Can you experience the love of God alone? Thoughts on Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3:14-193
The immediate answer to the question posed in my title is, Yes, of course. Each individual Christian has the immeasurable privilege and joy of knowing and enjoying the love God has for them in Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:5; Gal. 2:20). But there is a dimension to this experience that God intends for us to enjoy only in the context of relationship with others in the body of Christ. Why do I say this? I say it because of two things Paul said in his prayer in Ephesians 3:14-19. You know it well, but here it is again:
“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:14-19).
Many make the mistake of thinking that they can experience what Paul prays for here without the presence or aid or encouragement of other Christians. They think this is a purely individual engagement with the Holy Spirit. But Paul says that this indwelling influence of Christ is in some way related to being “rooted and grounded in love.” Here Paul employs a double metaphor: one from agriculture and one from architecture. Love is both the soil in which believers are to be rooted and grow and the foundation on which they are to be built up spiritually.
Note where Paul says that a condition for experiencing the fullness of Christ’s indwelling presence is having been rooted and grounded in love. But whose love? (1) Is it God’s love for us in Christ? That would mean: you are rooted and grounded in God’s love for you so that you can know God’s love for you. That doesn’t sound right. (2) Is it our love for God? No, for how can that enable us to know his love for us? (3) Is it our love for one another? Yes (see 1 John 4:7-12). Paul has in view a communal experience. It is only together with other believers that we fully enter into the experience of knowing and feeling God’s love for us in Jesus!
But it doesn’t stop there. Paul prays that we “may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” For all its glory and the great heights from which it came, such love can only be experienced together “with all the saints”! Our experience of Christ’s love is personal, but never private. It is meant to be felt and proclaimed and enjoyed in the context of the body of Christ. It is a personal, yet shared, experience. This is not contemplation of God’s love while sitting alone on a sunlit hillside. It is an experience that comes from belonging to a community of believers where each child of God can encourage every other Christian with the truth of God’s passionate affection for us.