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3. How to Live in Praise, Even in Trials—Part Three

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In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:11-14)

How can we live a life of praise, even when going through trials?

While Paul was imprisoned in Rome awaiting a possible death sentence, he wrote the book of Ephesians. In Ephesians 1:3-14 specifically, he appears to be singing a praise song to God. It begins 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).

How could Paul praise God while in prison—in the midst of great difficulty? No doubt 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 (v. 3). In verses 3-10, he details many of the believer’s spiritual blessings. These include election and adoption as sons into the family of God, redemption, forgiveness of sins, and wisdom and discernment (v. 4-10).

In Ephesians 11-14, he continues this song about the spiritual blessings believers receive in Christ. As we continue this study, we will learn more about living a life of praise by focusing on the blessings of God.

Big Questions: What does Paul praise God for in this part of his blessing song? How can we implement worship in our daily lives, especially during trials?

In Order to Live in Praise, Believers Must Focus on God’s Sovereignty

In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:11-)13

Another aspect that we must focus on if we are going to live a life of praise is God’s sovereignty. Paul again mentions that believers were chosen and predestined (cf. v. 4-5), but he adds “according to the plan of him who works everything in conformity with the purpose of his will” (v.11).

Paul not only sees God in control of salvation, as he chooses to elect some, but also in complete control of all things. He says God “works everything”—some versions say “all things”—in conformity with the purpose of his will. The word “works” is the Greek word energeo, from which we get the English words “energy” and “energize.” 1 Scripture teaches that God is energizing all things for his purposes and is therefore in control of everything. Nothing happens apart from his sovereign will. No doubt this was a tremendous comfort to Paul while he was in prison.

Interpretation Question: In what ways do we see God’s sovereignty over “all things” taught throughout Scripture?

1. Scripture teaches God’s ordination of all man’s days, as they were planned out beforehand.

David says, “Your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Psalm 139:16). 

2. Scripture teaches God’s control over natural events.

Christ tells the disciples that God feeds the birds and clothes the lilies of the field (Matthew 6:26, 30). We would all say these happen by natural processes; however, Scripture teaches that events can have multiple causes and yet God be the ultimate cause. Theologians have called this the “law of concurrence.”

3. Scripture teaches God’s control of chance events.

“The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD” (Proverbs 16:33). “The lot” can also be translated as “the dice,” as in the NLT.

4. Scripture teaches God’s control over the hearts of men.

In the case of Pharaoh and the enslaved Israelites, Scripture teaches both that Pharaoh hardened his own heart and that God hardened it (Ex 8:15, 14:8). In support of this, Proverbs 21:1 says, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases.”

5. Scripture teaches God’s control over all disasters.

“When disaster comes to a city, has not the LORD caused it?” (Amos 3:6). Note that Amos does not qualify this as “some disasters,” but disaster in general.

6. Scripture teaches God’s control over Satan and evil.

In the story of Job, Scripture shows Satan getting permission from God to attack all Job had, including his family (Job 1:12).

As water poured into a plastic bottle “conforms” to the bottle, everything “conforms” to God’s will and is in some way foreordained (cf. Ephesians 1:11). In fact, he is energizing everything towards his purpose. This is indeed a mystery!

Interpretation Question: How can God be in control of everything—including man’s choices and the evil in the world—and yet still be just?

One Scripture that may help us understand God’s sovereignty is Colossians 1:17: “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Christ holds our bodies together, as well as the angels and demons, atoms, and everything else. Nothing can function without his energy. Therefore, nothing can act apart from his control. God is not like a watchmaker, who makes something that operates on its own, apart from its creator. Scripture teaches God’s total control of creation at all times (Eph 1: 11).

With all that said, though Scripture teaches God’s sovereignty, it also teaches that God cannot be blamed for sin, he does not tempt man, and that man is responsible for his own choices. “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone” (James 1:13). Again, this is a mystery.

The “Two Wills” of God

Another concept that might help us reconcile this difficult truth of God’s sovereignty over man’s choices and his sovereignty over evil is to consider the will of God. Many theologians parse God’s will into two parts: his moral, or perfect, will, and his sovereign will. Not everything in God’s moral will happens. For instance, Scripture says God isn’t willing that “any should perish but that all should come to repentance,” and he desires that all men be saved (2 Peter 3:9, KJV, 1 Tim 2:4). However, not all will be saved. Some will perish, even though that is not God’s perfect will (cf. Matt 25:41). God’s moral, or perfect, will does not always happen.

Is it God’s will for little children to be abused? No. Is it his will that we fall into sin? No. It is not God’s perfect will. But somehow, in God’s sovereign will, it is. Even the death of his Son was predestined (Acts 2:23). God works in all things and uses all “for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28). He energizes all things according to the purpose of his will (Eph 1:11), and does so in such a way that he cannot be blamed for evil, justly holding men and angels responsible for their actions. Again, this is a mystery in Scripture—but it is a necessary mystery for us to accept in order to rejoice in trials. God is in control, and he works all things for our good—even evil things.

Paul was able to rejoice and sing in prison because he focused on God’s sovereignty. He saw God in control of his election to salvation, and he also saw God in control of his unfortunate circumstances. He had peace and joy while in prison awaiting a possible death sentence because he saw God as totally in control—not the devil, and not evil men. As he says in Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

It was this theology that gave Joseph peace in the presence of those who had sold him into slavery. He said to his brothers, “What you meant for bad, God meant for good” (Gen 50:20, paraphrase). It was the same with Job. Instead of being angry at those who robbed him or about the death of his children, he simply said, “The Lord gives and he takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21, paraphrase). Those who don’t understand or focus on God’s sovereignty only see the devil and people. They instead focus on these, and it takes away their joy— their song. But Job and Joseph focused on the sovereignty of God, and so did Paul.

With all of that said, Paul didn’t just see God’s sovereignty, he also saw human responsibility. In continuing his praise over the believer’s election, he says:

in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:12-14)

Interestingly, in this section he speaks first to the Jews and then to the Gentiles. He says, “in order that we [Jews] who were the first to hope in Christ” (v.12) and “you [Gentiles] also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth” (v. 13). In speaking to the Jews who first put their hope in Christ and then to the Gentiles who heard the word of truth and believed, Paul is recognizing human responsibility—though it is secondary to God’s sovereignty. The Jews and Gentiles responded because they were first chosen and predestined according to the purpose of him who works everything according to the purpose of his will. This is a balanced view. Focusing on God’s sovereignty is not a denial of human effort or responsibility, or even the work of the evil one. Rather, it is a recognition of who is ultimately in control.

Yes, we recognize our sin, the failures of others, and the work of the evil one—but not apart from the sovereign rule of God, who works everything for the good of those who love him. In God’s sovereignty, he can even use my sin, the failures of others, and the temptation of the evil one to make me into the image of his Son, which he predestined before time (Rom 8:28-29). This is how we can live in praise while suffering. We must see God as sovereign, and in control over the events of our lives.

Do you see God as sovereign? Or do you tend to focus on men and the devil rather than God? It’s the one who focuses on God’s sovereignty who can sing in a prison cell.

Application Question: Why is an understanding of God’s sovereignty important for our spiritual lives?

1. It is important for prayer.

If God is not in control, why pray? Why pray to a God who doesn’t control everything? How can you have faith that your prayers will be answered if God isn’t absolutely in control?

2. It is important for comfort.

How can you have comfort in a world that is ungodly—full of demons and evil men—unless you have supreme confidence that God is ultimately in control? If you don’t believe in God’s sovereignty, you will probably be a bitter, angry person, or at least a complainer. When Shimei cursed David as he fled from Absalom, David’s soldiers wanted to kill Shimei. David responded, “God has told him to curse, let him curse (paraphrase)” (2 Sam 16:11). David saw God in control of the curses of evil men, and he trusted God’s purposes. Instead of becoming bitter, angry, and vengeful as his men did, David trusted God.

Job was the same. When he lost his family and career, he said, “The Lord gives and he takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord (paraphrase).” Those without this doctrine will lack comfort.

3. It is important for faith.

We can live and minister in confidence because the Sovereign God will provide for us, protect us, and empower us. He is our Shepherd and we will not lack (Psalm 23). He provides for the lilies of the field and the birds of the air, and he will certainly provide for us (Matt 6:25-34).

Application Questions: How does an understanding of God’s sovereignty comfort or encourage you? How can we maintain a proper balance as we consider events in light of God’s sovereignty, man’s responsibility, and the work of the evil one?

In Order to Live in Praise, Believers Must Focus on the Ministry of the Holy Spirit

Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:13b-14)

Observation Questions: What terms does Paul use to describe the Holy Spirit in Ephesians 1:13b-14, and what do they mean?

Paul’s next cause for rejoicing is the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life. God has given each believer the Holy Spirit, and he has many roles in the believer’s life. We learn a great deal about these roles by the words Paul uses for the Spirit: “seal” and “deposit.”

Interpretation Question: What does the word “seal” tell us about the Holy Spirit’s work in the believer’s life?

1. As a seal, the Holy Spirit represents authenticity—he proves that the believer’s salvation is real.

John MacArthur says this:

The sealing of which Paul speaks here refers to an official mark of identification that was placed on a letter, contract, or other important document. The seal usually was made from hot wax, which was placed on the document and then impressed with a signet ring. The document was thereby officially identified with and under the authority of the person to whom the signet belonged.2 

The Holy Spirit authenticates the believer. Romans 8:9 says, “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.” The Holy Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God (Rom 8:16). He authenticates us by changing us, making us more into Christ’s image. He gives us new desires—desires to pray, serve, love God and others, and to read his Word. If a professing believer doesn’t have these holy affections, he is not truly saved—he is missing the seal of the Holy Spirit.

2. As a seal, the Holy Spirit represents God’s ownership.

In those days, slaves and cattle bore the seals of their owners. The Holy Spirit not only authenticates the believer, but also demonstrates God’s ownership.

3. As a seal, the Holy Spirit represents the security of the believer.

Seals also were used as a form of security. Often kings or others in authority would seal something to say that it should not be touched or tampered with. John MacArthur’s comments are helpful here as well:

In ancient times the seal of a king, prince, or noble represented security and inviolability. When Daniel was thrown into the lion’s den, King Darius, along with his nobles, placed their seals on the stone placed over the entrance to the den, “so that nothing might be changed in regard to Daniel” (Dan. 6:17). Any person but the king who broke or disturbed that seal would likely have forfeited his life. In a similar way the tomb where Jesus was buried was sealed. Fearing that Jesus’ disciples might steal His body and falsely claim His resurrection, the Jewish leaders obtained Pilate’s permission to place a seal on the stone and to guard it with soldiers (Matt. 27:62–66).3

This is one of the reasons we know that the true believer’s salvation is secure. The Holy Spirit seals him. Consider what Paul says in Ephesians 4:30, “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” Even though we have been redeemed from slavery to sin, our ultimate redemption awaits our resurrected bodies. The Holy Spirit seals us until that final work happens, and so do Jesus and the Father:

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” (John 10:27-30)

God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit secure and protect the believer’s salvation.

4. As a seal, the Holy Spirit represents authority.

To have a king’s signet ring or seal meant to hold his power and authority (cf. Esther 8:8-12). In the same way, God’s seal on believers represents their authority to teach the Word of God, to defend it, to use their spiritual gifts to build God’s kingdom, etc. Christ said this when he ascended to heaven:

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

Because we have been sealed with the Holy Spirit, we have the authority of the King to do his ministry.

Interpretation Question: What does it mean to be given the Holy Spirit as a “deposit”?

Not only did Paul say the Holy Spirit was a seal, but also a “deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession” (Eph 1:14). The Holy Spirit secures our inheritance.

It must be noted that “our inheritance” can also be translated as “were made an inheritance.”4 It could mean either that God has given us an inheritance or that we are God’s inheritance. In Ephesians 1:18, he focuses on believers being an inheritance to God: “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.” However, the context here (Ephesians 1:3—”blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing”) points to interpreting verse 14 as “our inheritance,” as in the NIV.)

Now, in what ways is the Holy Spirit a deposit?

1. As a deposit, the Holy Spirit guarantees our future inheritance.

The word deposit can be translated as “earnest,” or even “engagement ring.”5 An engagement ring is a promise for future marriage. An earnest is “the down payment to guarantee the final purchase of some commodity or piece of property.”6 When a person bought a piece of property in those times, he put down earnest money. This guaranteed that the rest of the money was coming. If he failed to pay, he would lose his earnest. We call this a “down payment” today.

The Lord gave us the Holy Spirit as our guarantee that we will receive every spiritual blessing in Christ in full.

2. As a deposit, the Holy Spirit is a foretaste of our inheritance in heaven.

An earnest was part of a future payment. In the same way, the Holy Spirit is a foretaste of our future heavenly inheritance. “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17). Heaven will be full of righteousness, peace, and joy, all blessings the Holy Spirit wants to give us now. He wants to get rid of the sin in our lives and fill us with righteousness, and to give us peace and joy—no matter what trials we encounter. Our current experience in the Holy Spirit is a taste of our heavenly reward.

How can we sing during our trials? We can sing because God has given us an inheritance. He sealed us and is protecting us. He has given us his authority to use for his glory. He has confirmed that we are his. He has given us a taste and a guarantee of heaven. While Paul was in prison, he enjoyed a taste of his inheritance in heaven through the work of the Holy Spirit. Though he had lost everything else, he had everything in Christ and through the work of the Holy Spirit. This is true for us as well. Let us sing because of our heavenly inheritance, which we can enjoy even now.

Application Questions: In what ways does the Holy Spirit’s role as a seal and a deposit comfort or encourage you? How can we better apply these realities to our lives and ministry?

In Order to Live in Praise, Believers Must Focus on the Glory of God

in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:12-14)

Finally, Paul focuses on the glory of God. “Glory” refers to the weight of something, or the greatness of a person or thing. In verses 12 and 14, he says that the ultimate reason God saves us is for the praise of his glory. Salvation is not ultimately about man; it is about God and his glory. God is glorified through our salvation because it could only happen through his initiative in electing and saving man. Salvation glorifies God because it was through his wisdom and power that this plan was made and carried out.

In fact, this is mentioned several times throughout the letter. One of the ways man’s salvation glorifies God is by demonstrating God’s grace and wisdom to the angels in heaven. Look at these verses:

And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:6-7)

His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 3:10)

Who is God demonstrating his grace and wisdom to? The angels. When the demonic angels fell in heaven, the angels had never seen God’s grace. They saw God’s perfect judgment and wrath on the demons. But in man, they see God’s grace—unmerited favor—as he saves an undeserving people. They also see his wisdom, as this was planned before time. Salvation is ultimately a work that glorifies God. Sometimes churches preach the gospel as though salvation is the ultimate purpose of God and Scripture. No—the glory of God is. Saving man is a means to glorify God and reveal his characteristics to all, including the angels.

Paul was able to sing in prison because he saw that the ultimate purpose of his life was to glorify God. Listen, if the ultimate purpose of your life is comfort, happiness, and joy, you will not be able to sing during your trials; instead, you will worry, complain, and become bitter.

Only those who realize that God is ultimately in control, and that everything is conforming to God’s plan to bring glory to himself, praise him even during trials. They say, “If my suffering brings glory to God, so be it. If my persevering brings glory to God, so be it. If my prospering brings glory to God, so be it. But let everything in my life be for the glory of God.” That is the type of heart and the type of focus that can praise God in every trial.

What is your focus? Is it your happiness, your success, and your glory? If so, you won’t be able to sing during your trials, as Paul did. “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (1 Cor 10:31).

Amen. Let this be so.

Application Question: How can we live for the glory of God?

1. We live for God’s glory by doing our best at the endeavors he has called us to.

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men (Col 3:23).

2. We live for God’s glory by trusting him in everything.

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” (Prov 3:5).

3. We live for God’s glory by submitting to him in everything.

Like Christ, we must pray, “Not my will, but thy will be done” (Luke 22:42, paraphrase).

4. We live for God’s glory by seeking to reflect him in everything we do.

“Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children” (Eph 5:1). When we imitate God, we glorify him.

5. We live for God’s glory by thanking him in everything and by worshiping him, even as Paul did.

“Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1Thess 5:18).

Application Questions: What makes it hard to live a life that is totally focused on the glory of God? Why is it so easy to get distracted from this? How is God challenging you to make his glory your focus in everything, even trials?

Conclusion

How can we live a life of praise, even while in trials? In Ephesians 1:3-14, we see Paul’s praise song while in prison. From it, we learn:

  1. In order to live in praise, believers must focus on their new home—the heavenly realms.
  2. In order to live in praise, believers must focus on their spiritual blessings.
  3. In order to live in praise, believers must focus on their union with Christ.
  4. In order to live in praise, believers must focus on their election.
  5. In order to live in praise, believers must focus on their adoption as sons.
  6. In order to live in praise, believers must focus on God’s abundant grace.
  7. In order to live in praise, believers must focus on their redemption.
  8. In order to live in praise, believers must focus on their forgiveness.
  9. In order to live in praise, believers must focus on their spiritual discernment.
  10. In order to live in praise, believers must focus on God’s sovereignty.
  11. In order to live in praise, believers must focus on the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
  12. In order to live in praise, believers must focus on the glory of God.

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 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1986). Ephesians (pp. 31–32). Chicago: Moody Press.

2 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1986). Ephesians (p. 34). Chicago: Moody Press.

3 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1986). Ephesians (pp. 34–35). Chicago: Moody Press.

4 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1986). Ephesians (p. 30). Chicago: Moody Press.

5 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1986). Ephesians (p. 36). Chicago: Moody Press.

6 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 13). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

Related Topics: Suffering, Trials, Persecution

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