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)
The text above is the first of twelve verses – one long, elegant sentence in the Greek – within which Paul the apostle praises God for blessing the Ephesian church with all spiritual blessings in the heavenly places in Christ. In the verses that follow, from the 15th verse onward, Paul prays for the Ephesians that their spiritual eyes will be opened to fully come to terms with the import of these blessings.
Before I proceed further, let me answer a question on my mind which I believe will be of immense benefit to the discourse. When we know what praise is, in our relationship with God, then we can best appreciate Paul’s words in the text. An online Christian ministry, gotquestions, says this of praise:
[It] is the joyful recounting of all God has done for us … It is … the truthful [sincere and heartfelt] acknowledgment of the righteous acts of another. Since God has done many wonderful deeds, He is worthy of praise (Psalm 18:3).
With this brief description of what praise is, we can now look at Paul’s praises and glean at least four lessons with regards to Christian praise, prayer and doctrine.
The Place of Praise in the Christian’s Life
How important is praise in your Christian life? What position does it occupy on your prayer list? Is it something that comes at the tail end, when you have finished pouring out your petitions to God?
It is very instructive that before Paul made any petitions for the Ephesians, he started with praise. To Paul, prayer must begin with praise. A careful study of his epistles will reveal that this is his method everywhere. True Christian prayer must begin with praise. Similarly, the Psalmist said to enter His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise (Psalm 100:4). Indeed, it has been said that praise is the highest form of prayer.
The Nature of Christian Praise
A 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. “Spiritual blessings” means, not only are the blessings in view of a non-material nature, they are derived or applied to us through the Holy Spirit.
We see from Paul’s doxology, that true Christian praise, like the entire Christian position, is essentially Trinitarian. We direct our praises to God, through Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit. This brings me to my next point,
The Object of Christian Praise
First, notice that God is the object of our praise and worship. We are not the object.
Now, one may wonder that is it possible for anyone to make us the object of Christian praise? My answer is, sadly, very much so, as is apparent from my experience below.
In an assembly where my family and I used to worship – I used to be in the choir – each time before praises, the pastor will tell the congregation, “focus on your problems.” “Focus on what you want God to do for you during this time of praises.” Then we are told, “the harder you praise, the more you will be blessed.” Sounds familiar?
It is not enough that we tend to barge into God’s presence as it were, roll down a long list of requests – some of us even give Him ultimatum when He must answer us or else…, and perhaps when we are about to finish we thank Him, sometimes we even forget to thank Him — but even His praise we have hijacked! “Focus on our problems during times of singing praises to God”?
When my wife and I stood back to reflect on our worship services in that church, we realised that it was all about us, not about God. The sermons were always about us – how if we did A and B, God will bless us materially. We could not see the Gospel at the centre of the weekly sermons. Even the themes of the services were all materialistic. If it wasn’t about breaking financial curses, it was about anointing for promotion or about one material thing or the other.
Now in a sense, I believe the church today prays and praises the way we do because we don’t stop to consider who is the object of our praise.
Paul’s approach is so unlike ours these days. Observe his method: he doesn’t start with us, he starts with God and His blessedness!
Later on, Paul will praise God for the fact that He has blessed us. But that is not what he puts in the first place. His first focus is on the blessedness of the One who alone is the object of our praise. True Christian praise is God-centred, not man-centred.
When we gather in praise and corporate worship to God, we ought to approach with reverence, bearing in mind his attributes. We come before him with reverence and awe, not to entertain ourselves.
A.W. Tozer put it so aptly when he said, “Gathering together for worship has nothing to do with pleasing ourselves, but it has everything to do with pleasing God.”
The Motivation for Christian Praise
Paul goes on to praise God because He has blessed us – not with some, but all spiritual blessings! The Puritan theologian, Paul Bayne (1537-1617), paraphrased our opening verse thus:
“Praised be the God of our Saviour, praised be the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us; that is, by his blessing made us partakers of all spiritual blessings, such as take their beginning from heaven, are kept in heaven, shall all have their accomplishments in heaven; and all this in Christ, who is the root and the second Adam, whence every benefit supernatural springeth, and is derived unto us.”
Strangely, there are some who interpret every mention of “blessings” in the Bible in terms of material things only. But does Paul have material blessings in view here? The qualification “spiritual” will immediately debunk that. Further, the context shows that Paul has in mind the great plan of salvation — beginning in eternity past with the election of the saints in Christ, till eternity to come when God will once more head up all things under Christ. We see from the context that Paul had in mind the eternal counsel that took place between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; where each person of the blessed 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 it 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 inthe Son and the work He did on the cross; and adopt them into His family (Eph. 1: 3-6). The Spirit on His part partook to apply the work of salvation to the believer (Eph. 1:13-14).
In a sense, our praise and worship today is superficial because we have stopped contemplating the great work of God in the salvation of man. The contemporary Christian only praises when he has material blessings in view. This is a far cry from apostolic praise.
To the Christian, houses, cars, money and property are not the choicest of blessings. These are temporary. The Christian’s joy and praise is not predicated on material blessings only. His blessings are first of all spiritual – they are other-worldly!
The Christian rejoices that his name is written in heaven. We rejoice because we are forgiven, absolved from sin, accepted in the Beloved, and heirs of heaven!