"I bow down towards your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness, for you exalted above all things your name and your word.” Psalm 138:2 (ESV)
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been writing about this verse… and how it has gripped me. The truth in it, and the challenge that it contains, is something that has forced me to rethink a lot of what I see… and what I expect in “church”. To clarify and refocus my thinking, I’ve pulled my former posts, and I’m swinging again at this topic… and trying to break this down into more digestible chunks.
We evangelicals live in a sub-culture of the regular American society. We (hopefully) have different values and a different world view (although George Barna and Ron Sider may question just how “different” they really are). But it is a distinct sub-culture nonetheless. And in this sub-culture, it is fashionable to say that “we’re God’s people”… “we’re doing great things”… “we’re doing all of the right things”… and of course, “God is working through us in powerful, mighty, impressive ways”. It’s a safe, happy place, where people in the know will say that everything is good, positive. And that would be nice if it were all true.
Except in many places, it’s not. And the truth of this verse points us at the heart of the problem. And there’s good and bad news:
The good news is that there is a solution. The bad news is that we have to face the problem before we can get to the solution. So in these posts, we’ll discuss both – the problem and the solution.
But first, this thought: Believe me, there’s no quicker way to get yourself into trouble in a safe, happy, positive place than to stand up like the little kid in The Emperor’s New Clothes and say that you think that – gasp – there’s a problem. But sadly, yes - there really is a problem. So, at some risk, I’m going to say what I think is really going on… and why.
You see, God has elevated 2 things over ALL OTHER things. I think we’d agree that God gets to set His own priorities, doesn’t He? If God has done this, we must do the same, personally and corporately… and here’s my issue: In many corners of our little sub-culture, we claim to agree with God’s priorities, but deny that belief in practice. If that’s true, that’s a problem.
So let’s focus on three things in this series:
1. What has God exalted above all things?
2. Do we exalt these things "above all things" as well – especially in our church gatherings?
3. To the extent that we do not, what should we do?
If you’re with me so far, consider holding off your conclusion until we’ve covered all three. So first, let’s consider this: What is it that God has exalted above “all things”?
Psalm 138 states that there are two things that God “exalts” (raises up, glorifies, elevates) above all other things, and they are:
1. His Name. God will not share His glory with anyone or anything. (Isaiah 42:8) He does everything for the sake of His Name… for His glory and fame. Charles Spurgeon said that “the great end of God in Christ was the manifestation of his own glorious attributes”. Bryn MacPhail in Toronto said that
“The plain truth of Scripture is that God is relentlessly self-exalting. The Bible commands that we praise and adore Him. The God of the Bible cares immensely about His reputation, His righteousness, and His glory, and He opposes those who belittle it. You can scarcely find a page of the Bible without seeing God excited about God.”
Does this seem selfish to you? Is God egocentric or arrogant in requiring that we have “no other gods before Him” (Exodus 20:3)? Is He unreasonable in requiring that we love Him “with all of [our] heart and all of [our] soul and all of [our] mind” (Matthew 22:37)? Was Jesus self-centered when He said that anyone who didn’t love Him more than their parents, their children – and even their own lives “were not worthy” of Him (Matthew 10:37-38)? To the natural mind, this is arrogant and insane!
But it makes sense to us, because we know that God is the only being in the universe for whom this is an appropriate thing. He ALONE is worthy of all praise, all honor, all glory… from everyone and about everything.
What else is more important than God Himself? Who is more beautiful, more excellent, more worthy than Him? Exalting His Name is worship, and what we are to live for – is to do everything that we do, with all that we have, for all the time we have to bring glory to His Name. It will be our business and passion throughout all of time and eternity to bring honor and glory to the Name of the Lord. With all that we are, with all that we have and with all that we do, we are to seek to put God in His rightful place of glory and honor.
How unworthy we are to do so; how frail and weak we are in the process; how little even our best efforts achieve when compared to what He is due! But we are to press on anyway – individually and corporately, to share God’s priority of exalting Himself above everything else, because God has exalted His Name above all things.
2. His Word. God has also exalted His Word above all things. Think about it… Jesus Christ is the living Word of God (John 1:1), the fullness of God dwelling in Him (Colossians 1:19), and the revelation of Jesus is made plain and clear in the book that God Himself has written. Listen to what the Bible says about itself – it is:
• Inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16)
• Written by men under the direction of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:16, Hebrews 3:7, 2 Peter 1:21)
• Relied on and used by Jesus Himself in the practice of His earthly ministry (Matthew 4:4, Mark 12:10, John 7:42)
• Used by Jesus to teach about Himself (Luke 24:27)
• “The Word” (James 1:21-23, 1 Peter 2:2), “the Word of God” (Luke 11:28, Hebrews 4:12), “the Word of Christ” (Colossians 3:16), and “the Word of truth” (Daniel 10:21, James 1:18)
• “Holy” (Romans 1:2, 2 Timothy 3:15)
• “The Book of the Lord” (Isaiah 34:16), the “Book of the Law” or the “Law of the Lord” (Nehemiah 8:3, Psalm 1:2, Isaiah 30:9, Galatians 3:10)
• The Sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17)
• The Oracles of God (Romans 3:2)
I could go on and on… The Bible contains the promises of God (Romans 1:2), reveals the laws, statutes and judgments of God (Deuteronomy 4:5), the prophesies of God (2 Peter 1:19-21). It is full and sufficient (Luke 16:31), an unerring guide (Proverbs 6:23), able to make us wise unto salvation through faith in Jesus (2 Timothy 3:15), and is profitable both for doctrine and practice (2 Timothy 2:16-17). It is pure (Psalms 119:140), true (Psalms 119:160), perfect (Psalms 19:7), precious (Psalms 19:10), quick and powerful (Hebrews 4:12). It’s intended for the use of all men (Romans 16:26). It’s designed for regenerating (1 Peter 1:23), quickening (Psalms 199:93), illuminating (Psalms 119:130), converting (Psalms 19:7), educating (Psalms 19:7), sanctifying (John 17:17). It produces faith (John 20:31), hope (Romans 15:4), obedience (Deuteronomy 17:19-20). It is heart-cleansing (Ephesians 5:26), life-changing (Psalms 119:9), protecting (Psalms 17:4) and life-supporting (Matthew 4:4). Everything is to be tested against it for accuracy and truth (Isaiah 8:20). And even today, the Holy Spirit Himself is illuminating people to understand the truth and power of what it has to say (1 Corinthians 2:10-14).
Is it any wonder that, along with His Name, God has exalted His Word above ALL THINGS?
So I’ve been thinking about what it really means to follow God’s lead and treat “His Name and His Word” as exalted above everything else. Like I said… there’s a problem: If God truly has “exalted above all things His Name and His Word” then we must seek to do the same, especially in our corporate assembly. And therein lies the problem.
Next: The problem defined…