Bowing the Knee
“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named” (Eph. 3:14-15).- Ephesians 3:14-15
Paul’s reference to his calling and ministry in Ephesians 3:2–13 is a brief aside in the context of this epistle, and in today’s passage he returns to where he left off in verse 1 — his second prayer for the Ephesian church in this letter. The apostle bows the knee “for this reason” (v. 14), referring back to chapter 2, particularly 2:11–22. God’s plan to unite Jews and Gentiles through their common faith in Christ Jesus moves the apostle to intercede for his congregants, and this is even more clear in that his prayer emphasizes the comprehension of Christ’s love (3:17–19). If Paul’s readers understand the love of Jesus for them, they will be able to love one another and so form the new humanity for which our Savior died (2:13–16; 1 John 4:7–21).
In speaking of his prayer, Paul tells us that he bows his knee to the Father. Of course, we should not read this as if kneeling is the only appropriate posture for prayer. Actually, it would have been the apostle’s custom to pray while standing because that was how first-century Jewish men typically approached God in prayer. What is most important is the attitude of the heart that one brings to prayer, an attitude that should be characterized by humility, repentance, and absolute dependence on divine grace (Luke 18:9–14). Kneeling in prayer may represent visibly this heart attitude, but it is not the only way that it can be expressed, and as with everything else in biblical religion, having the right motive must be our chief concern (1 Sam. 16:7).
Approaching God with sincerity and humility is required because He is the most holy Sovereign. We do know Him as our loving Father who delights to hear us pray, but we should not let such familiarity breed contempt. He is still the almighty Creator, a point that Paul makes implicitly when he says that “every family in heaven and on earth” derives its name from the Lord (Eph. 3:15). In biblical times, naming something or someone conveyed the authority of the namer over the one who was named (Ps. 147:4; Isa. 40:26). Therefore, in telling us that God has ultimately named every family or clan, including animal families and angelic clans or groupings, Paul actually proclaims the Lord’s full and unquestionable sovereignty over all. This greatly comforts us as we pray, for it means that God is truly able to grant what we ask when it aligns with His perfect and sovereign will.
God was rarely referred to as “Father” under the old covenant, so we should be glad to live in the new covenant era when the fatherhood of God is made plain to everyone in Christ. Still, when we approach our Father, we should never forget that He is the very Lord of the universe. Let us therefore always come before Him humbly, for if we approach an earthly sovereign this way, how much more should this be our manner of coming near to God?
Passages for Further Study
2 Chronicles 7:14
1 Peter 5:6–7
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you do not make more than 500 physical copies. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred (where applicable). If no such link exists, simply link to www.ligonier.org.
Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: From Ligonier Ministries, the teaching fellowship of R.C. Sproul. All rights reserved. Website: www.ligonier.org | Phone: 1-800-435-4343