The True Nature of a Gospel Church — 19
When the crowds in St Peter’s Square in Rome chanted “Santo! Santo!” with great emotion at the funeral of Pope John Paul last Friday – what was happening? The Latin word means saint. They were crying for the Roman Catholic leaders to make their dead leader into a saint. They wanted him to be beatified, glorified – and were praising him in his death. They were ascribing glory to a man who has presided over one of the most corrupt organisations ever devised by man. People in the crowds at Rome this week have been crying and saying that they feel they have lost a father and that they wanted to pay their respects to a great man. But he has not really ever done anything except to preside over a false religion – a cult – to promote the worship of Mary and wander round the world waving his arms about in robes. Worship and praise from people who know a little about religion. But how much do they know about the sovereign Lord God, the creator of the universe, and the God who came to save sinners from idolatry and false worship and praise?
As Bible believing Christians we need to know this morning what PRAISE really is.
We will not speak of the praise that oils our human wheels – that makes us feel good when someone appreciates us – we are well aware of how useful praise is to encourage and build up others – and that kind of praise has its place in human relationships especially in the training of the young.
We are thinking today of the Praise of Almighty God as the first of 6 ELEMENTS OF WORSHIP as found in the scriptures which God has directed us to do as His creatures and His believing people.
The Elements Of Worship 1 – PRAISE
What a wonderful Psalm this is!
The Psalmist exhorted God’s people to praise. After we have confessed our sins and claimed God’s forgiveness and pardon we should erupt with a burst of gratitude to God for his great salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ.
In corporate praise we, the church, have a foretaste of heavenly bliss. The church begins to understand what it is to glorify God as He would be glorified and to enjoy Him to the full for ever! (R.B. Kuiper p360)
We have New Testament warrant for Praise.
Jesus and His disciples “sang a hymn” together – Matthew 26 v 30.
It was probably a Psalm or portion of the Psalms. There are some Psalms grouped together called the Great Hallel comprising Psalms 113, 115, 116 v 1 – 5, 117, 118 v 1 – 6 and Psalm 136 v 1 – 6.
The word Praise occurs more than 300 times in the first 39 books of the Bible and more than half of them in the Book of Psalms.
OLD TESTAMENT WORDS
There are several different Hebrew words rendered PRAISE in the Old Testament. The most common is HALAL and it means to praise, celebrate, glory, sing and boast. Boasting in this sense is a form of jubilation and lifting up the voice of approval.
The Hebrew name for the Book of Psalms is simply the equivalent for the word “praises” and is a bit more appropriate than Psalms which comes from the Greek PSALMOS which strictly speaking has to do with the accompaniment of singing with a stringed instrument of some sort. The word Hallelujah means ‘praise God’ or ‘Let us praise Jehovah’.
This was praising God in song. The Psalms were designed to be sung – corporately.
Another word is YADA – TO GIVE THANKS, LAUD AND PRAISE. It occurs 120 times. When Judah was born to Jacob and Leah we read in Genesis 29 v 35
And she conceived again, and bare a son: and she said, Now will I praise the LORD: therefore she called his name Judah; and left bearing.
Once again this word is found most frequently in the Psalms – 70 times. It is used in the ritual praise in public worship and in personal praise to God. For instance think of these verses at the end of Psalm 30 v 9
What profit is there in my blood, when I go down to the pit? Shall the dust praise thee? shall it declare thy truth? 10 Hear, O LORD, and have mercy upon me: LORD, be thou my helper. 11 Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing: thou hast put off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness; 12 To the end that my glory may sing praise to thee, and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks unto thee for ever.
And this combination of Praise and thanks is commonly communicated through this word YADA.
Another word which is a noun rather than the 2 verbs we have just noted is TODAH and this also sounds a note of thankful praise –
Psalm 50 v 23 Whoso offereth praise glorifieth me: and to him that ordereth his conversation aright will I shew the salvation of God.
Psalm 26 v 6 I will wash mine hands in innocency: so will I compass thine altar, O LORD: 7 That I may publish with the voice of thanksgiving, and tell of all thy wondrous works.
NEW TESTAMENT WORDS
There are fewer words for praise in the New Testament. The first of the Greek words is AINOS which refers to praise to God only – at Jericho a blind man cried to Jesus for help and the Lord restored his sight. Here is what Luke tells us happened –
Luke 18 v 42 And Jesus said unto him, Receive thy sight: thy faith hath saved thee. 43 And immediately he received his sight, and followed him, glorifying God: and all the people, when they saw it, gave praise unto God.
Spontaneous praise to God for what they had seen.
The verb connected to this noun also refers to praise to God –
Luke 2 v 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.
Another is EPAINOS and the verb EPAINEO. This is used to commend men who are worthy of praise and are to be commended. And this word is of particular interest to us who believe. In that long sentence at the beginning of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, Paul says towards the end –
Ephesians 1 v 9 Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself: 10 That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him: 11 In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will: 12 That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ.
Notice here that we who are Christians are GOD’S PRAISE. This does not mean that we are worthy of praise because we are Christians – but that our very belief and trust in the Saviour is something to praise God for! In respect of the glory of God, since we are God’s own possession, we are God’s praise!
His grace to us is praise worthy!
His righteousness imputed to us is praise worthy.
His power demonstrated in us is praiseworthy
His mercy extended towards us is praise worthy – and we could go on listing all the things that are manifested in us as Christians through the power of the Lord Jesus Christ that make us the praise of His glory! Amazing!
My dear friend this morning – are you a Christian? Do you have a testimony? Has God worked in your soul so that in your transformed nature God gets praise because of what He has done in you? How good it would be this morning if some needy soul here became the praise of God’s glory when he or she trusted the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour repenting of sin and trusting in the work of the cross!
There is one more word in the Greek – HUMNEO – which means to sing, to laud and to sing to the praise of. It occurs 4 times as a verb and twice as a noun HUMNOS.
Matthew 26 v 30 And when they had sung an hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives.
Mark has an identical verse in Mark 14 v 26
Acts 16 v 25 And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them.
Hebrews 2 v 12 Saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee.
The nouns appear in Colossians 3 v 16
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.
And Ephesians 5 v 19
Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord;
It appears that in these two verses the semicolons have been put in the wrong places. There are no such speech marks in the Greek original.
Colossians 3 v 16 really should have a colon after “one another “ – reading like this –
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another; in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.
And in Ephesians 5 v 19 the colon should appear after the word YOURSELVES because the phrase belongs to verse 18 –
And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit speaking to yourselves; in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord;
Furthermore there are three synonyms in these two verses – Psalms – PSALMOS; Hymns – HUMNOS – and spiritual songs – Odes – ODAY. ODAY is the Greek for any song hence the adjective SPIRITUAL to go with it.
James 5 v 13 appears to encourage the singing of Psalms.
Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms.
The word for Psalms here in James is NOT PSALMOS – but PSALLO – which means to twitch or twang a stringed instrument with the fingers – such as a harp and make a melody. So now we know what to do when we are merry according to James – make music!
A psalm sung in praise to God is a hymn. And it is possible that the Holy Spirit produced what is termed Psalms in the New Testament sense of the word. In the passage that we read earlier, 1 Corinthians 14, we find a corrective passage of scripture from Paul’s pen because disorderly worship had been held at Corinth.
1 Corinthians 14 v 26 How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying.
Was the term Psalm restricted to the 150 Psalms in the Old Testament when Paul corrected the Corinthians? Or was the word psalm a description of a song of praise, spiritual and edifying? There is a good case to suppose so for the following reasons.
1. It can be argued that certain passages of New Testament scripture can be identified as Hymns.
How can we define a Hymn? Hymn is a collection of words arranged with a LYRICAL QUALITY and a RHYTHMICAL STYLE. A Psalm is such an arrangement.
However the Psalms are collected together in the Book of Psalms the 20th book of the Bible – the middle book of the Old Testament 39 books – with 19 either side of it.
New Testament hymns can be identified as “groups of sentences with an unusual vocabulary which is different from the surrounding context of the letter in which the passage appears. Examples of some New Testament hymns –
Ephesians 5 v 14 Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.
1 Timothy 3 v 16 And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.
Colossians 1 v 15 Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: 16 For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him:17 And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.18 And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. 19 For it pleased the Father that in him should all fullness dwell; 20 And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.
Philippians 2 v 6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: 7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: 8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. 9 Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: 10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; 11 And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Acts v 4 v 24 And when they heard that, they lifted up their voice to God with one accord, and said, Lord, thou art God, which hast made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is: 25 Who by the mouth of thy servant David hast said, Why did the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things? 26 The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord, and against his Christ. 27 For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, 28 For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done.
Let us ask a question? Does God permit us in praise to use any other words for our singing praise than Psalms or other passages of scripture?
Hosea 14 v 2 says
Take with you words, and turn to the LORD: say unto him, Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously: so will we render the calves of our lips.
Take with you words. What words? Psalms? Scripture? Your own godly expression of praise to God?
Before answering further let us sound a word of warning.
In the early church, heretics and Gnostics and Arians spread their poisonous heresies by composing little ditties, hymns and songs – which were learnt and sung by ignorant people – who did not have the teaching background to enable them to discern truth from error. This is how errors spread into the hearts of God’s people.
We must be aware that by singing human compositions which are defective in points of doctrine or theology, much wrong can be done to our souls.
Examples of such compositions –
* A song composed in 1950’s and published in Youth Praise, “I have decided to follows Jesus, no turning back…” introduces the Arminian error that a lost dead soul can decide to become a Christian without any mention of the powerful work of God the Holy Spirit to bring that soul to life. It underlines the wrong belief that we have it in ourselves to decide or not decide for Christ. It contributes to the popular evangelistic methodology called “Decisionism” so prevalent in 20th century.
* In the 5th verse of “The Church’s One foundation” by Samuel Stone (Christian Hymns 343) we find
“Yet she on earth hath union,
With God the three in One,
AND MYSTIC SWEET COMMUNION
With those whose rest is won!”
My friends we do not talk to the dead! They have gone and we have no ‘mystic sweet communion’ with the departed. We must be careful what we sing.
I am sure that Samuel Stone did not set out to deceive – but there is a tendency to sing anything in print believing it to be edifying. We are bound to exercise our godly minds – and sing only the truth!
2. It can be argued that certain passages of Old Testament scripture can be identified as Hymns.
There are many scripture hymns that can lead us to safely conclude that the singing of godly and Biblical thoughts to God’s praise is part of His plan.
In Exodus 15 we have the record of a man, Moses, composing a Hymn of praise for the deliverance of a whole nation from the bondage of Egypt.
Have we not been delivered from the bondage of sin through the mighty deliverance of Calvary? Is that not worth singing about?
In Judges when the Canaanites attacked, the Lord raised up Barak and Deborah to defeat them and deliver God’s people. After the victory came the Hymn of Praise –
Judges 5 v 1 Then sang Deborah and Barak the son of Abinoam on that day, saying, 2 Praise ye the LORD for the avenging of Israel, when the people willingly offered themselves. 3 Hear, O ye kings; give ear, O ye princes; I, even I, will sing unto the LORD; I will sing praise to the LORD God of Israel. 4 LORD, when thou wentest out of Seir, when thou marchedst out of the field of Edom, the earth trembled, and the heavens dropped, the clouds also dropped water. 5 The mountains melted from before the LORD, even that Sinai from before the LORD God of Israel.
They had something glorious to sing about – ‘The Fight is oe’r the battle won! Hallelujah!’
Psalm 40 speaks of the sinner’s response to his salvation –
2 He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings. 3 And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the LORD.
Psalm 98 and Isaiah 42 give the idea that new songs will characterise the Gospel Age –
98 v 1 O sing unto the LORD a new song; for he hath done marvellous things: his right hand, and his holy arm, hath gotten him the victory.
Isaiah 42 v 10 Sing unto the LORD a new song, and his praise from the end of the earth, ye that go down to the sea, and all that is therein; the isles, and the inhabitants thereof.
Our praise is directed to the adoration of the Lord Jesus Christ – His person – His loveliness. We exalt Him who has purchased our salvation at a tremendous cost. Any scriptural means of praising our Saviour should be used – to HIS GLORY first of all and carried over into the joyful expression of praise in our daily lives. Since He has been given the Name that is above every Name why should we not want to sing the Name of Him whom we love so much?
Apart from the qualifying grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we are utterly unable to worship God aright. Apart from Him we can do nothing. Our noblest worship falls short of glorifying God as He ought to be worshipped. Sin sticks to the best worship of God’s children.
Therefore we need to be aware that even our praise has to be purified and perfected by the sacrifice and the intercession of the Lord Jesus Christ our great High Priest. We need to remember this when we come to worship. Our praise is weak and faint. Our praises could be so much better and we need to look into this further next time.
May the Lord Jesus teach us to make melody in our hearts first through our determination to honour the Lord! Then when we come together we will honour Almighty God, trusting wholly in the Saviour Himself to sanctify what we feebly do for Him – in Praise!