Some suggest that Paul began this chapter with the idea of a prayer which he now resumes. This may be true, but when he wrote “For this reason,” he means to connect what is to follow with what he has just written. Yes, he was a ‘prisoner’ (v.1), but it was for the gospel (vv. 7ff.), and the church (vv. 10ff.). In Christ he had boldness of access with confidence, through faith that had come by grace, even in his suffering, but also in humility, bowing his knees before the Father through the Son (v. 14). It is all of one flow of thought.
What does he mean by saying, especially at this juncture, that the Father has named “every family in heaven and on earth?” (v. 15) First of all we know that to name something is an exercise of authority, of a greater to a lesser, even as parents have this authority in the naming of any children. So, it is generally speaking a statement of God’s authority over all things, the greater over the lesser. Secondly, all things have their identity in Him, and all humans have the identity of being created in his image and likeness (Gen. 1:26).
The goal of Paul’s prayer was “that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being.” (v. 16) The glory here is the glory that shines from his throne, which symbolizes his power and authority, the glory which the Son once again shares with the Father (cf. Ps. 110, Heb. 1), and it is through the Spirit within us as his dwelling place. The ultimate goal is “that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith,” that we may be “rooted and grounded in love.” (v. 17)
God’s love is like no other. It has no limits of “breadth and length and height and depth.” (v.18b)* We do not have the strength within ourselves to comprehend this, so Paul prays that the required strength may be given to us, as with all the saints, “and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.” (vv. 18a, 19a) How does one know what surpasses knowledge? In keeping with the context of the letter as a whole, and especially what has come before, it seems that Paul is referring to this knowledge that comes by special revelation (cf. 1:18, 3:1-7).
Without this revelation of God’s grace, made fuller with the coming of the Messiah and the inauguration of his kingdom rule, and the sending of the Spirit because of this, we would not be able to experience the fullness of God within (v. 19b). Paul’s confidence in his prayer is expressed beautifully in the following benediction. “Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (vv. 20-1)
* The New Geneva Study Bible suggests that with these measures of space Paul is hearkening back to the temple (cf. 2:21) The Spirit says the same through Peter (I Pet. 2:5). It includes the entire world – Jew and Gentile together, without division, and without limit (Eph. 1:23, 2:11-13, 19-22).