In Ephesians 3, Paul prayed that the people he was writing to would know the love of Christ
. . . that surpasses knowledge.
What kind of sense does that make?
The sense comes when you recognize that those two uses of the English word know come from two different Greek words.
The second is the knowing of intellect, like book learning. Paul is saying here that the love of Christ is beyond intellectual grasping.
The first one is the knowing of the senses, the perception, the experience—dare I say it? The feelings.
Paul was praying that Christians would know in their experience the love of Christ that they read about and intellectually believed.
I can’t even tell you how often I hear people say some variation of, “I know that’s true, but it just doesn’t feel true.” They’re expressing the disconnect between the intellect and the experience.
If I have the room’s thermostat set at 50 degrees with the central air pumping out that air conditioning, you might still complain of the room being too hot. “No, look,” I’d say. “It’s not hot. It’s set at 50.” You say, “Ok, I see that; the room feels like it’s blazing, but I see that it’s really not.”
Everyone I know would rather base their lives on what’s true rather than simply what they feel. The problem is in lining up the feelings with the truth. Going on intellectual facts when the feelings aren’t in alignment has been called faith, but can feel like pretending.
So you say, “I’ll try very hard to believe that it’s really cold in this room, even though I feel hot.”
I grew up with “Don’t trust your feelings, don’t base your life on your feelings, live rationally, live from what you know (intellectually) is true, act like you believe it, and your feelings will follow.”
So you lie on the couch with your limbs spread wide telling yourself, “It’s really cold in here. It’s really cold in here.” Your checks are flushed, but you’re telling yourself to ignore those feelings of “hotness” and simply intellectually believe the truth of “coldness” that I showed you.
This isn’t what Paul was talking about. Not at all. In fact, he knew that experiential knowing was far more powerful than intellectual knowing. When we have known something experientially, when it “feels true,” it will be a far more solid belief than something we hang on to intellectually.
Paul knew that the feelings weren’t simply to be dismissed, but were a thermostat of the deepest level of belief. He wasn’t afraid to pray that our feelings would be affected by the deepest kind of knowing. He wasn’t afraid to pray that our knowing would be experiential. We must not be afraid to pray that either.
When we find that the heat you were experiencing came not from the room but from a raging fever, we realize that feelings serve an important purpose as that internal thermostat. Something’s wrong, something needs to be taken care of. There’s more than just lack of belief to try to overcome—there’s also healing to be done.
When that’s done, there won’t be any need to continually remind yourself that the room is cold. You’ll believe it because you’ll experientially know it to be true.
This is the very kind of thing Paul was talking about. In fact, it’s one of the most beautiful prayers of the Bible. Paul prayed in Ephesians 3:16-19
that according to the riches of his glory
[God] may grant you to be strengthened with power
through his Spirit in your inner being,
so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—
that you, being rooted and grounded in love,
may have strength to comprehend with all the saints
what is the breadth and length and height and depth,
and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge,
that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
These good things he described won’t happen without the experiential knowing he prayed for.
May more and more Christians be filled with this experiential knowledge of the goodness, grace, and love of Jesus Christ, so that their feelings will express the truth they know in the innermost parts of their hearts.