This morning I was meditating on Ephesians 3:14-19. I was praying through these words for my family, for our simplechurches family, and especially for the Friesen family in Zambia. To many of us, the words are familiar by now:
14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Reviewing them is like looking back over a favourite photo album (do we still have those?). The words are like a big, comforting drink of something familiar; something that is deeply satisfying.
“he may strengthen you with power”
“being rooted and established in love.”
“how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ”
Yes. Yes and Amen.
But today when I read these words I came across a phrase that I’d never before noticed: “and to know this love that surpasses knowledge.”
Do you see the play on words there? “Know” and “knowledge”. But do you also see why it might have stood out to me this morning? Let me make it plain by asking the obvious question: how do you know something that surpasses knowledge?
There’s a brain bender. At first read it doesn’t make sense. How do we know something that is unknowable? Let’s think about it for a moment.
Knowledge is the business of our mind. It’s what our brains are designed to do. They are the gatherer, categorizer and storer of our knowledge. But the apostle says here that this love surpasses our knowledge. In other words, as great as our minds are, this love sits beyond their capacity. Which means then that if we are are to know it, if we are to know this love, then we have to rely on something more than our brains.
Paul doesn’t say this, but I think what he has in mind here is the soul. The soul is the place of our being that sits outside of knowledge. There is no test that tells us of the soul, nothing that can prove it’s existence. It sits outside of knowledge - at least from an empirical sense. And yet as far back as archeology has taken us, it’s clear that humans have been grasping, trying, yearning to put words around it’s existence. They’ve known it was there.
And it's here, I think, that the apostle is inviting us to go. He’s saying to us that this love is beyond knowledge, beyond the business of the mind, and so in order to understand it we need to do so from the place in us that also sits beyond knowledge. That’s the soul. The deep of us, calling out to the deep of him. The apostle is praying for our souls. That we wouldn’t just cognitively understand that Christ loves us, but rather, that in the deepest part of our being, the part that is also beyond knowledge, that there way down in that place, we would know. That our souls would connect with the one who is Spirit and that in this place we would know of the love of Christ. A love that surpasses knowledge.
The greatest commandment in the Bible is that we would love God with all our heart, mind and soul. It seems to me that what Paul is praying here is that while we are loving him with our soul we might know from that same place that it is him who first loved us.