Chapter 13: The Prayers of Paul

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by John M. Riddle, England








Having been "led … by the hand" into Damascus, the newly-converted Saul of Tarsus evidently gave himself quickly to prayer, so much so that in instructing Ananias the Lord said: "Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and enquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth" Acts 9.11. This was the beginning of a lifetime of prayer encompassing both assemblies and individuals. He prayed, for example, "night and day" for the assembly at Thessalonica, 1Thess.3.10, and "night and day" for Timothy, 2Tim.1.3.

Since Paul prayed in a wide variety of circumstances, and in a wide variety of ways, this particular chapter is far from comprehensive in dealing with the subject. Bearing in mind the constraints of space, attention will therefore be confined to Paul’s two prayers for the believers at Ephesus, Eph.1.15-23; 3.14-21, together with his prayers for the believers at Philippi, Phil.1.9-11, and Colosse, Col.1.9-14.


It could be said that in his first prayer for the believers at Ephesus, Paul prays for the enlightenment of their understanding: "the eyes of your understanding being enlightened" 1.18, and that in the second he prays for the enrichment of their appreciation of Divine love: "to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge" 3.19. Turning now to the first of these, we should notice the:

  • Context of his prayer, v.15

  • Consistency of his prayers, v.16

  • Content of his prayer, vv.17-23.

The Context of His Prayer – v.15

"Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints …". Attention is drawn particularly to the fact that the excellent qualities of the believers at Ephesus engendered prayer for further progress. The situation at Corinth was quite different, and necessitated corrective teaching. Spiritual progress can only be made when right conditions exist. The same lesson is discernible in Paul’s prayers for the believers at Philippi and Colosse: "I thank my God upon every remembrance of you … And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment" Phil.1.3,9; "We give thanks to God … since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which ye have to all the saints, … we do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of His will" Col.1.3,4,9. Paul not only taught the believers at Ephesus, 1.1-14, but also prayed that his teaching might be understood and become effective in their lives, 1.15-23. His example must be emulated today. Far more is required of a Bible teacher than delivering an address.

The Consistency of His Prayers – v.16

"I … cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers." Far from meaning a fleeting reference, the words "making mention" convey the idea of constant remembrance, and this is well-explained elsewhere in the New Testament: "We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers; remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ" 1Thess.1.2,3. Information should lead to intercession. The regularity of Paul’s prayers, "cease not", is all the more remarkable bearing in mind his imprisonment. He might well have concentrated on his personal circumstances!

Paul’s prayer here includes both praise, "cease not to give thanks for you", and petition, "making mention of you in my prayers". He evidently practised his own ministry: "Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving" Col.4.2. It is worth noticing that Paul commences with thanksgiving, whereas we are often all too quick to begin with petitions! Paul urged the believers at Philippi to be "careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God" Phil.4.6. How necessary for the Lord’s people to be consistent and regular in their thanksgiving and prayers, even in adverse circumstances!

The Content of His Prayer – vv.17-23

Paul prays for their spiritual progress generally, v.17, and in specific subjects, vv.18-23, reminding us of the hymnwriter’s words:

Have you on the Lord believed?
Still there’s more to follow:
Of His grace have you received?
Still there’s more to follow.
    (Philip P. Bliss)
Their Spiritual Progress Generally – v.17

"That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him." It has been nicely said that as God, He undertakes, and as Father, He understands. In the Old Testament, prayer was often addressed to the "God of Abraham", the "God of Jacob" and "the God of Israel", but Paul now speaks of Him as "the God of our Lord Jesus Christ", for "through Him [the Lord Jesus] we both [Jew and Gentile] have access by one Spirit unto the Father" Eph.2.18. He is called "the Father of glory", not only because He is the source of all glory, but because His glory is the object of His intentions for His redeemed people, Eph.1.6,12,14,18.

Paul prays that God would give them "the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him" or "a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him" (R.V.). While this is evidently not a direct reference to the Holy Spirit, since the Ephesians had already received Him, 1.13, it remains that "wisdom and revelation" cannot be possessed apart from the Spirit of God, 1Cor.2.10-13. "Wisdom" is Divinely given ability. It is intensely practical: "the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy" Jms.3.17. "Revelation" is Divinely given truth. According to W.E. Vine1, it is "the communication of the knowledge of God to the soul". Paul therefore prays, not only that the saints might be depositaries of Divine information, but that they might have the ability to use it. These spiritual commodities are communicated "in the knowledge of Him". By using the word "knowledge" (epignosis), that is, the experimental knowledge of God, we learn that their possession involves communion and fellowship with Him. This leads to:

1 Vine, W.E. “Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words”. World Bible Publishers, Iowa, 1991.
Their Spiritual Progress Specifically – vv.18-23

Paul continues: "the eyes of your understanding being enlightened" or "having the eyes of your heart enlightened" (R.V.). This stands in direct contrast to unregenerate men and women who have "the understanding darkened" Eph.4.18. Paul refers here to inward vision. The heart is used figuratively in Scripture to convey a person’s inner life, Prov.4.23; 23.7, and its usage here suggests spiritual appreciation as opposed to intellectual assent. Divine enlightenment will enable the Lord’s people to "know (oida, to know fully) what is the hope of His calling, andwhatthe riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward who believe" vv.18,19.

"What is the hope of His calling" v.18.Paul prays here for their encouragement. "In one sense the hope and the calling are indivisible. His calling, in a broad sense, would be the sum total of our privileges and prospects in Him, and would seem to embrace every blessing from conversion to glorification. The hope would include the anticipation and expectation of all that we believe. In another way, the hope is distinct from the calling: it is the inspiration which contemplation of the calling affords" (A.G. Muir2). The calling is defined in this very chapter: "According as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love: having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, wherein He hath made us accepted in the Beloved" vv.4-6. The "hope of his calling" is beautifully described by the apostle in the epistle to the Romans: "whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son … Moreover whom He did predestinate, them He also called: and whom He called, them He also justified: and whom He justified, them He also glorified" (Rom.8.29,30).

2 Muir, A.G. “Prayers from Prison.” in “Believer’s Magazine”. J. Ritchie, Kilmarnock. Jan.1972.
And is I so? we shall be like thy Son!
Is this the grace which He for us hath won?
Father of glory, thought beyond all thought
In glory, to His own blest likeness brought.
    (J. N. Darby)

"What the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints" v.18. Paul prays here for their enrichment. This chapter deals with the idea of inheritance in a twofold way. Firstly, as believers, we have an inheritance: "that Holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance" v.14. In the Old Testament, the Levites had a unique inheritance: "The priests the Levites, and all the tribe of Levi, shall have no part nor inheritance with Israel … the LORD is their inheritance, as He said unto them" Deut.18.1,2. Secondly, and this is emphasised here, God has an inheritance in us. Paul refers now, not to "our inheritance", but to "His inheritance". He has already made this point in the chapter: "in Whom also we have obtained an inheritance [‘in Whom we were made a heritage’, R.V.]" v.11. The Lord looked at His people in the Old Testament in the same way: "But the LORD hath taken you … to be unto Him a people of inheritance, as ye are this day" Deut.4.20. See also Deut.32.9; Ps.33.12. The words, "the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints", may well allude to Ex.19.5, "ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto Me above all people", and convey the value and preciousness of the Church to God. One aspect of the "riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints" is emphasised later in the epistle, where the Church is viewed as a demonstration to the universe of the manifold wisdom of God, particularly in the dissolution of the barrier between Jew and Gentile, Eph.3.10. As God looks now upon His heavenly inheritance, He should see a people who act in a manner worthy of such a privilege. This stupendous fact should give depth to Christian worship, incentive to Christian service, and dignity to Christian living.

"What is the exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward who believe" v.19.Paul prays here for their enabling. It has been observed that he summons all the resources of his vocabulary to describe the power available to the believer, and does so in view of the supreme demonstration of that power in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, vv.19,20. It has been nicely said that Paul’s prayer for their spiritual enlightenment "challenges his readers to action. Prayer is not a sedative, but a stimulant" (W.K. Morrison3). F.F. Bruce4 is worth quoting in extenso here: "But when he (Paul) thinks of the power of God, he presses all the terms for power in his vocabulary into service in order to convey something of its all-surpassing character. Paul is the only New Testament writer to use the participle rendered "exceeding" (Gk. hyperballon), and does so in five places altogether … But not content with this superlative word, he piles synonym on synonym as he describes how God’s power (dynamis) operates according to the in-working (energeia) of the strength (kratos) of His might (ischys). Why this attempt to exhaust the resources of the greatness of God’s power? Because he is thinking of one supreme occasion when that power was exerted … If the death of Christ is the chief demonstration of the love of God, the chief demonstration of His power is the resurrection of Christ."

3 Morrison, W.K. “Prayer in the New Testament” in “Believer’s Magazine”. J. Ritchie, Kilmarnock. Aug.1962.
4 Bruce, F.F. “The Epistle To The Ephesians”. Pickering and Inglis, 1970.

Paul consistently describes the spiritual power of the believer with reference, not to creation, but to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. The following examples should be noted: "Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life" Rom.6.4; "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me" Gal.2.20; "That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection" Phil.3.10. Moreover, the power that was exerted in His resurrection continued its manifestation in His exaltation, Eph.1.20,21. Paul prayed that the Ephesian believers "may know … what is the exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward who believe … which He wrought in Christ, when He raised him from the dead, and set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places".

Having ascended, the Lord Jesus is above all angelic and spiritual forces. He is set "far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come" Eph.1.21, and therefore above the spiritual powers arraigned against the children of God, Eph.6.12. He is not only above them, v.21, but has dominion over them: "and hath put all things under His feet" v.22. All things were placed beneath Adam’s feet on earth,Ps.8.6, and all things are placed beneath Christ’s feet in heaven and earth. Principalities and powers are seen in connection with the feet of the Lord Jesus: the Church is seen in relation to Him as its glorified Head. The Church enjoys a unique relationship with Him: in His resurrection and ascension, God "gave Him to be the head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fulness of Him that filleth all in all" Eph.1.22,23. The word "fulness" means ‘the complement’. Adam was incomplete without Eve. The words, "that filleth all in all" refer to the fact that Christ fills the entire universe, and emphasise the dignity of the position accorded to the Church, which is to complement Christ. This is nothing less than breathtaking when we remember that the Lord Jesus has dominion over all things, vv.21,22, that He is head over all things to the church, v.22, and that He fills the entire universe, v.23.


As already noted, the second of Paul’s two recorded prayers for the Christians at Ephesus has in view the enrichment of their appreciation of Divine love: "to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge." The deepening of their appreciation of the love of Christ flows out of their deepening appreciation of the immense blessings into which He has brought them, vv.18,19. We should notice:

  • Context of his prayer – v.14a

  • Competence of the Father – vv.14b-16a

  • Content of his prayer – vv.16b-19

  • Doxology – vv.20,21.

The Context of His Prayer – v.14a

The context of his prayer is, of course, vv.1-12, in which he discusses "the mystery … which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit … the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, Who created all things by Jesus Christ." That Divine "mystery" is the Church in which Jew and Gentile, representing the deepest of all human divisions, are made "one new man". The Gentiles have been made "fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ by the gospel" 3.6.

This leads to two requests. The first is addressed to the Ephesians: "Wherefore I desire that ye faint not at my tribulations for you, which is your glory" v.13. The second is addressed to God. "For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ … that He would grant you …" vv.14-21.

The context of the prayer can therefore be summed up as follows:

  • The "mystery" revealed to Paul, vv.2-6: "He made known unto me the mystery" v.3

  • The "mystery" revealed by Paul, vv.7-13: "to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery" v.9

  • This leads to the "mystery" understood by the Ephesians, vv.14-21: "that ye may be able to comprehend with all saints" v.18

  • It also leads to his prayer for them: "For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ". We should take due note of Paul’s reverent posture.

As already noted, Paul both teaches and prays that his readers might understand the teaching of his epistle. We must add that Paul does not only pray that they might understand his teaching, but that they might come to appreciate the Divine love which it expresses. Hence, "that ye may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height, and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge" vv.18,19. We must remember that Bible doctrine is intended, not only to inform the mind, but also to touch the heart.

The Competence of the Father – vv.14b-16a

Paul directs his prayer to "the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ", and the opinion of most authorities that the words "of our Lord Jesus Christ" should be omitted (J.N.D. is not altogether convinced) does not alter the emphasis upon His love as Father of "every family in heaven and earth" (R.V.). It is tempting to think that this alludes to the Old Testament statement, "you only have I known of all the families of the earth" Amos 3.2, and that the words "every family" indicate, in view of previous teaching, that Gentiles are now, with Jews, "fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ by the gospel" Eph.3.6. With this evidently in mind, W. Hendriksen5 asserts that the A.V. ("of Whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named") reads properly, with reference to the context, and that the whole emphasis of the passage is on the unity of the Church, rather than a series of families. It has to be said that this is not the usual interpretation, and that in the opinion of most commentators the passage refers, not to one family, some of whom are in heaven and some on earth, but rather to different families.

5 Hendriksen, W. “Ephesians”. The Banner of Truth Trust, London, 1972.

This is not the place, however, for a technical discussion, but rather to note Paul’s prayer that the Father, out of His infinite resources, will strengthen the inner life of the Ephesian believers, so that they can comprehend what he has taught them, together with the love that has brought it about, vv.18,19. Those resources are described as "the riches of His glory". Divine wealth is liberally scattered in Ephesians chapters 1-3: "the riches of His grace" 1.7; "rich in mercy" 2.4; "the riches of His glory" 3.16.

Amongst other things, the glory of God is the perfect blending of every Divine attribute. In answering Moses’ request, "I beseech Thee, shew me Thy glory" Ex.33.18, the "LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty" Ex.34.6,7. In this connection, it is significant that in testifying of the Lord Jesus, John writes, "and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father", and continues by saying, "full of grace and truth" Jn.1.14. There is no inadequacy with God. He delights to bless His people out of His infinite resources: "my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus" Phil.4.19; "strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power (‘the might of His glory’, R.V.)" Col.1.11.

The Content of His Prayer – vv.16b-19

Attention is drawn to the way in which one part of the prayer merges perfectly with the next until it reaches its climax in the words, "that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God." With this in mind, the usage of the conjunction "that" should be noted. W. Hendriksen5 likens the parts of the prayer to the rungs of a ladder, leading progressively upward.

The Strengthening of the Spirit – v.16b

Amongst God’s infinite resources is the ability to strengthen His people. Hence Paul prays that "according to the riches of His glory", the Ephesian believers would "be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man". This does not refer to spiritual power for service (as, for example, in Acts 1.8), but to the strengthening of their understanding. In the context of his prayer, Paul has in mind here spiritual ability to understand the "mystery" of which he has written in vv.1-11. There is no question at this point in the epistle of the exercise of gifts in the assembly, a subject developed later. Such understanding comes, not by secular education, logical reasoning, or natural genius, but "by His Spirit in the inner man".

The presence and power of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer, wonderful as it is, is not an end in itself. It brings us into the enjoyment of:

The Indwelling of Christ – v.17a

"That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith." The Lord Jesus said, "And I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you for ever; … but ye know Him; for He dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you" Jn.14.16-18. The Holy Spirit did not come to replaceChrist, but to make it marvellously possible for believers to enjoy His presence in their hearts and lives. As A. Leckie7 points out, "That Christ is in every believer is true (Jn.14.20; 2Cor.13.5), but here is something in advance of that." The verb rendered dwell (katoikeo) "properly signifies to settle down in a dwelling, to dwell fixedly in a place … it is used of the indwelling of Christ in the hearts of believers (‘may make a home in your hearts’)" (W.E. Vine8). F.F. Bruce9 points out that the tense of the verb ‘to dwell’ is aorist, and that the words might therefore be rendered, that "Christ may take up His abode in your hearts". This should be compared with Jn.14.23. One Who makes a home in our hearts cannot be a stranger. This happy situation is not achieved by effort on the part of the believer, but by joyful acceptance of the fact by faith.

7 Leckie, A. “Ephesians – What the Bible Teaches”. Ritchie, Kilmarnock, 1983.
8 Vine, W.E. ibid.
9 Bruce, F.F. ibid.

This leads to:

The Progress of the Saints – v.17b

"That ye, being rooted and grounded in love …". The experimental knowledge of Christ in our hearts leads to ongoing spiritual progress. Paul uses the figures of a plant healthily rooted and a building solidly founded. The presence of the "Son of God’s love" in the hearts of His people cannot do otherwise than promote love for Him, and love for each other. There cannot be better soil for promoting spiritual growth, or a better foundation for spiritual stability. To be "rooted … in love" leads to "forbearing one another in love" Eph.4.2, and "speaking the truth in love" Eph.4.2,15, and therefore displaying the practical love that should flow out of His love for us: "as I have loved you, that ye also love one another" Jn.13.34. To be "grounded … in love" suggests stability, and the believer who builds on such a foundation will not be easily shaken by the onslaughts of Satan. This leads to the next part of Paul’s prayer. Having prayed that they will be strengthened by the Spirit in the inner man, v.16, and know the reality of Christ dwelling in their hearts by faith, with resultant spiritual progress, v.17, the apostle now explains that this will put them in a position to appreciate the grandeur of their position as participants in "the mystery … which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men" Eph.3.5.

The Understanding of the Saints – v.18

"That ye … may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height …". The word rendered "comprehend" (katalambano) actually means ‘to apprehend’, that is, "to lay hold of; then, to lay hold of so as to possess as one’s own, to appropriate" (W.E. Vine10). A. Leckie11 points out that "by leaving the sentence unfinished the apostle states no object. The object is not "the love of Christ" v.19, for the simple reason that v.19 is another sentence". He continues, "It would appear that the apostle is thinking of the mystery which in its breadth and length embraces such opposing elements as Jew and Gentile, and in its depth meets the need of both, and in its height glorifies God."

10 Vine, W.E. ibid
11 Leckie, A. ibid

Progress in Divine things involves fellowship: it can only take place "with all saints". A believer who has little appetite for fellowship can hardly be anxious to make progress in the things of God, and can hardly expect to apprehend "what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height" of, evidently, the "mystery now revealed unto His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit". These ‘dimensions’ reflect teaching already imparted, and attention is drawn to the following:

"The breadth."This is the subject of earlier teaching in which the grand truth of the union of Jew and Gentile in Christ is developed. What breadth of purpose in the words, "hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us!" 2.14. Moreover, the "breadth" of the mystery can be understood from this very chapter: "that the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ by the gospel" v.6. That God would ultimately bless Gentile nations at large had long been understood by the Hebrew prophets, but there was no suggestion that they would lose their identity under the beneficent reign of Israel’s Messiah, whereas at the present time Jew and Gentile participate in one body, the Church. Christ has made "in Himself of twain one new man, so making peace; and that He might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross" Eph.2.15,16. Paul delighted not only in the sublime truth of the Church, but in the fact that to him was given the privilege of preaching "among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; and to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery …" 3.8,9.

"The length." This too recalls earlier teaching in the epistle. The Church, incorporating both Jew and Gentile in one body, was a "mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God" 3.9. Moreover, the Church displays "the manifold wisdom of God", and does so "according to the eternal purpose which He purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord" 3.10,11. Any calculation of the ‘length’ of the "mystery" must therefore begin in eternity! But that is not all, it must continue in eternity! "That in the ages to come, He might shew the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us by Christ Jesus" 2.7. Such is its length.

"The depth."All who participate in the rich blessings of the present dispensation, whether Jew or Gentile, were once "dead in trespasses and sins" and "children of disobedience: among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh, and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others". But in His mercy and love, God reached down to us, and "even when we were dead in sins hath quickened us together with Christ" 2.1-5. The basis on which He has done this is made clear: "In whom we have redemption through His blood" 1.7; "made nigh by the blood of Christ" 2.13.

Down from the splendour of His everlasting throne
Came the Lord of glory, for our guilt to atone;
Son of God eternal, He the sinner’s surety stood,
Paid the sinner’s ransom in His precious blood.

"The height."If God in Divine mercy and love has reached down to us in Christ, then He has also "raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: that in the ages to come He might shew the exceeding riches of His grace toward us through Christ Jesus" 2.6,7. Believers today can thoroughly concur with Hannah: "He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the beggar from the dunghill, to set them among princes, and to make them inherit the throne of glory" 1Sam.2.8.

But all this is not a technicality. In understanding the dimensions of the mystery we can appreciate more and more "the love of Christ that passeth knowledge". This brings us to:

The Love of Christ – v.19

Paul prayed further that their understanding of the "mystery which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men" 3.5, would deepen and enrich their appreciation of "the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge". Paul uses the word for knowledge (ginosko) "which frequently suggests inception or progress in knowledge" (W.E. Vine12). This is knowledge of a different order and involves, not merely assent to facts, but an appreciation which transcends the ordinary processes of intellectual comprehension.

A. Leckie13 suggests that "the love of Christ" in this epistle "is His love to the church, 5.25-27. If the breadth, length, depth and height of v.18 may be apprehended, the love of Christ surpasses knowledge (huperballousan, surpassing); yet it is not unknowable". It is a salutary lesson to recall that in later years, the Lord Jesus Himself had to say to this very church, "Thou hast left thy first love" Rev.2.4.

12 Vine, W.E. ibid
13 Leckie, A. ibid

But even knowing "the love of Christ which passeth knowledge" is not an end in itself. Rightly understood, it will have a transforming effect in the lives of His people. This brings us to:

The Fulness of God – v.19

"That ye might be filled with all the fulness of God" or "that ye may be filled [even] to all the fulness of God" (J.N.D.). With this, the apostle reaches the height of his request.

As A. Leckie states, "this cannot be "the fulness of the Godhead" Col.2.9, for this is incommunicable. Whatever this fulness might be, no-one could contain it. The fulness of God must relate to what of God is communicable to the saints: "filled with the knowledge of His will" Col.1.9; "fill you with all joy and peace in believing" Rom.15.13; "partakers of the Divine nature" 2Pet.1.4; and "of His fulness have all we received, and grace for grace" Jn.1.16."

The Doxology – vv.20,21

"Now unto Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen." We should notice the expressions "unto Him that is able" v.20; and "unto Him be glory" v.21.

Unto Him That is Able – v.20

Paul does not say ‘above all that we can ask or think’, but "above all that we ask or think". He is thinking of the requests in his prayer! God is able to more than answer these petitions ("exceeding abundantly" means ‘in over abundance, beyond all measure). In the immediate context of the doxology, He is more than able to enable His people to grasp the sublime character of those truths "now revealed … by the Spirit" 3.5, but it is surely legitimate to add that God is able to "do exceedingly above all that we ask or think"! The power to know and enjoy this resource is resident in every believer: it is "the power that worketh in us".

Unto Him be Glory – v.21

The words, "throughout all ages, world without end" or "unto all generations of the age of ages" (J.N.D.) evidently refer to the millennial reign of the Lord Jesus. In this connection, A. Leckie observes that "If the age of the ages be the coming millennium, as I judge it to be, then the church in its peculiar and unique relationship to Christ will be seen by generations to the glory of the Father. The church on earth today displays to angelic beings in the heavenlies the multi-varied wisdom of God, v.10. In the age of the ages it shall display from its place in the heavenlies with Christ Jesus, glory to the Father to generations of men on the earth."14

14 Leckie, A. ibid
It passeth knowledge, that dear love of Thine,
My Jesus, Saviour; yet this soul of mine
Would of Thy love, in all its breadth and length,
Its height and depth, its everlasting strength,
Know more and more.
And when my Jesus face to face I see,
When at His lofty throne I bow the knee,
Then of His love, in all its breadth and length,
Its height and depth, its everlasting strength,
My soul shall sing.
    (M. Shekleton)


The atmosphere in which he prayed for them is described in the earlier verses of the chapter: "I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy … For God is my record how greatly I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ" vv.3,4,8. Paul’s prayer for the Philippians flows out of his deep love for them. We should notice that although he is in prison, his first concern is for the spiritual growth of his dear brethren at Philippi. His personal situation is relegated to second place! His own interests are subordinated to the interests of other people, and this occurs time and time again in the epistle. Paul was an example of his own ministry when he said, "Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others" 2.4. But, and this is even more important, he displayed the very character of the Lord Jesus Himself, Who certainly did not look "on His own things, but … on the things of others", as the following verses, 2.5-8, illustrate so clearly. The ‘mind of Christ’ lies at the heart of Paul’s teaching in this epistle. R. McPike15 puts it like this: "In living close to God we are made aware of His interest in others … this inevitably leads the soul to intercession with Him for those who are the objects of Divine affection … Too seldom is this spirit of unselfishness manifest amongst us today. How much we lose in our utter unconcern for those who are bound up with us in bonds eternal!"

15 McPike, R. “Prayer in the New Testament” in “Believer’s Magazine”. J. Ritchie, Kilmarnock. June.1962.

To summarise, Paul’s prayer for the believers at Philippi was thankful, "I thank my God", v.4; consistent, "always in every prayer of mine", v.4; comprehensive,"for you all", v.4; joyful, "making request with joy", v.4; confident,"being confident of this one thing", v.6; and purposeful, "and this I pray", v.9. The progression in the actual prayer should be noted: "And this I pray, that … that ye … that ye …" A.G. Muir16 comments as follows: "Paul’s ultimate design is now about to be stated. Line upon line as a master-builder he has set forth his plea: his prayers make sense; he understands spiritual processes; his own tidy mind and the orderliness and reasonableness of his requests would be impressive at the ‘throne of grace’. He knew God’s will, and adjusted his prayer to coincide." Paul’s prayer contains three requests which can be summarised in the following way:

  • Increasing love – v.9

  • Intelligent choice – v.10a

  • Integrity of character – vv.10b,11.

16 Muir, A.G. “Prayers from Prison.” in “Believer’s Magazine”. J. Ritchie, Kilmarnock. Oct.1971.
Increasing Love – v.9

"And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment". He prays for increasing depth in their love, and increasing discernment in their love.

Increasing in Depth. "And this I pray (proseuchomai: the scholars call this the ‘durative present’, meaning, ‘I keep on praying’), that your love may abound yet more and more." It is very wonderful to notice that Paul uses the word for Divine love (agape) here, reminding us that "the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit Which is given unto us" Rom.5.5. The existence of that love in the hearts of God’s people dates from their conversion: "We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren" 1Jn.3.14.

But the existence of that love in the hearts of the Philippians was not enough for Paul. He prays that it will "abound yet more and more"! This should be compared with his exhortation to the believers at Thessalonica: "But as touching brotherly love (philadelphia) ye need not that I write unto you: for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another. And indeed ye do it toward all the brethren which are in all Macedonia: but we beseech you, brethren, that ye increase more and more" 1Thess.4.9,10. Paul did not expect God’s people to ‘stand still’ or ‘mark time’ when it came to Christian love! In fact, he expected them to be ‘on the move’ in every way, 1Thess.4.1!

But for whom is their love to "abound yet more and more"? This is not stated, neither is it necessary to know. Love for God, and love for His people, cannot be disassociated: "Every one that loveth Him that begat, loveth Him also that is begotten of Him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments" 1Jn.5.1,2.

Increasing in Discernment. But love is to "abound yet more and morein knowledge and in all judgment." The necessity for these qualities is stressed in Prov.1.4; 2.11. Christian love is not just emotion, and it is not without principle: it is an intelligent love. Our love for God will be marked by an increasing desire to please Him by understanding and practising His will. The Lord Jesus said, "If ye love Me, keep My commandments" Jn.14.15. As A.G. Muir17 observes, such abounding love will be subject to the "governing, mellowing, enhancing values of knowledge and judgement". An example occurs in this very epistle: "Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision" 3.2. We know that "love rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth" 1Cor.13.6.

The word "knowledge" translates the Greek word epignosis, and we can do no better than quote W.E. Vine18 here: "Epignosis, like the simpler form, gnosis, is always acquired or experimental knowledge. Gnosis is knowledge, true or false, 1Tim.6.20 (A.V. ‘science’). Epignosis is always true knowledge; it may be either full knowledge or increasing knowledge, but it is always knowledge in the spiritual sphere. God’s knowledge, mentioned but twice in the New Testament, Rom.11.33; Col.2.3, is gnosis, not epignosis, for there are no gradations in it: it is absolute. Compare Ps.139.6." The word "judgment" means ‘discernment’ or ‘perception’, and W.E. Vine18 helps us again: "Not intellectual acuteness, but moral sensitiveness seems to be the meaning. This is confirmed by the use of the verb in Lk.9.45, "they perceived it not", and of a cognate noun in Heb.5.14, "having their senses exercised"." J.B. Lightfoot19 suggests that "while ‘knowledge’ deals with general principles, ‘judgment’ is concerned with practical applications."

17 Muir, A.G. ibid
18 Vine, W.E. ibid
19 Lightfoot, J.B. “St. Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians”. Hendrickson Publishers, 1995.
Intelligent Choice – v.10a

Such intelligent love, which desires to know and practise God’s will, puts us in a position to "approve things that are excellent". W.E. Vine21 explains this with clarity: "… love (the denial of self-interest) and knowledge (full acquaintance with what God has revealed of His will and His ways in working out His will) and discernment (sensitiveness to moral values) must each be in exercise if the Christian is to perceive the difference between what pleases God and what pleases Him not, and if he is to be "filled with the fruits of righteousness"."

The word "approve" (dokimazo) "always includes the idea of proving whether a thing is worthy to be received" (R.C. Trench22). It occurs in Rom.12.1 with reference to the will of God. That is, to approve after trial. The word is used, for example, of proving the five yoke of oxen, Lk.14.19, and of examining ourselves in view of the Lord’s supper, 1Cor.11.28. The word "excellent" (diaphero) is, literally, ‘to differ or to be different from’, and is used of the stars in 1Cor.15.41, and of a child under age in comparison with a servant in Gal.4.1. The Lord’s people, faced with so many options, so many alternatives, so many views, and so many suggestions, can only distinguish between them with reference to God’s Word. It is only there that we can discover His will.

The words, "that ye may approve things that are excellent", are also found in Rom.2.18, "And approvest the things that are more excellent". Compare 1Thess.5.21, "Prove (dokimazo) all things; hold fast that which is good." J.A. Bengel23 suggests that Rom.2.18 refers to the ability to discern supreme things: "prove and embrace not merely good in preference to bad, but the best things among those which are good". Some of the "more excellent things" are listed in Phil.4.8,9: "Whatsoever things are true … honest … just … pure … lovely … of good report". Paul also lists things which are not "excellent", Phil.3.5-8. The ability to "approve things that are excellent" leads to:

21Vine W.E. “Philippians” in “The Collected Writings of W.E. Vine”. Nelson. 1996.
22Trench, R.C. “Synonyms of the New Testament”. Baker Book House, Michigan, 1989
23Bengel, J.A. “New Testament Word Studies”. Kregel Publications, 1978.
Integrity of Character – vv.10a,11

"That ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ; being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God". We should notice the following:

Its Characteristics. First of all, positively: "sincere" (eilikrines), meaning ‘unalloyed’ or ‘unmixed’: literally, ‘tested by sunlight’. It is said that market traders were in the habit of disguising broken vases by filling the cracks with white wax, and that the only way to find out whether the wares had hidden defects was to hold them up to the sunlight. The sun would show the existence or otherwise of the wax! (The English word sincere derives from the Latin, sin serum, meaning ‘without wax’). The word sincere refers to "internal disposition, the absence of impure motives" (S. Maxwell25). The sincere believer will have no time for sharp practice or for spiritual manoeuvring. Secondly, negatively: "without offence", meaning, no occasion of stumbling, possibly in the passive sense, i.e. not being stumbled. But see 1Cor.10.32, "Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God": 2Cor.6.3, "giving no offence (occasion of stumbling) in anything, that the ministry be not blamed". As to ourselves, we must be "sincere": as to others, we must be "without offence".

Its Continuity. Paul prays that they will be "sincere and without offence till the day of Christ". That is, until the Lord Jesus returns, and we "appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad" 2Cor.5.10. In other words, we are expected to live in this way consistently until the Saviour comes to take us home to heaven.

Its Climax. "Being filled with the fruits (singular, ‘fruit’) of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God" or "Being complete as regards the fruit of righteousness" (J.N.D.). S. Maxwell25 indicates the contrast in vv.10,11: "In v.10 they are to be without alloy and without offence. In v.11, they are to be filled with the "fruit of righteousness". As A.G. Muir26 observes: "All spiritual teaching resolves itself into a test of character and of conduct. Exposition evaporates if it is not exemplified: Christianity cannot be theoretical or detached." These are weighty words. The Lord Jesus censured the religious hierarchy that "sat in Moses’ seat", because "they say and do not" Matt.23.3.

25Maxwell, S. “Philippians – What the Bible Teaches”. Ritchie, Kilmarnock, 1983.
26Muir, A.G. ibid
27Moule, H.C.G. “Philippian Studies”. Hodder and Stoughton, London.

We should notice the fruit: "righteousness". That is the character of the fruit: it is practical righteousness. Paul names its source: it is "by Jesus Christ": He produces the fruit. See Jn.15.4,5. He also names its object: "unto the glory and praise of God". In the words of H.C.G. Moule27: "This is the true goal and issue of the whole work of grace. To Him are all things, to ‘Whom be glory for ever. Amen’ Rom.11.36". The great object of Paul’s prayer is the glory of God. This is its grand finale.


Paul was particularly concerned for the spiritual well-being of the believers at Colosse in view of the danger posed by Judaisers on one hand, and Gnostics on the other. Hence his warnings: "Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink … or of sabbath days … Let no man beguile of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind" 2.16-18. They had already been told, "Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ" 2.8. It is not therefore surprising that in praying for them, Paul had particularly in mind their progress in Christ.

It is worth noticing that there was no ‘half-heartedness’ or ‘half-measures’ in Paul’s prayer for these believers. There was certainly no ‘half-heartedness’ in his words, "praying always for you" v.3, and "For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you (‘do not cease praying and asking for you’, J.N.D.)" v.9. He was persistent. J.N. Darby’s translation emphasises Paul’s definite requests. Compare 1Thess.3.10, "Night and day praying exceedingly". There were certainly no half-measures in his prayer. Paul prayed that they might be "filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness." Epaphras prayed similarly, 4.12.

There are three sections to Paul’s prayer in vv.9-11, and this is followed by thanksgiving, vv.12-14. He desires:

  • That they might enjoy God’s provision – v.9

  • That they might achieve God’s purpose – v.10

  • That they might experience God’s power – v.11.

God’s Provision – v.9

"That ye might be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding." Since inspiration extends to the very words of Scripture, detailed study cannot be otherwise than profitable, and this is certainly the case here.

"That ye might be filled with the knowledge of His will." This was the desire of David: "Teach me to do Thy will; for Thou art my God; Thy Spirit is good; lead me into the land of uprightness" Ps.143.10. It is one thing to recognise the will of God theoretically, but something entirely different to make the will of God the supreme desire of our lives. Paul speaks about the "knowledge" of God’s will here. He speaks about "understanding" His will in Eph.5.17, and "doing" His will in Eph. 6.6.

"That ye might be filled with the knowledge of His will." Paul employs the word epignosis here. It "denotes exact or full knowledge, discernment, recognition, and is a strengthened form of gnosis, expressing a fuller or full knowledge, a greater participation in the object known, thus more powerfully influencing him"28. The Gnostics prided themselves in their gnosis, but Christians enjoy epignosis! Paul wanted the very best for his brethren at Colosse!

28Vine, W.E. “Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words”. World Bible Publishers, Iowa, 1991.

"That ye might be filled with the knowledge of His will." Nothing can be more important. The philosophers at Colosse endeavoured to divert the believers from pursuing the "knowledge of His will". See 2.8,18. The Judaisers endeavoured to do the same. See 2.20-23. Rightly understood, "the knowledge of His will" will preserve us from all error. However, it is more than mere acquaintance with the facts of God’s will. This follows:

"That ye might be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding", or "spiritual wisdom and understanding" (R.V.). This describes an intelligent grasp of God’s will. It has been suggested that "wisdom" will save us from foolish conduct, and "spiritual understanding" will save us from false teaching. "Wisdom" is the application of God’s will, and "spiritual understanding" is the appreciation of God’s will.

"Wisdom" is spiritual skill. It is the acquired skill of Christian maturity. It is the ability to implement the will of God, both amongst believers, see 3.16, and unbelievers, see 4.5. It involves meeting "enticing words", with the "treasures of wisdom and knowledge" found in Christ, 2.3,4. It involves meeting "a show of wisdom (‘an appearance of wisdom’, J.N.D.) in will [voluntary] worship", with sound teaching, 2.20-23. The very way in which Paul deals with the problems at Colosse demonstrates ‘spiritual wisdom and understanding’ (R.V.). Instead of launching an immediate attack on the false teachers, he first sets out the unique glories of Christ, and the immense blessings of all who belong to Him."Spiritual understanding" describes the way in which we discern God’s will. 1Cor.2.12-16 should be carefully read in this connection. "Spiritual understanding" is not acquired by listening to "the words which man’s wisdom teacheth,butwhich the Holy Ghost teacheth".

God’s Purpose – v.10

"That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God." Compare 1Thess.2.12. This emphasises the practical results which flow from v.9. Whilst "wisdom and spiritual understanding" are not tangible things, they certainly produce tangible results! Once again, every word is important:

"That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing." That is, just like Enoch, the man who "walked with God" Gen.5.22, and who "before his translation … had this testimony, that he pleased God" Heb.11.5. 1Thessalonians chapter 4, which has been called the Enoch chapter, commences with Paul’s urgent request that "as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more" v.1. The believer’s business in life is not to please himself, nor to please others, but to please the Lord. This should be the spiritual ambition of every child of God. See 2Cor.5.9, (R.V.). We must make it our aim to be well-pleasing to Him in walk, Col.1.10; in worship, Heb.13.15,16; in warfare, 2Tim.2.4; and in witness, 1Thess.2.4.

"Being fruitful in every good work." This is the result of the gospel, Col.1.6, the evidence of salvation, Acts 9.36, where Dorcas was "full of good works", and thepurpose of God, Eph.2.10; Titus 2.14. Such fruit in the lives of the Lord’s people can only be produced as they abide in Him, Jn.15.4,5.

"And increasing in [‘by’, J.N.D.] the knowledge (epignosis) of God." The development in the chapter should be noticed: Paul refers to the knowledge of God’s grace in v.6, the knowledge of God’s will in v.9 and, now, the knowledge of God Himself. Spiritual development can only be nurtured and sustained through personal communion with God.

God’s Power – v.11

"Strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness." Paul prays that they would be strengthened, not according to their need, but "according toHis glorious power"! Paul therefore concludes his prayer for the Colossians by asking that they may be continually strengthened with all power "according to the might of His glory" (J.N.D.). This expression is probably best understood with reference to the Lord’s resurrection. See Rom.6.4: "Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father." Compare Eph.1.19. Hence Paul prays that they may be empowered with the same might by which Christ was raised from the dead. This does not conflict with Paul’s prayer that the believers at Ephesus might be "strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man" Eph.3.16. Peter, referring to the Lord’s resurrection, reminds his readers that Christ was "put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit" 1Pet.3.18.

The purpose of this power follows: not spectacular miracles and brilliant oratory, but "unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness". "Patience" (hupomone) is "the quality that does not surrender to circumstances, or succumb under trial". "Longsuffering" (makrothumia) is self-restraint in the face of provocation. The former is used in connection with circumstances: the latter is used in connection with people. But neither should be exercised with stoicism and gloom. Hence Paul adds, "with joyfulness". He had the moral right to say this: see Acts 16.25. It has been nicely summarised as follows: no giving up ("patience"); no giving back ("longsuffering"); no giving in ("joyfulness").

Paul counselled the believers at Philippi to "Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God" Phil.4.6. Following his own guidelines, Paul’s prayer for the believers at Colosse now merges with thanksgiving, vv.12-14. His thanksgiving centres on three changes that take place when men and women become Christians. In Christ they enjoy a new quality, v.12, a new authority, v.13, and a new liberty, v.14.

A new quality – v.12. "Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet (fit) to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light." Believers were once in "darkness" v.13, and totally unworthy of Divine blessing. What we could never accomplish by personal merit, God has accomplished for us. He has made us fit for His presence, both now and in eternity. The words "in light" refer to the location of our inheritance. It is in the presence of God, and "God is light". It is "reserved in heaven" 1Pet.1.4.

A new authority – v.13. "Who hath delivered us from the power [exousia, meaning ‘authority’] of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of His dear Son [‘the Son of His love, J.N.D.]." The word "delivered" (rhuomai) means ‘to rescue’, and the word "translate" means to ‘transfer to another place’. (The word used of Enoch is very similar: Heb.11.5). There has been a change of authority in our lives. We were once subject to the ‘authority of darkness’ (compare Eph.2.2), but now we are subjects of the "kingdom of God’s dear Son". The very word "kingdom", implies reign and authority. People should, of course, be able to see the change of authority in our lives.

A new liberty – v.14. "In whom we have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins." The word "redemption" (apolutrosis) means ‘to release on payment of a ransom’. Once we were in bondage to sin, but now we are free. The price has been paid. The blood of Christ provides for the removal of all our sins. The word "forgiveness" (aphesis) means ‘dismissal’ or ‘release’ (W.E. Vine29).

29Vine, W.E. ibid

Assembly prayer meetings would be transformed if the Lord’s people prayed for each other after the fashion of these four prayers, as would our daily personal and private prayers. There is, surely, no reason why we should not pray in this way. In view of such possibilities in prayer, it would be delightful if it could be said of us increasingly, as it was said of Paul himself, "behold, he prayeth" Acts 9.11.