The Dimensions of
adapted from PCC Prayer Meeting Exhortation on 19 Dec 2008
“[I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,]… that ye being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height…[of] the love of Christ” (Ephesians 3:17b-19a).
The apostle Paul is a pastor and a theologian. Not an armchair theologian, but a theologian on his knees. He prayed often for his people and he often made it known what he prays for.
In our text, he speaks of how he prayed for the Ephesians that they might be strengthened with might in the inner man; and that they might know in an experimental way, the love of Christ for them.
The words ‘rooted and grounded’ are obviously metaphors borrowed from farming and building-construction. Paul wants his readers to be firmly established and unshakable in their assurance of the love of God for them.
In this way, he hopes that they might have the power to understand fully with all the saints, “what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height…[of] the love of Christ.”
But what does he mean? Someone suggested that Paul is painting a picture of the Cross. But the problem is: what is the depth of the cross?
Well, most commentators believe that the apostle Paul is simply heaping adjectives to describe the immensity or exceeding greatness of the love of Christ.
This may be correct. But if this is so, then would not a couple of superlatives like what Paul uses in verse 20 suffice? Why does Paul use these graphic dimensions that lead us to ponder what exactly he means?
Well, the reason, I believe, is that Paul is really using the language of Zophar, the friend of Job, in Job 11:7-9—
“7 Canst thou by searching find out God? canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection? 8 It is as high as heaven; what canst thou do? deeper than hell; what canst thou know? 9 The measure thereof is longer than the earth, and broader than the sea” (Job 11:7-9).
Zophar is speaking about the greatness of God. Paul is using the same language to speak about the love of Christ. He is saying that the love of Christ is higher than heaven, deeper than hell, longer than the earth, broader than the sea.
Now, that is making some sense, does it not? But it still leaves us with the question: What does he mean? Unless we understand what he means, how can we grasp the greatness of the love of Christ as he wants us to?
Well, frankly, we can’t really give a dogmatic answer because in the end we can’t be very sure if the apostle Paul intends for us to assign a meaning to each of the dimensions he used.
Nevertheless, I believe that what he is saying lends itself as an aid for us to think about the greatness of Christ’s love.
So let us consider what is…
1. The Breadth of Christ’s Love
Well, the breadth of the love of Christ reminds us of the extent of the love of Christ across time and space. The love of Christ is not restricted to a particular people at a particular time. The love of Christ, while not universal in extent reaches to the beginning of mankind and extends to the last elect to be brought in; and it stretches across the sea through every clime and language and race.
Before the nation of Israel was formed, the love of Christ was already felt. Abel by his sacrifice of the firstlings of his flock testified of the love of Christ for Him. Noah in sacrificing the clean animals unto God was doing the same. Abraham saw the Lord and rejoiced in Him. Then for a period most of the people who knew the love of Christ dwelt in Israel. But the love of Christ reached beyond the shores and boundary of Israel, for it reached Ruth a Moabite, Rahab the Canaanite, the Widow of Zerepath, Naaman the Syrian, etc, etc.
Today the love of Christ is felt throughout the world as Christ is calling his sheep into the fold from every tongue and nation—in Israel, in the Middle East, in Asia, in Singapore, in China, in America, in Australia, in India, Sri-Lanka, etc, etc.
The love of Christ is broader than the sea. It knows no bounds. A generation of Jews in Holland might have experienced the love of Cori Ten Boom. A generation of Indians in Culcatta might have experienced the love of Mother Theresa. But however great these might be, no one knew their love before they were born and few experienced it after they died!
The love of Christ knows no bounds. His love unlike the love of an ordinary man has been experienced by millions throughout the world all through the ages, and has yet been experienced by many more.
Thank God for the privilege of being the sharers of His love.
But what is…
2. The Length Christ’s Love
Zophar spoke of the greatness of God as being longer than the earth. The word rendered ‘longer’ is the Hebrew Oarok (Jroa;). It is interesting to note that this word occurs only 3 times in the Old Testament; and in both other occurrences, it is used to signify length of time:
· 2 Samuel 3:1—“…there was long war between the house of Saul and the house of David…”
· Jeremiah 29:28—“…This captivity is long: build ye houses, and dwell in them…”
And it is also interesting that the Scripture often speak about the earth as being the most ancient and most durable thing in Creation. So very often when the eternality of God is spoken about, a comparison is made with the earth:
· Proverbs 8:23 - I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was.
· Psalms 90:2 - Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God.
With this in mind, when Paul speaks about the length of the love of Christ, and alludes to its being longer than the earth, we are reminded of the permanence and continuance of the love of Christ. The love of Christ is from everlasting to everlasting.
The blood of Christ is the blood of the everlasting covenant (Heb 13:20).
He loved us before the foundation of the world, for which reason, He is spoken of as “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev 13:8).
And He will love us unto all eternity, for as the writer of Hebrews remind us, “He has been made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec” (Heb 6:20). “Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them” (Heb 7:25).
The love of Christ for us will never grow cold. He will never be tired of loving us. Even if the heaven and the earth were to pass away, the love of Christ will remain as strong as when He laid down His life for us.
Thank God that this is so, for you and I know our love for Him waxes and wanes. Were it not for the length and continuance of the love of Christ, we shall perish.
But what is…
3. The Depth of Christ’s Love
Zophar speaks of the greatness of God as being ‘deeper than hell.’ So the apostle Paul probably has in mind for us to meditate on how the love of Christ is deeper than hell?
What does he mean? Well, I do not think that Zophar was using hell as a superlative like many people do today. Such usage involves a breaking of the Third Commandment. So I do not think that Paul simply wants us to think of the love of Christ as being very, very deep.
What then? Well, the fact that the love of Christ is deeper than hell reminds me of how our Lord loves us to the degree of being willing to experience the pains of hell on our behalf in order to redeem us.
Is this not what the Lord did? No only did He humble Himself by taking on human flesh to suffer on our behalf; He humbled Himself by offering Himself as a sacrifice to pay for our sin on the cruel Cross.
Because we sinned against an infinitely holy God, we deserved to be cast into hell to suffer for all eternity. But oh the love of Christ, for on the cruel cross, Christ experienced the pains of hell on our behalf.
That was why the sun could not shine for three hours. It could not shine for three hours because the Sun of Righteousness was bearing the sin of those he loved from eternity. Throughout those three hours, all that our Lord saw of His Father must have been an angry face turned away from him. That was why at the end of the three hours, he cried, “My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me.”
Oh the depth of the love of Christ for us!
But what is…
4. The Height of Christ’s Love
Again, Zophar speaks of the greatness of God as being “as high as heaven,” and therefore the apostle Paul probably has in mind for us to think of how the love of Christ reaches to the heaven.
What does he mean? Well, does not the metaphor reminds us of how it is the love of Christ that makes it possible for poor sinners as us to enjoy heavenly happiness and glory.
Oh the love of Christ for us! We often think of how much we are loved by those who profess to love us by what they do for us or give unto us. The Lord Jesus commended the woman who anointed His feet with expensive oil for the love she had for Him. But He admonished Simon the Pharisee for his lack of love for Him, for he did not even accord Him the common hospitality due to a guest.
So it is right for us to be especially grateful to those who have done a lot for us or given a lot for us. So our hearts should be filled with thanksgiving for friends and brothers and sisters who have demonstrated their love for us by self-sacrificially giving us much or doing much for us.
Oh how much more should the height of the love of Christ fill our hearts with thanksgiving: for He suffered hell in order to give us heaven! He who deserves not the slightest sorrow and pain, gives Himself to suffer the deepest sorrow and pain, that we who deserve not the slightest joy and glory might receive the highest joy and glory.
What a Saviour! What great love!
Oh “the breadth, and length, and depth, and height” of the love of Christ!
Beloved brethren and children, such is the love of Christ to us. Oh may the Lord grant us that we may grasp His love for us in all these dimensions and so to live a life of love, joy and gratitude that redounds to the glory of His name. Amen.