023 - Praising God [b]
Ephesians Lesson #023
March 31, 2019
“Father, we’re thankful for all that we have learned just as we have begun this epistle to the Ephesians, as we get into this magnificent eulogy from verses 3 through 14. There is so much that is revealed to us in such a succinct way about Your plan and purpose in redemption and for the church, for Your purpose in saving us and placing us in Christ, and the magnificent mission that You have given the church, that You have appointed us to reflect Your grace and glory in this dispensation.
“Father, as we continue our study today, help us to see and understand that which is in the Word and that which challenges us to glorify You in every way every day.
“We pray in Christ’s name. Amen.”
Let’s begin by turning to Ephesians 1. We come to the end of the opening of three sections, three panels as it were, in Ephesians 1:3–14, where the apostle Paul focused our attention on the Father first, then the Son, and then the Holy Spirit.
We have studied through Ephesians 1:3–5, and that has helped us to understand that contrary to what appears on the surface of our English translation, the Greek words in the text reflect this idea of an appointment of God ordaining us in Christ. That is a corporate term. He did not choose or appoint us to be in Christ, but He appointed us in Christ to a mission. It used a word that has historically been translated predestination, but again it is not a word that means predestined to eternal life or eternal damnation but is a word that we might understand in relation to His foreordination or as some would have it, closer to the idea that He puts a claim on us. He ordains us to adoption as sons. Again, the emphasis is on those in Him and their mission unique to this adoption that is ours in Christ.
He closed with a doxology, a statement of praise to the glory of God. This is found at the end of each of these panels where he focused on, first, the Father, then the Son, and then the Holy Spirit. It is a statement of praise to God, and so we are going to learn something today about what it means to praise God.
The concept of praising God has truly fallen on hard times in modern Christianity. For many people, the idea of praising God means to sing some sort of trivial chorus that has been recently written. As you know, I am not a fan of these because they fall short of the high standards of excellence that we should find in anything that we do, whether it is the music or whether it is the poetry.
We’ll talk about that a little bit as we go forward, about the words, the lyrics, of any hymn or any chorus that we sing as a prelude to worship. I always add that because I think there are times when you’re at a youth camp or something else and you have some fun songs and this and that that are biblically centered, and that’s great, and there are some fun songs the kids can sing when they’re growing up in Sunday school, and that’s all fine and good, but these are not to be used as a prelude to worship because the core of worship is the study of God’s Word. It is a rational, logical, intellectual process, and some music takes that away from us, and it jumbles up our thinking, as it were. It emphasizes emotion at the expense of thought, and all of that runs counter to what we should be doing when we come to the study of God’s Word.
That just deals with the music. We also have the words. The words today are often not good poetry, and that’s probably been true throughout much of history because the hymns that have survived are those that were of a classic nature. They had an impact on the worshiper. They expressed biblical truth well, and, therefore, they survived.
There were many hymns that did not survive because of either poor music or inadequate words. I would suspect that the vast majority of hymns that have been written down through the last 2,000 years have long been forgotten because they did not measure up, and I would suggest that probably 99.9999% of that which has been written in the last fifty years will not be remembered fifty years from now.
In fact, biblical choruses came out and were sung back in the 1970s and 1980s, some of which I remember, but nobody sings those anymore. They did not stand the test of time. When we are going to glorify God, that which we bring should be of the highest quality. That’s part of it. We will talk about some of those things as we go through our message this morning, talking about praising God.
First, we have to understand what Paul said here as he came to the end of this first part of the eulogy. Remember the word eulogy is used a lot when it comes to a funeral or memorial service where we talk a lot about the person who has died, but the word itself means good words. The EU in Greek indicates that which is pleasant or that which is beautiful or that which is good, and the LOGY is from the Greek word LOGEO, to speak something that is beautiful or something that is well. It is used to describe a statement where we are praising God.
That is well applied to this section, for these three doxological statements focus our attention on the eternal attributes of God, Who He is and what He has done. Having reflected on God, starting with Ephesians 1:3, in the phrase, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ …” extolling is there, using that word blessed as a synonym for praising God because “… Who has blessed us”—He has freely given us—“with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.”
This verse focuses our attention on God’s grace, that He has freely given to us every spiritual blessing. We did not earn or deserve those things. From the very opening verse, our focus is on the unmerited kindness and goodness of God. Paul ended this way when he came to verse 6. It’s a difficult phrase in the Greek to translate because it’s a series of genitives at the end, and it’s difficult to sort through how they should be translated.
He ended his statement of praise with what God has done in terms of His plan for the Church. I take something like a corporate view in terms of all of these passages referring to “in Him” because the focal point of Ephesians is on the Church, the uniqueness of the Church, the mystery of the Church, God’s specific plan for the Church, the body of Christ in this dispensation. These initial terms of “appointing us” “ordaining us from eternity past” tell us of the high calling that we have in Christ and in the Church.
Paul concluded with this statement in Ephesians 1. “… to the praise of the glory of His grace by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.”
This is the longest of the three doxological statements. The other two are rather short. In Ephesians 1:12, he simply said, “to the praise of His glory,” and in Ephesians 1:14, he repeated “to the praise of His glory.”
First of all, we need to understand this word praise. We will understand more about it as we get into understanding what the Bible teaches about praise. Praise simply means to give honor and to extol someone, to express gratitude or thanksgiving to someone for what they have done.
It is a statement that commends someone, that provides a sense of applause to express thankfulness for all that someone has done. It is focusing completely upon them. The Greek word EPAINOS has this idea, but we must understand that when we look at a lot of these important words, such as holy or praise or salvation, that we have to recognize that the writers of Scripture were coming from a Hebrew Old Testament perspective. These words find their core meaning back in the Old Testament, so we always have to see how these words were used, what they meant in the Old Testament, the examples that we have there.
We see that the focal point of the blessing to God, starting back in Ephesians 1:3, is to or directed toward this expression of praise of the glory of God.
That’s a nebulous concept, the glory of God. The Hebrew word kavod has the idea of that which is heavy. Literally, that’s what it means. Something is heavy.
Back in the 1970s, 1980s, you would hear somebody talk about something that was serious, and they’d say, “Well, that’s really heavy, man!” It was expressing the same idea of something that is important, something that has weighty insignificance. When we talk about the glory of God, that’s what we’re talking about, that God is such that He is the most significant Being in the universe.
He is the One who holds the creation together. He created everything. He sustains everything. He is the One who provides salvation, deliverance, meaning, and hope, everything for us, so that we should not live any aspect of our life without Him. That’s the idea of glory. He is significant. We glorify God by showing that He is the center of our lives, that He is the most significant aspect of our lives, that without Him nothing in our lives has value or meaning.
Because of that, the word also came to refer to God’s essence, His essential nature, His characteristics, His attributes, so that when we quote from Romans 3:23 that “… all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God …,” that becomes an idiom or a circumlocution. That’s another way of saying something about His essence. We have all sinned, and we fall short of the essence, the character of God. Because God is perfectly righteous and just, He cannot have an intimate relationship with those who are less than perfect righteousness.
This is to the praise of His essence or to the praise of His essential nature, to the praise of who He is. It comes close to that other idiom that we run into many times, especially in the Old Testament, of the name of the Lord. We have studied that Abraham called on the name of the Lord, and that idiom represents His character, who He is. Calling on the name of the Lord meant to make proclamation about who God is and what He has done for us in our lives.
This is to the praise of the essential nature, namely grace. It focuses our attention on God’s grace, and that is what we see emphasized when we’re back in Ephesians 1:12, 1:14, “to the praise of His glory.” What makes that glory significant, according to 1:6, is the essential nature of His character, namely His grace.
We have passages in the Old Testament that reflect the same idea. For example, Psalm 57:5 says, “Be exalted, O God.” The idea of being exalted means to lift Him up, to raise Him up, to elevate Him, to focus our attention on Him. It is an aspect of praise. In praise, we lift God up. We focus our attention on God.
If we are to praise another human being, what do we do? We put the spotlight on him. We talk about him. We lift him up. That is the idea. It is a call to praise. “Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let Your glory”—again, let Your essential nature, Your essence—“be above all of the earth.”
This idea of grace comes from the Greek word CHARIS, which has to do with undeserved or unmerited favor. It covers every aspect of God. Like holiness is applied to every attribute of God, grace is also part of every attribute of God.
What’s interesting is where this sentence goes from there. It’s to the praise of His essential nature, namely grace. The next phrase, the relative clause “by which” emphasizes the means “… by which He made us accepted …” That’s an awkward translation that misses the point of the Greek. “…by which”—that is “by means of His grace.” He graced us out. Because the Greek word there is translated “He made us accepted,” you might read that in the English and think, “Maybe that has something to do with the imputation of righteousness.” That’s not what it says in the original.
The original verb is CHARITOO. The noun is CHARIS. The verb is CHARITOO. It means to be gracious or to graciously do something. It is an active voice verb, which means “by which grace”—it’s third person singular—“He graced us”—He gave us unmerited favor. Where?—“in the Beloved.” It is not talking about how we get in the Beloved but about, again, what we have as ours in Christ. The word Beloved there talks about the Lord Jesus Christ.
The focus here is on the essence of God, all of which is summed up in terms of grace. Pedagogically, I use this diagram to remind us of the ten essential attributes, core attributes, of God. Others organize things a little differently, but this is simple, easy to remember, and something you can use when you are thinking through your praise to God, praising Him for each of these individual attributes, and reflecting on how each of these attributes relates to a deliverance that God has brought into your life or to think through some problem.
When you think through the characteristics of God and you compare those to any problem you face in this life, suddenly the problem goes away because you see that God is more than capable of handling any situation you face.
- He is sovereign: He’s the one who reigns on high. You don’t see the word “sovereign” per se in the Scriptures, but what we do see is this concept of God as Creator, ruling and reigning over His creation.
- He is righteous
- He is just.
Those two English words reflect two different meanings in original Hebrew and Greek words that can relate very closely together. In Hebrew, we have the word tzedakah, and in Greek, we have DIKAIOSUNE. That can mean the quality of being righteous or the application of that righteousness, which is justice.
- He is love. We have three or four statements that define God. Specifically, God is truth. God is love. God is holy. Love covers every aspect of His character.
- He is eternal. There was no beginning. There will be no end with God. He is life itself because He is the One who created life.
- He is omniscient. He knows all things.
- He is omnipresent. He is present to every part of His creation.
- He is omnipotent. He is able to do whatever He desires to do.
- He is absolute truth or veracity.
- He never changes. He is immutable.
As we think about that, all of that gets summed up in the sense of God’s glory. This is what makes Him so important and central to everything in life.
“He has made us accepted in the beloved.” This is based on the verb AGAPAO, the One who has been loved, and this is the only place in the Scripture where this is applied to our Lord Jesus Christ as a title.
You can find its source in the Matthew 3:17, and its parallels in the other Gospels. When Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, Matthew 3:17, the Father spoke from “… heaven saying, ‘This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.’ ” The phrase “in the Beloved” is another way of talking about being in Christ, being in Him. This praise comes out of this reflection on what God has done in our lives in making us part of the body of Christ and the mission for the body of Christ.
When we get into the next section, we will talk about the role of the Second Person of the Trinity. We will learn about the fact that “in Him”—once again what we have in Christ, Ephesians 1:7, … we have “redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace …” We see the same themes being reiterated over and over again.
When we come to the end of that section in Ephesians 1:12, it is another doxological statement, “to the praise of His glory”. Then, we come down to the very end in Ephesians 1:13–14 where the focus shifts to God the Holy Spirit and that we have been sealed by the Holy Spirit, who is the Guarantee of our inheritance, and that is to the praise of His glory.
In this opening part of the paragraph, because all of this is one sentence in the Greek, it is a reflection on how God appointed us to a mission as part of those who are in Christ, and that has to do with our sanctification,
- that we are to be “holy and without blemish,”
- that we have been “preordained to adoption as sons,”
- that we have been given so much as adult sons in Christ,
- that He has designed all of this for a special purpose.
Having gone through that, we need to then address this topic of what the Bible teaches about praise. How do we praise God? Is praising God simply saying, “Praise God,” which is Hallelujah?
In the Hebrew, halal is the verb for praise as we see here on this slide. Halal means to praise, to commend someone, to glory in someone, to applaud someone, to express gratitude or thankfulness. Gratitude is from the same root as grace in Latin “gratia,” so we are to be thankful for that which we have been freely given. Praise expresses our admiration. We celebrate what God has given us. We proclaim Him.
All of these are different synonyms to express the multifaceted idea of praising someone. It is not something that is simple or superficial. It is not simply repeating the idea of “Praise God.”
The verb hallelu, when it has that U on the end in the Hebrew, is a second person plural ending meaning “Y’all praise.” It’s a command, and it is not a suggestion. You have “jah” at the end, which is the first syllable in the name of God, Yahweh, so Hallelujah means “(You) praise God.” We don’t praise God by saying, “Hallelujah!” This is a command to talk about what God has done in our lives, to express what God has done, how He has intervened, how He has answered prayer, what He has provided for us. It is the opportunity to talk about Who God is and what He has done in our lives.
The idea of praising God is expressed through various synonyms in the Old Testament. You have one word saphar, which means to declare or to tell, and so we praise God by making declaration. This comes across as scholars have categorized the Psalms. They talk about individual praise. They talk about declarative praise when you declare what God has done or descriptive praise. Each has some different characteristics, but they’re very, very similar nonetheless.
Another word that is used is one I mentioned earlier, kavod, meaning to honor or to glorify God. Praise is related and sometimes expresses glorifying God. Another word that is used is higdiyl, which means to magnify. Another word, raman, indicates exalting Him or lifting Him up. Zakar means to remember God. All of these are different facets of prayer. Remembering God isn’t simply recalling something. It is recalling something for the purpose of retelling what God has done or doing what God has commanded us to do.
Perhaps the most significant word that is used as a synonym for praise is a Hebrew word, yadah, which is from the word meaning to give thanks. In fact, it is used in many of the psalms to express thanks or gratitude to God. I have summarized some of the things that we learn from studying Scripture and thinking about praise, so that we can think through different aspects of praise.
1. When we think about praising someone else, it takes us out of ourselves. Praising someone is going to take us out of our self-absorbed, narcissistic sin nature to focus on someone else, to focus in this case on God rather than on ourselves.
One of the most helpful things that I have learned and that we have learned together over the years is this diagram related to the sin nature. At the very core of this sin nature is this idea, this orientation to self. We summarize sin based on Satan’s five “I wills” in Isaiah 14:12–14, culminating in his statement “I will be like the Most High.” “I will, I will, I will, I will. It’s all about me.”
Nothing defines our current Western culture and American culture more than the word narcissism. We had a president who was sometimes referred to as the “Narcissist in Chief.” I won’t mention one. I think it applied to several. They reflected the culture out of which they came, and we’re are all that way. But when we focus on God to praise Him, it should take us completely out of ourselves, out of our circumstances, and put our thoughts completely on who He is and what He has done.
2. Praising God takes us completely out of ourselves and our focus on our circumstances. It puts our focus on God, on who He is and what He has done, is doing, and will do for us.
As we go through these, I want to illustrate them through the Psalms. The Psalms really are the foundation for helping us understand praise. In fact, the word halal in one of its forms, tehillim, is the word that is the title for the Book of Psalms in the Hebrew. It is about praising God in song. Remember, there are two aspects to a song. One is the music, which was not recorded for us. The other has to do with the words, and those words reflect or demonstrate that when we sing, the words that we sing should follow certain standards. It should be good poetry.
I have read many people, not just biblical scholars, who have said that the poetry in the psalms is higher than any other poetry produced by humanity. The words and their construction are significant. It is not just the content of the words, for we see that the writers of the psalms took great pains in how they organized and structured what they were saying.
In thinking about who God is, we have passages like Psalm 139. It is a psalm of David we’re told in the superscription. It was addressed to the chief musician for him to put music to it, and the focus in the first thirteen or fourteen verses is the character of God. It’s talking about His omniscience. Psalm 139:1–2 begins, “O Lord, You have searched me and known me. You know my sitting down in my rising up; You understand my thought afar off.”
You have this figure of speech known as a merism that talks about two opposites, and that means to talk about everything in between. When we read morning and evening or day and night, those are the two opposites. If we are to meditate on God’s Word day and night, that means it should continually be a focus of our thinking. When the psalmist said, “You know my sitting down and my rising up,” that means You know everything about what I am doing. Not only that, the second line intensified the fact that “You understand my thought afar off.” God knows exactly what I am thinking.
Psalm 139:3 says, “You comprehend my path”—that is the direction of my life—“and my lying down.” When we’re going somewhere or at rest again is a merism, covering all aspects of our lives, which he then expressed more specifically in the next line. “… and are acquainted with all my ways.”
Psalm 139:4. “For there is not a word on my tongue, but behold, O Lord, You know it altogether. You have hedged me behind and before”—in other words, all around me—“and laid Your hand upon me.” That talks about God’s power, that God’s power protects us. He was talking about God’s omniscience. Now, he indicated His omnipotence, and then in Psalm 139:6, he went back to omniscience. “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me. It is high, I cannot attain it.”
Psalm 139:7 begins to talk about God’s omnipresence. He is always present. David said, “Where can I go from Your Spirit …” I can’t escape You. You’re everywhere. “… or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there. If I go down to Sheol, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea …” Today, we would say, “If I get on an airplane and go somewhere, if I get on a boat and go somewhere, I can’t escape you. You are there.”
Psalm 139:10. “Even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall follow me,’ even the night shall be light about me; indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You, but the night shines as the day; the darkness and the light are both alike to You.” That’s a great thing to think through. That’s what meditation is. We’ll talk about meditation and praise a little later on. That’s what this is, reflecting on who God is, His attributes, and expressing it in terms of everyday actions. That’s why we relate to it so well. We realize that we can’t escape from God’s presence. We can’t escape or hide from God’s knowledge.
Another Psalm that expressed this idea of praise is Psalm 103, and we will look at just the first five verses. Psalm 103:1 begins, “Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy name.” When we look at the word blessing here, like in Ephesians 1:3, it has this idea of expressing praise to God. We cannot add something to God. He of Himself is perfectly self-sufficient, so we don’t add something to Him by blessing or giving Him something. It is another way of talking about praising God. It was directed to the psalmist’s soul. He was talking to himself. He was telling himself that he needed to address God.
We have an example of that from the hymn that we sang this morning, “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty,” the same language. When we read the first verse, he was obviously influenced by this psalm. He said, “Praise to the Lord,” and then it was followed by two more phrases that focused on who God is, “praise to Yahweh,” “Praise to the Almighty, praise to the King of creation.” The next line imitated Psalm 103. He addressed himself. “O my soul, praise Him for He is thy health and salvation.”
We find in a lot of well-written hymns that the writers had so immersed themselves in the Word and made the Word such a part of themselves that almost every phrase or every line is a paraphrase or reflection of a line in Scripture. The better hymns have stood the test of time because they are not focusing on human emotion or our own circumstances, but they are reflecting deeply upon the Scripture and reflecting upon God through the Scripture.
Psalm 103:2, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not any of His benefits: Who forgives all your iniquities, who heals all your diseases.” In praise, we focus on what God has done, not just who He is, but what He has done. He forgives our iniquities. We’re not to forget all His benefits. His benefits are that which He has provided for us in grace. He has “blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies,” Paul said in Ephesians 1:3. It’s a parallel idea. He forgives our iniquities. We will see this in the next verse, in verse 7, when “in Him we have redemption, the forgiveness of sin.”
Psalm 139:3–5. “Who forgives all your iniquities, Who heals all your diseases, Who redeems your life from destruction, Who crowns you with loving kindness and tender mercies, Who satisfies your mouth with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”
What a great focal point and a model for us in thinking about what a hymn says and what a hymn means! That is how we learn to praise God. As you read through the Psalms, you can highlight the word praise or bless or extol or declare as you go through, and then look at what is being declared about the Lord.
Earlier, I gave a little background on the hymn, “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty.” It was written by Joachim Neander. He was a fifth-generation pastor. He lived only thirty years, from 1650 to 1680. He was not only a pastor, but he was a noted theologian as well, and he wrote many, many of these hymns.
I got a new book this week or last week called 40 Favorite Hymns on the Christian Life by Leland Ryken. If you were at the  Chafer Conference, Dr. McGinnis mentioned several other books. Ryken has written a number of books. He is actually a literature professor, and he looks at Scripture from the perspective of good literature. He has written this short volume, reflecting on forty favorite hymns. The last one he addressed is “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty,” and he said some things there that I think are important.
What sets his book apart from other books on hymns is that he doesn’t spend a lot of time talking about the circumstances surrounding the hymn, but he evaluates many of these hymns on the basis of their poetry. That’s usually not something that comes first and foremost to our minds when we are singing a hymn, but for the hymn to have staying power, the words without the music should reflect the standards of excellent poetry.
I’m going to read a little bit of what he says. “The genre of the poem is praise to God, which is closely modeled on the biblical psalms of praise. Such psalms are comprised of the following stock ingredients …” You can read this in just about any introduction to the psalms. “There’s a formal call or command to praise God, a naming of the person or the group to whom the praise is directed, a list or catalog of God’s praiseworthy actions, a note of closure and finality to end the poem. This poem, ‘Praise to the Lord, the Almighty,’ is written in a high style on a momentous subject.”
That is often lacking in contemporary songs because we don’t take time in our Christian lives and in our busy, hectic schedules to reflect deeply and profoundly on the Scriptures and on God, something that is known as meditation. It takes a lot of time to do that, but we’re too busy. We are not surprised by the fact that our Christian culture, our evangelical culture, is perhaps one of the most superficial and narcissistic Christian cultures ever produced in the history of Christianity. How can such a culture produce the kind of deep, profound thinkers, as generations in the past have, that can write a high quality deep, profound poem that can then be set to music?
It is no surprise that 99.9999% of what has been written for singing and for praise in the last fifty years doesn’t measure up. It is because the standards have gotten so low for living the Christian life and understanding God and His Word that we don’t produce the kind of men and women who have this sort of depth.
That’s also true for many past generations. I don’t want anyone to get the idea that because it’s older, it’s better. Let me tell you, a lot of shallow, superficial hymns were written during the period known as the Revivalist Period in the late nineteenth century and earlier periods as well. Overall, what you find in the Post-Reformation Period, the late 1500s and 1600s, was people for whom the knowledge of God was the passion of their lives. Because they didn’t have the distractions of television and entertainment and social media and all of these other things, they would memorize Scripture, and they would reflect deeply and profoundly on it.
I remember one time making a comment in my first church that—and it was no critique or anything personal about anybody there—I said most of you probably could not read or understand the sermons that were written in the 1700s. Afterward, some lady said, “Well, they couldn’t understand them either.” I said, “No, you don’t understand. Our education system has failed us so much that we are all impoverished compared to generations of one hundred or two hundred years ago. As a result, we do not produce the kind of quality in our thinking that was once produced.”
As Ryken analyzed this hymn, he said, “As I just pointed out, the opening call to praise in stanza one immediately elevates us. The first line consists of three successive epithets for God. The first person addressed is the speaker’s own soul in a move doubtless influenced by Psalm 103:1. Once this note of self-exhortation is introduced, we just naturally read the rest of the poem as being addressed to ourselves. But the rest of the opening stanza quickly broadens the scope by calling the whole company of believers to join in the speaker’s personal act of praise.”
He went on to say that “the list of God’s praiseworthy acts includes His reigning, sustaining, ordaining, defending, directing the believer’s life. God’s work is described as sheltering us under His wings. He grants our personal desires. He attends to our needs daily. He befriends us. He gives us health. He comforts us in grief.” These are profound thoughts focusing us on all that God has done for us.
Then, he pointed out the ways in which the words of the hymn draw from Scripture. He said, “The imagery of God’s protecting wings is drawn from Psalm 91:4 and Matthew 23:37. The reference to God’s prospering the work of our hands draws from Psalm 90:17, and the reference to ‘all that have life and breath’ draws from Psalm 150:6.” Another thing that makes these hymns stand the test of time is that, when we read them, we are reminded of Scripture. It focuses our attention on the Lord.
Another statement that we find related to praise is in Psalm 57:9–11, focusing on what God has done and Who He is. “I will praise you, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing to You among the nations”—a declaration that He will have public praise throughout the world— “for Your mercy”—that was what he was praising God for—“Your mercy reaches unto the heavens, and Your truth unto the clouds.” Notice the connection in the parallelism between mercy and truth. Think about that. God’s mercy, His grace in action, provides us with revelation that is the foundation of truth.
He concluded in Psalm 57:11, “Be exalted, O God, above the heaven.” Exaltation has to do with praise. “Let Your glory be above all the earth.” It is God’s character.
Psalm 59:16 says, “But I will sing of Your power.” Don’t we sing a hymn that begins that way? “I will sing the mighty power of God?” “But I will sing of your power. Yes, I will sing aloud of Your mercy in the morning; for You have been my defense and refuge in the day of my trouble.” Psalm 59:17 continues, “To You, O my Strength, I will sing praises; for God is my defense, my God of mercy.”
In the Old Testament, one thing that we learn is if they were going to praise God, as I said earlier, it wasn’t simply a matter of saying “praise God,” but they would probably have written something out or thought it through, memorized it, and they would go to the temple, and it would cost them something. They would have to bring a sacrifice, and then they would express what God had done for them.
This is something we don’t do in churches anymore. That’s why I opened with the thought that praising God has fallen on hard times. When we think about things, often we repeat what we have heard, and what I have heard—I’m as guilty as the next person at times—is rather superficial. We don’t take the time to really reflect.
Last year in December when we had our Christmas/Thanksgiving dinner, I asked some people to think about it ahead of time and to express their praises to God, and we will do that again. Maybe, if we have another fellowship meal before then, we will do this as well. That is our opportunity to truly praise God in a biblical sense.
Psalm 54:6. “I will freely sacrifice to You; I will praise”—and there is the word, yadah, which means to praise or confess—“I will praise Your name …”—It’s a focus on God’s essence—“for it is good.” Something very important for us as believers is to think through how we praise God. It gets us out of ourselves, and it gets our focus on the Lord.
In the New Testament, we have the same challenge. Hebrews 13:15 says, “Therefore by Him, let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise …” If you’re going to do a good job making a public statement of praise, you have to think about it. It’s going to take time, concentration, removal of distractions in order to do something to the best of your ability. Don’t look at somebody else and say, “Well, I can’t say something as well as so and so.” That’s not the standard. The standard is to the best of your ability.
“… offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips …” That takes it beyond thought. It is verbally expressing what God has done in our lives and our gratitude to Him. “… giving thanks to His name,” to His essence, focusing on that.
3. Praise is a product of our appreciation to God as I just pointed out. As such, it is an expression of gratitude, which is always a barometer of our grace orientation.
We need to think about Who God is and what He’s given us and to respond to that grace, that undeserved favor, in terms of gratitude, then expressing that and talking about that to people.
4. In the psalms, we have Declarative Praise Psalms, and we also have Descriptive Praise Psalms, which are also called Thanksgiving Psalms, so that’s the word you’ll see in most English translations, and they are declaring what God has done and Who God is. A lot of the Descriptive Praise Psalms focus more on what God has done for us.
5. As such, what we find when we read these Praise Psalms is that there’s an expression of real enthusiasm and joy and excitement about how God has intervened in our lives. They were enthused about it. The emotions weren’t driving what they were saying, which happens so often in our culture. We get the cart before the horse. God had delivered. God had been involved. We are excited about what He has done, and it’s expressed in hyperbolic terms.
For example, in Psalm 3:4–6, “I cried to the Lord with my voice, and He heard me from His holy hill. Selah. I lay down and slept; I awoke for the Lord sustained me. I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around.” That’s a great thought. How many people get intimidated by somebody in their family, somebody they work with, who if I mention the fact that I am a believer, then they’re going to make life hard on me. We cave to fear and we don’t stand up and we don’t trust God. Here David was surrounded by tens of thousands, and he said, “I will not be afraid.”
6. Public praise should motivate our devotion to and trust in the Lord.
When we hear what God is doing in other people’s lives that challenges us. If God did that for them, He can do the same kind of thing for me. It is encouraging to us when we hear how God is working, providing for, delivering, and sustaining other believers. This is very much a part of our praise to God.
7. We need to internalize the Word. We need to meditate on God’s Word.
For the last several years, I’ve been challenging everybody to read the word, to read through his Bible once a year. Reading is more for information, being reminded of certain things, highlighting certain promises. The next step is to reflect on that, and this takes time.
This means that you have to sacrifice something. You have to sacrifice, not watching TV, not reading editorials, not reading novels, not doing something you enjoy doing, and taking that time to really think about the Scriptures. We have had courses in the past on how to study the Bible because that’s what happens here. You have to study. You have to do the word studies on your own. You have to do a little research to come to understand what the text is saying. We have to understand it, we have to review it, and we have to remember it.
At this stage, you memorize these verses. Once they’re internalized in your soul, then you can think about them when you’re driving to work or driving home or when you’re lying in bed going to sleep or when you wake up at 2 in the morning, and you can’t go back to sleep. Then, you can rehearse those verses and think about them and ruminate on them as you sleep.
That is the idea there. The term “ruminate” comes from animals that are ruminants, that have multiple stomachs and chew the cud. They’ll eat, and they’ll swallow. It will come back up, and they will chew on it some more. That’s the imagery here, that we learn something and then spend time doing something else, and then bring it back up into our thinking and think about it some more and reflect on it some more.
The psalmist said in Psalm 63:6, “When I remember You on my bed, I meditate on You in the night watches.” I woke up early this morning, 4:30 and couldn’t get back to sleep. I started working my way through Psalm 23. Somewhere in there, I fell asleep again, but that’s the idea. I was thinking about these verses just yesterday.
Psalm 77:6. “I call to remembrance my song in the night; I meditate within my heart.”
8. This takes time.
This is why Paul, just before he talked about being filled by means of the Spirit, said that we are to redeem the time. We are to use the time for that which has eternal, spiritual significance. It takes time. That means we have to be more intentional in terms of managing our time, so that we have time to read His Word, reflect on His Word, and ruminate on His Word.
9. Praise expresses specifics not just generalities. What are the specifics in how God has answered prayer, how God has worked in your life, how God has provided and delivered you?
I want to close by reading from Psalm 105. “Oh, give thanks to the Lord! Call upon His name; make known His deeds among the peoples!” That’s praise. “Sing to Him sing psalms to Him; talk of all His wondrous works!” The first result of being filled by means of the spirit in Ephesians 5:19 was not talking about how much you know about the Word. It was singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to the Lord. The Bible says a lot about singing to the Lord, but somehow a lot of people put that as something secondary.
Psalm 105:3, “Glory in His holy name. Let the hearts of those rejoice who seek the Lord. Seek the Lord and His strength; seek His face evermore!”
“Father, we thank You for this opportunity to reflect on what it means to praise You, to tell of what You have done, to reflect upon who You are, and how Your attributes have provided for us, sustained us, protected us.
“Father, we are so thankful for all that we have in Christ, but this simply expresses our potential, what we have been appointed to do in terms of our mission in the church as part of the body of Christ.
“Father, we pray that if there’s anyone who’s listening to this message here or via the Internet or some other means, that if they have never trusted in Jesus Christ as their Savior, may they understand that You have provided a perfect, complete salvation, not dependent on anything that we do or any merit in our lives, for the merit resides totally in the work of Christ on the Cross, where He died in our place to pay our penalty, so that we would not have to. All that is necessary is to believe in Him, to trust in His substitutionary death on the Cross as completely satisfying Your righteousness and justice, so that by trusting in Him, we are taking His death as our own. For that belief, You give us eternal life, and You give us His righteousness on the basis of which we are justified.
“We thank You for what we have studied today, and we pray that You will use it to challenge us to think more about You, to praise You, and to articulate to others what You have done in our lives.
“We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”