A LESSON IN PRAISE FROM PAUL

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Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, (Ephesians 1:3).

First, a reminder of the context of this verse. Paul starts his letter to the Ephesians by reminding them who they are (saints, faithful and people who are united with Christ). He then told them what they are privileged to enjoy as a result of this – grace and peace. He is about to expound the doctrines of the Christian faith in the remainder of his letter. But the first thing he does is to burst into exuberant praise!

The section of this epistle beginning from 1:3 to 2:10 can be divided into two parts. In the first part spanning 12 verses – from 1:3-14, Paul praises God for blessing the Ephesians with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places in Christ. In the Greek, this is one sentence. In the second part from the 15th verse onward, he prays for the Ephesians that their spiritual eyes will be opened to fully come to terms with the import of these blessings. What Paul does here bears very significant lessons for Christian praise, prayer and doctrine.

  1. Christian Praise is Trinitarian

The first striking observation from Paul’s doxology here is his deliberate mention of the Trinity. He praises God the Father, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ Jesus, which means blessings in the Holy Spirit. Charles Hodge¹ notes, “These blessings are spiritual not merely because they pertain to the soul, but because they are derived from the Holy Spirit, whose presence and influence are the great blessings purchased by Christ”. We noted in our previous articles that the Christian position is always Trinitarian. In true fashion, Paul here teaches that Christian praise must similarly be to the Trinity. Anything short of this falls short of true praise.

  1. The Place of Praise

But how important is praise in the life of the Christian? It is very instructive that Paul starts his prayer for the Ephesians with praise. Where does praise fall in your prayer list? Is it something that comes at the tail end, when you have finished pouring out your petitions to God? To Paul, prayer must begin with praise. Indeed praise is the highest form of prayer. True Christian praise pours forth from the deep fountain within, whether in joy or in trouble. But there is another motivation for the apostle’s praise and joy, which is in the object of his praise.

  1. The Object of Christian Praise

Paul’s first reason for praise is that God is blessed! In a sense, our prayers and praises today are what they are because we don’t stop to contemplate the attributes of God. God is blessed! He is the One who dwells in unapproachable light. He is the all sufficient God who shares His glory with no one. When we truly realise who God is, we will approach His throne like Moses with reverence as on holy ground. But that is not all — Paul blesses God because He has blessed us. Not with some, but all spiritual blessings. Perhaps most astounding of all is the nature of these blessing with which we have been blessed.

  1. The Reason for Praise

The volcanic nature of Paul’s melodious outburst of praise in these 12 verses has attracted the attention of many commentators. One of them, Findley², writes that Paul’s doxology here is like “a magnificent gateway through which we enter this epistle”. But what is it that excited such an outburst from Paul? The proceeding verses lend insight.

In verse 4, we are told that our salvation is not an afterthought – God planned it before the foundation of the world. This in itself is staggering! Somewhere before the beginning of time, there was a counsel between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Each person of the Trinity covenanted to do certain things in the grand plan of salvation. The Father thought up the plan of Salvation (Eph. 1:3-6). The Son took upon Himself to carry out this plan, to take on human flesh and be born as a babe, suffer and die a shameful death on a tree (Eph. 1:7-12). The Father on His part promised to grant forgiveness to all those who would believe in the Son and the work He did on the cross (Eph. 1: 3-6). The Spirit on His part partook to apply the work of salvation to the believer (Eph. 1:13-14).

It is worthy of note that as powerful and loving as God is, He couldn’t have simply wished the sins of the world away without the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Salvation would not have been possible without the cross, because “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” (Hebrews 9:22b). It is a travesty that today the love of God can be taught without mention of Christ and the cross. But the Scriptural teaching is that our redemption came at a great cost — that of the life of the only Son of God our Saviour. Stuart Townend³ aptly writes,

How deep the Father’s love for us,
How vast beyond all measure,
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure.
How great the pain of searing loss –
The Father turns His face away,
As wounds which mar the Chosen One
Bring many sons to glory.

It is a contemplation of this great plan of salvation — planned way back in eternity even before the fall, that led Paul to burst out in uncontrollable praise. But the apostle is not alone. A careful study of the Old Testament prophets will reveal that they were always at their superlative best whenever they lighted upon a revelation of Christ.

If we want to exclaim “Blessed be God!” like Paul we need to contemplate these doctrines. In a sense, our praise and worship today is superficial because of a lack of contemplation of the great work of God in the salvation of man. An undue emphasis on earthly blessings and materialism has produced an inadequate sense of appreciation of the deep love of God as displayed in the work of redemption. The contemporary Christian only praises when he has material blessings in view. This is a far cry from apostolic praise.

Paul notes that the blessings of Christianity are “spiritual” and “heavenly”. Rightly, the Christian faith is an “other worldly” one. The blessings of the New Testament believer are contrasted with that in the Old Testament where blessings were measured largely in one’s number of wives, animals, and material possessions. True, God doesn’t call Christians to disavow material blessings; however the blessing of the New Testament believer stand over and above these and looks to the world to come. Peter understood this so well when he noted that we are strangers and pilgrims in this world; a people who are looking to a city whose builder and maker is God Himself.

Notes:

  1. Charles Hodge; Commentary on Ephesians
  2. G. G. Findlay; Commentary on Ephesians; Expositor’s Bible Commentary
  3. Stuart Townend; Stuart Townend; Copyright © 1995 Thankyou Music

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