One of the defining marks of Christians is praise and worship, and I will not even begin to go into the importance of such an exercise to the faith. Suffice it to say that it is a tool not to be underestimated. It is in the same vein that I’ll like to look at our praise of God in the light of the two theological masterpieces – the epistles of Ephesians and Colossians. The question has never been whether we should praise God or not, its what we should be praising God about.
Before I go on, it is worth noting why I deem these epistles masterpieces, especially Ephesians. The Ephesian epistle is the only one that was not written to address any particular problem that was happening in any church, unlike most of the the Pauline epistles. In fact, some bible scholars argue that since the earlier manuscripts of Ephesians do not have the phrase “in Ephesus” (“To the saints in Ephesus” – Eph 1:1), it may be that it was a circular letter written to a host of churches. It was written during a time of imprisonment in Rome, when Paul was not going anywhere fast.
Paul had already written a gist of the revelations he propounds in here in the prior letter to the Colossians (Don’t fret. Even though most bibles place Ephesians before Colossians, bible scholars agree that Colossians and Philemon were written together and Ephesians followed them, all in AD 61. Maybe you need a chronogical bible, but I’m not sharing mine 😀 ). He only goes on to delve fully into these matters in Ephesians. As an author’s comments on Ephesians goes,
“This letter is the crown of Paul’s ministry, ‘the Divinest composition of man’, and ‘the high water of Holy Writ’ … Ephesians is a matchless presentation of God’s eternal purpose and the unsearchable riches the Christians have inherited in Christ. (The Untold Story of the New Testament Church, Frank Viola).”
I couldn’t agree with him more, because in my experience, it is the book that Christians need to rediscover – one that clearly states in no uncertain terms why the church exists, and why we are called to be a part of it. For me (and countless others I’ve met in the blogoshpere and beyond), it’s one of the books that reinforce why I should be proud to call myself a disciple of Christ in the face of so much despondency and despair at what Christianity has stood for over the centuries.
But I digress. Let us look at the cause for Paul’s praise in Eph 1:3-10. It’s quite a long one, but easy to break down and assimilate.
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will – to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given to us in the one he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace the he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure in Christ, to be put into effect when the times have reached their fulfilment – to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.”
First off, he says we should praise God for blessing us with every spiritual bless “in Christ”. Now that is mind boggling – not that God is going to bless us, but he has already blessed us. But don’t forget he is very specific about the kind of blessings – spiritual blessings in the heavenly realms “in Christ”. The question is, what are these blessings? Well, if I know God very well, he “will not do anything without revealing it to his prophet”, so I believe it won’t take a rocket scientist to show us what these are – they are right next in line.
We were chosen before creation: This is exciting! Even before Adam and Eve were brought into being, God had chosen us. This reason alone is good enough for us to give praise to God every second. Do you doubt that? Well, even Rev 13:8 says “All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast – all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world”.
We are predestined to be God’s sons: Have we even thought about what comes along with being a son of God, alongside Jesus Christ? Have we even considered being in the same family as God, with Jesus Christ as our elder brother? “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the first among many brothers”(Ro 8:29). Do we even understand the fact that the world continues to be in the pain that it is – and that this pain will not go away – until the sons of God are revealed? “The creation awaits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed” (Ro 8:19).
We have redemption through his blood: I cannot overstate the work that Christ did on the cross, turning us “from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God” (Ac 26:17). Most assuredly, the battle was won on the cross, but the war will be won in his coming kingdom (Rev 19-22).
He made known to us the mystery: This is the part that fascinates, and enchants me. What is that mystery? That all things in heaven and on earth will be “brought under one head” or “summed up in Christ”. This mystery is so great that God had it hidden in no one than within he Himself. He had kept this mystery from the devil, and in the latter’s planning and scheming, he didn’t know that he was fulfilling that mystery. In expounding “summed up in Christ” further, Paul gives us this gem:
“Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles, the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made manifest to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus” (Eph 3:8-11)
I’ve been writing about purpose and process, but I tell you, this is the eternal purpose of God. That Christ, through his church, will display the manifold wisdom of God to the everything everywhere, spiritual or physical. You will notice that this purpose was “accomplished in Christ Jesus”. Well, there’s your “summed up”.
You see, most of us don’t realise that God is a God of purpose, and undoubtedly even as he is eternal, so are his purposes. In that ignorance, we always think of Adam’s sin and Christ coming to save us, as if God didn’t know that it would happen. The church for us is an after thought. To God, it’s his masterpiece and part of his purpose from eternity past. I urge you to be transformed by the renewing of your mind about this. But if his purpose considering the church and Christ was an eternal one as stated above, then we must always ask ourselves “What was God’s purpose in creating man”? We must start asking questions about “before creation”, not put our binoculars on “Adam to Christ”. Like Austin Sparks said and I paraphrase, most Christians are stuck at the bottom of a ravine between 2 hills, from which Christ came to redeem us, ignorant of the fact that we were meant to move to the other side of the hill, where God had always intended us to be. Frank Viola terms the two hills Gen 1 & 2 and Rev 21 & 22 – everything else is just an intermediary step. But again, I digress. We will have time to talk about the consequences of the eternal purpose of God later.
(I’d recommend “From Eternity to Here, Rediscovering the Ageless Purpose of God” by Frank Viola or “So Beautiful” by Leonard Sweet if you want to get a full discussion of God’s eternal purpose. Again, I won’t give you mine 😉 ).
However, I want us to be happy about the fact that we are part of that church, part of that eternal plan before Adam fell. Another reason to be ecstatic.
Might I remind you that all these reasons given by Paul for praising the glorious grace of God are extremely spiritual. They are absolutely connected with the heavenly. In fact, Paul had this in mind already when he wrote the previous letter to the Colossian church (thinking chronologically here, remember) about their attitude, reminding them to set their minds on things above.
“Since then you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Col 3:1-4)
Again, he reiterates how everything is summed up in Christ – how we died and our life is hidden in Christ, by virtue of which we can only appear in glory when Christ’s glory is manifested. He makes it ample clear that our glory is not on this earth. And again, it is not for naught that Paul gives the same reminder to the Corinthians.
“If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men” (1 Cor 15:19).
So, what is my point? What has this got to do with our praise?
I hear too often, and my ears grow weary, of Christians only praising God for bread and butter. I’m heartbroken at how we excel at praising God with the clichéd, “I thank God for taking care of me and my family throughout the week …”. I’m astounded at the vim with which we everyday praise God for “Making us somebody amongst our earthly peers” and having saved us from “Families without hope of any success”. It’s like a canker. It’s in our “gospel” music, local or foreign. Its in the pulpit, and it’s in Christian literature. It’s everywhere.
The question I want to ask us Christians is this – when it comes to comfort, prosperity, family comforts and world fame, who are on top of the list? I’m not very familiar with the world’s rich list (I hope my ignorance is forgiven, because there are weightier matters than these), but remind me if Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, the Sultan of Brunei and the Queen of England are people you will consider true Christians. Even ordinary “by mouth” Christians. Hmm, I didn’t think so. Make no mistake, if you are aspiring to “Bill Gateship”, you are in the wrong organisation (i.e. the church).
Because it is a well known fact that the world’s most successful people are either self-professed or can be considered atheist. A few may have a belief in God, and fewer yet in Christ. Yet we are lost in trying to attain the world’s comforts by “going through God”. And, because we do not know what Christ has given us which makes us diametrically different from these people, we continue to “praise” God for the things that he gives to everyone, whether they believe in God or not. Even the Psalms say that it is God who gives rain to the wicked as well as to the righteous. So, when we are praising God, I find it very very disquieting that we have very little notion of some of these things that are causes for the praise of the New Testament writer’s praise. In fact, there are few occasions in the NT where the writer praises God for anything other than the hope that he has called us to, the eternal purpose which he predestined from the foundation of the earth, the salvation which he has given us, the body of Christ which is the church of which we are part, the bride of Christ to which we belong, the house/temple of God of which we are precious stones in, the royal priesthood and the holy nation of God to show forth God’s excellencies, etc. If we are people of a new covenant and not the old, then I challenge us to redefine our praise according to New Testament standards.
I’m not saying that don’t praise God for what he provides for you. Far from it. But like my dad said the other day, if you sow to earthly hope, you will reap earthly hope. Obviously I do not need to state the converse.
If we are truly sons of Abraham, “who was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Heb 11:10), and is still waiting for that city that Christ his seed will bring (again another example of “bringing everything under” his headship or “summing up”), then our praise must change to reflect that glorious hope. Because it is indeed glorious and great.
“Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven …” (Mt 5:12)