With All the Saints

I started this study of Paul’s prayer because I wanted to explore his description of Christ’s love. Finally, I have reached it.

And I pray that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people (the saints), to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.

Ephesians 3:17b–18

But once again, I am delayed. A phrase, stuck between the commas, stops me. I am arrested by words that seems so out of place. Together with all the saints. What’s the saints got to do with it? Isn’t this love between me and God? Isn’t it a personal, intimate, individual thing? Why does the Bible always have to bring in the saints? It’s enough for me to figure out that God loves me without having to deal with people! Because sadly, there are too many examples of the saints not loving.

Paul seems to be saying that having my roots deep in God and his indwelling empowers me to know experientially the love of Christ. Paul prays that we will have the power to grasp—know, understand, experience—his love. But we need help. Even those like me, who were raised in loving homes with God-fearing parents, still need help knowing we are loved because Paul goes on to say that this love surpasses knowledge—it is actually unknowable. And yet he prays for it anyway.

So how can we know it? We have already seen some ways. Become God’s child. Let God strengthen our inner being. Let God dwell in us. Strive to be rooted and grounded in him. Paul now introduces two news ways to know God’s love. Pray for power to grasp it. And be together with all the saints.

Perhaps I can’t know God’s love all by myself, as I sometimes prefer. Perhaps I need the Body of Christ to demonstrate it and teach it to me. David Guzak in his commentary, puts it this way, “Paul asked that they might be able to understand together, in community, every dimension of the love of Jesus” (emphasis mine).

There must be something here about not really knowing the love of God unless we are with the saints. It is something we know together. The saints put flesh on the intangible concept of love. My brothers and sisters in Christ become love with skin on for me. And so I reflect on how they have taught me the love of God.

A number of years ago, during a time when I was feeling particularly unloved, plain and undesired, God spoke his love to me through two saints. One was totally random—a grocery checker, whom I did not and still do not know. While mindlessly going through the routine of putting my groceries on the conveyor belt, the checker looked at me and said, “Has anyone ever told you how beautiful you are?” I was stunned. I sputtered and mumbled, “No, thank you.” As I stumbled out of the store, I made it to my car and wept. God had spoken his love to me through a stranger.

A few months later, I served at a retreat with an old college friend whom I had not seen in years. Toward the end of the week, my friend pulled me aside and said, “I just want to tell you that you have grow more beautiful as you have gotten older.” Again, I was stunned and knew her voice was the voice of the Lord, reassuring me of his love.

Yes, I need the saints to accept me, to forgive me, to affirm me, to be patient with me, to be kind to me, to serve me, to bear with me, to believe in me, to endure with me, to hope for me. I need them not only to love me, but also to let me watch as they love others. I continue to be challenged by saints who love in ways that are hard for me. Those that give time and energy and passion to the marginalized and the poor, those that visit prisons and hospitals, those that herald the cause of enslaved women and children, those that risk ridicule and reputation to share the gospel of Christ. All these teach me to grasp the love of Christ. Together with all the saints. 

Are you praying that God will empower you to know his love?

How have other saints helped you to know the love of Christ? 

I would love to hear your stories.

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