Ephesians 3:14–21 as a Missional Prayer

In recent years, scholars (particularly I. Ninan, T. van Aarde, and M. Simon) have built upon the prior work of I. H. Marshall and M. Turner by proposing various missional readings of Ephesians. These readings helpfully highlight this letter’s emphasis on identity formation and the Church’s role within God’s plan (cf. Eph 1:10, 23). Such readings of Eph 3:14–21 also challenge the general tendency to interpret this passage as a transitional prayer from the doctrinal emphasis in Eph 1–2 to the hortatory thrust of Eph 4–6 (e.g., A. Lincoln). The goal of this paper is to strengthen the viability of reading Eph 3:14–21 missionally. I will argue for a missional reading of Eph 3:14–21 by highlighting two previously overlooked features of Eph 3:2–13 that set the stage for the prayer in Eph 3:14–21. I will then offer a missional reading of v. 14–21.

The first contextual feature of Eph 3:2–13 that warrants a missional reading of v. 14–21 is Paul’s transition at Eph 3:10. While Eph 3:1–9 heavily concerns Paul’s own ministry as “apostle to the Gentiles,” there is a decided shift at v. 10 to addressing the ministry of the broader Christian community. Within v. 10, Paul suggests the existence of the united Church provides evidence to the “powers” that God has begun to fulfill his cosmic plan for unity (cf. Eph. 1:10). Ephesians 3:12, additionally, reminds the reader of their unrestricted “access” to God. The second contextual feature of Eph 3:2–13 that points to a missional reading of v. 14–21 is the phrase αἰτοῦμαι μὴ ἐγκακεῖν in v. 13a. The infinitive ἐγκακεῖν in v. 13 involves an emotional response and the cessation of an activity (cf. 2 Cor 4:1, 16). Paul’s plea in v. 13a looks back to the missional depiction of the Church in Eph 1:23; 2:19–22 and encourages the Church to not allow his imprisonment (see Eph 3:1) to weaken their resolve to fulfill their God-given task. The admonition in v. 13a also looks ahead to the brief, yet important, references to opposition in Eph 4:14 and Eph 6:10–20.

The prayer in v. 14–21 then provides a theological basis for heeding the exhortation in v. 13a. Paul principally prays the reader would experience divine empowerment (v. 16–17) and grow in their awareness of God’s love (v. 18–19a). Paul then states the goal of these two petitions in v. 19b: that believers would grow in their ability to serve as Christ’s “fullness” (cf. Eph 1:23). The doxology in v. 20–21 concludes Paul’s prayer by connecting the Church’s ministry with God’s glory (cf. Eph 1:6, 12, 14; 3:21). Paul’s prayer in v. 14–21 is then a plea that God will furnish the reader with the spiritual resources they need to respond positively to the admonition in v. 13a and in the remainder of the letter.

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