And here is mine: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus the King, the one who has blessed us in the King with every Spirit-blessing in the heavenly realms.
With this verse we start the longest single sentence in the New Testament, one that begins here and doesn’t stop until the end of verse 14. Although in our English translations it is broken up into four or five sentences at least, in Greek it is all one. Which is crazy. It’s as if Paul wants to begin by overwhelming us with all that God has done in Jesus. As a matter of fact, Paul may be employing a literary tactic Aristotle called oratio perpetua or “perpetual speech,” the aim of which is just as we suspected: to overwhelm us with the ginormousness of the subject. Or maybe he’s just going off.
Today I want to make an observation about what Paul is doing and offer three thoughts about how he does it. The question of what Paul is doing is not immediately clear. On the one hand, he is clearly worshiping – Blessed be the God is standard Jewish worship language. As we will see and as is common in Scripture, Paul praises God for what God has done for us. Secondly, what Paul is doing is very close to prayer. He doesn’t specifically mention prayer until the next sentence, but what he does there and what he does here are hardly different. And thirdly, Paul is teaching. Within this praise-prayer lies so much sound doctrine, so much beautiful truth, so much powerful instruction, that we’d be silly not to notice.
So this is my initial observation: For Paul, at least at times, the lines between worship and teaching and prayer blur to the point of disappearing. They are one and the same, three transformational practices together as one. Now for three quick thoughts and how Paul goes about worshiping / praying / teaching.
First, Paul’s worshiping / praying / teaching takes on what we can only call a Trinitarian shape. Here in the opening phrase we meet God the Father, Jesus the King, and the Spirit too. On this last point I have changed the TNIV’s “spiritual blessing” to “Spirit-blessing.” When we hear “spiritual” we may be tempted to think “not physical,” which is not at all what Paul means. Rather Paul means those blessings associated with the presence of God’s Spirit. There is certainly no thought here about the metaphysics of God’s essential being; rather, Paul is unable to tell the story of what God has done — of how he has saved us — without reference to those we know as the three members of the one godhead: Father, Son, and Spirit.
Second, Paul’s worshiping / praying / teaching are “eschatologically” oriented. I know this is a big weird word for some, so let me break it down just a bit. Eschatology is the study of the last things, the end of the story. But Paul isn’t getting all Left Behind on us — for Paul the last things have become the present things, the end of the story has interrupted the middle. Or to put it better, the new age of the Spirit has dawned. God has created a new world within the shell of the old. For Paul any mention of the Spirit cannot be separated from his belief that Jesus’ death and resurrection inaugurated the promised age to come. The blessings that were expected to come all at once in the future — forgiveness of sins, freedom from bondage to Sin, victory over death, our heart of stone replaced with a heart of flesh — have come in a surprising and partial way here and now as a foretaste of what’s to come. (If you don’t believe me, just wait till verses 13-14.)
Third, Paul’s worshiping / praying / teaching are radically centered in Christ. For Paul all that “the Trinity” has accomplished in our behalf has been accomplished in the Messiah, and all those Spirit-blessings with which we are currently blessed in anticipatory fashion are given in the King. (I said a bit about what this phrase means here.) One of the things we’ll see as we progress through this section is that Paul’s worship is centered in the story of God, and that story too, from beginning to end, is firmly rooted (you guessed it) in Christ.