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Why Praise

May 2016

Dear friends,

I’ve been writing a short series of articles for the record about the priorities of church life. We have considered Why Preaching? and Why Prayer? This month, Why Praise?

Praise is that aspect of our worship of God that involves singing and music. We exist to to worship the God who made us and, while our worship involves the offering of ourselves to God (Romans 12:1), part of our worship is praise. So whether speaking or singing, praise is a response to God having first of all spoken to us and revealing himself and his gospel. Praise is therefore a characteristic of what it means to be a Christian. Peter tells us: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9). In one of the earliest descriptions of the Church after Pentecost the believers were ‘praising God’ (Acts 2:47). Of course, the beginning of praise goes much further back because, from beginning to end, the Bible gives us the reasons to praise God and commands us to do so.

If we begin in the book of Revelation we are told that there will be plenty of singing in heaven when all God’s people from every tribe and language and people and nation will sing a new song to Jesus Christ (Revelation 5:9). This great heavenly choir will be the fulfilment of God’s great salvation plan in Jesus Christ. The fact that we know this is coming in the future should cause us to take seriously our praise here on earth. Our corporate gatherings for worship are, in a limited way, a foretaste of the heavenly worship we will experience for all eternity.

When we read the Bible then we seen plenty references to music and song in praise of God. We can’t mention them all but if we begin in Exodus, we have a song about God’s deliverance of his people: “…I will sing to the LORD, for he is highly exalted. The horse and its rider he has hurled into the sea…” (Exodus 15:1). In the preparation for the Temple with David in 1 Chronicles and the building of the Temple with Solomon in 2 Chronicles there is continual praise of God for who he is and what he had done: “Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts.” (1 Chronicles 16:9). See also 1 Chronicles 15:16. Then we have the Psalms as the worship songs of the Old Testament constantly encouraging God’s people to praise… “Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD…Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song” (95:1-2). “Sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvellous things…” (98:1). David says: “I will praise God’s name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving.” (69:30). The Psalmists also exhort us to sing ‘new songs’ (33:3; 40:3; 144:9; 149:1). Then in Psalm 150 we are told to praise the LORD with “the trumpet… the harp and lyre… with tambourine and dancing… with the strings and flute… with the clash of cymbals.”

It is clear that the automatic response of a faithful worshipper of God is to sing, with music! The priority is the praise of the one who worships rather than the style or form. Yet, what is so sad is that music is one often one of the greatest causes for division in churches. Music is often what people feel most passionately about. However, it is wrong to think that particular styles of music, as opposed to others, are better for authentic worship of God. What results is what has often been called ‘worship wars’ where those who prefer ‘traditional’ praise are against those who prefer ‘contemporary’ praise and vice versa. Such debates over the style of music unnecessarily get blood temperatures rising and people losing perspective. It is perfectly natural to have our preferences of course but the Scriptures are completely flexible on the style of our praise. There is a great heritage of music from the past we should embrace as well as new songs to be sung. That’s why we will have a variety of music, both old and new and a variety of accompaniment, with everything from the organ to drums because what matters most is the praise of the assembled people of God. That’s why we need to get a fuller Biblical appreciation of praise for the people of God.

Fundamentally, we are to praise God. Our songs and music are for him and his glory rather than about ourselves and our preferences. The Bible instructs us to sing songs and make music to the Lord as our worship of him. We could say that this is the vertical dimension of our praise. Yet there is another dimension to our praise. It’s the horizontal one and it is often forgotten because we don’t just sing to praise God, we also sing to encourage one another.

Our praise should encourage our fellow believers as part of the body of Christ. Our praise when we gather together should build up and benefit all our brothers and sisters in Christ. This is part of what Paul commands in his letters to the Ephesians and the Colossians: “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord…” (Ephesians 5:19). Then, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.” (Colossians 3:16). Our praise is more than our response to God. When we praise in church we are also singing to one another. So when we sing we are not just individual Christians but we are a body of believers who are praising God and in doing so we are encouraging one another. There can be nothing more disheartening than to have believers barely singing or not singing Christian truth in song in church. We are all responsible for singing when we meet together because our praise is not about us but for God and for the benefit of God’s people.

As necessary application to this all too brief attempt at answering the question ‘Why Praise?’ we need to carefully consider the praise we sing. While appropriate musical accompaniment requires careful attention, the words we sing are most important. All our songs therefore must be faithful to Scripture. We learn theology from what we sing, whether good or bad, so we must sing solid Biblical truth. The focus should be on the objective truths about God. We also ought to sing the Psalms since they are the songs of Jesus and teach us how to praise God as well as express the reality and variety of our human emotions and experiences. Our songs should be clear so as to include both insiders and outsiders, both old-timers and newcomers, as we seek to build up God’s people and help others come to understand the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Let’s praise God and encourage one another as we do.

Your minister and friend

Jonathan

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