A prayer about honor and shame

For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints,
I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers,
–Ephesians 1:15–16

So Paul prays for the saints. In the original Greek, verses 3 through 14 are one sentence. There seems to be a massive set of blessings represented by that fact that believers—followers of the most honored Beloved One, Jesus Christ—are, spiritually speaking, in Christ.

The honor that comes from this myriad of blessings is vast and bends the imagination of the most mature and intelligent Christian. As stated above, these glorious blessings stretch from eternity past into the present moment, and on into eternity future—to the praise of God’s glory.

While words are used by Paul to describe the reality of this multifaceted diamond of blessing and honor and glory, Paul is keenly aware that there is a huge gap between the transcendent cosmic spiritual reality of the honor that believers possess in Christ … and the actual understanding and experience of these transcendent blessings in the life of a Christian. Paul knows that the mere use of words does not guarantee their understanding.

And so he prays. Interestingly, verses 15 through 22 consist of a one-sentence prayer in the original Greek, as though mirroring the vast blessings of the one-sentence panorama in verses 3 through 14.

And how may Paul’s prayer be described? What will we discover, looking through the lens of the cultural value of honor and shame?

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“Honor and shame” quote of the day, from Bruce J. Malina:

… Thus the king of the nation (or the father of the family) simply cannot be dishonored within the group; he is above criticism. What he is guarantees the evaluation of his actions. Any offense against him only stains the offender.

Further, the king in his kingdom (like the father in his family) can do no wrong because he is the arbiter of right and wrong. Any criticism apart from the conventional, usual protests (such as that taxes are too high) is rated an act of disloyalty, a lack of commitment. No one has a right to question what the king decides to do, just as no individual in the group has any right to  follow what he or she might personally think is right or wrong. The king (father) must be followed and obeyed; he is sufficient conscience for all concerned. … [1]

Think about this quote in regards to Paul’s prayer in verses 15–22, acknowledging that Jesus Christ is far above all rule, power, authority, dominion … the head of the church … the absolute Lord of all. The honor of Jesus Christ is without equal. I will have much more on this in upcoming posts.

1. From a section called “Dimensions of Collective Honor” in Bruce J. Malina: The New Testament World: Insights from Cultural Anthropology (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993), p. 48.


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