We are social beings easily affected by the presence of other persons – by people with whom we are not competing and with whom there are no rewards or punishment, and in fact with whom they do nothing except be passively present. One hundred and eighteen years ago, a psychologist, Norman Triplett (1898), noticed that cyclists times were faster when racing together than when racing alone against the clock. He noticed the same result with children winding string faster on a fishing reel along with others than when winding alone. Triplett, a pioneer social psychologist, is credited with the beginning of research into what eventually became social facilitation theory. The theory states that the presence of others liberates latent energy and improves performance. That’s not always the case. Sometime the presence of other diminishes performance. Later studies showed that the presence of others arouses dominant responses enhancing easy behaviors and impairing difficult ones.
What’s important is that we are social beings who are impacted for better or worse in the presence of others. When there are no scales or physical measures for something, we turn to the assessment of others to understand its nature or value. Others provide support in the way of information, judgment, and insight. In the presence of others we look for a consensus of opinion and wisdom that offers clarity on what’s real and true. This is what Paul may be referring to when he uses the phrase in Ephesians 3:18, “ . . . together with all the saints . . ..” He writes,
“I pray that you . . . may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide, long, high, and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge. . .”
To truly know the love of God is not merely an academic, theoretical idea or engaging proposition. It is more. It is to have knowledge that surpasses knowledge, a knowledge of the heart. Such knowledge comes from being in the presence of the saints, others who walk, and talk, and love one another in holiness. This is the “what” of Paul’s prayer. Then he prays the “why” – “that you (too) may be filled (like all the saints) to the measure (Christ) of the fullness of God,” in other words that you may be holy; holy in the presence of all the saints with complete knowledge of the magnitude of God’s love in true holiness and righteousness. All the saints increasingly know the extent of God’s love. In the fellowship of saints, it is clear, knowable, visible, obvious in who they are and how they live in loving God with a profound love; loving others in ways that are immeasurably more than one might imagine (Eph. 3:20), all to the glory of God.
Power to love, together with all the saints, is the nature of social holiness!