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           Is Jesus Worthy of Worship? Part III (of IV)

 

If Jesus is God, should it not be considered proper to praise Him in both word and song?  The expressed deity of Jesus in the Scriptures is sufficient to affirm His worthiness to be honored with words of praise and songs of adoration.  However, due to the controversy and strife created by those opposed to the worship of Christ, it is fortunate for us that the Bible addresses this important issue directly, demonstrating through explicit command and by example that Christ is indeed worthy of worship by means of praise and song.

 

Old Testament Precedence for Addressing Jesus in Song

 

The Hebrew “psalm” is mizmor, meaning “a song of praise” (Smith, p. 253).  The great psalms of the Old Testament were divided into 5 books as kept by the Jews (see Exell, 1897).  The collection of Psalms, therefore, were compiled in 5 song books; and since the church is authorized to sing “psalms” (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16), the use of the “song book” is none-the-less authorized contrary to the arguments of progressionists.

The psalms contain various themes, but are recognized for great reverence in their approach to God whether for address in praise, showers of thanksgivings, songs of deliverance and of hope for eternal dwelling with God, or even in bereavement over personal sin or suffering.  Many of the psalms represent both a prayer and song, and this becomes interesting in settling the controversy some have raised over the permissiveness of addressing Christ in song, but then forbidding address to Him in prayer.

However, if it is wrong to even address Jesus Christ in song as others argue, how do we account for the Old Testament psalms that include language directed personally to the Messiah, praising His name and glorifying Him with the glory reserved only for God?  Careful consideration should attend the study of the following examples of psalms that address Christ in anthems of praise:

1) The singer of Psalm 2 extols the greatness of the Lord’s Anointed (v. 2), declaring to Him, “You shall break them with a rod of iron, You shall shatter them like earthenware” (v. 8).  That these words refer to Christ is positive, for after depicting Jesus as “The Word of God” who wears a robe dipped in blood, John declares, “From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron...” (Revelation 19:15, emp. added).  Jesus is the One who wields the “rod of iron,” thus Psalm 2 addresses Jesus in a song of praise.

2) The most beloved Psalm of modern times also speaks directly to Christ.  Psalm 23 begins with the acknowledgement, “The Lord is my Shepherd,” but in the New Testament we find the affirmation by Jesus, “I am the good Shepherd” (John 10:11).  There can be no misunderstanding the import of this declaration; in fact, when Jesus continued pressing the issue, “The Jews picked up stones,” saying to Him, “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God” (John 10:24-33).   

The beautiful words of Psalm 23 continue by specifically addressing the Shepherd (Jesus), saying, “I fear no evil, for You are with me. Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies” (vv. 4-5).  The apostle John saw a vision of Jesus in the presence of the saved, describing Christ as “their Shepherd, and will guide them to the water of life” (Revelation 7:17).  And who could argue that the Lord’s Table (where the church gathers weekly) is not the fulfillment of the psalter’s Shepherd who would prepare a table?  Psalm 23 is a song that addresses Jesus as the great shepherd of mankind.

3) The words of Psalm 45 have long been considered Messianic.  The psalmist addresses “the King,” saying, “You are fairer than the sons of men” (v. 2); and when it is recalled that only Jesus was born of a virgin, the contrast drawn by the singer of old becomes vivid indeed.  These words are the basis for the Christian hymn, “Fairest Lord Jesus.”

The psalmist continues by confessing, “grace is poured from Your lips,” and as Coffman inquired, “Who, other than the Lord Jesus Christ, the Messiah, ever brought the grace of God to all men?” (1992, p. 369).  The apostle John affirmed, “For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).  The glories of the reign of Jesus Christ are fully displayed in Psalm 45, and the greater evidence of this fact will be examined in a later section where New Testament inspiration quotes from this Psalm and applies the words to Jesus.

Several other Psalms will also be viewed from the New Testament; therefore we will allow the present examples of Psalms from the Old Testament to stand, not as exhaustive, but as a sampling of the evidence which proves the Bible authorizes the singing of psalms to Jesus Christ.

 

   Christians are Commanded to Sing to Jesus

 

In issuing instructions to the church at Ephesus, Paul authorizes, “speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19).  The pertinent question is this: Who is the “Lord” to whom the church is to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs?

The term “Lord” is most commonly applied to Jesus in the New Testament, appearing in regards to Christ more than 600 times.  In the letter to the Ephesians, Paul refers to the “Lord” approximately 25 times (depending upon the particular Greek text being read), and in not one single instance is the term used positively in reference to the Father.  In the same sentence where Paul instructs the church to sing to the “Lord,” he also mentions the “Lord Jesus Christ” (5:20). 

Paul uses the shortened form “Lord,” but immediately follows with the full title of the Person he references, i.e., the Lord Jesus Christ.  Since the passage appears in the form of a command text, not only is it permissible for the church to sing to Christ, singing to Him is absolutely mandatory!  We must sing and make melody in our hearts to the Lord (Jesus Christ).  What will become of those unwilling to obey this apostolic directive?

Many in the church are guilty of transposing their own interpretation on words or phrases that were clearly never intended by the inspired writers.  It is frequently argued that the “Lord” of Ephesians 5:19 is God the Father on the basis that the parallel passage has “singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16).  If Christ was never identified with the term “God,” a strong case could be made on these grounds; however, Christ is identified by the term “God,” and certainly by the apostle Paul (cf. Philippians 2:6; Titus 2:13).  When Paul authorizes “singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God,” it must not be construed that only the Father is meant, but that the entire Godhead is purposefully addressed in the songs of the church.

Ephesians 5:19 particularly mentions singing to the “Lord” (the Lord Jesus Christ, v. 20), demonstrating that the songs of the church are directed to Him.  Colossians 3:16 does not negate this passage, but simply expands the object of singing as inclusive of the entire Godhead.  All assertions claiming only the Father is to be addressed in song falls far short of the meaning of the terms “Lord” and “God” as commonly employed in the New Testament (cf. John 20:28).  Furthermore, such arguments are destroyed by the examples contained in the Scriptures of Jesus being addressed in songs of praise and adoration.

 

New Testament Precedence for Singing to Jesus

 

In the opening chapter of the book of Hebrews, the inspired writer seeks to impress upon his readers the superiority of Jesus Christ.  He does this by presenting evidence from the Scriptures that the Father has made declarations concerning Christ that He never said concerning angels.  Several psalms (songs) from the Old Testament are cited, and the inspired writer attributes the words as those of God the Father addressing Jesus Christ.

1) From Psalm 2:9 comes the acknowledgement of the Father to Christ, “You are My Son, today I have begotten You.”  These words comprise a song that was sung for a thousand years prior to the coming of Jesus, but they are spoken directly to Christ.

2) Psalm 45:6-7 is applied to Jesus as well, wherein the Father says to the Son, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, and the righteous scepter is the scepter of His kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; therefore God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness above Your companions.” 

The application of the words to Jesus is undeniable, and as Adam Clarke stated, “If the [writer] did not believe Jesus Christ to be the true and eternal God, he has utterly misapplied this Scripture” (n.d., Commentary on the Whole Bible).  Of course, writing under inspiration, these words are properly designated.  These words uttered by the Father to Christ were captured in the ancient song of His people. 

3) The words from Psalm 102 constitute both a prayer and a song.  As mentioned in the introductory material in Part I, the allegation has been made that while it is permissible to sing words of praise to Christ, the very same words spoken in prayer to Him are unacceptable.  The fallacy of this position is laid bare by the use of Psalm 102 which begins, “Hear my prayer, O Lord!”  It is a prayer that was sung, and had the writer of Hebrews not explained the origin and object of the words, it may never have been known that this prayer/song is – at least in part – addressed to Jesus Christ.

The words, “You, Lord, in the beginning laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands; they will perish, but You will remain; and they all will become old like a garment, and like a mantel You will roll them up; like a garment they will be changed. But You are the same, and Your years will not come to an end,” are spoken to Christ by the Father (cf. Hebrews 1:8-12). 

This passage demonstrates that it is permissible to sing a prayer, and that the song/prayer can rightful be vocalized to Christ.  Acts 16:25 describes Paul and Silas in the Philippi jail, praying and singing at midnight.  Of peculiar interest in this verse is that the Greek contains no conjunction between the two actions as English versions typically translate. As one Greek scholar explained, “The praying and the praise are not described as distinct acts.  Their singing of hymns was their prayer, probably Psalms” (Vincent, 1972).  Another stated, “They were praying and singing simultaneously, and blending together their petition and praise” (McGarvey, 1983).

Regarding the study at hand, since the goal of the Hebrews writer was to establish the divine nature of Jesus Christ, would the Holy Spirit have moved him to present songs of praise as evidence if, in fact, Christians are not permitted to sing praises to Christ or address Him in prayer?  The end result would have been catastrophic to the very case he was attempting to prove.  However, no such ban was implemented in the New Testament church, and inspiration sought to impress all Christians with the worthiness of Christ to receive worship.

4) In the ethereal vision received by the Revelator, the Lamb (Jesus) took the book sealed with seven seals which no one else could open.  After taking the book, John records that the great heavenly host “fell down before the Lamb…and they sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth’” (Revelation 5:8-10).

It is impractical to deny that this episode affirms the worthiness of Christ to receive worship in the form of song and prayer.  Not only is the act of singing specifically mentioned, but the words of the song speak directly to Christ, honoring His worthiness based upon His unequaled role in the scheme of human redemption.  If Christ is not God, then He obviously accomplished something that God could not, thereby rendering God impotent in the salvation of mankind.  But if Jesus is God incarnate, then the worship of Christ is the worship of God, and our God is glorified for the successful accomplishment of man’s redemption.

If the heavenly hosts are permitted to sing songs of praise and honor to Christ for the salvation afforded humanity as depicted by John, how on earth could it be wrong for the very recipients of that salvation to express thanksgivings to Christ in song?  Human redemption was achieved through the voluntary sacrifice of the Word taking on flesh in order to suffer and die on the cross.  God the Father allowed this to transpire in accordance with the divine scheme of salvation, but the Father did not force upon or coerce Jesus under duress to carry out the mission.  How far from the truth will the church fall before her candlestick is removed?  The church owes everything to Christ!

 

New Testament Doxologies Praise Jesus

 

The English term doxology is derived from the Greek doxologia, a combination of “doxa, glory, honor + logos, saying.”  The term is simply defined, “An expression of praise to God, esp. a short hymn sung as part of a Christian worship service” (The American Heritage College Dictionary).  

Doxologies were common in the Old Testament.  When the servant of Abraham plied the water test to Rebekah and discovered she was the bride intended by the Lord for Isaac, he “bowed low and worshiped the Lord. He said, ‘Blessed be the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken His lovingkindness and His truth toward my master; as for me, the Lord has guided me in the way to the house of my master’s brothers’” (Genesis 24:26-27).  This short outburst of praise for God is an example of a doxology (cf. Exodus 18:10; 1 Chronicles 16:36).  Of interest is the fact that in the New Testament, Jesus is the object of doxologies:  

1) Following the abandonment of his fellow Christians due to the intense persecution brought upon them by the Roman Government, and quickly approaching the end of earthly life, Paul extolled the unwavering support he had received from his Lord who commissioned him to the work of apostleship, saying to Timothy, “But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me” (2 Timothy 4:17; cf. Acts 18:9-10; 23:11).  

In confident expectation, Paul further asserted “The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever and ever, Amen” (2 Timothy 4:18; emp. added).  The final phrase constitutes a doxology – a short burst of praise to Jesus Christ for keeping His promise to the apostle (see Acts 26:15-18).

Commenting on these words of Paul, MacKnight has written, “This doxology, addressed to the Lord Jesus, is in other passages addressed to God the Father (Rom. 16:27; 1 Tim. 1:17). By introducing it here, the apostle declared the greatness of his trust in the goodness and power of the Lord Jesus, and his sincere gratitude to him for having honored him to be his apostle, and for promising him a place in his heavenly kingdom” (1806, p. 342) 

Another exegete has stated: “Doxology is an accompaniment of the highest spiritual mood. It is offered here to the Son of God as elsewhere to the Father. For it was the Son's assistance that he had enjoyed and still expected and into whose kingdom in heaven he was by the same assistance to be safely brought. It will take the ages of ages to declare all that Christ had been and was still to be to him” (Lipscomb, 1989).

2) The apostle Peter concludes his second epistle by encouraging his readers to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”  He closes the letter with a brief, but powerful, anthem of praise for Christ, exclaiming, “To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen” (2 Peter 3:18).

Guy N. Woods commented, “The doxology with which the epistle concludes ascribes glory to Christ forever, literally ‘to the day of eternity’” (1959, p. 193).  Whedon says the doxology is an ascription of glory to Christ, “an attribute never ascribed to any creature in scripture” (1874).  This is a crucial point which must not be overlooked.  Christ is, consistently, honored with titles, activities, and praise belonging uniquely to God.  As Gill explained Peter’s doxology, “that is, to Christ, who is truly God, or otherwise such a doxology would not belong to him, be ascribed the glory of deity” (1999).

3) In that glorious scene painted so vividly by John, a magnificent doxology is expressed by the entire creation addressing both Jesus and God with the very same sentiments: “To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever” (Revelation 5:13b). 

It would be blasphemous to adorn Christ with these terms of adoration if He were not fully equal to God.  Here again the Bible unequivocally portrays Jesus as worthy of all worship and praise reserved for deity.  If Christ cannot be personally addressed in praise as some in the church today are contending, why did the inspired writers of the New Testament not know this pertinent detail?

Doxologies such as those cited should become part of every Christian’s daily reverence for Christ.  Extolling His greatness and supremacy is a vital theme throughout the New Testament.  Contrary to the unlearned opinion of some, Jesus remains “our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).   

     

Conclusion

 

From whence has this teaching been derived that the church is not permitted to sing to Jesus our Lord?  There is no command text forbidding the practice, no example of anyone being chastised for the practice, and not one passage that infers it is wrong to sing to Christ; rather, as we have seen from the Scriptures, the church is commanded to sing to the Lord (Ephesians 5:19), and inspiration included examples of psalms that were sang by the Jews for centuries before the incarnation that specifically address Christ in song. 

The church need never be concerned with the wavering whims of human fancies, but with due diligence and respect for the written word, we must take our authority from what the Bible actually says, not what some would have it say.  The slipping away from the truth in these matters has brought some in the church dangerously close to the heresy of modern day Jehovah’s Witnesses.  The core teaching of this group is that the Father alone is Jehovah God and worthy of worship.  Sadly, many who claim association with the church of Christ now hold a very similar (if not the exact) point of view.

Let us cast off the pre-conceived notions and presumptuous theories held by men concerning God, and beholding the most sacred of books in our own hands, may we study intensively what inspiration has delivered, allowing the Bible to teach us about God and the unity that exists in the Godhead.  The church will never achieve its full potential until God is known, reverenced, and worshiped as the Supreme Being in accordance with the pattern manifested on the pages of the New Testament.  

Tracy White        

 

References:

  

Coffman, James Burton (1992), Psalms, Vol. 1 (Abilene, TX: A.C.U. Press).

Exell, Joseph S., et. al. (1897), The Pulpit Commentary (www.studylight.org).

Gill, John (1999), The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible (www.studylight.org).

Lipscomb, David and Shepherd J. W. (1989), Gospel Advocate Commentaries (Nashville, TN: Gospel
          Advocate Publishing).

MacKnight, James (1806), A New Literal Translation from the Original Greek of all the Apostolic Epistles,
          Vol. IV (London: Strahan and Preston).

McGarvey, J. W. (1983), Original Commentary on Acts (Nashville, TN: Gospel Advocate).

Smith, William (1884), Smith’s Bible Dictionary (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers).

Vincent, Marvin (1972), Word Studies in the New Testament (Wilmington, DE: Associated Publishers &
          Authors).

Whedon, Daniel (1874), Whedon’s Commentary on the Bible (www.studylight.org).

Woods, Guy N. (1959), Gospel Advocate Commentaries (Nashville, TN: Gospel Advocate Publishing).

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