What an amazing, gigantic, unending, seemingly unexplainable subject to explore. Can anyone anywhere find a bigger topic in the universe to roll around in their brain? I mean, Chris Tomlin says that God and His love are indescribable (which is actually kind of oxymoronic, right?), uncontainable, untamed, incomparable, and unchangeable — all of which are true.
But is it unknowable? Is it un-understandable — which isn’t a word, but you get my point.
I always believed it was. I mean, how can you really understand how much God loves you? How can you wrap a finite mind around an infinite love? You can’t understand any of it, so don’t even try; just accept it and move on.
That’s what I always thought — until I read Ephesians 3:17-19.
“And I pray that Christ will be more and more at home in your hearts, living within you as you trust in him. May your roots go down deep into the soil of God’s marvelous love; and may you be able to feel and understand, as all God’s children should, how long, how wide, how deep, and how high his love really is; and to experience this love for yourselves, though it is so great that you will never see the end of it or fully know or understand it. And so at last you will be filled up with God Himself.”
Focus on verse 18 where the Apostle Paul writes to the Church at Ephesus, “May you be able to feel and understand, as all God’s children should, how long, how wide, how deep and how high His love really is.” From this verse, it becomes crystal clear that God’s love should be both experienced (“…able to feel…”) and, at least to some extent, understood.
Understood by who? Pastors? Missionaries? Theologians? No — all God’s children. If you’re a believer then you’re a child of God (Romans 8:16 says so, if you don’t believe me), so it’s up to you — yes, you — to not just feel the love of God, but to actually understand it.
I know what you’re thinking. That feels like the height of arrogance and hubris. That can’t mean what it seems to mean, can it?
In this verse, the word “understand” was originally written as the Greek world “katalambano.” While it sounds like an exotic dressing you put on your Greek salad, it actually means, “to lay hold of with the mind, to understand, perceive, learn, comprehend.” So yes, just to be clear, “to understand” means exactly what you think it means.
And I, for one, believe that the Bible is true.
Why do we need both feeling and understanding? At the end of verse 19, he writes,
“…so at last you will be filled up with God Himself.”
Paul is giving us a recipe here. If you want to be filled up with God Himself, you need to do two things — feel and understand His love. If you want to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, you need both peanut butter and jelly. Peanut butter is awesome and should be valued, but if you don’t have the jelly, you’ll have something, but it won’t be a PB&J.
It’s also worth noting that Paul goes full Etta James on the Ephesians by prefacing it with the term “at last.” To me, this shows that being filled up with God Himself is something that was supposed to happen, but wasn’t happening because the church at Ephesus was only fulfilling half of the recipe.
And we see the same thing happening today. Far too many Christians come to Church just to feel God’s presence, feel His love. Don’t get me wrong, feeling God’s presence is an amazing, burden-removing, yoke-destroying experience that we should pursue every day of our lives. However, if you only ever feel His love without endeavoring to understand, you’ll be missing out on half of Apostle Paul’s commission and the ultimate benefit of both.
But, let’s look at the end of the verse:
“…though it is so great that you will never see the end of it or fully know or understand it.”
Wait. Is that a contradiction?
Not at all. While we may not fully understand all the complexities or all the greatness of His love, based on verse 19, we can — and should — understand what is mentioned in verse 18:
“May you … understand … how long, how wide, how deep and how high His love really is.”
Will we ever get to the point where we know everything about the ocean? Everything that lives in it? Everything about the way it functions? Probably not. Nevertheless, we can understand how deep it is, how wide it is and just how awesome and amazing it is. Just because we won’t know everything, doesn’t mean we stop the constant pursuit of understanding more and more about it.
The constant pursuit of actually understanding, perceiving, learning and comprehending how long, wide, deep and high His love is for us — the dimensions of God’s love — is missing in too many people’s lives. 1 John 4:16 says that we need to “know and believe the love which God has for us.” It’s not enough that we know it’s there. We need to actually have faith in the love. Not just any love — THE LOVE.
So, what are some things we know about God’s love? We know that:
It’s a gift for us (1 John 3:1).
It’s steadfast and unchanging (Deuteronomy 8:6, Psalm 86:15, Psalm 136:26).
It comforts us (Zephaniah 3:17).
It casts out fear in our lives (1 John 4:18).
It was revealed to us through Jesus (John 3:16, John 15:9-17, Romans 5:8).
It was poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:2-5).
Nothing can ever separate us from it (Romans 8:37-39).
It gives us the ability to love other people (1 John 4:19).
Learning and understanding this draws us closer to God, because God doesn’t love, as in the verb. He IS love, a noun. It says so in 1 John 4:16. So, whenever we seek out the dimensions of God’s love, we’re pressing into understanding God Himself.
That’s deep. Pun intended.
In fact, when you understand that God is love, you can actually go back and read 1 Corinthians 13:3-7 and substitute the word “love” with “God” which helps you understand more about His character.
But why would God want us to continually and specifically search out and understand the actual dimensions — the length, width, depth and height — of His love?
We need to understand the length of His love because it shows us how far He’ll walk along side of us. Length always brings a connotation of how far something reaches or how far something will go to accomplish something. Isaiah 59:1 refers to God’s arm being long enough to save His children. David sings about the length of God’s arm in Psalm 139:9-12 and says that it’s so long there’s nowhere we can go that’s out of its reach. An arm is just an Old Testament way of referring to God’s love. God’s love is long enough to save His children. God’s love is long enough to reach you wherever you are. In fact, the more you understand the length of God’s love, the more outreach-oriented you will be in your life.
We need to understand the width of His love because it shows us how much room there is for all of His children. In God’s love, there is ample room for all types of people, all types of backgrounds, and all types of personalities. Moreover, in the book of “Psalms,” the Psalmist sings about people being delivered from horrible situations and placed into a “broad place” (Psalm 18:19, 118:5, 1 Chronicles 4:40). God’s love is accommodating and welcoming for everyone and is the place to run when life feels like it’s too much to bear. In fact, the more you understand the width of God’s love, the more open you’ll be to sharing this love with a wide variety of people.
We need to understand the depth of His love because it shows us God’s richness, vividness, strength, brilliance and complexity. Just when we think we know something, we realize there is more to discover. In 1 Corinthians 2:10, Paul writes about how the Holy Spirit reveals, “God’s deepest secrets.” While it’s fun to splash around in God’s kiddie pool for a while, eventually we need to launch out in the deep for something more. In fact, the more you understand the depth of God’s love, the more you’ll desire to delve more into prayer, Bible study and things of the Spirit.
Lastly, we need to understand the height of His love because it draws us upwards into a place of worship. Throughout the Bible, not only is God continually referred to as the “Most High” but we’re called to lift up our hands, our hearts, our praise and our worship to Him. Moreover, in and out of scripture, height always comes with the connotation of being a place of strategic purpose and power. In fact, the more we understand the height of God’s love, the more majestic and awesome He will become in our eyes.
Bottomline: Understanding the dimensions of God’s love helps us reach out to more and different people, encourages us to press into deeper parts of the Spirit and always keeps us in a place of worship and adoration of Him.
So, don’t just leave God’s love to be simply something you feel or something you recognize, but don’t understand. Desire to understand the dimensions. Ask God to reveal them to you more and more. Meditate on it. Pray about it. Study it. What you will find is once you do, you’ll finally be filled with God Himself.