This is one of the first sermons John Piper ever preached and is the oldest one on our site. He preached this message from Ephesians 1 as a 25-year-old seminary student at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, CA.
One of the greatest blessings of speaking in chapel is standing on this side of that kind of singing. It’s really beautiful. Since my sermon has to do with praise, it’s very encouraging. Maybe if it doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do, it’s already been done. Thank you, Dr. Schaper, for the opportunity to speak. I’m glad you trust me.
My text comes from Ephesians 1:6 if you’d like to look at it in your Bibles. We’ll look at just one phrase in that verse but I’ll read from verse 3 so we can see it in context:
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, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. 5 He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace…” (RSV)
And that’s my text, the last phrase: “to the praise of the glory of his grace.” Paul tells us the why of our Christian existence with that phase. Why were we born anew? To what end have we been adopted into the divine family? Recreated? Given an inheritance undefiled? To the end that the glory of God’s grace might be praised. To me, this is—in the treasure chest of revelation—one of the most beautiful diamonds I’ve found and I don’t know how to improve on it except to read it. Maybe if I can hold this jewel up and in the light of the Holy Spirit and turn it just a little bit, you’ll be able to see some new brilliance in it. Some new appreciation. There are many, many beautiful facets to this truth. I think this truth—that we are redeemed to praise the glory of God’s grace—is the overture, recurring theme, and finale of God’s great musical of creation and redemption. God’s cosmic oratorio is going to end with the Hallelujah Chorus. And on the Day of the Lord, it’s going to be so loud that if we listen carefully, we can already hear it. With the ear of faith, that chorus comes crashing back into 1971 saying, “Join in because this is why you were redeemed.” To put it in Dr. Ladd’s language, even the repertoire of the eschaton has broken into the present.
The Power to Praise: A Present Reality
The power to praise is a present reality. Now if it’s a present reality then we ought to do it since it’s the end for which we were created and we have the power to do it. That’s the question to ask. For some of us, it’s very hard to praise. For some of us, our stance of life is just not such that we overflow with gratitude and praise to God. But I think on the authority of God’s Word I can say: this ought not to be so. We ought not to be satisfied when we do not praise. If we were created and redeemed to the praise of the glory of the grace of God, then not to be praising is to stand ourselves in opposition to God’s purposes in redemption.
Now, that doesn’t help much because here we are and we don’t feel like praising, maybe. What do we do? Well, the first thing we do is realize that it’s not the new man in us, it’s not the new creation, it’s not the Holy Spirit who doesn’t want to sing out. It’s the old man. The old man can’t carry a tune in a bucket and he doesn’t want anybody else to either. He’s so weak and beggarly, he can’t even make a joyful noise. The only thing that crotchety old man is good for is to go off in a corner over there and grumble about Christians who seem so enthused all the time.
What should we do if we realize that? Well, this might be the most important point of my sermon; perhaps I should have put it at the end. We should put our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our salvation and then the Holy Spirit is going to take a great big barrel of LG fertilizer (that’s the Love of God fertilizer) and according to Romans 5:5, he’s going to just dump it all over and just smother our hearts with the love of God. And then he’s going to commence to toiling and tilling the soil of our soul until some of the most beautiful, luscious, sweet, plumpest fruit you ever tasted grows up. And some of that fruit is going to be joy and we’re going to sing out. You won’t be able to help it. We’re going to praise the glory of God’s grace. So the power of praise is a present reality and we ought to be about it. But you already are and that’s what gave me such great pleasure at the beginning of this chapel service.
The Object of Praise: God’s Glorious Grace
Now let’s look at the object of this praise that Paul mentions. The specific object we’re supposed to zero in on according to Ephesians 6 is the praise of what? We are foreordained to be sons through Christ “to the praise of his glorious grace.” In other words, we are redeemed to praise that in God which makes him a Redeemer. “His glorious grace.” But now on this point I really need help.
As I was sitting there yesterday trying to think of what would help me get on the inside of this and feel afresh what this glorious grace is, I asked, “Is there a human analogy? Where can I find a human reflection of grace and is there glory in it?” Then a song came back to me from a long time ago. Some of you will remember it: “Big Bad John” told the story of a big, bad man named John who worked in a mine. One day there was cave-in deep down in the mine and Big Bad John put his big, bad body against the breaking beam and all the other miners got right out while Big Bad John was holding the beam. All those other miners who used to go around calling him Big Bad John got out. Then the cave fell down and crushed Big Bad John.
Now that’s a picture of grace—a very, very imperfect picture—but a picture, and I need pictures to help me see grace. The last line of that song says they put a monument over that cave in that said, “at the bottom of this mine, lies” a big, big man. What they obviously meant was: here lies a big, beautiful, glorious man who did a beautiful, gracious, glorious, praiseworthy thing. Even the man outside Christ can see that there is glory in grace and sometimes they put us to shame maybe because they couldn’t stop talking about it and they put up a monument to it and a guy comes along and writes a song to extol the glories of Big Bad John and his gracious deed. And it’s so good that I couldn’t forget it over all these years and it came back to me when I was trying to think about grace.
Now let’s take that analogy and lift it about ten-trillion-zillion miles into eternity and look at God’s grace. Once upon a time, God built himself a mine full of jewels and he put man in it and he said, “Man, you dig out my jewels and you enjoy them.” Somewhere along the line, way back in the deep, black recesses of time, a cave-in started. And it spread and God looked down in mercy and said, “I’ve got to down there and save those miners.” And he did; he came down and he put his big, broad back against the breaking beam of that mine and he commenced to getting miners out of there. Some came happily and some came kicking and screaming as he threw them out into the freedom of light.
Meanwhile, back in the recess of that mine, there was a bunch of renegade miners, plotting mischief against God and God knew it. God knows everything but he was about the business of grace and he didn’t have time to mess with those renegade miners right then. So they chose from among them, a puny, teeny little ass of a man named Judas and he came running out of there and knocked God’s feet right out from under him. The whole mine came down and killed God and everybody left in the mine.
Now that’s grace, because God saw him coming and it’s a million times more glorious than the Big Bad John ballad because God is infinitely more glorious than all those miners he died to save.
So here we are, with grime on our faces, sitting around the rubble of that mine and there’s Jesus—the resurrected Jesus—standing on the rubble. What do you suppose we’re going to say? We’re going to say, if we have any sense at all, “O Lord, all praise to the glory of your grace.” And perhaps we stop right there and go have coffee. That’s all there is to say.
But, maybe I can turn the diamond one more time; maybe two more times. We ought to be satisfied with that. When we’ve praised God, we’ve done all there is to do. We’ve done the very best thing and we ought to be satisfied right there. If you aren’t satisfied with two ringers in playing horseshoes, you might as well give up the game. You’ll be frustrated all your life.
But now there are some facets in this diamond on the bottom side—the side that touches the earth. Two practical things—beautiful things—I’d like to point out by just turning it for you.
Our Praise as the Means to Others’ Praise
First, I learned from Psalm 40:3 but I’m going to read the first three verses so we can see it all together:
I waited patiently for the Lord;
he inclined to me and heard my cry.
2He drew me up from the pit of destruction,
out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.
3He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
and put their trust in the Lord.
When God puts a song of praise in your heart, “many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord.” That’s fantastic! It’s amazing! If we’re frustrated because we’re not having the impact we thought we ought to be having on the world around us — on those few people around us — could it be we’ve lost a praising heart? And then ought we not to pray with David, “Restore to me the joy of my salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you” [Psalm 51:12–13]. When our praising ceases, the effectiveness of our ministry is going to cease, I believe, on the basis of these texts. Isn’t it beautiful that God arranged things in such a way that the end for which we were redeemed is itself the means by which others come to be redeemed? That’s just another one of those beautiful aspects to praise about God’s grace.
Praise Completes Our Enjoyment
Now the second thing I learned is from my other Bible: C. S, Lewis. I believe it’s implicit throughout Scripture what he teaches; he does it better though. He says about praise:
But the most obvious fact about praise—whether of God or anything else—strangely escaped me. I thought of it in terms of compliment, approval, or the giving of honour. I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise unless . . . shyness or the fear of boring others is deliberately brought in to check it. The world rings with praise lovers praising their mistresses . . . readers their favorite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favourite game—praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, motors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians or scholars. I had not noticed how the humblest, and at the same time most balanced and capacious, minds, praised the most, while the cranks, misfits and malcontents praised the least. . . . (Reflections on the Psalms [New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1958], 93–95).
And he concludes, “Praise almost seems to be inner health made audible.” But then he hits the nail square on the head, and this is what I want to apply to our text: “I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation.”
“Praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment.” Every one of us can think of instances where we’ve been frustrated because we had a pleasure or a joy and there was nobody to share it with. You hear a funny joke, you have to tell somebody that joke but there’s nobody to tell it to. I go over to the library sometimes and take down the New Yorker magazine and look at the cartoons in there because they’re really funny. If I find one that’s really funny, my first reaction is to look up and ask myself, “Who is here to tell that joke to; to show this cartoon.” There’s something in me that says, “John, your pleasure in that cartoon isn’t going to be complete until you say to someone, ‘Look, isn’t that a funny cartoon?’” It’s that way with your wife, too. Your pleasure in your wife won’t be complete unless you tell her that you have it.
Now this is astonishing. See what this does? This means that the end for which we were created, that is to praise the glory of the grace of God, is at the same time the consummation—the completion and perfection—of the joy of our redemption. The end for which we were redeemed is at the same time the completion of the joy of being redeemed. The happiness of man has become one with the glory of God. Now is there anything in all the universe—all eternity—that we could ask to be true that would be better than that? No.
To sum up then, what I’ve tried to say is that God, according to Ephesians 1:5-6, has foreordained us to be sons, through Christ, for this end: to praise the glory of God’s grace. And it just so happens that if we do that, if we make that the end of our existence, we are going to be powerful witnesses and men are going to come to repentance and we are going to be tremendously happy human beings.