Bible Reading Plan – December 3-9
Bible Project Reading Plan (December 3-9):
Hebrews 5-13; James 1-5; 1 Peter 1-2; Psalms 27-33
“Do you praise God?” That may seem like a strange, simplistic question, but I think it is an important thing for us to consider. How do you worship and praise him? What are the ways in which you would say you do this? What considerations do you give to this in light of what the Bible commands? Is it mere routine, or have you thought through what it means to praise God? Do you truly praise him according to Scripture? Do you do this with a devoted, attentive heart? If one of your believing friends asked you, “How should I praise God,” what would you say?
The Bible has much to say about our praise of God. Consider Hebrews 13:15:
Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.
It is curious to see the language of sacrifice here in Hebrews 13. Under the Old Covenant, God instructed his people to offer sacrifices before Him. These various sacrifices were the way God’s people expressed devotion to Him, thanksgiving for all he has provided, and was God’s prescribed method for atonement for their sin. The sacrifice was the required way for God’s people to worship God.
Under the New Covenant, this all changed. Christ is our sacrifice. His death has covered the sins of his people, and this sacrifice is complete and final. There is no additional sacrifice required. This sacrifice of praise is no longer a required sacrifice for the atonement of sin, but just as Israel worshipped God through God’s prescribed method, the Church approaches our God in worship through his prescribed method. We come to him through Christ, the true and better sacrifice. And we come to God offering a sacrifice of praise, a response of people whose sins are covered by the blood of Christ.
And just how are we instructed to do that? In this short verse, I think that we see three key elements that instruct our praise of God.
- This Sacrifice of Praise is Corporate
The verse begins by pointing us to the corporate nature of our sacrifice of praise. “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God.” This is something for us to do, together. This is a team game, not an individual task. We are the body of Christ, the church, and we offer our sacrifice of praise to God together. The Lord commands us to gather corporately. It calls us to pray with and for one another. It calls us to sing together. It calls us to read and preach God’s Word to God’s people. And when we see the instruction for baptism and communion, it is in the context of our corporate gathering. This is not isolated, not hidden, not offering a sacrifice of praise to God on our own, but it is praising God together.
Puritan pastor David Clarkson, some 400 years ago authored a short work entitled “Public Worship to be Preferred before Private.” The title alone may hit our individualistic ears harshly. In this, he argues that praising God according to his word means that we prioritize the corporate gathering together as laid out in the pages of Scripture. This is pleasing to the Lord according to his word. He summarizes this argument wit the following:
To what purpose did the Lord choose the gates of Zion, to place his name there, if he might have been worshipped as well in the dwellings of Jacob? How do men of this conceit run counter to the Lord? … What is this [individualistic worship] but to disparage the wisdom of God? … What presumption is this, to make yourselves wiser than God, and to undertake to correct him? He says the gates of Zion are to be loved, public worship before private; you say no, you see no reason but one should be loved as well as the other. Who art thou, O man, who thus disputest against God?
My family and I gather together with an unregistered church in China. We’ve seen our brothers and sisters in the Chinese church face government resistance and persecution, and now we are perhaps looking at this for our own assembly. How would you react to this? How should we collectively react to this? Hebrews 10 warns us not to neglect meeting together. This is true and right regardless of the current political climate. In China, this command may have different impact on different people, depending on your citizenship, your visa type, your family situation, etc. Some will feel the weight of this burden more fully than others. Yet, we should be standing together as the body of Christ, together in obedience, bearing one another’s burdens, and praising him together, corporately. We have been encouraged to see Christians here stand faithfully together, suffering if necessary, not because we must sacrifice ourselves for God, but because our savior sacrificed himself for us. Together, our sacrifice of praise is a sensible response to his sensational grace.
We are called corporately to offer up a sacrifice of praise to the Lord. This is not possible to do together unless you bond yourself to a local church. Consider the implications. Without a healthy local church, you cannot gather with believers to praise God. Without a healthy local church, you will not feed on the Word of God, hearing it preached and applied to you by someone who knows you and loves you. Without a healthy local church, evangelism becomes difficult, and the fruit of your labor – those converted by faith – have no place to land, grow, and reproduce disciples. Without a healthy local church, you place yourself at great spiritual risk, cutting yourself off from God’s prescription for the Christian life. Let us not overlook the fact that God has call for us to offer up our sacrifice of praise with one another, together, corporately.
- This Sacrifice of Praise is Continual
This phrase is explicit in the text. “Let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God.” It does not take a biblical scholar to recognize the expectation of God regarding the consistency of our praise. He calls us to continue to come back to him, worshipping and praising his name. This should be the posture of our lives.
This is not a new concept in Scripture, certainly. The entire sacrificial system under the Old Covenant was a repeated, continual practice. In the New Covenant we are called to continue in prayer (1 Thess 5:17), continue in thanksgiving (Eph 5:20), and continue in the faith (2 Tim 3:14). Our perseverance is a mark of a true believer. And whereas Christ’s sacrifice of atonement for sin was a one-time, life-giving event, our sacrifice of praise in response is a repeated, lifelong result.
Application here seems straight forward, right? As Christians, our sacrifice of praise should be a part of our regular, continual routine. It is what we do. It should encompass our regular corporately gathered worship. We assemble to sing the word, pray the word, read and preach the word, and to see the word before us in baptism and the Lord’s Supper. This is our continual practice. But it is not only that. It is regular time spent in community with our fellow believers, our fellow church members. It is time praising him together in fellowship. I was in the home of a member recently who asked me, “What have you seen God doing in your life the last 7 days.” It’s questions and conversations like this with one another that give us opportunity to continue in praising our God.
- This Sacrifice of Praise is Genuine
Looking again at this verse, “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.” The “fruit of lips” jumps out here. This clarifies what the author means by “offering of praise.” Praise is the natural, normal response of a Christian. It is the fruit, the overflow, the spilling out of what is on the inside. You bump into a Christian, and you see praise of God sort of pour out of them. True, genuine praise is the fruit of a heart change, of those who acknowledge his name.
Again, this is not new to Scripture. We see this elsewhere in the word – God requires not mere conformity in our outward praise, but he desires our hearts, our genuine affections. Isaiah noted this, and Jesus himself doubled-down on it as he quoted the prophet in Matthew 15. Speaking to the scribes and Pharisees, he said, “You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” (Matt 15:7-9)
Mere outward conformity in our worship is not what God desires. He wants that, but he wants more than that. Even as he cares about the conformity of our worship, he also cares about the condition of our hearts. Where there is no authentic conversion there can be no genuine sacrifice of praise. On the flipside of that, where there is true heart change, where there is genuine love for the Lord, there will be fruit. There will be authentic praise.
Does the praise of God seem like a chore to you? Is it difficult for you to approach him in worship? Is praise of God a fruit from your lips, something normal and natural, or is it something that seems to evade you? Perhaps we could use this as a diagnostic self-test. Does the flame of my affections for God need to be fanned? Am I harboring secret sin that is hindering my sacrifice of praise? When I approach Him corporately with my church body, does praise flow out of me, or is it boring to me? Am I approaching him with a broken and contrite heart, or am I disinterested with the whole thing? As we look at this passage, we see that praise of God is the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. It is the natural response. It is the genuine, normal result of a life redeemed by Christ’s sacrifice.
We also need to remember the grace of God. As we think through the practical implications of continually praising God, I think it is really easy in our reflection to realize that we don’t do this well. I’m guessing most of us could easily count the many ways that we fall short. We all fall short of God’s standard, his expectation, and we are all in need of his forgiveness and grace. Like Israel, we are often faithless in our words, thoughts, and actions, but as always, God is faithful. He has given us his Son, the perfect sacrifice, the one who covers our sin and justifies us before the Lord. Though we do not perfectly and continually praise him, by grace through faith we are righteous before him. As his people, let us rest upon this promise as we seek to continually praise him in response to such a great salvation!