1. " The sacrifice of praise"
Every serious minded believer will be looking for ways
to overcome the sin that so easily besets us. According to the New
Testament, having a spirit of true thankfulness to God in all
things should help swamp our tendency to sinfulness; the concept
of praising God should get such a grip on our way of thinking that the
thinking of the flesh is thereby suppressed. Eph. 5:3,4 states this in
so many words. It reels off a list of forbidden sexual thoughts and
actions; and then the antidote is stated: "let (them) not once be named
among you... but rather giving of thanks" .
A few verses later the same medicine is prescribed; this
time as the antidote to an unsaintly abuse of alcohol: "Be not drunk
with wine... but be filled with the Spirit; speaking to
yourselves in psalms... singing and making melody in your heart...
giving thanks always for all things" (Eph. 5:18-20). This is a
laboured, triple emphasis on praise as being the antidote to
drunkenness. In similar vein, abounding in the doctrines of the basic
Gospel with thanksgiving is the antidote to being spoilt through vain
philosophy (Col. 2:7,8; this passage demonstrates the need for the
words of our hymns to reflect basic doctrine). "Abounding therein with
thanksgiving" is an aspect of our spiritual growth, our being "rooted
and built up in him, and established in the faith". The Lord told satan
to get hence, because men can only worship God. Worship / praise is
therefore somehow proportional to overcoming sin. There is a power in
worship; and this is why it is possible to worship " in vain" , without
achieving that which God intends worship to achieve in us. If we are
going to make use of praise as an antidote to our sinful tendencies, we
need to get down to a business-like analysis of what praise is really
all about. Remember that David didn't want to die because he knew that
in death, he would not praise Yahweh (Ps. 6:4-6). Hezekiah likewise
(Is. 38:19). For these men, praise of Yahweh was the essential purpose
of living. David saw a connection between praise, and daily obedience /
fulfilment of his commitments to God (Ps. 61:8). Even more so, Heb. 3:6
insists that holding fast the rejoicing of the Hope unto the
end is essential for salvation. Praise isn't just for those that way
inclined. It's vital for salvation. Israel fell away because they
failed to keep Yahweh's principles with joy (Dt. 28:47).
Moses in his final maturity identified this as a reason for the
apostasy which he knew lay inevitably ahead of his people (1).
David speaks of the actively transforming power of
praise in Ps. 61:8: “So will I sing praise unto thy name for ever
that [i.e. so that] I may daily perform my
vows”. David found the stength to perform those vows of freewill
dedication to the Lord’s service through regularly praising Him.
Frequently in the Psalms, “praise” parallels a right walk
before God in practice- e.g. Ps. 50:23: “Whoso offereth
praise… him that ordereth his conversation aright”. Men
like David and Hezekiah pleaded with God not to let them die
prematurely because they wanted to continue praising Him- so strongly
did they see the purpose of life as being to praise God.
Praise: Not Just Music
It's important to realize that praise isn't just singing
or using musical instruments. In Hebrew the same word means both
'worship' and 'service' (`abodah). The supposition that praise
= music is deeply ingrained in many minds. Thus there is the common
assumption that the Angels sang to the shepherds; but in fact they spoke
their praise (Lk. 2:13). If I may say so, some just can't sing- this
side of the Kingdom (although we all will then: Is. 12:3; 26:1; Mt.
26:29,30; Rev. 15:3, in harmony with the Lord Jesus Himself, Heb.
2:12); but this doesn't mean that they can't praise. Psalm 148 exhorts
inanimate things to praise by reason of what they are- not that they
must say or sing anything. Eph. 5:19 talks of speaking psalms and hymns
" to yourselves...making melody in your heart" . The Greek
translated " to make melody" means 'to twitch or twang, i.e. to play on
a stringed instrument' (Strong)- evidently it's a musical term. The
implication is that we should so know our own heart and spend time in
communion with our own mind that we know how to rouse our own feelings
in praise. Such self-knowledge is a sure antidote to fleshly thinking.
Playing our own heartstrings in praise means that praise
is not only about offering up positive, joyful emotions to God.
Hezekiah spoke some very sober words when he recovered from his
sickness, writing them down for others to consider. He realized that
his recovery was related to God's mercy in overlooking his sins; his
gratitude was difficult to express in words; his way of expressing it
was to walk in softness and sobriety before his God: " What shall I
say?...I shall go softly all (the rest of) my years" (Is. 38:9,15). But
Hezekiah described all this as " praise" (Is. 38:18). Thus our very way
of living, even down to our body language, is an expression of our
praise. Ps. 103:2 speaks of praising the Lord, who daily loads us with
" benefits" , or LXX " praises" [s.w. 'praise' in the Hebrew text]. The
things God gives us are therefore imperatives in themselves to praise
Him. As we receive them, or more to the point, perceive the receipt of
them, the heart breaks forth into a deep thankfulness. This is the true
The Psalms often speak of praise as a way of describing
a life lived in a Godly way. Ps. 101:1,2 parallels singing praises to
God with ‘behaving myself wisely in a perfect way’. This is
why praise is so often defined in the Psalms as praising the Name of
God- loving and thereby living His principles and ways.
Praise And Sin
Praise is related to the realization that sin has been
forgiven. Hezekiah's praise on realizing God's mercy to him was
expressed in a desire to walk in quiet fellowship with God for the rest
of his life. There is no suggestion that praise was some kind of
ecstatic exuberance of emotion. It may come as a surprise to learn that
the normal Hebrew word translated " praise" is also translated "
confess" in the context of confessing sin (Lev. 5:5; 16:21; 26:40; Num.
5:7). Contrition of heart because of appreciating our own failures is
therefore one way of praising Yahweh's Name. So often does the word "
praise" occur in the context of praising the Name of Yahweh,
or the praising of " the God of Israel" , i.e. Yahweh. Ps. 48:10 is a
classic example: " According to thy name (i.e. our appreciation of the
Name), O God, so is thy praise" . The Lord Jesus now praises God by
declaring His Name among the ecclesia (Ps. 22:22). Our praise too is an
appreciation and declaration of the Name of Yahweh, i.e. His
characteristics (Ps. 106:47; Is. 42:8). Such appreciation develops
through our regular contact with God's word; even when we read
incidents we feel we don't understand, we are all the time being
exposed to the character and personality of God, i.e. His Name. David
says he will praise whilst he has any mortal breath; for in a way, the
praise we as mortal, sinful beings offer as an act of the will in the
days of our flesh...this must be more valuable to the Father than that
which we will give in immortal, sinless nature.
True repentance involves not only a recognition of our
own error, but also a declaration of the righteousness of Yahweh's
characteristics, i.e. His Name, and a belief that these are imputed to
us. The whole process of confession, repentance and faith in imputed
righteousness is all related to praise. Praise is a calling upon
ourselves of Yahweh's Name (Is. 12:4), declaring His righteousness,
praising the beauty of His holiness (2 Chron. 20:21; Ps. 97:12; 99:3).
It therefore follows that praise in this sense is not a 'happy clappy'
outpouring of upbeat emotion; rather is it a serious, well controlled
and informed appreciation of that great salvation which is tied up in
Yahweh's Name. As true praise is proportionate to our appreciation of
the Name (Ps. 48:10), it follows that only those who have the one faith
can offer acceptable praise. The choirs and music of the apostasy is
therefore just noise to God's ears; it can never be praise unless there
is a true appreciation of Yahweh in those offering the praise.
There are other connections between praise and sin. Col.
3:16 speaks of communal hymn singing as a means of "admonishing" each
other- and the Greek translated "admonish" here means just that (cp.
Tit. 3:10). The connection between praise and confession / forgiveness
makes this appropriate. It may be that Paul is writing with his eye on
Dt. 32; the Song of Moses spoke of Israel's weakness and proneness to
apostasy. Yet they were bidden sing this to each other. Would anything
like that get into a Christian hymn book today?
"The sacrifice of praise"
True sacrifice is praise of God; thus Abraham's
willingness to offer Isaac was "praise" (Gen. 22:5). Israel in their
repentance " will account our lips as calves" (Hos. 14:3 LXX, RVmg.),
i.e. as sacrifices. The " fruit of the lips" there was repentance.
Which is why the Hebrew writer says that we " make confession to his
name" with the fruit of our lips (13:15 RV). Continually we should
offer this sacrifice of praise (Heb. 13:15), the thankfulness that
wells up from knowing we are forgiven, the joy born of regular,
meaningful repentance. And we do this " by" or 'on account of' the
sacrifice of Jesus for us, which enables this forgiveness and thereby
repentance (Heb. 13:12,15). " Continually" in itself suggests that "
praise" does not mean singing or musical expression. This " sacrifice
of praise" is a quotation from Jer. 33:11, which describes our offering
" the sacrifice of praise... for his mercy" at the beginning of the
Kingdom. Praise will [and does] bring forth sacrifice / action. Yet "
praise" here is the same Hebrew word translated " thanksgiving" ; and
the sacrifice of thanksgiving was the peace offering, a commemoration
of our free conscience and the peace of sin forgiven (Lev. 7:12-15). If
we seriously confess our sins and believe in forgiveness, we should be
experiencing a foretaste of the praise we will be offering at the start
of the Kingdom, as we embark upon eternity. Our offering of this
sacrifice of praise will be " continual" if we continually maintain a
good conscience through the confession of our sins. This is surely a
high standard to have placed before us: to continually
confess our sins, to continually receive God's mercy, and
therefore to live continually in a spirit of grateful praise.
The way David praises God so ecstatically for immutable things and
principles (e.g. His character) is a great example in this (e.g. Ps.
33:3-5); our tendency is to only seriously praise God when He resolves
the unexpected crises of life.
From all this it should be apparent that Biblical praise
is fundamentally a state of mind rather than a vocal or musical
expression. The way the musically-perfect praise of Solomon's
orchestras was brought to an uncanny silence by the cloud of glory
filling the temple is a cameo of this (2 Chron. 5:13,14). This is not
to say that praise does not find expression in this way; but
fundamentally it is mental appreciation of Yahweh's Name, seeing His
characteristics expressed in all things around us, e.g. food, weather,
situations in life etc. Knowledge of God (and this doesn't only
refer to abstract doctrine, but to an awareness of how He works and
expresses Himself in our lives) is therefore proportionate to the
quality of our praise (Rom. 1:21). Praise is a sacrifice (Ps. 54:6;
69:30; Jonah 2:9; Heb. 13:15), something requiring forethought and
careful mixture of the correct ingredients to be acceptable. In the
light of all this it is absolutely impossible for uncontrolled emotion
to be part of true praise. Israel were called out of Egypt in order to
declare among the surrounding nations the character and greatness of
Israel's God. In this calling to be a missionary nation they failed
miserably (what similarities with the new Israel?). The very reason why
we are a " chosen generation, a royal priesthood (is) that we
should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of
darkness (cp. Egypt)" (1 Pet. 2:9). Our separation from this world is
therefore related to our praise of God. We don't shew forth the
knowledge and praise of God to this world by singing to them; but
rather by shewing in our lives and preaching that we have been
separated unto a glorious Kingdom of light. This is the true shewing
forth of praise.
(1) Joy in the sense of bubbly laughter
joy isn’t necessarily the joy of which Scripture speaks.
“My joy I leave with you” is what the Lord promised; the
nature of His joy is ours. A wrong conception of joy can result in the
feeling that it’s a sin to be depressed. This isn’t so. And
any implication that it is is quite strongly criticized in Prov. 25:20:
“He that taketh away a garment in cold weather… so is he
that singeth songs to an heavy heart”. The heavy heart is the
garment that protects the person from the ‘cold weather’
they’re suffering. Don’t take it away. Heaviness of heart
is actually a gift from God to protect us from the coldness of
life’s hard winds. Let it be; accept it for what it is, and use
it as God intended.