Ephesians 3:17b-19 “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power together with all the saints 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.”
Have you seen the Disney movie Inside Out? Riley is a little girl dealing with the stress of leaving the only home she has known and moving half way across the country. Inside hers and each person’s head there is a control panel, and the control room is occupied by basic emotions, like joy, sadness, anger, fear, and disgust. Each of them is vying to take a turn at the controls and run the person’s behavior.
What if Christ were always at the controls driving what we do? But how does that happen? How does Christ take over the heart when he moves in and get his hands on the controls? This starts, Paul says, with being rooted and established in love. It is certainly true that my own spirit of love needs to lay at the base and foundation of all Christian behavior. Without love our best works have no value. Without love, Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 13, all my words of witness are just a harsh, noisy gong or cymbal. All my knowledge, all my charity, all my sacrifice amount to nothing.
But there is another love, even more foundational. “This is love,” John writes in his first letter, “not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” And again, “We love because he first loved us.” This is the anchor and foundation of our whole relationship with God, and any love to follow from us.
That love alone could consume an entire lifetime trying “to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.” Close your eyes for a moment, and imagine your greatest personal enemy. Someone, somewhere in your life, rises to the top of the list of those who have hurt you. They have broken your heart. They have stolen your time, dignity, love, or friendship. They have persecuted you without provocation. They seem to desire only your misery. No opportunity to inflict pain in your life passes unnoticed and untried.
Now imagine giving up everything to rescue this person and make them part of your life forever–everything! You do not withhold your home, your fortune, your time, any personal comforts, your heart, your health, and finally your life. You literally embrace hell for their sake. Now multiply that person a million times, billions and billions of times, and you begin to get the faintest glimpse of the love of Christ for us. He reconciled us to God when we were still his enemies. He died for us when we were still sinners. How many directions it must run! How far beyond our puny mind’s ability to understand or conceive it must be!
A love like this surpasses knowledge, Paul says. The cross, the atonement, the sacrifice that forgives and redeems us, is just one facet on the face of this vast jewel of God’s love that stretches far beyond the limits of our vision, though it is the foundational one. In countless ways God has loved us, and each involves a height we cannot climb, and a depth we cannot fully fathom.
We can know it, but not like a subject we master at school. The time comes when we are tired of working the simple math problems, or we have read everything there is to read about the Spanish-American War, and we want to move on to something else. But we are getting to know God’s love like we know a dear friend. We know him personally. And every day for as long as we live we will get to know him more and know him better. All the while we will realize there is still far more about him I don’t know, but I am thankful to know him and have him in my life.
Know God’s love like this, and you will “be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Christ will live in you and so much more. And so Paul’s prayer for your power will never be fully answered. My prayer for you to grasp the full extent of his love will not be fully granted, at least not this side of heaven. We can never get to the end of his love and say, “There. Now I know it all.” But we can know Christ, and we can be the people on whom he pours out all this love forever and ever.
Such love remains a great mystery to explore, a great adventure that has no end. We wouldn’t want it any other way.