prayer by Paul has touched many people. More and more couples have this read or prayed at their weddings. The comfort and confidence stated in the doxology have often motivated Christians to memorize verses 20-21. One can understand then the difficulty of studying such a familiar and beloved text. We will not be able to discuss all of its meaning and will probably skip some of its most important points. It is hoped, though, that within the next half hour or so, we can gain greater insight and appreciation for this marvelous passage of scripture.

    1. One of the prayer's endearing qualities is its focus on the family. Paul opens by addressing God as Father, the creator of every fatherhood. (The word often translated "family" closely resembles the word for "father" in the Greek."Family" is the better translation, but "fatherhood" might help students to seethe play on words and the important connection.) He closes the prayer emphasizing the glorification of God through "all generations" (another familial term). The significance of this cannot be overstressed. Family language, including specific instructions about the godly family, permeates the rest of the letter (see 4:6; 5:1-6:4; and 6:21-24). In this prayer, Paul connects the themes of power and placement to the divine family. In the rest of the letter, the familial language relates to the third topic: purity.

      1. Paul's reference to families in "heaven" that "are named" (3:14) would have resonated powerfully in Ephesus. 3 In the Graeco-Roman world,one did not consider the gods part of the family. 4 One did not approach them as loving parents. If a pagan wished for something to happen, he or she would invoke a special "name" through a magical spell to manipulate the spirit world into action. One did not expect a god or goddess to respond benevolently without the proper motivation. Paul clearly and concisely reminds them of God as loving Father and as the One, True God over every other spiritual being that might wish to claim lordship over them (or that the Gentile Christians in Asia Minor might have been tempted to grant an equal status to). Since every name originates with God and Christians have direct access now to the Creator (chapter 2:11-22) all need for intermediary beings and manipulative incantations ceases. (Jesus points to this as well when he contrasts pagan and Jewish prayer practices, see Matthew 6:7-8.)

      2. In contrast to the world's perception of the divine realms, God, greater in glory and power than all others, offers to His people the deepest love. That Paul, and thus all Christians, can pray to "the Father" is significant; a fact perhaps forgotten when the opening address of many Christian prayers becomes merely habit or spoken by rote.

    2. In the opening prayer of thanksgiving (1:15-23), Paul emphasized the need for knowledge. Q: Take a look at 1:17-18; what wording reveals this emphasis? A: "Wisdom," "revelation," "knowledge," "enlightening," and "to know." All of these precede the three specific requests that correspond to the three themes we have followed throughout the letter: "the hope of His calling" = purity,"the riches of His glorious inheritance" = placement, and "the surpassing greatness of His power."
      1. Now look at this prayer. Note the structure and the parallelism: Paul goes to the Father in prayer for a purpose 1a) "that" the inner person might be strengthened, looking for a result 1b) "so" Christ might indwell the Christian in LOVE; 5 this, too, is for a purpose 2a) "that" the Christian may have power, looking for a result 2b) "so" one can know Christ's unknowable LOVE; which leads to the ultimate purpose 3)"that" one can be filled with the fullness of God.
        1. The family language indicates placement.
        2. Paul infuses this prayer with power language.
        3. The word "love" gives defines the content of purity, to be more fully discussed in the last half of the letter.
      2. These should be understood cumulatively. A complete understanding of our power and placement results in purity. Note how the language of 4:13 (faith, knowledge, fullness of Christ) parallels what Paul expresses in this prayer. Our goal is to attain the full stature of Christ, the fullness of God.
      3. Q: Fill in the blank according to the oft quoted dictum: "Knowledge is_." A: Power. Paul recognized the truth of that earlier in his letter, but he now takes it a step further. Q: That which surpasses knowledge (and therefore is the root of true power and descriptive of God's fullness) is what? A: Love. Not surprisingly then, love becomes a significant theme in the rest of the letter and descriptive of the purity we should display in our lives. (See 4:2, 15-16; 5:1-2, 22-33; and 6:23-24.)
    3. In light of the work of grace proclaimed in the first three chapters along with the immensity of Christ's love mentioned in the prayer, Paul moves his readers toward worship as one body. He actually incorporates this into the reading of the letter (which would have been done publicly).
      1. Verses 20-21 constitute a "doxology" (Greek = "word of praise"). Although the word can have a generic meaning describing any statement of praise, it has a technical meaning with regard to a specific type of prayer. In the first century, the doxology served as the public prayer or was used to close a public prayer. A doxology in this limited sense is a prayer with four parts. The first three in their shortest form were "to him," "be glory," and "forever." Each of these could be expanded, and Paul has lengthened each appropriately as he closes the theological section of the letter.
        1. Paul directs praise to God, just as he began the first part of the letter (1:3-14). Having shared how God has acted on behalf of the Gentiles, Paul now moves from what God has done in the past to what He can do in the present and future. Grace proffered the sinner far surpasses all that we can ask or imagine. Consider then what must be the extent of God's favor to those who have been justified! (See also Romans 5:6-11.)
        2. Paul then specifies that the glory offered to God comes through the church (the one body) and Christ Jesus (the true head of that body). Note that both belong to the "seven ones" found in the beginning of the next chapter (4:4-6).
        3. Paul expands the phrase "forever" with "through all generations." As stated earlier, this reinforces the family language applied to the church. Each successive generation instructed in the ways of the Lord brings additional praise to God the Father (see also 6:4).
      2. This standardized pattern allowed the worshippers to know when to voice in unison the fourth and final part - "Amen." 6 Paul thus draws everyone who listened to this letter read during the public assembly into a unified expression of worship. Within the letter, therefore, Paul encourages all believers, whether Jew or Gentile, to ratify God's wonderful grace through the "Amen."


  1. All congregations understandably set goals. Q: What do you understand to be the goals of this church? A: There might be a number of and a wide range of responses to this if the congregation has no clear cut mission statement. The teacher can expect items such as "evangelism," "being Christ like," and "equipping and empowering the saints." (Those three actually can be found mentioned in Ephesians. Many if not all of the other goals proposed will also have parallels in this letter.)
    1. Unless something completely incorrect gets mentioned, every topic can be considered valuable for the church. Many members will have preferences for one or more of the goals, often related to their own talents or ministries. Q: Ask the class to discuss what Paul considers the highest goal in the prayer (3:14-21)? A: To be filled with the fullness of God (3:19).
    2. Allow the class then to reflect on the relationship between the goal Paul presents to the church and those listed by the class. Hopefully they will understand that their previously mentioned goals actually derive from and are motivated by being filled with the fullness of God. Indeed, as Christians grow more and more towards the full stature of Christ (4:13), the ability of the church to perfect and better accomplish those related goals of the church improves.
    3. As an example, the teacher can pick a particular goal/ministry of the church and have the class discuss how that might look if practiced by a congregation blessed with God's fullness. Q: How would the benevolence program differ? What would local evangelism look like?
  2. Of course the purpose of everything in the church leads to the praise and glory of God. Ministries should reflect this. Daily life should reflect this. Worship should reflect this. It would only be fitting to close class by calling all students to worship and unity just as Paul did two thousand years ago. Close by saying, "To Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations and forever." Have the class respond, "Amen!"


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