Like every other church to which Paul wrote, the Ephesians had many needs for which the apostle made intercession. We can discern these needs from Paul’s allusions to the situation facing the Ephesians, which, admittedly, is not as easy to reconstruct as the problems that the recipients of the apostle’s other letters encountered. Besides needing instruction in sound doctrine, it seems the Ephesians may have been discouraged at Paul’s imprisonment (Eph. 3:13), and the petition the apostle offers in today’s passage asks the Lord to alleviate any distress his audience felt (vv. 16–17). Certainly, however, since all Christians get discouraged, this petition also applies to us, and we can also bring it before our Father in behalf of other believers.
In keeping with the knowledge that the One to whom he prays is the all-powerful Creator God, Paul appeals to the riches of divine glory as he asks the Lord to assist his readers. The term riches suggests inexhaustible resources — our God has a well of gifts and graces that never runs dry; He can give lavishly without holding back, never having to worry that the storehouse of His power will be emptied. Indeed, we can rejoice that the Father “gives the Spirit without measure” (John 3:34), and so we may be ever-confident that God will grant any request we have to be strengthened in our inner being. The Holy Spirit will grant power and strength to our hearts and minds, enabling us to endure any trial, encouraging us when we are down (Acts 1:8).
Specifically, Paul asks God to grant strength “so that Christ may dwell in [our] hearts through faith” (Eph. 3:17). This request seems perplexing at first because Jesus already dwells in believers’ hearts, but the apostle is not referring to the initial indwelling of Christ by His Spirit at conversion. Instead, he asks that believers might become people in whom the perfect Savior feels fully at home. Essentially, he prays for advancement in our sanctification — our growth in personal holiness — that we might bring Him no shame as we profess Him as Lord and live before a watching world. We never reach a point in this life where such a prayer becomes unnecessary. John Calvin writes: “Believers have never advanced so far as not to need farther growth. The highest perfection of the godly in this life is an earnest desire to make progress.”
Christ does not wait for us to be perfect before He takes up residence within us, and for that we can rejoice. Yet it is possible to grieve His Spirit by our sin (Eph. 4:30), and so we must ever seek to mortify our sin that we might be a fit dwelling place for Him. For this we need the strength that only God can give us, and with Paul we should seek the Lord’s face daily, that we might be ever conscious of our need for His grace and empowerment.