The prayer in Ephesians 3 calls us to bend the knee before God’s goodness, to remember that we are a family in God, and to ask for those gifts which make for unity in the Spirit which is the unity of our calling in the love of God.
Bending the Knee Before God’s Goodness
14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father,
I am currently at an Evangelical theological college, with the result that songs which proclaim God as ‘amazing’, ‘great’ and, wait for it, ‘awesome’, can make those words into somewhat painful cliches. But Ephesians reminds us that the Good News is, in the truest sense, awesome. “For this reason I bow my knees before the father” (v.14). The Good News of God’s promises and his work for us in Christ, the transformation that God works and the hope that He inspires, has been continually building throughout these posts. Faced with such overwhelming goodness, how can the Christian do anything but bow our knees.
Many of my fellow ordinands don’t understand my practice of genuflecting whenever I enter the college chapel for prayers. When I come to the altar, I bend my right knee to the ground, and look up to the cross. Now I could quote Philippians at them, for “at the name of Jesus every knee shall bend” (Philippians 2:10-11), but that doesn’t quite encapsulate the truth. I could give them an exciting psychological answer involving submission and sexual roleplaying, as many queer theologians would, but that wouldn’t quite capture it either. Rather, I bend the knee before the cross because, faced with the remarkable and overwhelming generosity of God, I cannot conceive of any response other than to fall down in thankfulness, acknowledging both that I am utterly unworthy of such goodness, and also the weight and wonder of the glory and hopefulness that has been gifted to me. And this is the spirit in which Ephesians begins this prayer.
What is a Family?
15from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name.
Then we get on to a phrase which I find much more troublesome as a queer person: “from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name” (v.15). Family is such an incredibly loaded term for society’s dealings with queer people. We are so used to being told that we do not conform to society’s concept of what it means to be in a family, and even that we are a ‘danger’ to the concept of the family, a ‘threat’ to it. Family is a word which carries a lot of emotional weight these days, and is a word for which some people are willing to go to great lengths to retain control.
Yet for Ephesians the nuclear heteronormative cisgendered family unit is the last thing of which it conceived. Ephesians paints a picture of family that is expansive and rich. Firstly, the families of which it speaks are not just earthly families, for it talks of “every family in heaven and on earth” (v.15). And secondly these families do not receive their identity, their “name” (v.15) from human ideas of what it means to be a family, or from society’s validation or acceptance of them. They receive their identity, their “name”, from their location in “the Father” (v.14). It is their life in God that marks out families, in heaven and on earth, not the identities and combinations of the people that make them up. For queer Christians, there is a freedom here to reclaim the “name” of family from secular society, and to put it back where it belongs: family in God.
And what is this family in God? We’ve been hearing about it from the beginning of the letter. Communities of those who we separated, lost in despair and loveless life. Communities of the lonely, the angry and confused, now gathered together in Christ. This is the family. Those who are brought into the deepest union, far more than anything effected by societal norms: the union that is effected by the love of God and the love of one another.
The Things Which Make for Unity
16I 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, 17and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. 18I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Ephesians then embarks on a prayer for blessings from God, the things that we need to live out this vocation to unity in Christ. God, who is rich in glory (v.16) strengthens us “in our inner being” (v.16), in the deepest parts of ourselves, the parts that really matter. And we can trust this strengthening because God does it “with power through his Spirit” (v.16). The strengthening gift which God gives us is nothing less than “that Christ may dwell in your hearts” (v.17), the gift of Jesus from God to us that is given, not because we earn it or are in the categories which the Church and society approve, but rather “through faith” (v.17). And the reason Ephesians prays this strengthening in Christ for us, is that it in Christ we “are being rooted and grounded in love” (v.17), the love of God for us, and the love which we are called to share with each other.
Ephesians acknowledges that the problem we face in the Church is that God’s love for us, and the love we are called to share with each other, is so great, so enormous, that we are almost always unable “to comprehend” (v.18) it. So many of the problems the Church faces are because we just cannot wrap our heads around “what is the breadth and length and height and depth” of that love, which we share and fail to comprehend “with all the saints” (v.18), the Church in heaven and Church on earth. But Ephesians asks for us the gift of knowing “the love of God which surpasses knowledge” (v.19), because in knowing that love, we “may be filled with all the fullness of God” (v.19), all the joy and richness of life together which God wants to give us.
The End of the Prayer
20 Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, 21to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.
And how does Ephesians end this prayer? It is impossible for us of our own power to know and live out the love to which God calls us, but God “by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than we can ask or imagine” (v.20). And faced with such remarkable glory and goodness, our only response is to bow our knees (v.14) and say, “to him be glory in the church” (v.21), not praising him alone but together, “and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever” (v.21) for we praise God for his eternal gift to us in Christ. “Amen” (v.21).