By Ervin Stutzman
In a world that’s filled with the abuse of power, it may seem strange for Christian leaders to speak of both power and love in the same sentence. Yet I’ve come to believe that it takes a certain kind of power to truly love and be loved. The Apostle Paul must have believed it to be true in his time as well. Observe with care his intercession for the Ephesian church:
I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s people, 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. Ephesians 3:17b-19
Paul’s prayer would still make perfect sense if we removed the word “power” and substituted a word such as wisdom, knowledge, or insight. Those are the qualities of human virtue, I can readily imagine, that help us to grasp the dimensions of the love of Christ.
But wait. The apostle is praying that the Ephesians will experience a kind of love that surpasses knowledge. With knees bowed before a loving father, he longs in prayer for them to be filled with the very fullness of God. To reach such a lofty goal apparently requires something beyond wisdom or insight. Yet without it, we cannot love as Christ loved. This is one of the most basic callings of a Christian leader.
One of the reasons that we have difficulty loving others is that we have not yet grasped the width, length, height, and depth of Christ’s love, either for us or for others. Such knowledge clearly lies beyond the grasp of human intellect, hidden in the mystery of God’s love for a fallen world. How then did Paul expect the Ephesians to comprehend it? If we rightfully take a clue from Paul’s prayer, we may conclude that it can only happen through the power of God.
Surely Paul drew this conclusion through his own experience. Before Jesus confronted him with power on the road to Damascus, Paul could not have envisioned a time when he would embrace Gentiles like Luke, Trophimus, or Phoebe as part of a close circle of co-workers. Before Ananias laid his hand on Paul and prayed that he would be filled with the Spirit, Paul could not have grasped God’s cosmic plan to break down the walls of hostility in order to reconcile all things through Christ. He could not have penned the words of the “love chapter,” an affectionate name for I Corinthians 13. Throughout the book of Acts, we see evidence that the power of the Holy Spirit made it possible to overcome the usual barriers of race, class and ethnicity in order to establish communities of the Kingdom of God.
Paul may also have been thinking of the example of Jesus, who demonstrated his deep love for his disciples by washing their feet, even though he knew that one of them would deny knowing him, and another would betray him to killers. This touching scene of loving service was introduced to us by John’s words: “Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God (John 13:3).” If Jesus needed empowerment to show love in the face of betrayal, we certainly do as well.
Therefore, I can say with boldness, whenever we find ourselves longing for a deeper sense of God’s love, we can call on God. Whenever a situation seems to demand more love than we have to give, we can beg for God’s empowerment. Why settle for anything less?