Jeremy Sarber

The apostle Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being. (Ephesians 3:14-16)

For what reason?

I believe Paul is referring back to everything he has said up to this point in the letter. God chose us in Christ. He made us holy and blameless. Through his Son, he provided redemption and forgiveness. He caused us to believe in him and sealed us with his Spirit. He grants us wisdom and revelation. Though we were dead in sin, he made us alive with Christ. We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works. We were alienated, having no hope and without God in the world, but now we are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.

For this reason, Paul bows his knees and prays to God.

But notice that he doesn’t approach God with grandiose titles. Rather, he simply calls him, Father.” After all that God has done to sovereignly save us, sinners, Paul’s first reaction isn’t to call him, Lord or Master. No, he calls him, Father. That’s not to say, of course, that Paul wasn’t expressing reverence for God. I’m just pointing out that salvation brings us into intimacy with God. As Paul says in Romans 8, You have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God (Ro 8:15-16).

It’s beautiful, isn’t it? I can’t count the number of times that I’ve been in the middle of a prayer, and I just stop. Suddenly, I find myself marveling at what I’m doing. I’m speaking to the Creator of the universe. Better yet, he’s listening to me. He cares about what I’m saying, what I’m going through, or what I’m struggling with at the moment. Furthermore, he’s not listening to me as a distant king on a throne who feels obligated to hear what his subjects have to say. He’s listening to me as a Father would his son. It’s incredible.

To be clear, Paul is not prescribing a required posture of prayer here. The Bible doesn’t command us to pray on our knees. It doesn’t tell us that we have to close our eyes or bow our heads. But I do think a person’s posture can speak to the nature of his prayer. For instance, when Jesus was in tremendous agony before his crucifixion, he fell on his face and prayed (Mt 26:39). It was as though he threw himself to the ground, perhaps signifying just how desperate he felt.

As for bowing on our knees, if nothing else, that position represents an attitude of submission. While Paul was speaking to his Heavenly Father, he was also in the presence of divine authority. Psalm 95 says:

For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land. Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker! (Psalm 95:3-6)

Beyond reverence, bowing the knee in prayer can also express intense emotion. In Ezra 9, Ezra fell to his knees because he felt so heartbroken over the sinful actions of Israel. Daniel kneeled three times a day, no doubt realizing that he could soon face consequences for breaking the king’s law which forbade praying to anyone but him. Here in Ephesians, perhaps Paul’s posture tells us something about the earnestness in which he prayed this prayer.

What does Paul mean when he refers to God as the Father from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named? (Eph 3:15). We should be careful about our interpretation of this verse or else we might make God the Father of those he does not claim as his children. There are two distinct fathers in this world. The first is God and the second is the devil. Look at John 8 where Jesus tells the unbelieving Jews:

If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires.” (John 8:42-44)

John makes a similar distinction in his first epistle. He says:

No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. (1 John 3:9, 10)

When Paul speaks of God as the Father from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, he is referring to all of the saints whether they are in heaven or on earth. He is not referring to every person who has ever lived. Liberal theologians teach universal fatherhood of God, but it isn’t true. That would undermine the unique and special relationship that God’s redeemed people have with him. We are born into his family. We are adopted into his family. According to John 1, God gives us the right to become his children. In other words, we don’t begin as God’s children. By his grace, he makes us his children.