A Far Greater Imagination

Do you remember a song that John Lennon wrote called “Imagine”? It’s a utopian song about imagining a world without heaven or hell, countries or wars, private possessions, greed, or hunger, and especially without religion. For Lennon, imagining these things isn’t difficult, in fact it’s easy. While this song is immensely catchy and even promotes Christian desires like eradicating hunger, greed, and war, this utopian imagination is completely antithetical to a biblical imagination.

       Although Lennon insists that it isn’t hard to have this liberal imagination, I find that hard to swallow. He can “easily” imagine a world rid of the things that restrict him intellectually and morally, like heaven, hell, and religion, but he has no solid foundation on which to rest his case. Lennon calls on people to join him and says he has followers, but it is indeed the blind leading the blind. He has no basis for his imagination.

       Christians have a far greater imagination—one that is founded on the very word of God, that centers on the finished work of Christ, and that depends on the Spirit to live, move, and have our being in this world. And this imagination is far greater because it is founded on far greater promises.

       One of those promises is Ephesians 3:20–21: “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

The Promise of Ephesians 3:20–21

       As you probably know, Ephesians can be divided straight down the middle. Ephesians 1–3 emphasizes the indicative (i.e., truth statements),[1] whereas Ephesians 4–6 emphasizes the imperative (i.e., commands). That makes Ephesians 3:20–21 the doxological climax of the rich truths in Ephesians 1–3.

       Paul begins this climactic promise with the words “To the one who is able.” This is the same one before whom Paul kneels in prayer, namely the Father (Eph. 3:14). Our heavenly father, Paul says, is “able,” “capable,” or, more literally, “powerful.” The emphasis on God’s power is obvious. In a single verse, Paul employs three words that underscore divine strength: “able” (δύναμαι), “power” (δύναμις), and “work” (ἐνεργέω).

       But what specifically is God powerfully capable of doing? “. . . far more abundantly than all that we ask or think.” Now that’s quite the statement, but it seems to lose some of its force in English. You see, three English words (“far more abundantly”) are used to translate a single Greek word (ὑπερεκπερισσοῦ). For those of you who have a knowledge of Greek, you can see that Paul prefixed two prepositions (ὑπέρ, “above” and ἐκ, “out of, from”) to an adverb (περισσοῦ, “abundantly”). And this single word communicates the “highest form of comparison imaginable,”[2] best translated “infinitely beyond” or “quite beyond all.”

“Christians have a far greater imagination—one that is founded on the very word of God, that centers on the finished work of Christ, and that depends on the Spirit to live, move, and have our being in this world.”

       But this single word is taken to far greater heights with a prepositional phrase that comes immediately before it: ὑπὲρ πάντα. The ESV translates this phrase “than all”: “to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think.” But the Greek can be translated literally “beyond everything.” And so, the combined effect of the word ὑπερεκπερισσοῦ and the phrase ὑπὲρ πάντα (notice the emphasis on ὑπέρ) produces the following literal translation: “to him who is able to do beyond everything [ὑπὲρ πάντα], infinitely beyond [ὑπερεκπερισσοῦ] what we can ask or think.”

       It is kind of clunky, but it’s undeniably emphatic in the original. The promise here is that God is indeed powerful to infinitely surpass not only our petitions in prayer but even our thoughts, not only our words but even our imaginations. What does it take to believe this grand promise that leads to doxology? Well, the answer is simple. We need to believe the one who made the promise,[3] the one of whom Paul speaks, the one before whom he bows in humble adoration. We need to believe that God is able, that he can do the unimaginable, if he so wills.

       But how do we do that? I think Paul intended for us to look down from the climax of Ephesians 3:20–21 to the greatest demonstration of God’s power in Ephesians 1:15–23: the resurrection, ascension, and coronation of Jesus Christ. This text is especially important because it contains the same keywords found in 3:20 (δύναμις, ἐνεργέω) and the same emphasis on God’s power.

God’s Power in Ephesians 1:15–23

       Before we look at this section, it is necessary to note how inextricably connected it is to Ephesians 1:3–14. I’m sure you’re familiar with this beautiful text (especially if you’re reformed). It clearly portrays the Father electing and predestining (1:3–6), the Son redeeming and forgiving (1:7–12), and the Spirit sealing and promising (1:13–14). Paul is so excited about these truths that he not only writes these verses as a single sentence in the original, but he also includes three doxological statements after mentioning the redemptive work of each person in the Trinity (1:6: “to the praise of the glory of his grace”; 1:12: “to the praise of his glory”; 1:14: “to the praise of his glory”). Glory and power are inextricably connected.

       When God displays his power, he receives glory. When Paul pens Ephesians 1:15, he writes, “For this reason” (διὰ τοῦτο). With that phrase, he is clearly drawing an inference from Ephesians 1:3–14 where the grace, love, glory, and power of our Triune God in redemptive history has just been showcased. “For this reason. . . I give thanks” (1:15–16). He gives thanks to “the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory” (1:17). But his gratitude quickly turns into a petition. Paul asks that “the Father of glory,” through the Holy Spirit (1:17), would enlighten the “eyes of [believers’] hearts to know. . . what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe” (1:19).

       And then Paul underscores the greatest demonstration of divine power: “. . . according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (1:19–23).

       You can be sure that God can do infinitely beyond what we can ever ask or imagine, because he accomplished the unimaginable when he raised Jesus from the dead and crowned him Lord of lords. Contrary to human expectations, God overturned the verdict of death by raising Jesus to life. He reversed the guilty verdict by justifying him in the resurrection. And he didn’t abandon him in the grave but transferred him into a state of eternal glory.

       And if you think the Spirit was not involved in this monumental event, think again. The Spirit played a major role in the resurrection and coronation of Christ. He is explicitly mentioned in connection with Jesus’ resurrection (Rom. 1:3–4; 1 Tim. 3:16; esp. Rom. 8:11). And after Jesus was crowned Lord and seated at the right hand of power, he received “the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father” and poured Him out on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:33). With the Spirit dwelling richly within us, we can now have the eyes of our hearts enlightened (Eph. 1:19). We can know, both intellectually and experientially, “the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe” (1:19).

“The promise here is that God is indeed powerful to infinitely surpass not only our petitions in prayer but even our thoughts, not only our words but even our imaginations.”

       The Spirit and power are often associated in Paul. That’s precisely why Paul continues in Eph 3:20 with the phrase “according to the power at work in us.” This is a subtle allusion to the work of the Spirit in our lives. Just glance at 3:16, where Paul asks God to strengthen believers “with power [δυνάμει] through his Spirit in the inner man.” You can’t be convinced of God’s ability to do the unimaginable without the Spirit of God illuminating your mind and heart in Christ Jesus. It’s only by the Word and Spirit that you can know the power of God in Christ and be convinced of his ability to do the impossible.

It therefore makes absolute sense for Paul to soar in praise: “to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (3:21).

A Far Greater Imagination

       Having said all that, I now want you to imagine with me. Imagine a far greater pastorate, campus, and network since these are the distinct areas of focus in Westminster’s Far Greater Campaign.

       Imagine a pastorate that Westminster Theological Seminary can help shape through a revamped pastoral residency program. Imagine a faculty leading this program that is known by their fruits of love just as much as by their biblical knowledge in the classroom and/or scholarly works. Imagine a student body that is shaped by their professors’ knowledge of, and love for, Christ and his church, as students learn how to put theology into practice, both inside and outside of the classroom.

       Imagine Westminster graduates filling pulpits all over the world with knowledge, love, and zeal, as they warmly deliver the word of God to the people of God. Imagine the long-term ripple effects of this pastoral program on the global church. Imagine a campus where all of this can take place.

       Imagine constructing Westminster’s first-ever chapel, where pastors and professors can proclaim and embody Christ, where students come under the word together in the context of worship, where the lives of future pastors are radically transformed. Imagine a new residence hall where students can outdo one another in showing honor, encourage one another, serve one another, and engage in life-shaping discussions that glorify rather than grieve God. Imagine new classrooms in which professors can more effectively communicate and apply God’s word, and where students may experience an atmosphere that enables rather than hinders learning.

       Imagine a network where Westminster can extend its reach. Imagine offering online courses to people who desire a theological education but are inhibited by their current circumstances. Imagine reaching people in foreign countries where the prince of darkness reigns, where Christ is not proclaimed and treasured. Imagine being able to equip elders and lay people with a theological education that benefits those to whom they minister.

       Imagine offering degree programs at the masters and doctoral levels in different languages, such as Korean, Mandarin, and even Spanish. What Ephesians 3:20 teaches us is that God can do infinitely beyond all that we can ever ask or imagine. And it is our earnest desire that he does more than what’s been mentioned. Why? To make a name for WTS? No. Rather, to make his name great among the nations. Just as Paul exclaimed in Ephesians 3:21.


       Ephesians 3:20 is such a powerful promise for believers. It assures us of God’s power to do the unimaginable. But remember, it’s not a promise that he will. It’s a promise that he can. Many Christians have taken this as a “he will” promise and unwittingly adopted a “name it and claim it” mentality, a “if I can think it, God must exceed it” mentality. Just because God can do something doesn’t mean he will do it. We should rest content in the fact that God is God, and we are not, for he does whatever he pleases for our good. At the same time, we should beware of our natural proclivity to think that God can’t exceed our imaginations. This text clearly says that he can. And so, we ought to strike a balance, praying that God exceeds our imaginations and trusting in his good, perfect, and unshakeable will.


[1] The only imperative that appears in these chapters is the command to “remember” (2:11).

[2] Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, ed. Frederick W. Danker, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 1033a.

[3] Make sure you qualify that God doesn’t always do more than we ask or think, or that God does that but it exceeds the way we thought it should have been accomplished, kind of like God always answers prayer. It’s either yes or no.

Dr. David E. Briones (PhD, Durham University) is associate professor of New Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary

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