2. How to Live in Praise, Even in Trials—Part TwoRelated Media
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that 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, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ. (Ephesians 1:7-10)
How can we live a life of praise, even while going through trials? Ephesians 1:3-14 is the longest sentence in the Bible, and it seems to be one continuous song. Paul begins his instructions to the Ephesians with, “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” (Ephesians 1:3).
Paul was imprisoned in Rome awaiting a possible death sentence, but even then, he praised God. His ability to praise came from his focus. Paul was not focused on his unfortunate circumstances, but on the heavenly realms, where believers are seated in Christ. He focused on all the spiritual blessings believers have—blessings that come from the Spirit. They include our seat in the heavenly realms, our position in Christ, our election, and our adoption as sons into the family of God (v. 3-6)
In Ephesians 1:7-10, he continues his praise for the spiritual blessings believers received in Christ. As we continue this study, we will learn about how to live a life of praise by living a life of focus.
Big Questions: What other riches does Paul praise God for in this blessing song? How can we focus on these riches in order to implement worship in our daily lives, especially during trials?
In Order to Live in Praise, Believers Must Focus on Their Redemption
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace (Ephesians 1:7)
Interpretation Question: What does redemption mean?
Paul praises God for the believer’s redemption in Christ. “To redeem means ‘to purchase and set free by paying a price.’”1 There were probably over 60 million slaves in the Roman Empire, and buying and selling them was big business. Slaves occupied many positions: teachers, doctors, metalsmiths, carpenters, poets, etc. If a person wanted to set a friend or relative free, they would have to buy the slave’s freedom. This is the situation to which Paul is alluding.
However, we must ask, “Who were these Christians (and people in general) enslaved to?” Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin” (John 8:34). Similarly, Paul says, “We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin” (Romans 7:14). This is the state of every person before they accept Christ: enslaved to sin.
Sin had so enslaved us that we could not respond to God or understand his Word. As Romans 8:7-8 says, “The sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.” Our minds were hostile to God. Our wills could not submit to God’s law. In fact, sin had so bound us that we would not even seek God (Rom 3:11).
However, God looked down the corridors of time, saw man’s future enslavement, and predestined to send his Son to die for our sins (Acts 4:27-28). Christ died because that was the just payment for our sins. Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death.” Christ died to appease God’s just wrath, and to redeem us from our slave master. When he died on the cross, he said, “It is finished” (John 19:30), which literally means “paid in full.” Christ paid the price for our sins so we would no longer be slaves of sin and under the wrath of God. As John 8:36 says, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
When Paul says believers have redemption through Christ’s blood, he is using a “metonym” (a form of figurative language) for Christ’s death.2 It was Christ’s death that set us free from our bondage. Christ says, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’” (Mark 10:45). Romans 5:8-9 says,
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!
While imprisoned, chained up to a Roman soldier, Paul reflected on his previous spiritual enslavement. Bound to sin and blinded by the devil, he had persecuted the early church. But Christ had mercy on him and set him free from this bondage.
No doubt many of the Christians hearing Paul’s letter were slaves, and though they might never receive their earthly freedom, they were free in Christ. Christ had redeemed them; he was their ultimate Master and one day they would be free from every hindrance to fully serve him.
We should worship because of our freedom. We are free to serve and worship Christ.
Application Question: How can we, as believers, continually apply our redemption in Christ?
1. To apply our redemption, we must consider ourselves dead to sin, free from its slavery.
Paul says to think about this reality often, and to allow it to guide our actions: “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11). “Count yourselves dead to sin” means to think of ourselves as dead to sin but alive to God. Even when we stumble, we should not think of ourselves as bound to sin and lust—for we are not. We are new in Christ and free to serve God. We must fight from this vantage point.
Thinking on this reality is important because the enemy often lies to believers. He tells them that they will never be free, that they are too addicted and bound. This is a lie. We are free in Christ, and we must fight our battles in light of this reality. When we truly understand it, it will set us free. Christ says the truth will set us free (John 8:32) and that he whom the Son sets free is free indeed (v. 36). When we truly adopt this mindset, we cannot help but sing.
There is a story about Augustine, a church father, who lived from 358-430 AD. Before accepting Christ, he was very promiscuous. While walking through the market one day, he ran into an old fling. When he saw her, he immediately turned and ran in the opposite direction. The lady was shocked. She said, “My love! My love! Where are you going? It is I!” He responded, “I know! But it is not I any longer!” Augustine counted himself dead to sin, but alive to Christ. He saw himself as a new creation, and no longer a slave. We must reckon this to be true about ourselves as well. As Paul says, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
Similarly, focusing on this reality helps many believers break an addiction or stronghold in their lives. They start to really think on what Christ completed on the cross: he broke the chains of sin. They just need to believe it and fight to live according to this reality.
2. To apply our redemption, we must consider ourselves alive to Christ—slaves of God and righteousness.
Not only did Christ pay the price to free us from slavery, but he also purchased us for himself. This means that we are slaves of God, owned by him, and free to serve him. When rebuking the Corinthians for sexual immorality, Paul refers to this truth:
Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
We should not live in sexual immorality or any other sin because our bodies are not our own. Paul says this in Romans 6:17-19:
But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. I put this in human terms because you are weak in your natural selves. Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness.
As slaves of sin, we displeased God by offering our minds and bodies over to various evil desires. But now, as slaves of God and righteousness, we should offer our minds and bodies continually to righteousness.
Is there an opportunity to serve? Let us offer ourselves. Is there an opportunity to encourage someone? Let us offer ourselves. Is there an opportunity to worship? Let us offer ourselves. After all Christ has done for us, we should offer our bodies as living sacrifices, which is our reasonable act of worship (Romans 12:1).
In fact, this reality of no longer being a slave to sin but rather a slave of Christ and righteousness was so ingrained in Paul’s theology that he often referred to himself as a “slave” of Christ. Consider these verses:
Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons (Philippians 1:1)
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God (Romans 1:1)
The word “servant” is better translated as “slave.” It means a “bond slave, without any ownership rights of their own.”3 Essentially, Paul was saying, “I don’t own anything anymore—not even my body! I am a slave of Christ! I was purchased with a price, and now I’m a slave of righteousness!”
If God set us free from slavery to sin, how can we go back to our old slave master? Let us devote ourselves to seeking his face, worshiping him, and serving others, since that is why he purchased us. When we were bound by sin we couldn’t do these things—we were antagonistic to God and couldn’t submit to his law (Rom 8:7). But now we are free. Former slaves who focus on this reality cannot help but praise God regardless of their circumstances.
Application Questions: How does the concept of redemption encourage or challenge you in your faith? How do you feel God is calling you to further apply this reality to your life or ministry?
In Order to Live in Praise, Believers Must Focus on Their Forgiveness in Christ
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace (Ephesians 1:7)
Another spiritual blessing believers receive is forgiveness. In response to Christ’s death for our sins, God forgave us. The word forgive means “to carry away.”4 This cannot but remind us of the prescribed ritual on the Jewish Day of Atonement (Lev 16). The priest took two goats. He killed one and sprinkled its blood on the mercy seat in the Holy of Holies. He laid his hands on the other goat and confessed the sins of Israel. The second goat was then taken far into the wilderness and let go. This symbolized the sins of Israel being carried away, never to return.
While in prison, Paul rejoiced in this truth. Because of Christ’s death and payment for our sins, they have been taken far away, never to be brought back again. Psalm 103:12 says, “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” Hebrews 10:17 says, “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.”
Romans 8:1-2 says, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.” When instituting the Lord’s Supper, Christ said, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt 26:28). Christ’s blood was poured out for our forgiveness—so our sins could be carried away.
Interpretation Question: Why do we still need to confess our sins if they are already forgiven?
The truth is that on the cross, God forgave our sins judicially. If we are believers, then we will never be judged for our sins because Christ paid the penalty. However, there is still a need to confess for familial forgiveness. For example, if I do or say something that hurts my wife and we’re not talking, it doesn’t change the fact that she is legally my wife; however, I still need to confess to restore intimacy—familial forgiveness.
Christ compares this type of forgiveness to cleansing when talking to Peter about the need for foot washing. He says, “A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you” (John 13:10).
Peter was already clean because God had forgiven his sins judicially on the cross. However, he still needed cleansing from his daily failings. He still needed familial forgiveness, and it’s the same with us. We need to daily bring our sins and failures before the Father so we can be wiped clean.
Interpretation Questions: What does Paul mean by “in accordance with the riches of God’s grace”? What does this teach us about the extent of this cleansing—this forgiveness?
“In accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us” (Eph 1:7-8) means that God lavishly forgave us. It has often been said if a millionaire gives ten dollars to charity, he gives “out of his riches.” But if he gives a million dollars, he gives “in accordance” with his riches. Similarly, God abundantly lavished forgiveness on us in accordance with the riches of his grace.
We learn something about this in 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” When we confess our sins to God, not only does he forgive us, but he cleanses us from “all” unrighteousness. This means he forgives us even of sins we are not aware of.
The greatest command in the Bible is to love God with our whole heart, mind, and soul (Matt 22:37-38). However, at no time have I loved God that way, and it’s the same for every other person. This is often called the depravity of man. In a real sense, I am always failing God—not loving him or others as I should. However, God’s grace is so abundant that he is always lavishing forgiveness on me. When I confess my known sins, he forgives me of all unrighteousness. This is “in accordance with the riches of his grace.”
That is the kind of forgiveness God lavishes on his children. Paul sang because he was forgiven. He sang because God cleansed him daily in accordance with the riches of his grace and forgiveness.
Application Question: Why is it that so many choose not to accept God’s lavish grace in forgiveness?
Sadly, many believers miss this lavish grace.
- They miss it because they refuse to confess their sins and repent.
- Or, they miss it because they allow themselves to be bound in condemnation, which keeps them from accepting God’s forgiveness.
What Christ died for and God forgave, they continue to look back on, not recognizing it as covered by Christ’s blood and “carried away.” They often mistake condemnation by the devil as conviction by the Holy Spirit. The enemy of our souls tempts believers to sin and then says, “Feel bad! Feel really, really bad! Now, don’t read your Bible! Don’t go to church!” Conviction draws us towards God and away from sin, but condemnation draws us away from God and towards sin. The believer who is under condemnation often falls into depression, locks himself in his room, and isolates himself from other believers and opportunities to worship. He thinks God cannot and should not forgive. Or he thinks he must linger in depression as some form of penance—as though he could ever earn his forgiveness.
Listen, Christ did everything for a believer to come boldly to the throne room of God, to enjoy his presence, and to receive his grace. “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). This is why we can sing.
If we are to live in praise, we must focus on our forgiveness—God’s carrying away of our sins. Like Paul, we must continually forget what is behind (as God has, Heb 10:17) and press forward to what is ahead (Phil 3:13).
Application Questions: In what ways have you experienced condemnation for sin? How do you typically react to it? How can we recognize the difference between condemnation and conviction in order to help ourselves and others?
In Order to Live in Praise, Believers Must Focus on Their Spiritual Discernment
that 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, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ. (Ephesians 1:8-10)
Interpretation Question: In what way has God lavishly given believers “wisdom and understanding” (v. 8)?
Another of the spiritual riches Paul rejoices in is spiritual discernment. God gives wisdom (knowledge) and understanding (what to do with this knowledge) into the mystery of his will. This means God gives believers understanding of ultimate things like “life and death, God and man, righteousness and sin, heaven and hell, eternity and time.”5 Included in this is the mystery Paul writes about in Ephesians 1:9.
The word “mystery” is a common term in the book of Ephesians. In Ephesians 3:6, we see the mystery of God’s bringing Jews and Gentiles together in one body. In Ephesians 5:32, we see the mystery of Christ, and the church as his bride. “Mystery” means a “sacred secret, once hidden but now revealed to God’s people.”6 Believers have been let into God’s inner circle.
Christ says in John 15:15 that he no longer calls the disciples “servants,” but “friends,” because he has revealed to them the master’s business. This is also our reality. One of the spiritual blessings God gives us is the ability to know his will and his plans. In fact, this is one of the reasons God gave us the Holy Spirit. Paul says this in 1 Corinthians 2:6-10:
We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. However, as it is written: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him”—but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.
Paul says God has given believers “secret wisdom.” If the rulers of the age (ruling men and ruling demons) had had this wisdom, they would not have crucified our Savior. God reveals this truth to his followers through the Holy Spirit. This is one of our spiritual blessings.
Observation Question: What is the mystery that God reveals to believers (Ephesians 1:9)?
The “mystery,” the “secret wisdom,” is that God plans “to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ” (v. 10).
Interpretation Question: What does the mystery that God is going to bring all things “together” under Christ tell us about “all things” (1:10)?
1. This mystery implies that “all things” are in a state of disorder.
Adam’s sin created discord in the relationship between God and himself (Genesis 3). Adam immediately hid from God, and man is still hiding from God today. Then Adam and Eve hid from each other. People today have shallow relationships. We hide behind our fig leaves—our jobs, nationalities, possessions, religious trappings, etc. to hide our insecurity, pain, and sin. We hide from God and from others.
In addition, man is prone to discord. God says the woman will desire her husband and the husband will rule over his wife (Gen 3:16). Clearly, there will be discord in marriage. When Adam and Eve had their first two sons, Cain killed his younger brother, Abel. Man is in a state of discord—even family relationships often aren’t safe.
Not only was man affected, but all creation was as well. God cursed the ground because of man’s sin: “Cursed is the ground because of you” (Gen 3:17). The ground bears not only thorns and thistles, but droughts, floods, hurricanes, tsunamis, and earthquakes. Romans 8:20-21 says,
For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.
Even the heavens are in disorder. Before man fell, angels fell in heaven—negatively affecting it (cf. Rev 12:4). Hebrews says that even the heavens had to be cleansed by Christ’s blood (cf. Hebrews 9:23).
2. This mystery teaches that in the fullness of time Christ will restore “all things.”
One day, all things will be restored as they come under the headship of Christ. “When the times reach their fulfillment” or, as translated in the KJV, “the fulness of times” is when Christ brings his kingdom on earth (v. 10). He will remove the curse from nature. Isaiah 11:6-9 says,
The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.
There will be no more war. They will make their weapons into farm implements (Isaiah 2:4), and the knowledge of the Lord will cover the earth as water. That is the mystery God has revealed to his people. Colossians 1:19-20 says, “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”
With that said, some have taken “all things” to mean universal salvation. They would say even rebellious men, the devil, and the demons will be forgiven. However, that is not what Scripture teaches. At Christ’s coming, he will divide those on the earth into sheep and goats (Matt 25). The sheep will enter into his kingdom (v. 34), and the goats will go into the everlasting destruction prepared for the devil and his angels (v. 41).
However, there is still a sense in which the devil and unbelievers will be brought into submission to Christ. They will submit to Christ because they must. Psalm 2:9 says he will rule them with “an iron scepter,” meaning they will be forced to submit. The Lamb who was slain will return to the earth as a Lion, and all will submit. Philippians 2:9-11 says,
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
How can the believer rejoice when the world is in a state of disarray? How can he rejoice when things are difficult in his life? He can rejoice because God has given him wisdom and understanding—he knows the mysteries of this earth. His redeemer lives and all things will ultimately be made right. The Lion of Judah is coming! He will reign on the earth, and we will reign with him. Only a believer with this perspective can rejoice and sing while in a prison cell, or when life seems like a dungeon. He sees the light of the Son of God (John 8:12). God gave believers wisdom and understanding into the mystery of God’s will, and this causes them to rejoice. Amen!
Application Question: How should we apply the fact that God has given us this secret wisdom?
First Corinthians 4:1-2 says, “So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted [stewards] with the secret things of God. Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.” The wisdom God gives believers is a stewardship, and we must be faithful stewards of it. As stewards, one day we will give an accounting to God. “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth (2 Tim 2:15). As we consider this reality, we must ask ourselves these questions:
- Are we doing our best to study God’s Word?
- Are we doing our best to rightly interpret God’s Word?
- Are we doing our best to faithfully share God’s Word?
Only those who do their best with the stewardship of God’s mysteries will be approved by God. And meditating on these mysteries will draw us into worship. Those who are not faithful with God’s mysteries will find no room for worship, especially during trials.
Application Question: In what ways is God challenging you to be a faithful steward of his Word?
How can we live a life of praise, even during trials? In Ephesians 1:3-14, we see Paul’s song while in prison. He could sing because of his focus on Christ and his blessings. In verses 3-10, we are challenged to focus on these aspects of our spiritual blessings:
- In order to live in praise, believers must focus on their new home—the heavenly realms.
- In order to live in praise, believers must focus on their spiritual blessings.
- In order to live in praise, believers must focus on their union with Christ.
- In order to live in praise, believers must focus on their election.
- In order to live in praise, believers must focus on their adoption as sons.
- In order to live in praise, believers must focus on God’s abundant grace.
- In order to live in praise, believers must focus on their redemption.
- In order to live in praise, believers must focus on their forgiveness.
- In order to live in praise, believers must focus on their spiritual discernment.
Copyright © 2016 Gregory Brown
Unless otherwise noted, the primary Scriptures used are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ®, Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by the International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NASB) are from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972,1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked KJV or AKJV are from the King James Version or Authorized (King James) Version of the Bible.
All emphases in Scripture quotations and commentators’ quotations have been added.
1 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, pp. 11–12). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
2 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1986). Ephesians (p. 21). Chicago: Moody Press.
3 Accessed 3/24/15
4 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 12). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
5 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1986). Ephesians (p. 25). Chicago: Moody Press.
6 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 12). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
Related Topics: Suffering, Trials, Persecution