Two Essential Ways to Know God’s Love
In Ephesians 3:14-19, the Apostle Paul explained to his readers what he was praying for God to do in their lives. Essentially, he was praying that the Holy Spirit would work within them so that they would continually grow in their knowledge of Christ’s love.
At the end of verse 17, he described two essential ways they needed to know the love of Christ. They needed to be “rooted” in this love and also “grounded” in it.
For years I read past the words “rooted and grounded in love” in Eph. 3:17 without paying much attention. Paul’s use of two past participles seemed like nothing more than a literary flourish. However, a book by David Harwood helped me to understand that each of these verbs portrays a distinct and important way in which we need to interact with the love of Christ.
The word translated “grounded” carries the idea of laying a foundation. This describes our objective knowledge of God’s love. When you lay a foundation for a house you expect the foundation never to move. If a house is well-built, its foundation will be in the same location where it was laid, 100 years later. It will be impermeable to moisture and resistant to change. Foundations are rock solid, unmoving, and clearly defined.
There is a sense in which we need to know God’s love in this way. Regardless of how I feel today, and regardless of the consistency (or inconsistency) of my recent behavior as a Christian, God’s love for me is founded on some unchanging, historically objective facts – Jesus Christ died for my sins and rose for my salvation. Like a well-built foundation, these facts never move; they never change. They will be as true twenty years from now as they are this morning.
The reason I need to know God’s love in this objective way, as an unchanging fact, is because I am always changing. Sometimes I am up. Sometimes I am down. It is important for me to realize that, regardless of my emotions or my circumstances, there is a dimension to God’s love that is solid and unchangeable, because it is based on historical facts that are independent of my present mood.
However, this is not the only way we need to know God’s love. Paul also prayed that the Ephesians would be “rooted” in love. This describes our subjective interaction with the love of Christ. Whereas foundations are unmoving, roots grow and change shape all the time. A homeowner does not want moisture leeching into her house’s foundation, but she does want moisture to enter the roots of the trees in her yard. We want foundations to be carefully planned and clearly defined, but we expect roots to spread through the soil in unpredictable ways.
There is a sense in which our knowledge of God’s love needs to grow like the roots of a tree. We need to be plunging ever deeper into the soil of God’s grace. We need to feel his living water flowing into us. We need to grow in our relationship with Christ so that ten years from now we can say that we know his love better than we do today.
In other words, as important as it is for us to know God’s love for us as an objectively historical fact, it is equally important that we know it as a subjective experience in our personal lives. Just as a house needs a foundation, we need a rock-solid assurance of God’s love, based on the finished work of Christ. And yet, just as a tree needs a constantly growing root system, we also need an ever-changing experience of God’s love, through the internal work of the Holy Spirit. We need both a foundation and roots.
Like the Apostle Paul, let’s be praying (for ourselves and for each other) that we will know God’s love in both of these ways.