Paul’s Magnificent Staircase

By Neil Earle

Saint Paul’s letter to the Ephesians has been called “the Queen of the Epistles, “the divinest composition known to man” and the attempt to “measure the immeasurable and express the inexpressible.”

Expositor’s Bible Commentary calls Ephesians “a hymn to unity” outlining God’s plan to “bring all things in heaven and earth together under one head, even Christ” (1:10).

The temple of Diana in Ephesus: the church here was surrounded by pagan powers.

One writer spoke of the teaching in Ephesians 3:14-20 in particular as if Paul were climbing a magnificent staircase – taking us into the heavenly realms through powerful spiritual assertions that reach in to heaven and earth, uniting us with both.

This passage concludes almost invitingly like a promissory note that all Christians are encouraged to know about. In times like these that addle men and women’s souls we need this splendid summation of Paul’s Gospel in brief – an explanation of the abundance of God’ gift s (1:18), a review of the power made available to the Christian (1:19) and the incredible depths of Christ’s love for his people and the human race. Let’s take a look.

Abundant Resources

As one of my Bible teachers said, the abundant life Jesus promised must have abundant resources. This is where Ephesians 3:16 comes in describing “the riches of God’s glory.” There was a popular television show in the 1950s called “The Millioanire.” It described what happened when a multibillionaire would send anonymous million dollar checks to people fallen upon hard times. Well, God has more than a million dollars to disburse. “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof” says the Psalmist. The cattle on thousand hills are his. Of him and through him came all things. This means the fabulously powerful and wealthy God can bless us with all things according to his will.

But God’s normal stock in trade is of a continuous provision through the Holy Spirit of power, love and of a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7-8). In this day and age of school shootings, car chases, televised confusion – how much is true peace of mind really worth?

It’s priceless isn’t it? This is the import of Paul’s next important phrase “strengthened in the inner man” which is precisely where we need the extra help as we go about our daily lives. I find it hard to feature sometimes how people can make it through the day with all the bad and/or trivialized news crashing in on us from the often sensational-seeking media. Christians who devote themselves to prayer have that assurance that the trials and tests of life cannot ultimately defeat them. They are promised that their trials are filtered by God's loving hands (1 Corinthians 10:3).

The Mamertine Prison in Rome consists of two gloomy underground cells where vanquished enemies were imprisoned and usually died, of either starvation or strangulation. According to legend, the apostle Peter was imprisoned here.

As we all know, Christians do not live charmed lives – Paul wrote his letter from a jail cell – but as Eugene Peterson explains, “each step we take, each breath we breathe we are preserved by God, we know we are accompanied by God, we know we are ruled by God and therefore no matter what doubts we endure or what accidents we experience, the Lord will guard us from all evil” (A Long Obedience, page 45). Even the hairs of our head are numbered, Jesus tells us. That is a sold basis for comfort as we make our way through the same pressures everyone else faces.

It is Christ dwelling in our inner selves through faith that makes all this possible (v. 17). The wisest and most God-centered person who ever lived living his life inside us – who wouldn’t want that?

Four-Dimensional Love

Paul’s next phrase is another big step up his grand exalted stairway. He prays in verse 18 that God’s people may have the strength to comprehend “the breadth and length and height and depth” of the love of Christ.

The great expositor William Barclay explains: "In the breadth of its sweep, the love of Christ includes every man of every kind in every age in every world; in the length to which it would go, the love of Christ accepted even the cross; in its depth it descended to experience even death; in its height, he still loves us in heaven where he ever lives to make intercession for us (Hebrews 7:25). No man is outside the love of Christ; no place is outside its reach” (Ephesians, page 133).

One of our elder’s wives just heard about the untimely death of her nephew – a man in his fifties with a nine tear old daughter. These words were immensely encouraging for her which is what Paul’s letters are meant to be. Remember, Paul wrote to the Ephesians while he was in jail awaiting interrogation by Nero Caesar. He was not dictating to a secretary with a coffee pot percolating in the back while he sat in a comfortable chair behind a mahogany desk. As Peterson says, "no book is more realistic and honest in facing the harsh facts of life than the Bible”.

Christians really belerive this – it is a reason this Word has lasted over 1900 years. It outlasted the Romans who kept Paul under house arrest, it outlasted the persecutors of the Middle Ages and the Communist atheists who tried to stamp it out and it will outlast us.

Christ’s love says Paul “surpasses knowledge.” Here he is in a cramped cell in Rome writing to us of the all-surpassing love of God for him. How could he do this unless Christ dwelt in his heart through faith? When Christ takes up residence inside our minds and spirit we have the irresistible Ingredient X that guides us through our problems, there is something insistent inside us that tells us that we are “more than conquerors” through Christ.

Friend in High Places

This is why Paul directs us unto or “towards” the fullness of Christ, as the Greek should have it. We can never be filled with all the fullness of God and Christ for that would be too much for the human frame to endure but…we are headed towards that. As the old English Puritan preachers put it “this victory in us is by degrees.” It is indeed a matter of degrees and the Christian is steadily advancing, moving in on his goal. Encumbered as we are by sin and fraility and doubt we have a great Ally and it is he who take us to the highest rung of the Staircase – Ephesians 3:20-21,

“To him who by means of his power working in us is able to do so much more than we can veer ask for, or even think of, to God be the glory in the church and in Jesus Christ for all time, forever and ever” (TEV).

There is it – the best promissory note you will ever see.

Now I am only a small-church pastor – I cannot promise you God will give you a million dollars or an instant healing but I do know this: your earnest prayer will be heard in heaven, your struggles will come before the Lord of hosts, and in these psycho-spiritual matters that seem to plague us most, God will answer. Consider a text I have taken before him many times in peaceful pleading – “Leave all your worries with him for he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). That request I know he will answer or I would not be here writing these words to you after 41years of hectic challenging ministry in three countries, 13 churches and almost 500,000 miles of driving.

So there it is – Paul’s staircase, and the view is tremendous. It lets us look a little bit into heaven itself from whence our help comes and where our spirit already resides.